Purchasing private medical insurance is not compulsory in Australia, although the tax breaks provided by the government make it an attractive option.

As an expat, it will probably be a part of your visa approval process to hold some form of private health insurance when you arrive. If you are applying for permanent residency, or your working visa holds the same status as a permanent resident, your normal travel insurance will suffice and you can make the decision yourself about whether or not to buy private medical insurance when you arrive.

Public Health Care

As an expat, you will be eligible for Medicare (Australia’s public health care system) if you become an Australian citizen, an Australian permanent resident, or if you hold a temporary visa (that carries the right to work in Australia, and you have applied for a permanent visa).

Most expats enrol in Medicare upon receiving the right to do so. However, once you do this you will be liable for a “Medicare Levy” when it comes tax time. It is highly recommended expats enrol in Medicare, and once enrolled seek additional private health coverage. Having private health insurance will negate any costs of the Medicare Levy at tax time, and the fees associated with private health insurance can be claimed for a significant refund.

To enrol in Medicare you need to fill out an enrolment form, available at http://www.medicare.gov.au. Forms are also available from your local Medicare office. When you enrol, you need to show original or certified copies of documents such as a birth certificate or passport to prove your identity, as well as a copy of your visa (or grant letter) to prove your eligibility.

Some countries have a reciprocal relationship with Australian Medicare. This means that citizens of the following countries are eligible for Medicare Coverage:

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

However, there’s usually a catch. For example, the agreements with the Republic of Ireland and New Zealand are less comprehensive than with the other states. In all cases, coverage under reciprocal Medicare is limited to treatment that is “medically necessary during your visit.” Under Australian law, this basically translates to “you will die in our country unless we pay for this treatment.”

Holders of the Retirement visa (subclass 410) are excluded from reciprocal Medicare unless they first applied for their visa before 1 December 1998. Student visa holders are generally not covered by Medicare and are required to take out Overseas Student Health Cover.

Private Health Insurance

It is highly recommended you secure private health coverage. The benefits in convenience and tax incentives more than make up for the nominal cost involved.

If you have private health insurance, there is no need to nominate a preferred hospital when you take out your coverage. If and when the time comes that you need treatment, you can select a preferred hospital (usually according to the bed space it has at the time, as Melbourne Private Hospitals are all of a high standard and the majority of public hospitals have private facilities).

A quick and easy way to compare health coverage policies from some of Australia’s leading health funds is to visit the iSelect website. It is a free service that will help you compare costs and select the policy that best fits you and your family’s needs.

Some of the largest health insurance companies in Australia are as follows: