What happens when international students get sick overseas and not in Ithaca?

Date: March 2021


Happy (Almost) Spring, Deans!

I have a question about student health insurance coverage in case of COVID. I’m worried about worried about health expenses adding up to millions of dollars because American insurance is so horrible. The SHP site indicates telehealth options are available for international students, but what does actually happen when they get sick overseas and not in Ithaca?

Wishing all of you the best, virtually!


Hello, and thank you for the “warm” spring wishes. The sunshine does make it seem like the end of winter might be within sight, although Ithaca natives will tell you that March can be the worst month for snow!

I won’t argue with your statement about the U.S. health insurance system being horrible. It is expensive, complex, and confusing. However, the Cornell SHP plan is designed especially for our student population so has many coverage features that other plans do not. The plan has an out-of-pocket maximum of $3,000 per year. That means that, even if an insured student has many expensive treatments, if the cost of co-payments and deductibles reach $3,000 all future treatments are covered at 100%. The SHP website has a helpful summary document of plan benefits online.

Cornell offers two forms of insurance coverage for students who are outside the U.S. Students who are traveling abroad on university business (conducting research, attending conferences, studying in absentia) are provided 24/7 Travel Assistance through a service called International SOS. All registered travelers on Cornell-related international travel are fully covered—at no cost to the traveler—under an accident, sickness, and emergency care insurance plan that works in tandem with the 24/7 travel assistance.

The regular Cornell SHP also covers students who are outside the U.S., even if their travel is personal and unrelated to their research or studies. In many cases, if you need care abroad you’ll need to pay at the point of service and submit an itemized receipt for reimbursement. All the details are posted on the using SHP abroad webpage. Here is a summary of the plan’s features and benefits:

  • Provides extensive coverage at a reasonable cost for most on- or off-campus health care
  • Provides coverage 24 hours a day, anywhere in the world
  • Includes 90% coverage in the national network with any Aetna participating provider
  • For students in Ithaca, provides coordination of services by Cornell Health and a provider network that includes the local hospital
  • Covers pre-existing health conditions
  • Guards against catastrophic expenses
  • Continues coverage when students have to take a leave of absence
  • Meets or exceeds all F-1 and J-1 visa requirements
  • Meets or exceeds all Federal, State, and American College Health Association standards for health insurance
  • Exceeds the requirements of the U.S. Affordable Care Act
  • Includes worldwide emergency travel assistance and air transportation services
  • Offers optional dental and vision plans
  • Provides convenient assistance with enrollment and claims submission through the Student Health Benefits

I hope you stay safe and healthy so you won’t need any of these helpful insurance benefits!



Jason Kahabka
Associate Dean for Administration