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Understanding Australia's Reciprocal Health Care Agreement

Australia has agreements with 11 countries where you can access publicly funded emergency medical care.

A man on vacation looking into the distance holding a smartphone and camera.
A man on vacation looking into the distance holding a smartphone and camera.

An exciting overseas trip can quickly turn stressful if you or a family member get sick or injured. This is where Australia’s Reciprocal Health Care Agreement, opens in a new tab (RHCA) comes in handy, helping cover the costs of medically necessary care across 11 countries.

To find out more, visit the Services Australia page, opens in a new tab.

What is the Reciprocal Health Care Agreement?

The RHCA may cover partial costs for emergency medical care required for illnesses or injuries that cannot wait until you return to Australia.

Each country with an agreement decides what they’ll cover or subsidise, and the treating doctor will determine the necessity of your condition. Some Reciprocal Health Care Agreements also cover additional costs, opens in a new tab, depending on the country you’re visiting.

RHCAs don’t cover:

  • Total medical costs (you’re generally expected to pay a percentage of it)

  • Non-subsidised medications or treatments

  • Non-urgent medical services

  • Private healthcare

There may be exclusions or conditions for certain groups, and additional eligibility requirements. You can find what is not included in the RHCA for the country you’re visiting on the Services Australia Website, opens in a new tab.

RHCAs are not a substitute for international travel insurance, opens in a new tab. Skip high out-of-pocket costs for medical services not covered by the RHCA by taking out travel insurance before you leave.

Which countries does Australia have an agreement with?

If you’re an Australian citizen or permanent resident eligible for Medicare, opens in a new tab you may be eligible for the RHCA in 11 countries:

What costs does the RHCA cover?

What you are covered under RHCA can change depending on the country you’re visiting. Here's a basic list of what you may be covered for, but it’s always best to consult Services Australia for a comprehensive list of inclusions and exclusions.

Belgium

If you’re visiting Belgium, the RHCA may cover part of your hospital costs, a portion of the costs of care from a GP or doctor, some dental care and physiotherapy costs, some prescription medicines and half the cost of ambulance treatment. Certain health services and products are excluded from the RHCA. See more about RHCA in Belgium, opens in a new tab.

Finland

If you’re visiting Finland, the RHCA may cover medical and nursing care from health centres, outpatient care at hospitals, prescription medicines, some dental care and some travel costs for care. It doesn’t cover hospital accommodation fees or specialist fees. See more about RHCA in Finland, opens in a new tab.

Italy

If you’re visiting Italy, the RHCA may cover care as an admitted patient or outpatient at a public hospital, some GP and specialist care, and urgent dental care at a public hospital. It doesn’t cover medicines or tests. See more about RHCA in Italy, opens in a new tab.

Malta

If you’re visiting Malta, the RHCA may cover care in a government hospital including meals, accommodation and nursing care. It may also cover specialists in government service, necessary dental treatment received as an outpatient at a government hospital, and ambulance travel to a government hospital in an emergency. The RHCA doesn’t cover dental prostheses and appliances or non-urgent dental care. See more about RHCA in Malta, opens in a new tab.

The Netherlands

If you’re visiting the Netherlands, the RHCA may cover childbirth as well as care by GPs, specialists and psychiatrists if you’re over 18 years. Medication and transport for urgent care may be partially covered. The RHCA doesn’t cover ‘comfort’ or ‘single’ rooms in hospital (unless essential) or repatriation costs. See more about RHCA in Netherlands, opens in a new tab.

New Zealand

If you’re visiting New Zealand, the RHCA may cover hospital care, maternity services and a portion of your medication. GP care and ambulance travel are not covered. See more about RHCA in New Zealand, opens in a new tab.

Norway

If you’re visiting Norway, the RHCA may cover GP and hospital care, as an admitted patient and an outpatient. You will need a referral from a National Insurance Scheme (NIS) GP if you require specialist services. Ambulance travel and emergency dental care may be covered, as well as birth care, oxygen therapy and dialysis. Children may be covered for a range of treatments including GP visits, medication and psychological care. Students and diplomats are not covered. See more about RHCA in Norway., opens in a new tab

Republic of Ireland

If you’re visiting the Republic of Ireland, the RHCA may cover maternity care and care as a public patient in a public hospital. It doesn’t cover care or accommodation as a private patient or visits to a GP. See more about RHCA in Ireland, opens in a new tab.

Slovenia

If you’re visiting Slovenia, the RHCA may cover partial costs for care in the public and private health system. It may also cover emergency ambulance travel and some prescription medication cost. In Slovenia, care from private healthcare professionals who don’t have a contract with the HIIS (Slovenia’s Health Insurance Institute) are not covered under the RHCA. See more about RHCA in Slovenia, opens in a new tab.

Sweden

If you’re visiting Sweden, the RHCA may cover care from a doctor and as a hospital outpatient. It may also cover maternity services, children’s health services and a portion of prescription medication costs. Daily hospital fees are not covered. See more about RHCA in Sweden, opens in a new tab.

United Kingdom

If you’re visiting the UK, the RHCA may cover care as a National Health Service (NHS) system patient by an NHS doctor or nurse at a GP surgery including prescription medicine, and care at an NHS hospital, including ambulance travel. Dental services and care outside the NHS system are not covered. See more about RHCA in the United Kingdom, opens in a new tab.

How to use the Reciprocal Health Care Agreement as an Australian overseas

To get subsidised medical care in another country, you will need to ask hospital staff to treat you under the Reciprocal Health Care Agreement with Australia, opens in a new tab and show the documents listed below.

Documentation you’ll need

To use the RHCA overseas, you’ll need to show:

  • Your Australian passport or a valid passport from another country that proves you’re a permanent Australian resident; and

  • Your Medicare card.

There may be additional documentation required to be complete, make sure you consult the Services Australia Website for more information.

How often can it be used?

For short visits to participating countries from Australia, the RHCA can be used as often as you need it, provided all your documents and visas are still valid.

Is there a time limit on using the scheme? 

If you are an Australian wanting to use the RHCA, there may be specific time limits depending on the country you visit.

  • UK, Italy or Malta: within 6 months of arriving.

  • Norway, Netherlands, Ireland: within 12 months of arriving.

  • New Zealand: within 2 years of arriving.

While the RHCA can come in handy, it’s important to be aware there are limitations so best be prepared with a comprehensive travel insurance policy to ensure peace of mind on your next overseas adventure.

Get peace of mind on your next overseas trip with nib travel, opens in a new tab cover. Have questions? Contact our team, opens in a new tab today.

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