||In choosing the right insurance policy for a period of foreign study, students need to take many factors into account. For those travelling to her country, travel and medical insurance cover are compulsory, advises Margaret Ranum of New Zealand-based Uni-Care International Travel Insurance. Here, a Ministry of Education Code of Practice specifies minimum levels of cover that must be obtained, while education providers have a duty to ensure that insurance is in place for each enrolled student for the duration of their studies. For most destinations, however, it is up to the individual to take responsibility for taking out adequate protection.
Typically, an international student insurance policy will cover a range of risks. However, cover provided can vary significantly. The right policy will take account of the circumstances of the chosen destination, as well as the type of activities planned. For example, according to Annabelle Franco of CareMed, a student travelling to Australia may need higher private liability insurance, while certain universities in the US require mental health coverage. Suitable cover should also be sought for hazardous activities.
As David Wood at Endsleigh Insurance Services in the UK, points out, some policies can be more suitable for a holiday than for an international study programme, and do not offer, for example, the required protection in respect of course fees cover. Wood advises students should look for a rounded policy that covers cancellation and course fees, medical expenses (including repatriation), baggage/possessions and liability. It is also important to check what exclusions there are, informs Franco.
At Endsleigh, “We receive a large number of claims for cancellation and course fees, where the student is unable to travel,” Wood reports. Other common claims are for possessions which are lost or stolen, either in the UK or en route, and medical expenses. Meanwhile, Elaine Pink, Marketing & Development Manager at UK-based insurer, Gibbs Denley, highlights the fact that emergency assistance cover is another important, but often overlooked, element. At both Uni-Care and Guard.me, medical matters are the most frequent source of claims, and Guard.me’s President and CEO, Keith Segal, highlights the desirability of taking out medical air evacuation and repatriation benefits.
Events such as the earthquakes in New Zealand, the Japanese tsunami and Iceland’s volcanic ash cloud “have certainly brought insurance to the forefront of people’s minds”, comments Wood. Hence, Endsleigh which partners with language schools, private and state colleges and higher education providers, as well as study travel advisors has seen increased contact from organisations proactively seeking to provide an insurance service, and a rise in the total number of covered students. Canadian insurer, Ingle International, concurs. “In the past year, a large number of organisations and agents have approached us to find out more about our coverage options, as well as the outside-of-the-box services we can offer their students,” comments Monica Aguirre, Business Development Manager, responsible for international students. “Many of these organisations are starting to explore other options, outside of their usual suppliers.”
These events led not only to a growth of interest in insurance, but, Aguirre says, they have also helped change perceptions of how much cover is enough. “We feel that people are becoming more and more conscious with regard to buying a good product, rather than a cheap product,” she relates. In addition to ensuring the right elements are included, it is also necessary to make sure that the amounts insured are sufficient. “One accident or illness could cost thousands or perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars,” notes Segal. He advises that US$1 million should be the minimum amount insured. “Also look for benefits that bring your family members to you in the event of hospitalisation in a foreign country.” Meanwhile, noting that students are taking more costly courses, Pink advises, “It is therefore vital that they make sure the limit of cover for course fees is adequate.”
The heightened risk awareness has also highlighted previously low priority areas. As a result, insurers have reviewed and added to their cover. Gibbs Denley clients are now being offered cover in the event of being prevented from travelling due to a natural disaster. The company is also finalising further improvements to its Studentguard+ policy. “We won’t be increasing the premium, just giving more for the same price,” Pink reports.
Guard.me has recently begun offering up to CAN$100,000 of Insured Security Evacuation benefit, which provides evacuation to the nearest safe zone in the event of destinations becoming unsafe due to natural disasters, political events or terrorist activities. Further upgrades include enhanced emergency medical evacuation and repatriation cover.
Meanwhile, Endsleigh Insurance has introduced an additional financial protection element to its policies for education partners to cover them for loss of revenue in the event of a student’s cancellation for an insured peril. In response to feedback from partners, Wood notes that it has also added Counselling Benefit, which provides additional support for students following distressing events. CareMed has begun offering mental health coverage, while the benefit of emotional and psychological cover has also been highlighted by Aguirre.
Insurers have also followed other developments affecting international education. Noting an increase in the age of international students studying abroad, Ingle has recently introduced a product aimed at clients aged 65-plus travelling to Canada to study. As Aguirre explains, this fills a gap in the market, since, “those aged 65 and up likely won’t receive any coverage through the school, and yet many of them will be asked to present proof of insurance when applying for a Canadian student visa which can mean they might be denied”. Ingle has also addressed another gap in provision by creating a product to cover all eligible companions typically parents, guardians, spouses, children and chaperones.
The printed policy details are important. However, “When it comes to insurance,” observes Ranum, “it’s not so much about words and paper it’s about people and response... When the February 2011 Christchurch earthquake struck and destroyed a language school, resulting in the loss of many students, Uni-Care flew in a lingual capable team to assist not only surviving students, but incoming families as well. The words on the policy paper did not require such a response,” she points out; “the circumstances did.” Hence, “When considering an insurer, look at cover levels and premiums, but make a decision based on reputation,” Ranum advises. “Insurance is not about the promise; it’s about the delivery.”.
“Colombian students want to learn the language, which is very easy to learn for Spanish speaking people; however they like to take advantage of the opportunity to learn to dance zamba, and they love Brasilian music. They also like the happiness of the people, their kindness and hospitality. Students are most surprised by the size and population of São Paulo; the variety of food and drink and the amount of fitness centres there are! Students enjoy the music and festivals, the energy of the people and their attitude to enjoy any opportunity where they can have fun.”
Alejandro Acero, Open Hearts International, Colombia
“The cultural life in Brazil is number one. Although a huge city, you quickly feel at ease. There are lots of buildings etc but also lots of parks and a quality lifestyle. Students like feeling part of a growing economic centre. It makes them feel as if they are surrounded by professional opportunities.”
Krister Weidenhielm, ESL - Language Studies Abroad, Switzerland
“Students appreciate the warmth and vibrancy of the Brazilian people and the diversity of cultures in São Paulo. As a major world financial hub, many students are attracted to study Portuguese here and set up an internship in a business setting. São Paulo is described as a city of contrasts: Cultures from Asia and Europe, with Afro-descent influences. [Students] enjoy city culture from museums, parks, art and architecture from colonial to the ultra-modern cityscape, yet close enough to the rain forest for more rustic weekend journeys. Students especially love visiting Iguazu Falls to the southwest and Bahia de Salvador to the northwest.”
Laura Manning, Aventuras Languages, USA