Health cover for visitors to Australia

Belgium, Finland, Ireland, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Slovenia, Sweden and the UK have reciprocal health agreements with Australia. If you are from one of these countries you may be entitled to free emergency health care although the extent of this cover varies depending on where you are from.

Duration of health cover

If you are from Finland, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden or the United Kingdom you are covered for the entire duration of your stay in Australia.

Visitors from Belgium, the Netherlands or Slovenia need their European Health Insurance card to enrol in Medicare. If you are from one of these countries you are covered for the entire duration of your stay in Australia unless your European Health Insurance card expires while you are still in Australia.

If you are visiting Australia from Italy and Malta you are covered by Medicare for six months from your date of arrival in Australia.

Extent of health cover

Reciprocal health care agreements are designed to cover emergency procedures and essential medical treatment and for the most part you are entitled to treatment to a similar extent that an Australian tourist visiting your country would receive.

Generally if medical treatment can’t wait until you return home then it is usually covered under this scheme. Things like a general medical checkup, vaccinations for travel outside Australia and most cosmetic surgery will not be covered.

Travellers from Belgium, Finland, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Slovenia, Sweden and the United Kingdom are entitled to the following benefits:

  • treatment at a public hospital
  • subsidised medicine under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS)
  • Medicare benefits for treatment provided by a doctor

Visitors from Ireland and New Zealand are entitled to:

  • treatment at a public hospital
  • subsidised medicine under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS)

Treatment outside hospitals

You are also entitled to medical treatment in community health centres and private doctors’ practices.

There are two main methods of paying for doctors in Australia. Some doctors bill Medicare directly (this is called bulk billing) and others give you a bill that you pay and then take to a Medicare office to be reimbursed for the cost.

Treatment in hospitals

Under a reciprocal health agreement you are only covered for essential treatment as a public patient at a public hospital. You will need to pay your own treatment (or will need insurance to cover the cost) if you want to be treated as a private patient.

What isn’t covered under a reciprocal health agreement

Both Medicare and any reciprocal health agreement will not cover the following:

  • Ambulance services (ambulance is expensive in Australia and it is recommended that you either have specific ambulance insurance cover or travel insurance that covers ambulance service)
  • Any treatment organised prior to visiting Australia
  • Any treatment as a private patient in a public hospital or as a patient in a private hospital
  • Cosmetic surgery; this may be covered in some instances (for instance if your face has been mauled by a crocodile), but not for purely cosmetic reasons
  • Dental treatment
  • Glasses, contact lenses and hearing aids
  • Medicine that is not subsidised under the PBS
  • Prostheses
  • Treatments such as acupuncture, chiropractic services, occupational therapy, podiatry, psychology, physiotherapy or speech therapy
  • and anything where someone else is responsible for payment (for instance if your employer or insurance company is obliged to pay for treatment)

If you are not covered by a reciprocal health agreement you may want to take out comprehensive travel insurance or sign up with an Australian private health insurer. Even if you are covered under a reciprocal health agreement and you’re on a working holiday you may want to sign up for private health insurance, which will cover many things not covered under your reciprocal health care agreement although a visitor on a shorter trip to Australia would be best served by their travel insurance. Many Australian health insurance companies offer some products aimed at visitors to Australia and private health insurance is a requirement of some visa categories (for instance most student visas require private health insurance).

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