How Does ObamaCare Affect Visitors to USA?

Some tourists and visitors to the U.S. are under the mistaken impression that the new U.S. Affordable Care Act - also known as ObamaCare - means that healthcare in the U.S. is now free. This is not true.

Visitors to the USA do not have access to health care while in the USA for the simple fact that they are not U.S. citizens. Even if you have family - perhaps a son or daughter, or parents - who are U.S. citizens, every visitor to America is considered a tourist and medical care for tourists is not free.

Only U.S. citizens and certain lawfully presented permanent residents (green card holders) qualify for federal health insurance program also known as Affordable Care Act or Obama Care in the US and visitors to the U.S. are responsible for paying for their own medical care. Foreign visitors to the US are also responsible for any expenses and liabilities that arise from a medical emergency or accident that occurs while they are in the U.S. Essentially, the changes defined by Obama Care have no effect on visitors to the US

Tourists Coming to the USA Need Travel Medical Insurance

Paying for medical care in the U.S. is very hard because the cost of medical care is very high - higher than nearly any other country except perhaps Canada. Tourists coming to the U.S. need to have adequate travel medical insurance with reasonably high limits to ensure that they will not have to pay a huge medical bill if:

  • You get in a car accident
  • Your daughter breaks her arm when she slips off an escalator
  • Your mother has a heart attack
  • Your son hits a tree while skiing
  • Your father comes down with pneumonia

Any of these are common accidents and illnesses, and if the visitor doesn't have travel medical insurance they will be paying for their medical care out of their own pocket (or on their credit card).

Emergency Room Visits are Not Free

What happens if a visitor needs emergency medical care? In many countries, a trip to the emergency room is free - not true in the U.S. Trips to the emergency room are just that - emergencies, so its not like you can put it off until you get home to your own regular doctor.

If you are in need of emergency medical care and have no insurance, you can expect to be transported to a welfare-based hospital pretty quickly but the quality of your care may be compromised. It might be the case that you may not be treated unless the hospital you are taken to has the extra cash in their budget for a charity patient. In most cases, the patient will be languish until they can be transferred to a welfare hospital where your medical treatment may not be top-notch and you'll still be required to pay for it eventually.

Emergency Medical Transportation is Expensive

Emergency medical transportation - by ambulance, by helicopter, or by special medically equipped airplanes is very expensive. U.S.-based health insurance plans have very limited benefits for medical evacuations, so most U.S. citizens who get into accidents where they need an emergency medical transport end up paying for that for years to come.

Here is an example: You and your family are hiking in the Rocky Mountains and your adult son slips and falls a great distance. You cant reach him and he is in desperate need of medical care. This is a situation where you will need the support of the local rangers (if you can contact them) and an experienced rescue team. All of this has to be paid for - its not in the park rangers budget to rescue anyone - and so you'll have to arrange for payment on the spot.

Even if you stay close to civilization and avoid remote activities, you could still be in need of an emergency evacuation if something disastrous happens - like a terrorist attack. In that instance, if you are badly injured, it may be preferable to be evacuated to your home country where you can be treated in less busy and overwhelmed hospitals with your family around you.

Your Visa Sponsor can be Held Liable for Your Bills

If you are visiting on a sponsored visa, your sponsor can be held liable for any bills that result from your medical care while in the United States if you cannot pay. This can place the sponsor in jeopardy of losing their visa or being prosecuted by bill collectors. Please refer to a previous article published on this topic: U.S. Visa Sponsor Liabilities.

For answers to how ObamaCare (Affordable Care Act) will affect your current visitors insurance plan, please send your questions to Were also happy to answer any questions you may have about purchasing a visitor insurance policy.

Disclaimer: Information presented here is high level and for your convenience only, it may not be accurate and may not cover all aspect of the ACA or Obama care act. The ACA law is not fully implemented yet, definitions, eligibility etc. are subjective and may vary from state to state. You may contact a qualified licensed health insurance agent in your area to discuss your specific situations and options. You may also write to us at