J-1 Scholar Health Insurance

Having adequate health insurance coverage in the United States is essential. This page identifies the J Exchange Visitor program minimum requirements for coverage of all J-1 exchange visitors and their family members.

Orange Divider

Health Insurance in the U.S.

Unlike many countries--perhaps your own--the United States does not have government-subsidized universal health insurance. Health insurance is predominantly private, and health care is expensive. Even individuals with insurance often have additional costs that are not covered by their insurance plan.

Without insurance, a routine doctor’s visit can cost more than $200, and does not include laboratory tests or medication. A visit to an  emergency room may be billed for several thousand dollars, depending on the circumstances, as can overnight stays in the hospital. Unfortunately, individuals with no or inadequate insurance can find themselves in severe financial hardship with one illness or one accident.

Orange Page Divider

J-1 Health Insurance Regulations

Obtaining adequate health insurance is not just a recommendation or suggestion for students and scholars in J-1 status and their J-2 dependents--it is a regulatory requirement. The U.S. Department of State administers the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program, and is concerned for the health, safety and well-being of their program participants during their stay in the United States.  To ensure that individuals coming to the U.S. under the J exchange visitor program have adequate health insurance, they have stipulated minimum standards.

The insurance coverage must meet these minimum standards:

Failure to comply with Health Insurance Requirements

You will be in violation of the Exchange Visitor Program if you:

  • willfully fail to maintain health insurance coverage with the minimum standards set forth below, or
  • misrepresent your coverage to your J-1 sponsor, in this case the ISSO.

You will be subject to termination as an exchange visitor participant if you violate the terms of the health insurance regulations.


Orange Divider

How to Purchase J-1 Health Insurance

Before you purchase health insurance, make sure that you are not already covered.

All international students enrolled at Columbia University are required to have the university’s Student Health Insurance Plan. This plan meets all J  program requirements, so you do not need to obtain additional insurance. Students in J-1 status can learn more about their student insurance plan on the Columbia Health website.

Students who have graduated and are in J-1 status for authorized Academic Training need to comply with the J health insurance requirements.


Full-Time: If you are a full-time employee at Columbia, most likely you and your dependents can be covered. Refer to the Benefits information for new hires at Human Resources to read about Health insurance coverage. When choosing one of the plans offered for employees, keep in mind that you are not eligible for a “high-deductible” plan.

Part-Time: Part-time employees are usually not eligible for university health insurance, so most likely you will need to purchase your own.

The Department of State’s language regarding insurance from home is quite vague: “The policy must be backed by the full faith and credit of your home country government”. This means that your home country insurance must fully cover all your health needs while you are in the United States. Most would not, so you should check this prior to your arrival.

Still need health insurance coverage?

Step 1.

Learn about US health insurance

It can be confusing to review and compare policies if you're not familiar with U.S. health coverage and medical terms. There are a lot of resources online and we encourage you to research what works best for you. Although some resources are produced and framed with an international student audience in mind, they still might be useful for information about the US healthcare system, where to seek treatment, an explanation of complicated insurance terms, etc. You can start this user-friendly glossary and this 5-minute US Healthcare video.

Step 2

Review the insurance policy information

Review the information about policies that meet the government criteria and the health needs of you and your family members from the list of providers below.

If you're bringing dependents, they must comply with the same insurance requirements. The table below has links to companies that insure international clients and are familiar with Department of State regulations for J visa holders.

Even though most of these companies target international students, they also provide policies for scholars. Please read carefully when you research your options.

Step 3.

Visit our resource page

Find additional health-related information including: