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


Jonathan Perez | Jan 31, 2024 Insurance

This article has been updated as of 1/31/2024

The healthcare system in the U.S. can be confusing and different compared to your home country. One of the misconceptions that international students might have is how to find the best doctor for a given situation. It's best to expose yourself to these different types to best determine the correct provider to assess your medical condition.

The following is a breakdown of who you should visit in a given medical scenario:

Student Health Center (SHC)

Student health centers provide a wide range of services for students within their respective school, while having the benefit of easier, more local access. Your SHC is considered an in-network provider for ISO plans, so you should not worry about your insurance being accepted. For students especially, this will be your first option to visit, and if your condition needs special care, you’ll be referred to the right doctor.

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 is the next step above visiting a standard physician. Unlike a primary care physician, a specialist will treat specific conditions that a standard primary care physician would not be equipped to treat.

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

This will be your best option for medical conditions that require immediate attention but are not life-threatening. Urgent Cares allow for 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 does not have an immediate appointment ready. 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 when faced with any of the below:

  • Skin rashes and infections
  • Bleeding or Cuts
  • Eye irritation and redness
  • Fever
  • 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
  • Prolonged shortness of breath
  • Contusions, head trauma or severe cuts

For an additional resource on where to visit for urgent conditions, click here.

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.

Ask the right questions: Do not be afraid to ask your doctor about issues that concern you. Be open and honest about how you are feeling and listen to the advice the doctor gives.

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.

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.

With ISO Student Health Insurance plans, you can visit a doctor across all 50 states through any of our plans. International students looking for coverage can schedule appointments using any of the provider networks offered by our plans.

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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.

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