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The healthcare system in Australia is praised as one of the world's best, and it comes as no surprise that the country has one of the highest life expectancies in the world. A hybrid of both public and private service provisions, Australia's healthcare system is affordable and accessible.
Public healthcare in Australia
While the public healthcare system in Australia is an efficient and world-class operation, there are still occasional queues and waiting lists for things like non-emergency surgery. The standards of rural facilities and urban facilities may also differ, and for those living far from a metro, it may be necessary to travel some distance to receive care for complicated or specialised cases.
For these reasons, most expats in Australia without permanent residency opt to use private doctors and hospitals. Temporary residents are also not eligible for the public healthcare system – Medicare – and without it, medical costs are on par with that of private facilities.
The government-supported healthcare system is called Medicare. It is available to all Australian citizens and permanent residents and is paid for by taxes levied on individual salaries. The Medicare scheme covers treatment in public hospitals and also offers complete or partial coverage of the cost of doctors’ consultations.
Though the Medicare scheme doesn’t make it compulsory to visit certain doctors, expats should be aware that, to have the cost of the consultation and procedures of a specialist covered, it’s necessary to first get a referral from a general practitioner.
Doctors either bill Medicare directly or, if the patient settles the bill, they can claim the rebate from Medicare.
The increased use of private facilities decreases the strain on public facilities, which means Medicare does occasionally offer certain rebates to residents who choose to use private facilities.
With that said, not all medical care will necessarily be covered on the Medicare programme. We therefore recommend that expats take out some form of private medical insurance.
Private healthcare in Australia
Much of the population in Australia have some form of private health coverage. The majority of private healthcare package options specialise in surgery, particularly non-emergency surgeries, such as orthopaedic surgery.
Expats moving to Australia need to prove to the Australian authorities that they are adequately covered by a minimum level of private health insurance to be granted their working visa.
Even if an expat is a citizen of a country with a reciprocal health agreement, they are still required to take out health insurance coverage to qualify for their visa, as they can only enrol in Medicare once inside Australia.
Reciprocal health agreements only provide limited access to Australian healthcare services, and expats should research the extent of coverage these provide. Generally, it is only limited to immediate necessary care.
Pharmacies and medication in Australia
Pharmacies are easy to find in Australia, especially in the larger cities. Many pharmacies are open late or even around the clock.
Expats should note the generic name of any chronic medication before arriving in Australia, as brand names may vary from country to country.
Emergency services in Australia
The number to dial in case of an emergency is 000. The cost of ambulance rides is not usually covered by Medicare, even for permanent residents and citizens of Australia, making private insurance essential in case of emergencies.
►Moving to Australia with children? Our Education and Schools in Australia page is essential reading for expat parents.
►Banking, Money and Taxes in Australia contains all you need to know on expat money matters in Australia.
"I have had great experiences with the Medicare system in Sydney – I’ve never had a problem getting an appointment. In the last year I have also joined a private health insurance scheme (mainly because dental is not covered by Medicare) which I’ve also had great experiences with." Read more of Libby's interview about expat life in Australia.
Are you an expat living in Australia?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Australia. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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