Medicare and Australian reciprocal health arrangements

How far does your Medicare cover extend when you travel?

hand holding stethocope in front of a world map

Many travellers are aware that, when travelling in Australia, Medicare covers the cost of any health mishaps they may have. But what about when travelling around Australia?

Australia is, per capita, the biggest cruising country in the world. No wonder. We’re an island nation with plenty of ports and darn pretty coastline. Cruise ships can basically go anywhere from our shores.

Not to mention that the idea of cruising is also synonymous with convenience: just board, unpack once and enjoy multiple destinations.

And even though there is the added protection of onboard health services, it doesn’t mean that you’re automatically covered for any medical emergency.

Well, it doesn’t mean they’ll throw you overboard if you fall ill (or down), it just means it may cost you an arm and a leg to be treated.

Onboard health staff are quite able, but not necessarily registered to practice in Australia. Also, Australian territory extends to around 22kms offshore, so go past that and you won’t be covered by our national health system. And Medicare won’t cover you on a cruise ship.

So, it’s important to take out appropriate travel insurance, even if you go on a domestic cruise.

Something that many travellers may not know, is that Medicare has a reciprocal arrangement with the health systems of several countries.

You’ll still need a certain level of health cover in your travel insurance, but the following nations will accept you as a publicly funded patient in a medical emergency:

So, it’s good to know that you can be subsidised for medically necessary care, emergency care and any health issues that can’t wait until you get back home. But you should still have travel insurance with appropriate health cover.

Were you aware that Australia had reciprocal health arrangements with these countries? Have you had any experience with foreign health systems?



    To make a comment, please register or login
    7th Oct 2017
    Two experiences with this ...
    Husband had a kidney stone and couldn't board our river cruise in Amsterdam and had to go by ambulance to hospital. He was told there would be no charge, but when we got home a huge bill arrived in the mail (written in Dutch!). It took a long time and many letters to get it cancelled. He caught up with the ship and when we arrived in Vienna he had more problems. They called a doctor onboard and he was treated for free.

    I had a suspected DVT in the UK and was treated under their health system with no cost to me.

    It's really expensive and difficult to get travel health insurance as a senior with pre-existing conditions!
    7th Oct 2017
    Your not kidding about getting travel insurance as a senior with pre existing conditions, and the silly thing is that in my case I didn't know I had a problem, now I am medicated to prevent further heart problems, so am less of a risk.
    7th Oct 2017
    The thing I don't understand is when I travel to the UK/Europe which I try to do every couple of years to visit family, I have to take out travel insurance for the whole time I am away, which is usually about 3 months, I really only need insurance for the travel there and back, as mentioned in the article we have reciprocal arrangements with the U.K. and many of the other European countries for emergency medical treatment and in the UK you can visit the doctors for free, not sure about other countries.
    7th Oct 2017
    However that reciprocal arrangement is for emergency treatment only I think you will find. Also in some of the Reciprocal Countries the treatment you receive in a public hospital is very very basic. Have heard horror stories of people caught up in this in Italy.
    7th Oct 2017
    Depends what is classed as an emergency, we have used GP's in the UK a few times over many years, on a recent trip my wife had a problem with blocked ears and the local GP's nurse syringed her ears for her, my eldest brother had a really bad nose bleed recently when he was heading to the snowfields in Switzerland, he is on warfin so the situation quickly became serious, they managed to find a GP surgery who treated him free of charge, my brother lives in the UK so maybe they have different reciprocal agreements than we have.
    7th Oct 2017
    On one of my trips to the UK, I got a bad cold and bronchitis and had to go to the GP. No problems at all. Just filled in the forms and everything ok. My doctor at home got a letter to say what they had treated me for. While the doctor was free, I had to pay full price for the prescription at the chemist though.

    Second time, I had chest pain and my cousin took me to the Lancaster Royal Infirmary. They whisked me in and gave me an ECG, blood tests, etc, and kept me under observation for an hour or so. No heart problems in the end, but they were great, and no charge.
    7th Oct 2017
    When applying for very expensive travel insurance because of a pre existing condition, l had to send screeds of paperwork to Sydney so that my condition etc could be checked out by the 'nurses' for approval or not! This was even though I supplied all the relevant information from my specialist and GP. Apparently their knowledge was not enough and the 'nurses' know better. This all took about 6 weeks so don't leave things till the last minute. Also a tip is for not much more money take it out for 12 months. We also tagged my spouse on as well which made his part of it more economical. There are only a couple of Insurance companies that cover for pre existing conditions so you may need to look around.
    7th Oct 2017
    In 2014 I took my then 92yr Mother on her first Cruise, she had probs getting Travel Insurance even though she didn't have any medical problems,( it was because of her age ) and it was going to cost her nearly as much as the cruise, I was booking Insurance for myself so I asked if my mother could be added to it even though she lived in a different state, stated her age etc not a problem and it only cost an extra few dollars, that was with "Southern Star"
    Ted Wards
    9th Oct 2017
    Theres been a few interesting articles about the issue of Australian cruisers going around Australia and inundating local doctors surgeries on port days. In one case in Freemantle I believe several were refused treatment because there were so many and locals couldn't get in to be seen in time to return to the ship.
    I think its something to keep in mind that no matter where you go anything can happen and its best to be sure and covered. Like most insurance, you don't need it until something happens then it can be a nightmare trying to get money that you are entitled to. I've only had one occasion where I've had to claim and that was a car being written off due to a terrible hail storm. It was quite a simple process and quite worthwhile the effort to recoup the money and more.
    I was with a group of four that got caught in Bali for four extra days a few years back because of the ash and volcano and planes being cancelled. We had a ball and stayed in a cheap hotel and the whole thing cost less than $50, including food. The girl who organized the trip tried to claim through Woolworths and eventually got the $50.00 back. Interestingly I paid most of that $50 and never saw a cent of it. But the experience was worth every cent.

    Join YOURLifeChoices, it’s free

    • Receive our daily enewsletter
    • Enter competitions
    • Comment on articles