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Healthcare in Australia

If you had to get sick anywhere in the world, you'd have trouble finding a place that will take care of you better than Australia. Nine countries (New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Finland, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden) have reciprocal health care agreements with Australia and visitors from these countries are eligible for (basically) free medical assistance for urgent medical problems under the Australian government's Medicare program.

Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney - Copyleft
Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney

If you want to have elective surgery you'll pay through the nose of course, but if you break your leg (quite possible, depending on how often you go skydiving), get bitten by a spider (most Australians have never been bitten by a spider) or come down with a nasty stomach bug (these things go around from time to time), you can go to a public hospital and you'll be treated like a local (although some local public hospital patients would say this isn't necessarily a good thing, but more on that later).

Even if you do come from one of those nine countries, and especially if you DON'T, you would be absolutely mad to travel to Australia and not take out your own travel insurance to cover medical expenses. While the public hospital system in Australia is excellent compared to pretty much anywhere else in the world, don't expect VIP treatment if you turn up to the local emergency ward at midnight on Saturday and want immediate treatment for a paper cut. And if, heaven forbid, you end up in the back of an ambulance you'll end up paying about the same amount as a limousine ride from Sydney to Melbourne with two private paramedics on call for the duration of the trip. If you don't have travel insurance, you'll need a very, very large wallet.

Australia's healthcare system

Australian citizens enjoy pretty much free treatment for almost all medical ailments via Australia's public health system. There are public hospitals and free doctors in every major town and city, and almost every Australian is no more than an hour or two away from hospital, no matter where they live. Even remote outback farms and townships are serviced by Australia's Royal Flying Doctor service

The standard of healthcare is what you'd expect from a major industrialised western nation, but like any capitalist economy, you can always get better service if you're willing to pay for it. Publicly funded hospitals do an excellent job of providing most emergency medical care, but there are considerable waiting lists for non-life threatening procedures (unless you have private health insurance, or the funds to pay for private hospital treatment). About half of the Australian population is covered by private health insurance, giving them the option of being treated in a private hospital, where the wait is usually considerably less, and the standard of care is, well, nicer.

General practitioners (standard family doctors, the ones you go to when you have a cold, or a tummy ache, or you've cut yourself badly, or you need a drug prescription) are located in pretty much every town around the country and almost all of them treat you and send the bill to the government, provided you're an Australian citizen and have a medicare card. If you aren't covered by medicare (and you won't be unless you're from one of those nine countries mentioned earlier and you've met certain conditions) you'll get charged around $75-$150, depending on the complexity of the problem.

If you need emergency medical treatment in Australia, you can get an ambulance from anywhere - either in a traditional van, or via an air ambulance or the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

Prescription drugs are available from commercial pharmacies (known as chemists) which are located in virtually every town and suburb around the country. Australian residents get subsidised drugs for most things.

What to do if you get sick or need medical care in Australia

In an emergency dial 000 on any phone and you'll be connected for free and asked whether you want an ambulance, the police or the fire brigade.

If it's not urgent, ask someone to tell you where the nearest doctor or hospital is and how to get there. Make sure you have your passport and travel insurance details handy.

Giving birth in Australia

Provided you have hospital cover, you can give birth to a baby in Australia, but a child born in Australia is not an Australian citizen unless the father or mother is a permanent resident or citizen of Australia.

For further information

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