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Is there such a thing as Medicare travel insurance?

There's no such thing as Medicare travel insurance but you might be covered for medical care if you're travelling to a country with a reciprocal health care agreement (RHCA).

What you need to know

  • Australia has RHCAs with several countries such as the UK, giving you some access to free healthcare.
  • You will not be covered for free medical care in most countries – you will need travel insurance.
  • All international travel insurance policies cover medical treatment and repatriation.

Can I get access to health care overseas?

There are 11 countries that the Australian government has a reciprocal health care agreement with. This agreement allows Aussie travellers access to the public healthcare system in some countries. These countries are:

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

The RHCA can pay for hospital costs but may not cover ambulances, medication or rehabilitation. However, a travel insurance policy can cover you for these things and more. If you’re travelling to any other country, you’ll need to take out an overseas travel insurance policy to ensure that you are protected against expensive medical costs.

What medical expenses can travel insurance cover?

A basic travel insurance policy typically covers you for:

  • unlimited overseas emergency medical and hospital expenses
  • ambulance transportation
  • repatriation back to Australia
  • personal liability

Reciprocal health care agreements are great – but it's still worth looking into travel insurance. It covers unlimited medical expenses and other much more common travel mishaps, like lost or delayed luggage and cancellations.

Finder survey: What features are important to Australians of different ages when taking out travel insurance?

Response75+ yrs65-74 yrs55-64 yrs45-54 yrs35-44 yrs25-34 yrs18-24 yrs
Medical cover44.19%35.4%22.22%20.29%19.29%20.39%25.71%
Source: Finder survey by Pure Profile of 1112 Australians, December 2023

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Am I covered my medicare if I am on a cruise in Australia?

In most cases, no. Even though you’re not travelling internationally, the doctor treating you on the cruise ship may not be registered to practice in Australia.

The exact cover offered by Medicare for cruise passengers is detailed on the Australian Government’s Smartraveller website:

Medicare benefits are only available to cruise passengers who are travelling between two Australian ports, with no stops outside Australia along the way, and if the medical services they receive are provided by a Medicare-eligible doctor.

Cover will not be provided by your private health insurance policy either, so your best bet is to take out a travel insurance policy that will cover your medical costs. Make sure you have read your policy document thoroughly, as some providers require you take out a cruise travel insurance policy additional option.

What travel insurance should I get?

You have plenty of options to choose from when shopping for travel insurance, and finding the right policy for your needs will depend on your budget and the type of holiday you are planning. Most providers will offer at least three levels of cover: basic, mid-level and comprehensive.

  • Basic policies typically provide cover for only the essentials, which usually includes overseas medical expenses and personal liability.
  • Mid-level policies will add risks such as cancellation fees and lost deposits, lost or stolen luggage and more to the list of cover.
  • A comprehensive policy, meanwhile, contains cover for an extremely broad range of risks and to a high level. Everything from medical expenses to rental vehicle excess and travel delay expenses are covered by such policies, so they’re perfect for those looking for the highest level of protection.

Next, decide on the type of policy you would like to take out:

  • Single trip cover. As the name implies, single trip travel insurance of policy covers you for the duration of a nominated journey.
  • Annual multi-trip cover. Frequent travellers can save a lot of money by investing in an annual travel insurance policy, which covers multiple trips over a 12-month period.

When you’re shopping around for cover, make sure to compare the list of benefits included in a number of competing policies. Ask yourself:

  • Does one policy offer a higher level of cover than others? Know the limits of the policies you are comparing. Looks for ones that provide high levels of medical cover.
  • How does it treat pre-existing medical conditions? If you have an existing medical condition, be sure to let you're insurer know. Don't try and slip anything by them as this will only result in your policy being voided should you need to make a claim.
  • What are the exclusions that apply to each policy? The last thing you want is to end up with an unpleasant surprise when you make a claim.
  • Are the activities I'm going to participate in covered? Finally, if you’re planning on going skiing or perhaps something more adventurous, you may wish to add an extra cover option to your policy.

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