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Health care for overseas visitors: Reciprocal Health Care Agreements

26 March 2013 - 3:02pm

If you're planning on visiting Australia some time soon, it's vital that you take care of your health care requirements to ensure you really enjoy your trip - without getting stuck with a costly medical bill.

The Australian government has Reciprocal Health Care Agreements (RHCA) with New Zealand, the Republic of Ireland, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Finland, Netherlands, Norway, Belgium, Italy, Slovenia and Malta.

RHCA cover treatment that is "medically essential", this is identified as any ill-health or injury that occurs while you are staying in Australia and requires treatment before you leave to return home.

If you're a resident of the following countries: Sweden, Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Finland, Norway, Italy, Malta and Slovenia, you are entitled to certain health or injury treatments while you are staying in Australia.

These include free treatment as a public in-patient or out-patient in a public hospital, subsidised medicine under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) and Medicare benefits for out-of-hospital treatment provided by a doctor.

New Zealand and Republic of Ireland residents are entitled to services as a public patient in a public hospital (including out-patient services) for what the Department of Human Services details as "medically necessary treatment medicines available on prescription" that are subsidised under the PBS, at the general rate.

The Department of Human Services states that if you have applied for or received a Subclass Visa 410 (Retiree Visa) before December 1 1998, you may be able to access Medicare under the RHCA of your home country.

If you applied for this visa after December 1 1998, you're not eligible for Medicare and not covered under the RHCA.

How long am I covered for?

Residents of the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Republic of Ireland, Finland, Norway and Sweden are covered for the length of their stay in Australia.

Visitors from the Netherlands, Slovenia and Belgium need their European Health Insurance card to enrol in Medicare. You are then eligible until the expiry date on the card - or if it is an earlier date - the length of your authorised stay in Australia.

Residents of Italy and Malta will be covered by Medicare for a period of six months from the date of their arrival in Australia.

Overseas students

If you are in Australia on a student visa from Sweden, United Kingdom, Belgium, Italy, Slovenia, the Netherlands or New Zealand you are covered by Medicare.

Students from Malta, Finland, Norway and the Republic of Ireland aren't covered by agreements with those countries.

The Department of Human Services has noted: "With the exception of students from Belgium, New Zealand, Norway and Sweden it is a condition of your student visa that you take out Overseas Student Health Cover (OSHC)."

No Reciprocal Health Care Agreement?

Visitors from countries with no health care agreements with Australia are highly recommended to seek health insurance.

This helps to ensure that you get the appropriate medical care and treatment without having to fork out potentially hundreds and thousands of dollars.

Even if your country is covered by Medicare, you may find that there are some treatments and services that aren't included in your cover.

You can take out private health insurance to cover many of these services.

Some visas, such as the 457 visa or the temporary student visa, require you to have private health cover while you're in Australia.

Your health consultant can help you to compare health insurance policies so that you're matched up with the ones that best suit your needs.