Navigating the US Health Care System can be complex.  To help ensure that international students have access to the highest quality of care on- and off-campus all international students, regardless of the number of registered credits, are required to enroll in the Columbia University Student Health Insurance Plan. Students will be enrolled in the Gold level of the plan with the option to upgrade to the Platinum plan before the published enrollment deadline. International students are not permitted to waive enrollment in the Columbia University Student Health Insurance Plan.
On a case-by-case basis international students may be considered for an exemption to this requirement when covered by a US health insurance plan. For example, an exemption will be considered for international students covered by New York State Medicaid or a US-based, employer-sponsored, ACA-Compliant group plan that meets all of the Columbia University waiver requirements. All exemption requests are considered though no approval is guaranteed. All determinations regarding exemptions are made by the Student Health Insurance Office and shall be considered final.

The Frequently Asked Questions below address the nature of this requirement along with information on how to enroll and access care (on- and off-campus).

Please take time to read this document carefully and, as always, you are encouraged to contact the Student Health Insurance Office with any questions. 

John Jay Hall, 3rd Floor

Frequently Asked Questions


Why is enrollment in the plan mandatory for international students?

Many international students have struggled with inadequate health insurance that resulted in catastrophic health outcomes and extraordinary costs, which can lead to lower levels of academic success, and difficulties with retention.  The lack of adequate coverage has introduced unexpected barriers to achieving academic and scholarly pursuits.

Despite past efforts of Admissions, Student Affairs, and the Columbia Health to provide clear information to incoming students, we have found that international students are frequently targeted by companies offering lower rates for supposedly equivalent, but actually sub-standard, plans. Many international students are unfamiliar with the US Health Care System and try to access care using these limited non-Columbia Plans.

This requirement reinforces Columbia’s commitment to protecting the health of the student community through on-site access to high-quality health services and provision of insurance coverage to supplement on-campus resources as necessary.

How do I enroll in the required plan?

Upon registering for classes, your SSOL account is automatically charged for the Health & Related Services Fee and the Gold level of the Columbia Student Health Insurance Plan. You will receive an email providing the link to confirm your enrollment in the Gold plan or upgrade to the Platinum plan.  Do not ignore this message.  If you do not take action you will receive reminders until you take action.  Failure to respond prior to the deadline will result in Columbia defaulting you into the Gold plan and you will not have the option to make changes.

Are there any exceptions?

Exceptions may be granted under rare circumstances to international students who are covered by New York State Medicaid or a U.S.-based, employer-sponsored, group health plan (as a primary, spouse, or dependent) or students that are short term visitors to campus. Please contact the Student Health Insurance Office for more details. All exemption requests are considered though no approval is guaranteed. All determinations regarding exemptions are made by the Student Health Insurance Office and shall be considered final.

What is a US plan offered through an employer?

To be considered for an exception to the international student insurance requirement plans must:

  1. Be a US health insurance plan,
  2. Be an employer group health insurance plan, and
  3. Meet the Columbia University waiver criteria

Individual plans purchased in the US by an employer on behalf of an individual or small number of employees are not eligible for an exception.

Why were international students allowed to waive in the past?

Previously, international students who requested waivers with plans that met the waiver criteria were permitted to waive the Columbia Plan.  Audits of these waivers revealed that many of these plans appeared to meet the criteria on the surface, but did not actually fully meet the criteria, thus providing inadequate coverage.

How does this impact my financial aid?

Students should talk with their financial aid advisor regarding any impact.  Funded graduate students already have coverage for the health insurance plan costs in their financial aid package.  In most other cases, a student’s financial aid can be used toward paying the health insurance premium and the Health & Related Services Fee.

Can I still go to Medical Services or Mental Health Services on campus?

Yes!  The Columbia Plan works with the on-campus services.  Your care begins on-campus and you will be provided a referral for any off-campus services.

Are there health care providers that speak my language?

Yes!  The Aetna network has providers that speak many languages.  You can search for a provider that speaks your preferred language using the Doc Find feature on the Aetna Student Health website.  The Columbia Health Referral Coordinator is also available to assist in locating an off-campus provider with a specific language request.

What if I need health care when I am not in New York or am traveling outside the US?

In addition to comprehensive coverage within the United States, the Columbia Plan provides global coverage, giving you access both locally as well as while traveling.  This benefit is unique to the Columbia Plan and designed specifically to support our students.  We encourage you to learn more about this benefit as well as how the plan will support your health and well-being while studying at Columbia.  Contact the Student Health Insurance Office to discuss the specifics of using your coverage outside of New York.

Why are part-time students being subject to this requirement?

Unlike domestic part-time students, international part-time students are often focused solely on their studies and are not working in positions that provide health insurance.  As a result, part-time international students are not likely to have the level of coverage that truly supports their potential health needs while at Columbia.

I’m graduating in December.  Do I have to pay for the full year?

No.  Premiums are billed by semester so if you graduate in December you will only be charged for the fall term and your coverage will end on December 31, 2017.

Does Columbia benefit financially from these changes?

No.  Columbia does not keep the health insurance premiums.  The University collects the premium and then sends it to Aetna, the insurance provider.  We use this system, as it better allows students to pay for health insurance using available financial aid options.

I have more questions.  With whom can I speak?

Please contact the Student Health Insurance Office:

John Jay Hall, 3rd Floor


Last updated December 14, 2017