Ever since I moved to New York I’ve heard something similar to: “I need enough health care to get me out of the US and back to Australia/The UK/Canada to take advantage of Medicare and the reciprocal health care agreement with Australia.”

It turns out, with a bit of research: This doesn’t exist in the way that most people think it will.

According to Australia’s Department of Human Services, Australia has reciprocal health care agreements with 11 countries: Belgium, Finland, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, the Republic of Ireland, Slovenia, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

So first things first…CANADA ISN’T ON THE AUSTRALIAN RECIPROCAL HEALTH CARE LIST!

Can I go to Canada to get healthcare as an Australian?

No! While this might not sound like a revelation to you, I have heard people mention that they are paying for inferior health care with the safety net of Canada as their justification, and it’s clear right now that is not a very good idea!

Health insurance is incredibly important here in the U.S. and having good quality cover is of crucial importance at least for emergencies.

So what about the UK for reciprocal health care?

Canada out, but don’t worry, you can hop across the pond to the UK and get some help there, right?

The answer, as always, is: Kinda.

In the UK, there are three eligibility requirements:

To be eligible it must be:

  • medically necessary care that can’t wait till you get home
  • in the National Health Service (NHS) system
  • within 6 months after you arrive.

These all sound pretty fine, but you have to understand that these are medical emergencies. In general, if  you are traveling in one of these countries, you are entitled to receive help with costs for medically necessary care, which includes:

  • emergency care; and
  • care for an illness or injury that can’t wait till you get home.

If you’ve managed to fly to the UK with this voluntarily, then you probably won’t be covered and will be sent onto Australia.

The final hurdle to reciprocal health care

If you’ve been abroad for a few years, then you may have a final hurdle: Medicare:

Ask for care as an NHS patient. Be ready to show your passport and Medicare card.

The straightforward answer as to whether you can use Medicare as an Australian living abroad, straight from Medicare is this:

If you’ve moved overseas, you continue to be eligible for Medicare for 5 years. The 5 years starts from the date you first left Australia.

There you have it. It’s very clear. They do go on, though:

You can’t access Medicare services from outside of Australia. If we have a Reciprocal Health Care Agreement with the country you’re in [not Canada], you may get access to medically necessary care. You’ll need a Medicare card to do this.

If you live overseas for more than 5 years you’ll no longer be eligible for Medicare. You will need to re-enrol in Medicare when you move back to Australia to live.

So check your Medicare card before you go skydiving, because that too might not cover you!

I’ve written more about Medicare and using your benefits abroad over here.

The limitations and details can all be found here, per country. Be sure to know what you’re getting into before you wander into a hospital and as always: make sure you have adequate travel insurance!