How can I access birth control as an international student in the US?

Birth control for students abroad
International students should carefully plan ahead if they plan to go on birth control, as some countries require prescriptions before contraceptives can be issued. Source: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images via AFP

I’ve been accepted to an American university, and I’m excited to begin my study abroad journey soon! There’s one thing bothering me at the moment though — contraceptives. I know healthcare in the US can be expensive, so how can I get them over there? Do universities provide birth control for students on campus?

Dear student, 

First of all, huge congratulations are in order! Living the American dream as an international student is an adventure-filled journey fraught with equal parts challenge and excitement. Stepping outside of your comfort zone opens new doors for you to meet new people and learn about their cultures, which is a great plus if you’re living in a place as diverse as the US.

Under all that enthusiasm, students often forget just how differently things are done in another country, and that includes the healthcare system. The US is notorious for having the most expensive healthcare in the world. One in seven women in the US can’t afford birth control at all, which negatively impacts their wellbeing and personal choices when it comes to participating in education and the workforce.

How can I access birth control for students overseas?

Birth control pills are a popular contraceptive choice among young women for their ease of use, but can be difficult to obtain in the US without prescriptions. Source: Philippe Huguen/AFP

If you’re already on birth control at the moment, it’s worth remembering that environmental factors can affect how they work. For instance, if you’re taking birth control pills daily, travelling and switching time zones places stress on your body due to exhaustion and disrupted sleep cycles from jet lag. You might also get confused about when to take your next pill due to the time difference from your departing city. 

Under the F-1 student visa, you can typically purchase student insurance plans provided by universities that are built into your tuition fees for general healthcare. Unfortunately, birth control can only be obtained through prescriptions in the US, and not all student health insurance cover contraceptives.

Birth control for students abroad: How foreign students can access contraceptives in the US

International students may access birth control services and contraceptives at their nearest Planned Parenthood clinic. Source: Saul Loeb/AFP

There’s no need to fret though — plenty of American universities and colleges offer low-cost birth control for students, and prescriptions can be obtained through on-campus clinics or student health services. Remember, only doctors can write prescriptions in the US, so you want to make sure that you’re getting yours from a trusted provider.

With your student insurance, you can contact the campus clinic for a doctor’s appointment to get prescriptions for birth control. They can be purchased at the campus pharmacy, or at popular retail drugstores such as Walgreens or CVS. Once your name is registered in the system, you can typically request for refills online or through a phone call. If you’re considering other contraceptive methods, the doctors and nurses on campus can advise the best options available to you.

Look for your nearest Planned Parenthood or community clinics, as they usually provide birth control and other sexual and reproductive health services, such as screenings for sexually-transmitted diseases (STIs) and urinary tract infection. The website has a good database of clinics near you that can provide cost-friendly contraception in your area, and even has an online tool to determine if you qualify for free birth control. Websites like Nurx and SimpleHealth offer birth control as low as US$15 with online consultations. 

Bringing birth control pills from home can be risky as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has strict regulations on drugs allowed in the US. You should have a valid doctor’s prescription in English from your home country if you’re planning to stock your supply, and they must be in the original packaging.

You have the great foresight to think ahead about accessing contraceptives overseas, so more power to you for taking ownership of your health and body! Birth control for students are very much accessible in the US — you just have to look for them at the right place.