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Insurance for international travel and overseas medical costs

Australian health insurance typically doesn't cover international travel or overseas medical costs.

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Australian private health funds offer Australia-wide cover for a wide range of medical, hospital and healthcare expenses, but what about medical costs incurred overseas?

Does your health insurance cover international travel?

No, Australian health insurance doesn't cover cover international travel, and you can't claim for medical expenses incurred overseas. Australian private health funds only provide cover for medical and hospital expenses you incur in Australia. Private health insurance hospital cover can provide benefits for any medical service listed on the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS), but Medicare only provides cover for medical expenses incurred in Australia, not overseas.

Does Medicare cover medical expenses abroad?

No, Medicare does not cover overseas medical expenses. However, Australian citizens may be covered under a Reciprocal Health Agreement, if one is in place between Australian and the country you're in.

Does health insurance cover overseas cosmetic surgery?

The practice of going overseas for cosmetic surgery commonly referred to as medical tourism, is on the rise in Australia. However, health insurance doesn’t cover overseas cosmetic surgery costs for a couple of reasons.

The first reason is that Australian private health insurance will only cover you in Australia. The second reason is that health insurance only covers services for which Medicare pays a benefit, and Medicare doesn’t pay any benefits for surgery conducted for purely cosmetic purposes. So if you’re planning on going overseas to go under the knife, don’t expect your health fund to cover the costs.

The medical tourism industry is on the rise, with around 15,000 Australians heading overseas each year for a range of treatments from cosmetic surgery and breast implants to dental treatment and weight loss procedures.

And while the reasons are the same (much cheaper than Australia) and the risks are still there (hundreds of botched procedures every year), what's now changed is that some Australian health insurers are getting onboard.

What are your options for overseas medical coverage?

If you're travelling overseas and need medical coverage, then there are two primary ways to get coverage; Travel Insurance and Reciprocal Health Care Agreements.

Travel insurance

Travel insurance is the first port of call when looking for protection against the cost of overseas medical expenses. Travel insurance policies provide cover for emergency hospital and medical expenses you may incur while overseas, including things like hospital accommodation, surgical fees and even ambulance transport. Emergency dental costs are typically included as well. Travel insurance can also cover additional accommodation and travel costs that arise if you have to remain overseas for longer than planned due to medical reasons.

Many countries require you to take out an adequate level of medical travel insurance cover before you can gain visa approval, so it's essential that you consider your cover needs before you go overseas.

Compare travel insurance from Australian brands

Reciprocal Health Care Agreements (RHCAs)

The Australian Government has RHCAs in place with the governments of 11 other countries around the world. Under these agreements, Australian citizens visiting those countries can receive subsidised access to essential health care.

Australia has RHCAs in place with the following countries:

  • The United Kingdom
  • The Republic of Ireland
  • Sweden
  • Belgium
  • Italy
  • Malta
  • Finland
  • Norway
  • The Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Slovenia

Are there any ways to cover elective treatments overseas?

If you want to have an elective surgical procedure overseas, you can forget about looking to your health fund to pick up the tab. Firstly, they will only cover medical treatment performed in Australia and secondly, if it is a procedure such as a facelift or a tummy tuck, cosmetic surgery is not covered by health insurance either here or overseas.

Which leaves you with one of two options:

  • Purchase a service such as the new NIB Options or visit a medical tourism travel agency and have your whole trip organised for you, from the surgical procedure to your flights and accommodation.
  • Organise your overseas treatment yourself and insure it with specialised cover from a policy extension such as that provided by Go Dental.

Medical treatment overseas program

The Medical Treatment Overseas Program is an Australian Government program that offers financial assistance to Australians who suffer serious medical conditions and need to seek life-saving treatment overseas. As well as your overseas medical expenses, the program can cover travel and accommodation costs for you and a carer, travel insurance, and passport and visa costs.

You’ll need to satisfy a range of criteria in order to qualify for financial support under the program. For example, the medical treatment must not be available in Australia, and it must be deemed by the Department of Health to be “significantly life-extending and potentially curative”.

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