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Do foreign students in Switzerland need to get a Swiss health insurance policy?

Helena Bachmann in Geneva
Helena Bachmann in Geneva - [email protected] • 6 Sep, 2022 Updated Tue 6 Sep 2022 16:55 CEST
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Depending on where they come from, foreign students might have to buy healthcare insurance. Photo: Pixabay

With the academic year starting at Switzerland's universities in September, many students from abroad may not know what the rules are about Swiss health insurance.

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Once you have been accepted to a Swiss university, having already had to obtain and provide a myriad of various documents, there is still one important step: health insurance.

Everyone in Switzerland is required to have a basic healthcare coverage (KVG / LaMal) — whether you are a permanent resident or a foreign student. The difference is whether you have to take out a Swiss policy or can continue to use the one you have from your own country.

According to the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH), “students from an EU/EFTA country are not required to take out Swiss health insurance, provided that they are not working and remain insured under the social security system of their country of residence. They are entitled to receive medical treatment in Switzerland upon presentation of the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)". 

Students from EU / EFTA who have private insurance can apply for exemption if their cover is equivalent to that offered by EHIC.

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However, if you are from outside Europe, that is from a third nation like the UK or the United States, you have two options, according to FOPH: if you a have private insurance offering coverage equivalent to that of a Swiss health insurer, you can be exempted from buying a policy here for three years; this period can then be extended for another three years if your own insurance is still in place. Afterwards, and provided you are still in Switzerland, you will have to purchase a Swiss insurance.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How can foreigners get into a Swiss university?

How do you go about purchasing a Swiss health insurance?

Like any new arrival in Switzerland — student or a ‘regular’ foreigner’ — you must take out insurance within three months of your arrival.

If you think you don’t have to do this as you never get sick or visit a doctor, then you are wrong — everyone in Switzerland must be insured.

And if you believe that you can stay under the radar and authorities won’t even know you have no policy, then this too is wrong.

The Swiss are very well organised when it comes to administrative matters, and sooner or later (probably sooner) they will find you and send you a gentle reminder of your duty to be insured. If you still refuse to comply, they will buy a policy for you and (not so gently) send you a bill.

As a foreign student and basically a guest in Switzerland, you don’t want that to happen. This is true not only from the legal point of view, but the medical one as well: if you get ill, you will receive only emergency treatment but will not be eligible for follow-up treatments without an insurance.

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Which company should you choose?

There are dozens of carriers in Switzerland, providing more or less the same basic coverage (they are not allowed to compete on obligatory insurance rates; only on supplemental policies).

A recent report by RTS public broadcaster also mentioned that some smaller carriers like Advisor, Evasane, Scorestudies, Swica and Swisscare, offer cheaper than standard premiums, which could be attractive to foreign students.  

However, before you purchase one of these plans consider that while their rates may be lower, varying between 60 and 140 francs per month (as opposed to between 250 and 400, depending on your age, canton, and co-pay deductible), they also have stricter reimbursement conditions, RTS reported.

This means that you may have to pay more out of pocket for medications and other costs than under more mainstream policies.

There are, however, ways to purchase a cheaper insurance. They are outlined here:

How to save money by changing your Swiss health policy

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Helena Bachmann in Geneva 2022/09/06 16:55

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