Of all the preparation for our overseas move I found solving the health insurance-puzzle the most complicated one. From figuring out how it all works to finding the right balance between getting appropriate cover and not paying an enormous amount. So that is why we share our personal experience on this matter.
In our case our visa (457) required us to have a private insurance on application of the visa. So it was one of the first things we had to dive into. Googling on ‘overseas visitor health cover’ gets you to insurance companies that offer private health care for overseas visitors, as we are called.
I found a page that explains the basics on how the Australian health care system works, in a non complicated way.
Since we applied for our visa in February and moved in June we were not sure how that worked. Our health care provider activated our cover in February, during the application, and froze it afterwards, so we did not have to pay for the months that we were not in Australia. A day before our flight we activated it again, so we would also be covered during the flight.
The public health system is called Medicare and is available to all Australians. If you are not Australian you might still be eligible if your country has a reciprocal health care agreement with Australia. Check out the list of reciprocal agreement countries.
Medicare covers all basic health care in Australia, but it does have its limitations. Therefore even locals usually have additional private health care.
You can only apply for Medicare once you have arrived in Australia. We made an appointment at the local Medicare center, took our Dutch health insurance cards and visa papers along and that was all it took. You do need to be there in person. The fact that our Dutch cards were no longer active was not an issue.
Private Health Insurance
Even if you are applicable to Medicare, it is not covering everything. The three most important ones missing are ambulance cover, dentist and private hospitals.
The ambulance you never hope to use, but that is one of these unpredictable ones. If at some point you need it, you want to be fully covered.
The costs for dentists are much higher in Australia then what we were used to. They are among the most expensive in the world if not the most expensive. I found this a good page to get an impression of dental costs. I will write a blog post about our dentist experience later.
If you want a good/better treatment you might want to go to a private hospital. Coming from a country where I am not familiar with private hospitals this is especially hard one to decide on. We went for rather safe then sorry option and decided to take cover for it. If we ever do get into the position where we would need it, we would rather have the possibility.
If you have Medicare, the private health insurance is usually a bit cheaper.
We opted for BUPA, they helped us very well. After we got our Medicare we changed our plan to an established family cover. I find the brochures which they supply a lot easier to read than their website. Almost every mall has an office, so you can easily pick one up. We chose this because the children are fully covered for almost everything, it has a medium hospital cover and 60% back on extra’s like dentist costs, with a relatively high maximum.
We still do not know if we made the best decision, but so far it has been working well for us.
What have you chosen and what is the reason for it?
5 thoughts on “What health insurance do I need in Australia?”
Hi. We are also a family of 4 (44, 43, 13,9) moving to Cairns the end of December. I just found your blog and can’t stop reading. That’s the reason I react on an old blog.
This blog is very entertaining and for us of course much more informative!
And yes the health insurance is worth a study. I just joined Bupa because it was necessary to have an insurance for the 457 visa. What I still not understand (maybe also because of your blog) is why you still had to visit the Medicare office on arriving? Are you not automatically part of Medicare by getting a (private) insurance (with Bupa)?
Hi Steve, Thanks for the compliment! We lived in the Netherlands before we moved here and there is a Reciprocal Health Care Agreement with Australia. This means we are eligible for a Medicare card, the (almost free) health insurance for Australians. You can find which other countries have an agreements. Good luck with your preparations and enjoy your time in Australia! Rgds Willemijn
Just with your statement that “If you want a good/better treatment you usually want to go to a private hospital.” As an Australian I must disagree! This is not a criticism of your decision! However, the fact is that the public system in Australia is every bit as good as the private system and often actually better. My wife and I do not have private health cover as it is too expensive and the benefits are dubious at best. Of course your own reasons for choosing your health cover matter most to you and so they should. It is a great pity that the public system does not cover dental treatment however; this is a major flaw in our public health cover. We expect this will be addressed in coming years.
I enjoy reading of your experiences in Australia and very much hope that the positive continues to greatly outweigh the negative.
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Thank you for your reply and sharing your insight to the public health system. If you are not accustomed to the concept of private health care, it is really hard to judge about it. Why would someone opt for a private hospital/care in your opinion (even if you decided not to)? All four of us are really enjoying our experiences in Australia, so the scale is very much on the positive side!
Hi, I’m really glad you’re enjoying your experience in Melbourne, but I also have to agree with Evan . Public hospitals are every bit as good as private hospitals if not better. I work in a major metropolitan hospital in Melbourne and too many times I’ve seen transfers from private hospitals when the patient deteriorated further than they could manage, the truth is private. hospitals are great if you need a surgery that you do not want to wait for more than 8 months as is the case with public hospitals. However, a small surgery that would have little side effects and not something that is urgent private hospital is the way to go. I think the other reason people would choose private hospital would be you would get to pick your surgeon/ doctor, your own room if you were admitted into the hospital and generally to feel more in control of their health. Which are all good reasons to opt for private health care but you probably wouldn’t get any better treatment than the public system.