Going on academic exchange is one of the most exciting adventures a student can do during their time at university. But whether you’re heading abroad for four weeks or four months, preparing for it can be time consuming. Amid all the excitement, the importance of protecting your health and property abroad may slip your mind.
Don’t let this happen, cautions Richard Laycock, an insurance expert and Macquarie alumni who undertook an exchange in the US as part of his Bachelor of Media degree. Getting travel insurance, he says, brings peace of mind – especially if you fall ill, as Richard did.
“During my time at Macquarie Uni, I participated in an exchange program with The University of Missouri-Columbia (Mizzou),” says Richard, “so I know first-hand that insurance isn’t something which instantly comes to mind when you think about going on exchange.”
According to Richard, health insurance was a requirement for all students heading to Mizzou on the J-1 visa (a non-immigrant visa for cultural and educational exchange). “The best thing about going to the US through the exchange program was that our advisers were able to help us find the right policy to satisfy our visa requirements.”
And it was a good thing Richard had this cover, too. “Before going on exchange, I hadn’t been to the doctor in years, so I was surprised when I developed pneumonia while abroad,” he says. “Having never lived in a cold climate before, I wasn’t exactly prepared for picking up serious respiratory problems, and was forced to head to the student health centre for treatment.” Luckily, Richard’s insurance covered the cost of both the hospital visit and the medication.
“Now, while health insurance is generally a requirement of your visa, broader travel insurance is generally not,” says Richard. “A lot of the time, there will be a grace period where you are covered by your university’s corporate travel insurance policy. This generally covers you while you travel to your exchange university and when you travel home again once your exchange is over. While this cover varies from institution to institution, you’ve normally got cover for about a week on either side of the semester.
“The problem with these policies,” says Richard, “is that they don’t necessarily provide you with cover if you’re planning on travelling to another country during your exchange. If you’re heading to Europe, America or Asia, chances are you’re going to want to visit a number of destinations.”
Richard advises that if you’re planning on travelling while on exchange, you may need to get additional travel insurance. You can find out more about the types of cover you’ll need by speaking with your adviser, emailing the University travel office, contacting your travel agent or by comparing your travel insurance options online.