Healthcare in Australia for Expats

One thing most Britons agree on is their gratitude to the NHS for providing free healthcare at the point of delivery.

So, when we look to move abroad, healthcare provisions are one of the first things we investigate, quite rightly.

If you are considering a move Down Under, you will be glad to know that Australia offers high standards of healthcare and has a similar system to the NHS, called Medicare. But there are, of course, still many differences you need to understand, from who qualifies for Medicare to the government’s blend of public and private healthcare.

If you are getting ready to make the move to Australia, read on to learn more and ensure you are covered for everything you need…

Do I Need Health Insurance?

While Australia’s Medicare system offers a good service, you do not qualify for it while you are outside of Australia and in general temporary visa holders will not qualify atall. This means that before planning your international move Down Under, you should take out private health insurance to cover you for any eventuality.

In fact, for certain visas – generally work visas – you will need to prove to the Australian authorities that you have taken out health insurance. This is important even if you are from a country that has a reciprocal healthcare agreement with Australia (more on this later).

Australia’s Home Affairs office states: “We might ask you to provide a copy of a health insurance policy for you and any additional applicants applying for the visa with you. Check the requirements of the visa you are applying for.”

Helpfully, more information about what exactly your health insurance should cover as a minimum to get your visa can be found on the Home Affairs website.

Public Healthcare in Australia: Medicare

All Australians and permanent residents have a right to access Medicare, which is paid for through taxes on your income. However, the Medicare system doesn’t cover everything.

Treatment in public hospitals is included, with doctors and specialists nominated by the hospital. And just like the UK, you will need a referral from your GP to be able to see a specialist without paying.

However, when it comes to out-of-hospital services, generally Medicare will cover about 85 per cent of the costs (when you are seeing a GP, the full cost is covered) and if you need an ambulance, that is not covered either (apart from in Queensland and Tasmania if you are resident there) and can cost up to AUD 959 (£540) depending on which state you are in.

If you are going to be a permanent resident in Australia, you must enrol for Medicare. It is generally suggested you wait at least a week after arrival to register, to allow time for your visa details to have been sent to Medicare from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship.

You will need to register in person at a Medicare office, taking along your bank details and proof of identity and residency as well as filling out an application form. You will then likely receive your Medicare card within three to four weeks. Formore details on if you qualify and what you need to register, the Australian Department of Human Services can help.

What Are The Benefits of Private Healthcare in Australia?

The Australian government encourages citizens to take out private healthcare and provides an incentive, offering a rebate of up to 33 per cent (depending on age and situation) to help over the cost of your premiums. There is even a rebate calculator to help you work out what you’re owed.

Because citizens are encouraged to take out private health insurance, there is a government ombudsman to help regulate and explain the system and how it works.

The website explains: “There are two types of private health insurance – hospital policies cover you when you go to hospital, while general treatment policies (sometimes known as ancillary or extras) cover you for ancillary treatment (e.g. dental, physiotherapy).”

You can also take out a combined private health insurance, which covers both hospital and ancillary treatments.

If you are eligible for Medicare but choose to go for a treatment through your private insurance, Medicare will cover you for 75 per cent of the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) fee for associated medical costs. You can find out more about the benefits of taking out private health insurance on the Private Health government website.

Health Funds

If you are looking at Australian health insurers, there is very clear information here on the different types on the government’s Private Health website.

It is worth noting that there are two different types of funds, not-for-profit and for-profit, and they can either be registered as “open” or “restricted”, meaning they either cater to all members of the public, or only offer policies through specific employment groups, associations or unions.

Keep inmind that many funds will operate mainly in a particular state or regionalmarket and will have agreement hospitals and health providers within that area – something you should pay close attention to so that your fees are covered.

Of course, most of the larger funds will have different policies for different states or will offer the same policies but at different premiums.

The good thing about these monitored funds, is that they cannot refuse to insure you or refuse to sell you whichever policy you want on the basis of your health or how likely you are to claim.

What is The Reciprocal Health Care Agreement?

Australia has a Reciprocal Health Care Agreement (RHCA) with 11 different countries including the UK (citizens from Belgium, Finland, Italy, Malta, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Ireland, Slovenia and Sweden are also covered).

The agreement covers the cost of medically necessary care and some prescription medicines for visitors from those countries. But keep in mind, this is not full medical cover and there are a lot of differences in service depending on which country you are from. Also, if you are in Australia for an extended period of time, you will need to register with Medicare to benefit from this agreement.

For UK residents, there are clear details outlined on the UK-specific page here.


Australian healthcare may seem complicated, but it is a good system to ensure everyone has access to treatment. Medicare does sometimes have queues and waiting lists and private healthcare can be expensive – but offers world-beating service – as an expat, just make sure you do your research so you are covered for every eventuality and can take advantage of any rebates if they apply to you.

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