Healthcare in Australia – Health, Safety, and Travel Insurance Advice for Australia
High hygiene standards, modern hospitals, and qualified medical professionals make Australia a relatively worry-free destination for tourists, young expatriates, and retirees alike. From privately run clinics to the public hospital system funded by the Australian government, healthcare in Australia is excellent. Australia offers Medicare to help cover health-care costs for residents, expatriates, and visitors from certain countries with which Australia has a reciprocal health-care agreement. These countries include New Zealand, the UK, the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Italy, Malta, and Ireland. If you are not from one of these countries, nor will your current coverage extend to your time abroad, a quality travel insurance plan is highly recommended during your stay in Australia. When choosing your plan, however, read the fine print and try to match insurance coverage with your travel plans and coverage needs. If you are scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef, for example, make sure appropriate adventure sports insurance is included.
Clinics and Hospitals in Australia
Like most countries, you will be expected to pay for your doctors visit in Australia at the time of consultation. If your insurance company does not make payments directly to the health service provider, get an itemized receipt and the hospital’s contact information to send in for reimbursement. You can search for doctors under “Medical Practitioners” in the yellow pages, and most large towns and cities have 24-hour clinics. If you need emergency assistance by an ambulance, the police, or the fire department, dial 000 from any private or public phone for no charge. For non-urgent crimes, call 133 444 to reach the police’s non-emergency line.
Top Ten Hospitals in Australia
- Royal Children’s Hospital
- Department Health & Human Services of Tasmania Royal Hobart Hospital
- Royal Adelaide Hospital
- Children’s Hospital at Westmead
- Baker Heart Research Institute
- St John of God Health Care
- Cancer Institute NSW
- King Edward Memorial Hospital for Women
- Austin Health
- Hunter New England Health
Because of the sheer size of Australia, travel to remote areas requires a different level of preparation and self-reliance, as you can expect a significant delay in medical assistance. Taking a wilderness first-aid class, packing an appropriate medical kit and bringing back-up communication (like a radio) will all help ensure your safety if spending a lot of time off the grid in Australia. The Royal Flying Doctor Service provides backup care to the more remote communities of Australia. Otherwise, consider buying Emergency Evacuation Insurance which will transport you from a local hospital to the closest medical facility able to handle your injury or illness.
Embassies in Australia
- United States Embassy in Canberra: +61 2 6214 5600
- Canadian Embassy in Sydney: +61 2 9364 3000
- New Zealand Embassy in Wellington: +64 (0)4 473 6411
- United Kingdom Embassy in Canberra: +61 (0)2 6270 6666
Vaccines, Necessary Medicines, and Pharmacies When Traveling to Australia
Vaccinations. While there are no vaccinations that are required prior to entering Australia, the CDC recommends that all travelers, regardless of destination, be up to date on influenza, MMR (measles, mumps rubella), tetanus-diphtheria, chicken pox, polio and hepatitis B. The one exception is travelers who have been in a yellow fever danger zone within the 6 days leading up to their arrival in Australia, in which case a certificate showing proof of vaccination is required.
If you plan to be working with bats or be involved in outdoor activities (like caving) in remote locations where bites are possible, your doctor may also recommend getting a rabies vaccine. Just be sure to allot enough time for the vaccinations to take effect (generally two weeks) and carry a copy of your vaccination history with you in case of emergency.
Medications and pharmacies. When packing your prescriptions for your time abroad in Australia, leave all medication in its original, labeled container. Because some pharmacists in Australia only accept prescriptions written by in-country doctors, try to bring enough to cover your entire trip. If your stay in Australia will outlast your medication, however, bring a prescription and note from your doctor containing the generic name of the drug and an explanation of the medication’s necessity. Also, be aware that some drugs traditionally found over-the-counter in other countries, (such as the oral contraceptive pill, asthma medication, and all antibiotics) may require a prescription in Australia. Because of this, it is a good idea to pack yourself a first-aid kit containing necessities.
General Safety Tips and Staying Healthy in Australia
Whether you are a young expatriate, tourist, or retiree, Australia is a relatively safe destination. The usual precautions are recommended everywhere, but take special care in Sydney, the Gold Coast, Cairns and Byron Bay to lock your doors, put valuables away, and never leave drinks unattended in pubs or accept drinks from strangers.
Roads in the Outback between cities are often unpaved, dusty, and deceivingly slippery or heavily corrugated with gas stations located few and far between. Remember to drive on the left side of the road and avoid driving after dark as this is when the wildlife is most active. Sadly, kangaroo-car collisions are extremely common, so much so that most rental insurance companies won’t cover car damage caused by an animal. If you do hit a kangaroo, be sure to check the pouch for live joeys (baby kangaroos), but don’t over handle them. Instead, wrap them in a warm towel or sweater and take them to the nearest veterinarian; most vets will treat wildlife for free.
Disease risk. Insect repellant containing at least 20% DEET will be your most important form of protection against illness when traveling in Australia. Mosquitos are especially abundant in the Northern Territory and Western Australia during the wet season and can carry Murray Valley encephalitis, Ross River virus infections, and Dengue Fever. Tick Typhus can be carried by ticks, and the best prevention is a quick removal by putting vaseline on the tick.
The risk of contracting Leptospirosis runs throughout Australia and occurs when one is exposed to water contaminated by the urine of infected animals. Tourists, expatriates, and retirees can protect themselves by avoiding flood waters and covering cuts during outdoor activities. Symptoms are generally limited to fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, pink eye, photophobia, and rash, but there have been a small number of cases complicated by meningitis, kidney failure, liver failure or hemorrhage.
Giardiasis is another waterborne disease widespread throughout Australia and is contracted by drinking unsafe water. Take care not to swallow water during aquatic activities and always use a filter, iodine, or boiling temperatures to treat water not acquired from the tap. The tap water is universally safe across Australia.
Australian Travel Warnings and Updates
Always check your government’s website for any updates on travel requirements, warnings, or updates on Australia to ensure trip preparedness.
- US Department of State
- Canadian Government
- New Zealand Government: SafeTravel
- Government of the United Kingdom
Natural Dangers in Australia
The wildlife in Australia is a draw for many, but can also be a cause for caution while traveling abroad. Although snakes and spiders generally avoid humans, their venom is potent, so shake out your shoes and clothes before dressing and always wear gaiters when bushwalking. If you are bitten, apply pressure by firmly wrapping the area with an elastic bandage or t-shirt to stop the spread of venom. Next, immobilize it with a splint or sling, then quickly get yourself to a hospital.
Sharks, crocodiles and jellyfish are among the aquatic animals to be aware of in Australia. Although there is no greater risk of a shark attack in Australia than there is anywhere else in the world with extensive coastlines, it’s always a good idea to check with surf life-saving groups before venturing into the water. These groups can also be a helpful resource to gain information about any dangerous underwater conditions, such as offshore slopes or powerful surf. Unlike shark attacks, crocodile attacks are a very real risk in Northern Australia. They are generally very predictable, however, so are easily preventable.
Weather in Australia
The climate in Australia can vary greatly from one end to the other, but luckily that means there is always good weather somewhere! The majority of Australia (with the exception of the northern tropical regions) experiences all four season. While the southern third reaches cold temperatures in the winter, it generally doesn’t freeze. Hypothermia can, however, pose a threat to unprepared travelers.
Summers range from pleasant to very hot. Australia has the highest skin cancer mortality rates in the world, so be sure to wear a minimum of SPF 30 sunscreen, limit sun exposure between 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m., and wear a broad-brimmed hat, long clothing and sunglasses while abroad. Along with the sun, comes the risk for heat exhaustion and heatstroke. Heat exhaustion leads to dizziness, fainting, fatigue, nausea or vomiting and is caused by dehydration. Heatstroke can lead to disorientation, hallucination and seizures and requires immediate medical attention.
The northernmost parts of Australia are always hot and alternate between wet (October-March) and dry (April-December). Cyclones are rare but do happen in the northern tropics and Flash floods are common during the wet season. Always check road conditions ahead of time and never wade into flood waters as there may be crocodiles. If you are traveling to Australia from a cooler climate, also remember to increase your salt intake for the first two weeks abroad to replace what is lost in perspiration while your body acclimates. If you plan your trip during the Australian summer and holiday season (December-February), also expect to pay higher prices and encounter busier attractions.
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