If you’re visiting Australia as foreign national, you might not be entitled to Medicare – that’s the government-subsidised healthcare system which makes many medical treatments affordable or even free. However, you can get overseas visitors health cover (OVHC).
Overseas visitors health cover (OVHC) is health insurance designed for people visiting Australia. It’s mandatory for many visa applications including the 482,457, and 485, and offers benefits for doctor’s visits, prescriptions, emergency ambulance rides and hospital treatments.
Thankfully, OVHC doesn’t have to be expensive. You can get cover which satisfies visa condition 8501 for just $65 a month. If you want more comprehensive cover, that’s available too – but you should expect to pay a little more.
OVHC can cover you for five different types of services depending on what level of cover you choose:
- Hospital bills
- Doctor’s visits
- Out-of-hospital services like dental and physical therapy
- Emergency ambulance rides
Even the most basic policy will cover your hospital bills to some extent. The other services like doctor’s visits and physical therapy are useful but optional, so they are usually reserved for higher levels of cover.
Here are the different levels of cover that are usually available:
If all you want to do is tick the box on your visa application, a basic policy is enough (these may also be called “budget” policies). It will usually cover you for the following:
- Emergency ambulance rides
- Medical services you receive in a hospital
- Hospital accommodation and other hospital fees
- Returning you to your home country if you die or have a life-altering illness
- In-hospital prescriptions
This usually covers everything that basic does plus the following:
- Visits to the family doctor (known in Australia as a general practitioner, or GP)
- Visits to specialists like a dermatologist or a neurologist
- Out-of-hospital prescriptions
It’s possible to find mid-level policies that cover a limited number of out-of-hospital treatments like chiropractic and physical therapy, but not all insurers offer it.
This usually covers everything basic and mid does but at higher levels. For example, a top policy might pay more toward your treatment, pay for you to get a private room instead of a shared one and/or give you more money to spend on out-of-hospital prescriptions.
It’s possible to find top-level policies will cover a range of out-of-hospital treatments like chiropractic, physical therapy, dental and optical (and at higher dollar amounts than a mid-level policy), but not all will offer this.
Some insurers offer other options besides basic, mid and top-level policies, and these are designed for certain groups of people who are likely to need specialised services. For example, many basic, mid and top-level policies won’t cover pregnancy, in-hospital psychiatry or weight loss surgery. However, some insurers will offer specialised policies that do offer these services.
Extras is a type of insurance to cover a range of out-of-hospital treatments including:
- General and major dental work
- Physical rehab services like massage, physical therapy, chiropractic and acupuncture
- Optical services including eye tests and glasses
- Other physical devices like hearing aids and blood pressure monitors
Extras policies themselves are different products to OVHC policies, although some OVHC policies include some of the same types of cover you can find in an extras policy. If you want to be covered for any of the above treatments, you have one of two options:
- Buy an OVHC policy that covers the treatment you need. Some mid and top-level policies will cover some extras treatments.
- Buy a stand-alone extras policy. There’s nothing stopping you from going with a basic OVHC policy (to meet your visa requirements) and topping it up with a stand-alone extras policy. You can often save money this way, although you’ll have a lower level of hospital cover.
Yes. Some OVHC policies provide cover for dental treatment including general dental services like cleanings and simple fillings, as well as major dental work like root canals, crowns and bridges.
Not all insurers offer it, but the ones that do usually include it in their top-level policies only. You can also get dental cover by purchasing a standalone “extras” policy on top of your OVHC.
If you plan on working in Australia, your visa application will require OVHC Others won’t be required to have it, but it could still be worth it.
Here is how it can help you:
- Your visa requires health cover and you’re not eligible for Medicare. Most visitors to Australia aren’t eligible for Medicare. If you’re one of these people and your visa requires health cover, you absolutely need OVHC or your visa won’t be granted.
- Your visa requires health cover and you are eligible for Medicare. People from some countries are eligible for Medicare because of agreements between those countries and Australia. You’re not required to have OVHC but you should consider it if you want the extra benefits of being covered privately.
- Your visa doesn’t require it. You’re free to go without health cover if you want, but getting OVHC makes a lot of sense if you want to avoid massive medical bills if you’re ever hospitalised.
Most OVHC policies will cover pregnancy, but at a reduced rate compared to other covered treatments. That’s because not everyone needs pregnancy-related services and it’s generally not considered an unexpected medical need.
Insurers who cover pregnancy at a reduced rate (typically in a basic policy) will pay your hospital accommodation fees in a public hospital, but the rest will be up to you, including doctors fees, delivery fees, blood tests, ultrasounds and anesthesia.
However, some insurers do offer higher levels of private pregnancy cover that also include your choice of an obstetrician. These insurers will offer full cover for pregnancy within their mid or top-level policies.
For private pregnancy, you will have a waiting period of 12-months before you can use it. That means you will have to buy your policy well before you get pregnant.
If you are switching visas, there are situations where you’ll want to reconsider your health insurance options.
If you are switching from one visa that requires health cover to another one that also does, then your best bet is to just carry on with the OVHC cover that you already have. One example would be if you are on a temporary graduate visa (485) and are switching over to a temporary skill shortage visa (482).
If you are switching from a visa that requires health cover to one that doesn’t, then you are not required to keep your OVHC. However, you should strongly consider keeping it so that you’re not unprotected. An example of this would be if you are switching from a temporary skill shortage visa (482) over to a working holiday visa (417). If your situation is the reverse of this, you’ll need to take out OVHC before you can get your new visa.
If you are switching from a visa that requires OVHC to a visa that includes Medicare cover like a permanent resident visa (PR), you can keep your OVHC as long as you want but you should strongly consider switching to a domestic health insurance policy for the following reasons:
- Tax benefits. Residents making a certain amount of money per year can be charged an additional tax unless they have private health cover. OVHC policies don’t count.
- Immediate savings. Domestic policies can be cheaper than OVHC policies.
- Future savings. If you are 31 or older, you need to get health insurance within 12 months of getting your PR. Otherwise, you can end up paying a penalty down the line when you do finally get private insurance. Again, OVHC doesn’t count.
The Budget Workers Cover from Health.com.au currently offers the cheapest policy in the market starting from $65 per month. It only covers your in-hospital visits and doesn’t include visits to the GP or specialists, dental work (even if it is in-hospital) or natural therapies. This is common for most budget policies.
Even a basic policy will be enough to cover your visa requirements.
The good news is, once you buy your health cover – it’s active straight away. However, some treatments have a waiting period.
Waiting periods are the amount of time you have to wait before you can get health insurance benefits. The times can vary based on the treatment, for example, 12 months for pregnancy or 2 months for dental.
The only way you can typically get out of your OVHC waiting periods is if you already served them with another insurer and you’re switching to a similar policy with a new insurer. If you are taking out OVHC for the first time, you’ll have to put in the wait.
If your visa requires you to have health insurance and the other members of your family are coming over on the same visa as you, everyone will be required to have OVHC. Most insurers offer singles, couples and family policies so that you can all be covered under the same policy.
There are a couple of situations where your family members may not be required to have OVHC:
- They are on a different visa that doesn’t require health insurance
- They are covered under a reciprocal health care agreement between Australia and their home country
- They are Australian citizens or permanent residents
What is condition 8501?
You know that visa requirement we’ve been talking about? That’s requirement 8501, and it means your visa won’t be approved without health cover in place.
To meet condition 8501, your insurance must:
- Be fully comprehensive
- Provide cover that is equivalent or better than Medicare
- Cover prescriptions
Most OVHC policies are designed to meet these requirements, but it never hurts to double check with your insurer, employer and/or immigration agent to make sure.
Which visas need mandatory health insurance?
Here is a list of common Australian workers visas and whether or not they require you to have private health insurance.
|Visa Number||Visa Name||Description||Health care requirement?|
|405||Investor Retirement||For self-funded retirees without any dependants.||yes|
|408||Temporary Activity||For workers on temporary assignments like entertainers, athletes and researchers||yes|
|417||Working Holiday||For young people who want to work while travelling Australia||no|
|400||Temporary Work (Short Stay Specialist)||For workers who do highly specialised, short-term work like managers, professionals and tradespeople||no|
(replaced by the 482 in March 2018)
|Temporary Work (Skilled)||Allowed skilled workers to live and work for up to four years||yes|
|482||Temporary Skill Shortage||For skilled workers to live and work for up to four years in order to fill labour shortages in Australia||yes|
|485||Temporary graduate||Allows international students who have recently graduated from an Australian uni to live, work and study in Australia||yes|
|489||Skilled Regional (Provisional)||For overseas skilled workers to live and work in regional Australian locations for up to four years.||yes|
|BVA||Bridging visa||For people who are switching to a new visa and waiting for the application to process. Also for people making arrangements to leave Australia.||Only if the visa you are applying for requires it|
How you’ll claim on your OVHC will depend on the insurer you opt to sign up with. It’s often the case that you will be issued with a membership card which allows for direct billing, meaning you won’t have to pay anything upfront. Otherwise, you will need to pay the fee and your health fund will reimburse you once you have made a claim. Below are the claims options available from each participating fund:
HIF OVHC members can claim in the following ways:
- HIF SmartClaim App
- Email to firstname.lastname@example.org
- Fax to (08) 9328 1685
- Membership Car. Claim on the spot with your HIF card if an e-terminal is available.
Health.com.au OVHC members can claim in the following ways:
- Health.com.au Claims Card for automatic payment where available
- HICAPS. Lets you claim your extras benefit directly after your consultation.
- Online at health.com.au. Complete your claim details, and receive your benefits into your nominated bank account.
Australian Unity OVHC members can claim in the following ways:
- Australian Unity App
- Mail to Paid 91943, Melbourne VIC 3000
- Email to email@example.com
- Online. Log in to your Australian Unity account at australianunity.com.au/memberservices
- Call. 1800 807 144.
HCF OVHC members can claim in the following ways:
- HCF membership card for automatic payment where available
- By email to OVHC_service@hcf.com.au
- In person at any HCF branch. For HCF branch locations and operating hours, visit hcfvisitorhealthcover.com
- Call. 13 68 42
Nib OVHC members can claim in the following ways:
- nib card for automatic payment where available
- Mail to Paid 62208, Locked Bag 2010 Newcastle NSW 2300
- Online. https://my.nib.com.au/login
- Call: 1800 775 204 From Overseas:+61 2 4914 1146
What visa are you applying for?
Select your visa type to instantly compare and apply for a relevant policy.
*Pricing is based on a single male planning to live and work in the State of New South Wales on a working visa who is not applying for permanent residency, is not from a country that Australia has a Reciprocal Health Care Agreement (RHCA) with and is not eligible for cover under Medicare. Prices are accurate for November 2020 but are subject to change in the future.
Take a close look at the eligibility requirements when applying for a visa, or contact the Department of Immigration and Border Protection to find out if condition 8501 applies to you
There are some conditions and treatments that OVHC won’t cover at all regardless of the insurer or policy level. Here are a few of the most common:
- Ambulance rides that aren’t considered an emergency
- Elective cosmetic surgery like a nose job or breast implants
- Procedures that Medicare does not cover like podiatry
- IVF and other assisted reproductive services
- Services provided outside of Australia
- Treatment arranged in advance of your arrival in Australia
- Bone marrow and organ transplants
The exact list of excluded services varies between insurers, so take a closer look at the policy document before choosing a policy.
|Health fund||Hospital cover for overseas visitors||Extras cover available or included?||More info|
|Allianz Global Assistance||
|Frank Health Insurance||
If you’re from one of 11 specific countries in the list below, you’re eligible for Medicare and won’t be required to have OVHC (although we still recommend it). That’s because your country and Australia have an agreement called a Reciprocal Health Care Agreement (RHCA).
Here are the countries that have an RHCA with Australia:
Even with Medicare cover, it’s still a good idea to get Overseas Visitor Health Cover because it covers you for the following (whereas Medicare won’t):
- Emergency ambulance rides
- Dental work (only with some policies)
- Medical evacuation to your home country if you need it
- Your own private room in a private hospital (or as a private patient in a public hospital)
- Your choice of doctor
- Natural therapies (only on some policies)
In addition to that, if you make more than $90,000 per year and you don’t have private health insurance, you will be required to pay a tax called the Medicare Levy Surcharge.
Most students are also required to have private health cover as a condition of their visas, so you can think of Overseas Student Health Cover as the student version of Overseas Visitors Health Cover.
In fact, the requirement is exactly the same: the health cover needs to meet condition 8501. So many OSHC policies and OVHC policies are the same product, just marketed differently.
For more information on how OSHC works and how to choose a policy, check out our comprehensive OSHC guide.