Welcome to Boston University! It is our goal to help you have a happy and healthy experience while attending school in Boston.
We recognize that certain aspects of healthcare in the US may be quite different from what you are used to at home. See below for an overview of how the health care system works and how to stay healthy during your time at BU.
Health Insurance in the US
Basic healthcare, doctor visits, prescriptions, and emergency treatment in the US can be quite costly. Limited public insurance options are available, such as Medicare for the elderly and Medicaid for lower-income people. Most insured Americans are enrolled in a private healthcare plan, often through an employer. Since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) passed in 2010, the percentage of Americans with some form of health insurance has been steadily increasing.
In the state of Massachusetts, residents are required by law to obtain a minimum level of health insurance coverage. All students at BU must have insurance that meets the ACA’s minimum coverage requirements. You will automatically be enrolled in the Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP). The cost of this insurance will be billed to your student account and is included in the price of tuition. If you currently have another form of US-based health insurance coverage and do not wish to be enrolled in SHIP, you can waive your coverage. Learn more about managing your student health insurance with SHIP, or get more information about the Aetna student health insurance plan.
Prescription Medications and Pharmacies in the US
In the US, prescriptions must be obtained from a doctor. Pharmacists cannot prescribe medications, only fill prescriptions. American pharmacies are often referred to as “drugstores,” though they may look more like convenience stores or small supermarkets with a separate area where you can pick up your prescriptions. Common drugstore chains in Massachusetts include CVS, Rite Aid, and Walgreens.
Drugstores typically sell over-the-counter medicines (pain relievers, cough syrup), first aid supplies, toothbrushes, deodorant, feminine products, and contraception alongside cleaning supplies, groceries, cosmetics, and seasonal items like candy or decor. In Massachusetts, drugstores do not sell alcohol. CVS, a major chain in the area, recently stopped selling cigarettes.
Many products in the US may have different names from what you are used to at home. For example, cotton buds or cotton swabs are often referred to by the brand name Q-Tip. If you ask for an adhesive bandage, you will be directed to the Band-Aids. Similarly, many common, over-the-counter medicines will be sold under different brand names in the US. See our list below for popular brand names, but keep in mind that most pharmacies also offer generic or store-brand alternatives that are just as effective.
Medication Naming Conventions
- Ibuprofen = Motrin, Advil
- Paracetamol = Acetaminophen = Tylenol
- Naproxen = Aleve
- Bismuth subsalicylate = Pepto Bismol, Kaopectate
- Calcium carbonate = Tums, Mylanta, Rolaids
Allergies or Sleep Aid
- Diphenhydramine = Benadryl, Nytol, Unisom
Cough and Cold
- Pseudoephedrine = Sudafed
- Dextromethorpan = Delsym, Robitussin DM
- Guaifenesin = Mucinex, Robitussin DM
Please note that you may need to present a valid photo ID to purchase over-the-counter medications that contain certain ingredients, such as the decongestant pseudoephedrine.
Learn more information about medications.
Check out our Health Promotion & Prevention department to learn about educational programs and request online resources to help you stay healthy.
Sexual Health Resources
We are committed to the sexual health and well-being of the entire BU community. That includes our foreign students as well as American citizens. We offer both educational and clinical services. Scroll below for detailed information about the rights and resources available to you in the US.
Safer Sex Resources
Want free, safer-sex supplies such as condoms and personal lubricants delivered to you by mail? Just complete an order form for the Condom Fairy. In the US, birth control pills are available by prescription only. Emergency contraception pills (“morning-after pills”) are available over-the-counter at most pharmacies.
Free Testing for Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STIs)
Cases of sexually transmitted diseases in the US are currently at a record high, with adolescents and young adults accounting for half of all new infections. If you are sexually active, it is a good idea to get regular tests for STIs—even if you don’t have any symptoms.
Sexual Harassment and Assault
In the United States, sexual harassment (unwanted advances or obscene remarks) and sexual assault (any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without your explicit consent) are illegal and should be reported as soon as possible.
All forms of sexual misconduct—including rape, acquaintance rape, sexual assault, domestic and dating violence, stalking, and sexual harassment—are violations of Boston University’s policies, whether they happen on or off campus.
Center for English Language & Orientation Programs (CELOP)
We have a dedicated page to guide you through the Incoming Health Requirement process and also provide additional immunization and insurance resources.