Save On Travel Health Insurance With Reciprocal Agreements

Going overseas without medical insurance is a pretty risky idea, but there are some countries where Australians are entitled to basic care for free. Here's what you need to know.

Picture by newbirth

Most travellers are aware that medical expenses can get ridiculously high ridiculously quickly, especially in the US. But quite a few aren't aware that the Australian Government has signed "reciprocal health care agreements" with a number of countries to allow Australians to access state-funded medical services while travelling.

Those agreements are limited to New Zealand and a handful of European nations (the UK and the Republic of Ireland; Sweden, Finland, Norway and the Netherlands; and Italy, Belgium and Malta). As such, they won't help much if you're on a round the world trip, but they might be enough for brief visits, or if your travel insurer isn't being responsive. The scheme is designed to cover "immediately necessary" treatment.

To use the scheme, you'll need both your passport and your Medicare card (something you might not think to pack otherwise). You'll also need to tell doctors and other staff that you want to be treated under the reciprocal agreement.

One challenge when doing this is that recognition of the scheme can vary really widely. I've visited doctors in the UK who were happy to see an Australian without even bothering to check my passport. Others have firmly suggested that the reciprocal care option is only available in the nearest hospital emergency room. That might not be strictly accurate, but the odds of your getting into a doctor once the receptionist has decided against it are always slight.

All things considered, I wouldn't want to rely solely on the reciprocal agreement, but it is a useful backup. If you want to hunt down cheaper travel insurance, check out previously mentioned Artog.


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    I would still get Travel Insurance incase something serious happens

    In the UK I found that around London, the chances of having a medical centre honour the agreement to be almost nil. I've been turned away from several empty surgeries because the receptionists weren't in the mood.

    Away from London, they were quite happy to put me through.

    I got quite a shock at a surgery in the far north of Norway. The doctor came out and said "G'day mate" in a very broad Aussie accent. He was a Norwegian who'd studied in Melbourne.

    Angus, is this just a recent agreement?
    I think its an awesome idea.

      No, it's been in place for years -- it's just not been mentioned on Lifehacker before :-)

    I'm heading over to the UK, Germany, France, Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland later in the year so this is handy to know.

    I'll have a British and Australian Passport; Will I still need the Medicare card for use of the health care agreement or would my British passport give me the same rights to health care as a British citizen?

      British passport should entitle you to a broader range of treatment -- but the NHS will probably require you to actually register with a doctor to do that.

    For a second there I thought I scrolled down onto an upskirt pic.

    For more on actual travel insurance you can look at for more information on what exactly it does and doesn't cover and compare it to the reciprocal agreement.

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