Little-known rule about cruising

Couple on a cruise

We are heading into peak cruising season in Australia, but there is a little-known insurance fact that may trip up unwary travellers.

You’d think if you are travelling in Australian waters, you’d be covered by Australian healthcare, but according to Australians are not covered by Medicare and general private health insurance when cruising.

Every cruise ship has some sort of healthcare, at the very least a doctor, but those doctors don’t need Medicare numbers, which means if they treat you, you can’t claim on Medicare or your private health insurance.

To be covered for healthcare at sea, Australians need either international travel insurance that covers domestic cruises or a specific domestic cruise policy, not just standard domestic travel insurance.

Get the right insurance

A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade told that Smartraveller, the government’s travel advice website, urges Aussies to make sure they choose a travel insurance policy that covers cruises, as well as any onshore activities.

“Some cruise ships will not permit passengers to board without cruise-specific insurance,” the spokesperson said.

As soon as your ship leaves the port, without specific cruise cover insurance, you would be responsible for the fees for medical treatment and medical evacuations, which are incredibly expensive. 

According to CruiseWeekly, the cost of a medical evacuation in Australian waters could set you back between $10,000-$20,000. If you are on an international cruise in American waters, that figure jumps to as much as $50,000. 

And as most people know, cruise ships can be dangerous. They are havens for infection and, considering the constantly moving vessel and the average age of passengers, there’s a risk for falls and broken limbs.


A standard visit to the doctor onboard can cost $150-$200, even for something as simple as seasickness. 

Depending on the policy, specialist cruising insurance can also cover you for delays – for example bad weather or strikes – cancellations, replacing lost luggage, or even cabin confinement.

Generally, cruise insurance does not cover changing your mind about the cruise, anything you do while drunk, sporting activities both on and off the ship and pre-existing medical conditions – you may have to pay extra for those.

You are also not covered if anything goes wrong if you enter an area covered by a travel warning from the Department of Foreign Affairs.

These warnings are on the Smartraveller website, and you can check them out here.

Have you been on a cruise? Did you know you had to take out specialist insurance? Why not share your experience in the comments section below?

Also read: Nine cruises you will need to book in advance

Written by Jan Fisher

Accomplished journalist, feature writer and sub-editor with impressive knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income, issues that affect Australians planning and living in retirement, and answering YLC members' Age Pension and Centrelink questions. She has also developed a passion for travel and lifestyle writing and is fast becoming a supermarket savings 'guru'.

One Comment

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  1. I went on a cruise up the coast of Western Australia but didn’t realise I needed insurance. I thought I would be covered by Medicare. I was told by another passenger that I wasn’t covered. Thankfully, there were no problems but I’ll be sure to ask about insurance in future.

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