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What is travel health insurance?

Just like you'd expect to insure your home or car (because it is valuable), travel health insurance is exactly what it sounds like – insurance for your health while you're travelling.
Travel health insurance will take care of the medical expenses which can be really costly when you're overseas. Just keep in mind that this is for unforeseen medical expenses only. Pre-planned treatments aren't covered.

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Why is travel health insurance so important?

Purchasing high-quality travel insurance is crucial so that you are able to receive essential assistance and financial protection for your medical costs if you do happen to fall sick or are injured during your trip.

Without comprehensive travel health insurance, even a minor injury or illness can be quite costly compared to amounts you are used to paying in Australia. What’s more, if you’re in a country that has limited access to suitable emergency medical care, your travel health insurance and their team of experienced professional emergency assistants could quite literally become your life-savers on the road.

By protecting your own health with a suitable comprehensive travel health insurance, you’ll not only save yourself from unnecessary stress and a budget blowout if you happen to have an injury or become ill, but you’ll also provide your family and friends with the peace of mind they deserve as they watch you take off on your grand adventure and await your safe return.

Like any significant purchase, it’s a good idea to know what exactly you’re looking for, how you intend to use it and how well it fits into your budget. For some handy tips on finding the right travel health insurance, see the section below ‘How to choose a travel health cover’.

Health funds that offer travel insurance

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What health related options are generally covered under a travel insurance policy?

While all travel insurance policies and the levels of protection offered will vary between each travel insurer, a typical travel medical insurance policy will cover the following health-related features:

Overseas Emergency Medical Assistance

Most travel insurers will offer a cover for emergency medical assistance if you are injured or become sick overseas, saving you the hassle and worry of trying to organise basic needs in stressful emergency situations. These can include:

  • 24-hour medical assistance
  • Ambulance fees
  • Medical evacuations
  • Funeral arrangements
  • Messages to loved ones
  • Hospital guarantees

Overseas Emergency Medical and Hospital Expenses

Overseas emergency medical and hospital expenses may also be covered. These refer to the cost of your medical treatment overseas, including medical, hospital, surgical, nursing and dental expenses.

Additional Accommodation and Travel Expenses

You can be reimbursed for additional travel and accommodation expenses if you become certified as unfit to travel due to an injury or sickness that needs immediate treatment. For example, if you get very sick in Malaysia and have to be flown back to Australia for adequate medical treatment, your return flight ticket may be covered under this benefit.

Family Emergency

If your travelling companion or a relative of either of you dies unexpectedly, is disabled by an injury or becomes seriously ill and requires hospitalisation during your trip, you may be covered for the cost of additional travel expenses incurred because your journey was cancelled, disrupted or delayed.

Emergency Companion Cover

The emergency companion cover is two-fold. You may be reimbursed for your additional travel and accommodation costs if your travelling companion is injured or sick and cannot continue their journey with you, or; if you are in hospital suffering from a life-threatening or other serious condition, the insurer may reimburse your travel companion or relative’s additional travel and accommodation costs so they can come and stay with you.

Hospital Cash Allowance

Some travel insurers will pay you a certain allowance amount per day if you are hospitalised for more than a specified time while overseas. For example, 1Cover Comprehensive Travel Insurance will pay an allowance of $50 per day if you are hospitalised for more than 48 continuous hours while overseas.

Permanent Disability

If an injury sustained during your journey causes you to become permanently disabled within 12 months of the injury, your travel health insurance may offer a permanent disability benefit. The term ‘permanently’ and ‘disabled’ do vary between each insurer, so be sure to read the fine print in your Product Disclosure Statement (PDS).

Tips to compare travel health insurance policies

So now that you know what a travel health insurance is, why it’s important to have one when you’re off exploring the world and what kinds of covers are generally included, how do you set about choosing a suitable option for yourself and your family?

Like everything else about you, your travel needs are unique. The place to start your research is by looking at your circumstances and your budget.


If you’re headed off backpacking and exploring a series of countries for an extended period of time where medical assistance and supplies will be hard to come by, you may find it worthwhile to look for comprehensive plans that offer higher medical expense limits and inclusions for options such as medical evacuations or additional accommodation and travel expenses. The rarer a service is, the more likely it is to be costly– especially overseas, where you will be considered a foreigner and therefore unlikely to be covered by the country’s usual medical benefits for its residents.

Tighter budget?

Or perhaps you’re limited by a tighter budget and you’re only taking the kids over to visit to their grandparents and your extended family for a week during the school holidays. In this case, you may look for a more basic plan that includes the essential high-quality medical travel cover you need but with the option to add on other specific benefits such as cancellation covers.

An alternative method is to create a list of ‘non-negotiables’ for yourself and any of your travelling companions. Make a list of all the different benefits you absolutely want to be covered for and look for travel health insurances that can cater to your needs with an appropriate amount of cover within your budget.

Range of Options to Consider

Most travel insurers will offer several different cover levels for their travel health insurance such as an ‘essentials’ pack and a ‘comprehensive’ pack, so you can have more flexibility in your choices.

Like with anything worthwhile, take the time to delve into the fine print and be aware of exactly what you will and will not be covered for. With such a precious asset like your health, you won’t want to take a shortcut to only find out later that your claim won’t be processed because there was an exception clause in your Product Disclosure Statement (PDS). Shop around for quotes and don’t be afraid to ask questions of anything you’re unsure of.

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Does my private health insurance cover me overseas?

True or false?

‘I don’t need a travel health insurance – I can just claim it on my private health insurance!’


Some people assume that because they have private health insurance, they will automatically be covered for all their medical needs, no matter their location.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case. With the exception of a very select few, almost all Australian private health insurance companies will not provide any cover for any medical treatment or services provided outside of Australia.

Instead, most health insurance providers now provide their own travel insurance to cover your costs for overseas treatment. As an existing member, it may be worth contacting your private health insurer to find out more about the travel health insurance plans that are available and any extra benefits you may be eligible for if you stick to your private health insurance provider.

What is The Reciprocal Health Care Agreement?

As an Australian resident, you can be covered for the cost of essential medical treatment in certain countries around the world, thanks to the Australian Government’s Reciprocal Health Care Agreement.

If you travel to any of the following countries, you’ll be eligible to receive subsidised medical treatment during your stay if it is required. In return, visitors from those countries are able to receive some health services and subsidised medicines in Australia during their time here too.

Participating countries

Currently, countries covered under the agreement are:

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

Who is eligible?

As an Australian resident, there’s no need for you to lodge any applications or follow a complicated process to benefit from the Reciprocal Health Care Agreement. It is automatically available to all Australians in all participating countries, with the small exception of The Netherlands where you will have to fill out one short form.

Simply inform the local medical staff that you wish to be treated under the Reciprocal Health Care Agreement with Australia and provide the authorities with a valid Medicare card and your Australian or other valid passport to show that you are a permanent Australian resident.

However, it’s important to note that your level of entitlements will vary between each country according to their individual agreements.

Why travel insurance is still necessary despite the agreement

‘So does this mean that I don’t need travel insurance?’

No. While it is a beneficial plan that could help you keep more change in your pockets, the Reciprocal Health Care Agreement is not designed to replace private travel health insurance for overseas travel.

You should still obtain a private travel health insurance to cover yourself against a greater range of possible medical emergencies and the possible accumulative costs in the case of a serious injury or sickness.

Can I still get travel health insurance if I have pre-existing medical conditions?

Worried about getting a travel health insurance because you have an ongoing medical condition?

Those with pre-existing medical conditions may find that their applications require a little more documentation and research than others, but this doesn’t mean that you’ll be automatically excluded from getting a travel health insurance.

Although exact definitions and lists of conditions vary between each insurer, a pre-existing medical condition is generally classified as:

  • An ongoing medical or dental condition that you are aware of/have been aware of
  • A medical or dental condition that is currently being investigated by an approved medical practitioner
  • A condition for which you take prescribed medication for
  • A condition that you have undertaken surgery for
  • A condition that you receive ongoing treatment for from a medical practitioner
  • Pregnancy

Depending on your pre-existing medical condition and your travel insurer, they will take one of the following steps during your application process:

  • Automatically accept you for cover
  • Exclude claims related to the pre-existing condition from cover under their policy
  • Request additional information, such as the last time you were hospitalised for the pre-existing condition.

It can seem tricky to understand all the specific inclusions and exclusions regarding pre-existing medical conditions, so you may wan to speak directly with an adviser from your chosen travel health insurer to personally discuss your specific pre-existing medical condition and their policies before making the commitment to purchase.

Travel health tips

Most effectively protecting your health while you travel overseas can be as simple as booking a health check with your doctor before you leave Australia.

By seeing your doctor or visiting a travel health clinic at least eight weeks before you depart, your doctor will be able to discuss your personal travel plans with you and conduct a general health check to confirm that you are fit to travel. They will also be able to develop a personal vaccination plan according to your itinerary.

Vaccinations are a quick and reliable method to prevent infectious diseases that cause some serious illnesses overseas. For some countries, being vaccinated may even form a part of your entry requirements to that country.

Your doctor will be able to advise you of the vaccinations required for your trip, including any booster doses of childhood vaccinations that you may need. Because some vaccinations can take a longer period of time to take effect on your body or require multiple doses, it’s a good idea to book in early.

If you’re travelling to a certain part of the world that is known for its high rates of certain infectious diseases, doing your research and taking a proactive approach will go a long way in helping you stay fit and healthy so you can enjoy all the fun you’ve planned for your travels.

Compare travel health insurance online

While no one forgets to pack their bags or to take their passport, many assume that travel health insurance is merely an option for their travels, but that’s not quite true.

By getting a travel health insurance that suits your circumstances, your budget and your ideal amount of cover, you can truly relax and enjoy yourself on your holiday knowing that essential emergency assistance and financial protection for medical costs are already taken care of and at your disposal if you do happen to fall sick or are injured.

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Written by

Zahra Campbell-Avenell

As Head of Publishing and Editorial for Finder in Australia, Zahra Campbell-Avenell leads a team of experts to deliver on Finder's mission to help people make better decisions with their money. Zahra has over 12 years of experience in editorial content, and a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology and English from Georgetown University in Washington DC. See full profile

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