What to Expect When Seeking Treatment in the US — Explained For — International Students

Step 1 | Find a Doctor or Hospital

If you are not feeling well, the best place to get medical treatment is the Student Health Center on campus. If your school doesn’t have one, or if you prefer to go off-campus, you can go to a:


Most doctors require you to call in advance to make an appointment. This can be the right place to seek treatment if you have a condition that requires ongoing care.

Walk-In Clinic

You can go without an appointment and get medical attention that is less severe such as the flu or common cold. This includes clinics found at CVS, Walgreens, Rite-Aid, Target or Walmart.

Urgent Care Clinic

No appointment is needed and you can be seen quickly. Urgent Care Clinics are good places to go when you need immediate attention that is not life threatening. They can do labs and x-rays right on site and can handle more severe cases such as burns, broken bones, etc.


Many insurance plans include or cover telemedicine which allows you to simply pick up the phone and talk to a doctor directly, without ever having to leave home. They can prescribe medication and can be a quick and easy way to get medical treatment for non-emergencies.

If you have a life threatening condition, the best place to go is the hospital. The Emergency Room (ER) is only for real emergencies and many insurance plans will have an additional deductible if you go to the ER. You can also call 911 for immediate emergency assistance.

Always trust your instincts and seek medical treatment if you are concerned.

Step 2 | Bring Your Insurance ID Card and A Picture ID

Present your insurance ID card upon arrival at the doctor’s office for treatment. The front office will typically call the insurance company to verify your insurance benefits. In many cases, if you go to a doctor, clinic or hospital that works with your insurance plan, they will be able to bill directly so you won’t have to pay for the whole visit when you go. If you are concerned about this, call in advance to make sure they will bill directly to your insurance company.

Step 3 | Get Ready to Fill Out Some Papers

Most offices will ask you to fill out a new patient form. There will be questions about your name, contact information, medical history, family history, allergies, etc. Some offices will also ask for your picture ID. If you are going for a scheduled visit and it’s your first time, you will be asked to arrive early as there are usually multiple forms you will need to fill out.

Step 4 | Time for Your Visit

Depending on the office, your name will be called and they will take you to a separate room. In most cases, you will see a nurse who will ask you about your symptoms and your medical history, and may review your paperwork. The nurse may be able to help you with everything you need, or you may be asked to wait until the doctor can come in to examine you. If English is not your first language, going to the doctor can be overwhelming and there may be a lot of new terms that you don’t understand. It’s okay to ask the doctor to slow down or repeat themselves if you have questions or are unclear on the information they are giving you. If you still don’t understand, it’s okay to ask again!

Step 5 | Ending Your Visit

You probably talked through a lot of different things and it may be hard to understand all of it. After your visit, you will normally receive a discharge summary that includes the medical advice from the doctor or nurse, as well as information about any medication that was prescribed and when to take it. If this is not provided to you, you can ask for this at the front desk before you leave the doctor’s office.

Once you’ve been seen, you will go back to the front desk to review the details of your visit. If you weren’t asked to pay your plan’s deductible or copay at the beginning of your visit, you’ll be asked to pay this now. You will often get a summary of your visit, a receipt for your payment, and any prescriptions.

Step 6 | Complete Any Paperwork for your Insurance Company

Need help submitting a claim?
Check out this article for step by step help.

Many insurance companies will require you to fill out a claim form before anything is paid, even if the medical office will be sending in the bills directly. Be sure to complete the requested papers, send in the receipt of your deductible/copay, and include your prescription and receipt (if applicable), so that the insurance company will have everything they need. Make sure you know who is being reimbursed or paid, and that your contact information with the insurance company and doctor/clinic/hospital is updated.

If you did not have your insurance ID card at the time of treatment, you will need to make sure the doctor’s office you visited has your insurance information on file to submit a claim. You can often fax them the ID card or provide the details over the phone so they can bill the insurance company directly.

Step 7 | Follow Up on Your Claim

If you went to the hospital, it is common to receive bills weeks or even months after your visit. This is because there are many different doctors and clinics that were part of your medical treatment. It is your responsibility to make sure each claim is paid and submitted to your insurance company.

Check with the insurance company regularly to see which claim was processed, what claims are pending, and if any further information is requested. If you’ve had a condition that required treatment at multiple places, or even a hospitalization, keeping a spreadsheet of the expenses, claim numbers, etc. can help keep you organized.

Most insurance companies have an online portal where you can check the status of your claims, so make sure to register for your account so you can check periodically. You can also call the number on the back of your insurance ID card to check on the status of your claims.

Step 8 | Explanation of Benefits from the Insurance Company

When a claim is closed by your insurance company, you and your doctor will receive an Explanation of Benefits (or EOB). Review each EOB to make sure everything was processed correctly. The EOB will say what was covered and what wasn’t covered, including the amounts and details on why something wasn’t covered. There will be a section that states the Patient Responsibility, which is the amount you will have to pay to the doctor, hospital, or clinic. If you have questions about your EOB, or if you don’t fully understand how your claims were processed, you can contact the insurance company directly, and they will be able to provide you with more details.

Return to our "Insurance Explained" section for more information and help