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.
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
- The Netherlands
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:
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:
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:
- 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 health funds 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.
Compare overseas health cover options
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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