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Reciprocal Health Care Agreement

Everything you need to know about the RHCA.

If you’re an overseas visitor to Australia, in most cases you will not be covered by Australia’s universal healthcare scheme Medicare.

However, visitors to Australia from specific countries are able to access a range of subsidised healthcare services under Reciprocal Health Care Agreements (RHCA). These agreements are in place between the Australian Government and 11 other nations, allowing those foreign citizens to receive cover for the cost of essential medical treatment while in Australia.

How does the RHCA help visitors and Aussies overseas?

An RHCA is a joint policy between two countries designed to provide certain essential medical services to the citizens of each country. This includes cover for the cost of medical treatment for:

  • Visitors from RHCA countries who travel to Australia
  • Australians who visit a country that has an RHCA with Australia

The exact benefits provided and treatments subsidised vary from one RHCA to the next, as does the period for which you can receive benefits. However, RHCAs generally provide visitors to Australia with cover for expenses such as treatment as an inpatient or outpatient in a public hospital, subsidised medications and out-of-hospital medical treatment.

Without the cover provided by an RHCA, you would have to meet any overseas medical expenses you incur out of your own pocket. This could potentially see you facing hospital bills of several thousands of dollars, so the RHCA is an important tool to help overseas visitors to and from Australia and agreement countries access the medical treatment they need.

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Which countries does Australia have an RHCA with?

Australia has RHCAs in place with the following countries:

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

When a citizen of any of the countries above visits Australia, they have access to a range of subsidised healthcare services. Students from Norway, Finland, Malta and the Republic of Ireland who visit Australia are not covered under the RHCA.

Australian citizens can also access cover for the cost of essential medical treatment when they visit any of the 11 countries above.

What sort of cover can I expect if I’m visiting Australia?

Visitors from RHCA countries are entitled to the following while in Australia:

  • Free treatment as a public inpatient or outpatient in a public hospital
  • Subsidised prescription medicines under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS)
  • Medicare benefits for out-of-hospital medical treatment and GP visits

However, different cover is available to visitors from different countries, as outlined below:

Belgium

Belgium

Belgian visitors are entitled to:

  • Free treatment as a public inpatient or outpatient in a public hospital
  • Subsidised prescription medicines under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS)
  • Medicare benefits for out-of-hospital medical treatment and GP visits

Cover is available until the expiry date on your European Health Insurance Card, or for the length of your stay in Australia, whichever is earlier.

Finland

Finland

Finnish visitors are entitled to the following benefits for the entirety of their stay in Australia:

  • Free treatment as a public inpatient or outpatient in a public hospital
  • Subsidised prescription medicines under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS)
  • Medicare benefits for out-of-hospital medical treatment and GP visits

Ireland

Ireland

If you’re visiting Australia from Ireland, you’ll be able to enjoy cover under the RHCA for the length of your stay. This entitles you to inpatient and outpatient treatment as a public patient in a public hospital, as well as medically necessary prescription medicines under the PBS.

Italy

Italy

Italian visitors can enjoy access to the following benefits for up to six months from the date they arrive in Australia:

  • Free treatment as a public inpatient or outpatient in a public hospital
  • Subsidised prescription medicines under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS)
  • Medicare benefits for out-of-hospital medical treatment and GP visits

Malta

Malta

Maltese visitors can enjoy access to the following benefits for up to six months from the date they arrive in Australia:

  • Free treatment as a public inpatient or outpatient in a public hospital
  • Subsidised prescription medicines under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS)
  • Medicare benefits for out-of-hospital medical treatment and GP visits

Netherlands

Netherlands

If visiting from the Netherlands, you are entitled to:

  • Free treatment as a public inpatient or outpatient in a public hospital
  • Subsidised prescription medicines under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS)
  • Medicare benefits for out-of-hospital medical treatment and GP visits

Cover is available until the expiry date on your European Health Insurance Card, or for the length of your stay in Australia, whichever is earlier.

New Zealand

New Zealand

Visitors from New Zealand are covered under the RHCA for the length of their stay in Australia. Under the agreement, you are entitled to inpatient and outpatient treatment as a public patient in a public hospital, as well as medically necessary prescription medicines under the PBS.

Norway

Norway

Norwegian visitors to Australia are entitled to the following cover for the length of their stay:

  • Free treatment as a public inpatient or outpatient in a public hospital
  • Subsidised prescription medicines under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS)
  • Medicare benefits for out-of-hospital medical treatment and GP visits

Slovenia

Slovenia

Slovenian visitors are entitled to:

  • Free treatment as a public inpatient or outpatient in a public hospital
  • Subsidised prescription medicines under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS)
  • Medicare benefits for out-of-hospital medical treatment and GP visits

Cover is available until the expiry date on your European Health Insurance Card, or for the length of your stay in Australia, whichever is earlier.

Sweden

Sweden

Swedish visitors to Australia are entitled to the following cover for the length of their stay:

  • Free treatment as a public inpatient or outpatient in a public hospital
  • Subsidised prescription medicines under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS)
  • Medicare benefits for out-of-hospital medical treatment and GP visits

United Kingdom

United Kingdom

Visitors from the UK are entitled to the following cover for the length of their stay in Australia:

  • Free treatment as a public inpatient or outpatient in a public hospital
  • Subsidised prescription medicines under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS)
  • Medicare benefits for out-of-hospital medical treatment and GP visits

What am I entitled to if I’m an Australian in an RHCA country?

The cover available to Australians travelling overseas varies depending on the RHCA country you visit, as outlined below:

Australians in Belgium

Belgium

  • Medical treatment by GPs
  • Medical treatment by specialist and some dental and allied health specialists
  • Partial cover for hospital services
  • Pharmaceutical medicines
  • 33% cover for ambulance services
  • If staying for more than a year, you need to register with a health insurance fund

Australians in Finland

Finland

  • Small fee charged for all treatments
  • Free services for children 15 years and younger
  • Medically necessary outpatient treatment
  • Nursing care from health centres
  • Dental care in some centres
  • Treatment at hospital outpatient department
  • Refunds for treatment from private doctors and dentists
  • Prescription medicine costs

Australians in Ireland

Ireland

Public hospital care is provided for a small fee for the first 10 days of your stay. After that, free public hospital care is provided. A fee is payable for attendance at outpatient or accident and emergency departments unless you have a doctor’s referral.

Australians in Italy

Italy

  • Cover provided for up to six months
  • Medical treatment, including specialist services at public hospitals and other authorised hospitals and clinics
  • Treatment as an inpatient in public and authorised hospitals
  • Immediately necessary public hospital dental treatment

Australians in Malta

Malta

  • Cover provided for up to six months
  • Medical attention at a health centre provided by a government doctor
  • Nursing care provided by a government nurse on the advice of a doctor
  • Inpatient care (including surgery, medicines, accommodation and meals)
  • Hospital outpatient consultations provided by government specialists
  • Ambulance travel to hospital after accidents or emergencies
  • Immediately necessary dental care in government hospitals

Australians in Netherlands

Netherlands

  • Free access to the public healthcare system for up to 12 months
  • Third-class accommodation in hospitals
  • Refunds for doctor-prescribed medicines
  • Partial refunds for medically necessary ambulance and taxi charges

Australians in New Zealand

New Zealand

Australian visitors to New Zealand can access limited subsidised health care for the duration of their stay. Inpatient treatment and accommodation at a public hospital is covered, but you will have to pay for all other medical treatment and prescription medicine.

Australians in Norway

Norway

  • You are entitled to subsidised health care under Norway’s National Insurance Scheme (NIS)
  • Medical treatment from an NIS GP or outpatient department
  • Specialist services when referred by a GP
  • Hospital inpatient treatment
  • Ambulance travel
  • Emergency dental treatment
  • Ancillary care prescribed by a doctor
  • Some prescription medication costs
  • No charge for hospital inpatient treatment
  • Services free for children under seven

Australians in Slovenia

Slovenia

  • Subsidised medical treatment in public health system (in hospitals, health centres and pharmacies)
  • Subsidised treatment by private GPs, specialists, dentists and pharmacies contracted to the Health Insurance Institute of Slovenia (HIIS)
  • Free ambulance travel when referred by a doctor in an emergency
  • Some prescription medication costs

Australians in Sweden

Sweden

  • Varying charges apply to all services but are reduced for children
  • Medical treatment by doctor or at hospital outpatient department
  • Some travel costs incurred to access medical treatment

Australians in United Kingdom

United Kingdom

  • Medical treatment from doctors
  • Inpatient treatment (including medicine, nursing care and accommodation in a public ward)
  • Outpatient treatment
  • National Health Service (NHS) prescription medicine
  • Ambulance travel to or from and between NHS hospitals

What are the eligibility requirements for the RHCA?

If you’re visiting Australia from an RHCA country, to make use of the Medicare cover available you must enrol for Medicare. To do this you will need to complete a Medicare Enrolment Application Form, which is available online from the Department of Human Services website, and submit it at a Medicare service centre.

You will need the following documentation to enrol in Medicare:

  • Passport
  • Valid visa
  • Proof you are enrolled in your home country’s national health scheme (only in some cases)

Meanwhile, if you’re an Australian heading overseas to visit an RHCA country, you will need to supply the following in order to qualify for subsidised medical care:

  • Your Australian passport
  • Your Medicare card

Overseas Visitors Health Cover vs Reciprocal Health Care Agreements

Foreign visitors to Australia also have another option available to them to ensure they receive the cover they need for medical treatment while in Australia: taking out private health insurance. Several Australian insurers offer what is known as Overseas Visitors Health Cover (OVHC), which is health insurance specifically designed to cover foreign residents while they visit Australia.

OVHC is designed to cover a portion of an overseas visitor’s health care expenses while they are in Australia. This includes cover for:

  • Hospital accommodation and surgical fees for medically necessary hospital admissions
  • Partial cover for medical fees
  • Emergency room costs
  • Emergency ambulance
  • Cover for some pharmaceuticals
  • Cover for some extras services, such as dental and optical

Who has to take out OVHC?

OVHC is an essential consideration for all visitors to Australia. Unless you’re from an RHCA country, you will not be able to access subsidised medical treatment in Australia’s public healthcare system. This means you could be left with substantial out-of-pocket medical and hospital expenses if you suffer illness or injury while in Australia.

In fact, you must take out OVHC if you wish to qualify for several temporary visas that allow entry into Australia. These include the 457 Temporary Work (Skilled) visa and the 485 Temporary Graduate visa.

However, it’s still recommended that you consider OVHC before coming to Australia even if it is not a requirement of your visa. Having private health insurance in place means you can access the health care you need whenever you need it, and that you won’t be left with a substantial bill for the cost of treatment.

What if I’m from an RHCA country?

There is no requirement for visitors from RHCA countries to take out OVHC. However, it’s still recommended that you consider taking out health insurance due to the fact that you are only entitled to limited cover under the RHCA.

Despite their obvious benefits, RHCAs do not cover:

  • Ambulance transport
  • Dental care
  • Elective treatment
  • Medical evacuation to your country of residence
  • Treatment and accommodation in a private hospital, or as a private patient in a public hospital
  • Treatment that is not immediately necessary

With this in mind, it may be worth your while to take out OVHC for the duration of your stay in Australia. This provides a much higher level of cover and will give you the peace of mind you need to enjoy your visit down under.

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Tim Falk

A freelance writer with a passion for the written word, Tim loves helping Australians find the right home loans and savings accounts. When he's not chained to a computer, Tim can usually be found exploring the great outdoors.

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