Travel hack: Here’s where Australian travellers can score healthcare perks overseas

Taking your Medicare card abroad could save you thousands in 11 countries around the world

Melissa Woodley
Written by
Melissa Woodley
Travel & News Editor, Time Out Australia
Man jumping into lake from rope
Photograph: Blake Wheeler via Unsplash

Packed your bags for a sun-soaked Euro-summer? There’s one travel essential you don’t want to forget – and it won’t even take up any suitcase space. It’s your Medicare card, and it could save you thousands of dollars should you find yourself in a medical emergency while travelling overseas.

We all know these powerful green Medicare cards keep our doctors' bills down at home in Australia, but they’ve got some international perks too. Thanks to reciprocal healthcare agreements with 11 countries around the world, Aussies can claim reduced fees for doctor visits and medical care in places like the UK, Italy, the Netherlands and New Zealand. 

What’s the catch? First off, you can only access the benefits if you have your Medicare card on you – so, don’t forget to slip it into your luggage, along with your passport. Secondly, these sweet reciprocal healthcare perks only cover emergency care for illnesses or injuries that just can’t wait until you get home. Plus, it’s typically only valid for emergencies within six to twelve months from your arrival date. Finally, while these agreements can save you thousands, they likely won’t foot the entire medical bill. You’ll probably still need to pay a percentage yourself, along with covering any private healthcare, non-subsidised medicines or medical evacuations.

Each of the 11 countries sets its own rules for what’s covered or subsidised under the reciprocal health agreement. In the UK, you can tap into those Medicare perks through the National Health Service (NHS) system within six months of arriving. This includes care from NHS doctors or nurses at a GP surgery, NHS hospital treatment, ambulance travel and subsidised prescription medicine (if treated as an NHS patient). 

Over in the Netherlands, your Medicare benefits extend for 12 months, covering specialist care, transport, paramedics and even childbirth. In New Zealand, the perks stretch even further, covering you for up to two years after arrival. However, the agreement only includes hospital care, maternity services, and pharmaceuticals.

If you find yourself in a sticky situation abroad, it’s critical to get help, no matter the cost. You can check online to see if you’re covered by any of Australia’s reciprocal healthcare agreements here. Keep in mind that there are exclusions or conditions for certain regions and groups, including dual nationals and people studying, living or working there. Your Medicare card also isn’t a substitute for travel insurance, which could save you thousands of dollars in the case of a medical evacuation.

Here are the 11 countries Australia currently has reciprocal healthcare agreements with:

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

Planning a trip to Australia? Travellers from any of the 11 countries listed above can enjoy healthcare perks in Australia too. You can find out more here

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