International Student Guide: Visiting a Doctor in the U.S.


Madia Bestman | Jun 29, 2021 Insurance

The healthcare system in the U.S. can be confusing and much different compared to your home country. One of the main areas of confusion for visitors outside the U.S. is figuring out where to go in the event of an injury or sickness. There are different types of doctors and facilities that you can choose to go to for medical treatments. It is important to visit the correct provider to better assist your medical condition.

Here is a breakdown of which providers you should visit when you are not feeling well.

Student Health Center (SHC)

Student health centers provide a wide range of services and will be able to treat you. Your SHC is considered an in-network provider, so you do not need to worry whether they accept your insurance or not. This should be the first place you visit when you are not feeling well. One benefit of visiting your SHC is that you have easy access to it since it is located on your campus. Additionally, your deductible and copay are relatively lower, and you will have better coverage.

Primary Care Physician (PCP)

If you do not have access to a Student Health Center, visiting a primary care physician should be your first choice. Primary care doctors provide treatment for a wide variety of sicknesses and injuries. There are different types of primary care doctors you can choose such as family practitioners, internal medicine, pediatricians, geriatricians and obstetrics and gynecology physicians (OB/GYN).You should visit a PCP for non-life-threatening medical conditions, and you will have to make an appointment before your visit.

Here are common illnesses that can be treated by a primary care doctor:

  • Headaches and migraines
  • Back pain
  • Allergies
  • Earaches and infections
  • Influenza (the common flu)


Specialists have training in specific areas of medicine and will be able to treat your medical condition. It is recommended to visit a primary care physician first before a specialist as a primary doctor can treat most injuries/sicknesses. For more serious sicknesses or injuries that your primary care physician is not equipped to treat, you should visit a specialist.

Here are some common specialists you can visit:

  • Allergists/Immunologists- Commonly known as allergists, they are experts in the treatment of asthma, allergies, and immune deficiency disorders.
  • Cardiologists- A doctor who specializes in the diagnosis or treatment of heart disease and heart abnormalities.
  • Dermatologists- A doctor who specializes in skin, hair, and nail disorders.
  • Endocrinologists- Specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of thyroid and hormone disorders.

Urgent Care/ Walk-in Clinic

For medical conditions that require immediate attention, but is not life-threatening, this is the place you should go. These facilities allow walk-ins, so you can go in to see a doctor with no appointment required. In addition, you can visit an urgent care if your primary care physician is unavailable to treat you. It is important to know the difference between conditions that need to be treated immediately but are not an emergency or life threatening.

You should go to an urgent care instead of an emergency room for the following reasons:

  • Skin rashes and infections
  • Bleeding or Cuts
  • Eye irritation and redness
  • Fever
  • COVID-19 Test
  • Moderate back pains

Emergency room

You should ONLY visit the emergency room if you are experiencing a life-threatening medical condition. Keep in mind that if you go to the Emergency Room for a non-emergency situation, there is no guarantee of coverage and it is more expensive. How can you determine if your condition is life threatening?

Here are some conditions you should visit the ER for:

  • Continuous chest pain
  • Broken bones
  • Severe burns
  • Severe stomach pains
  • Contusions, head trauma or severe cuts
  • Suddenly dizzy or disoriented

Now that you know which provider you should visit; you can search for nearby doctors and hospitals using our PPO networks. Refer to the front of your insurance card to check which network works with your plan. Once you have found the provider of your choice, you can schedule an appointment!

Here are tips to help prepare you when visiting a doctor:

Prepare ahead of time: Be sure to have a good idea of what you would like to communicate to your doctor about your health. This will help the doctor to better treat you as quickly as possible.

Make a list of your concerns: It is important to bring up any concerns you have in order to help your doctor better understand your medical condition. This can include any new symptoms you are experiencing, getting a vaccine, or even how an ongoing treatment is affecting you. If you have multiple concerns, it will be best to make a list and ask about the most important ones first.

Ask the right questions: Do not be afraid to ask your doctor about issues that concern you. Be honest about how you are feeling and get as much guided medical advice as possible.

Request a translator if you need one: If you visit a doctor who does not speak your language, you are able to ask the doctor’s office for a translator. Having a translator will make you feel more comfortable when discussing your current medical condition. Make sure to call the doctor’s office ahead of time so they can have the translator available.

Have your Insurance ID card ready: This has the necessary information that your provider uses to verify your coverage or if they need to contact our benefits and claims department, SISCO Benefits. Your insurance ID is available in your online account.

Copay: Be prepared for the likely chance that you will be asked to pay for your plan’s copay upfront. This is a small fee that you must pay to your provider, and you can review your plan’s policy brochure or contact us for more details.

Claims: When you provide your insurance details to your provider, it has all the essential details needed to submit a claim. After your visit, make sure to follow up with your doctor’s office about whether they have filed your claim to the correct department and if they have, don’t hesitate to contact SISCO Benefits for more information.

Related articles


Employment After Graduation: A Complete Guide to Applying for F1-OPT

Jonathan Perez | Nov 28, 2023 Insurance

As graduation comes closer, you may be looking into applying for F1 OPT. For a full overview on what to expect and FAQs, read more above!


An In-Depth Look into the New York State Essential Plan

Jonathan Perez | Nov 27, 2023 Insurance

Look into the benefits and perks of New York State's sponsored health insurance plan for residents, including international students, including 100% coverage and a $0 deductible!


International Students: What Does Affordable Care Act (ACA) Compliant Mean?

Minho Lee | Nov 21, 2023 Insurance

Some U.S. schools require students to purchase or waive using an Affordable Care Act (ACA)-compliant insurance. We answer all questions you may have about this above.

About ISO Student Health Insurance

Founded in 1958, ISO prides itself on being the leader in providing international students with affordable insurance plans. Administered by former and current international students, we are able to assist our member with multilingual customer service in Chinese, Hindi, Spanish, and more. ISO serves over 3,200 schools/colleges and more than 150,000 insured students every year.

For more information, please visit and connect with us on Facebook, Instagram, WeChat, WhatsApp, and LinkedIn.

You chose for subject:
"Find doctors, clinics or hospitals".

Why not try looking for answers on our
Find Doctors & Hospitals