The Australian healthcare system operates in a similar manner to that found in the United Kingdom. Like the UK’s National Health Service, Australia has its own public health system equivalent in the form of Medicare.


Australia’s health service provides free treatments in public hospital and free or subsidised treatment by doctors, specialists and dentists. All permanent residents in Australia are eligible to be covered by the Medicare system, and limited access is also available to citizens of other nations that the Australian government has a reciprocal healthcare deal with. If you’re working in Australia then you are automatically covered for illness and injuries and are covered by compulsory workers insurance.  Eligibility is immediate upon application and can be backdated to your when you arrived in the country. For men over 55 years of age and women over 51 who have been sponsored under the family reunion migration programme their medical expenses are the responsibility of the sponsor. They will become eligible for full Medicare once they reach retirement age or have lived in the country for ten years or more.

Foreign retirees with only temporary residence Visas aren’t eligible for cover by Medicare and must take out private health insurance. Retirees who have permanent residential status and who are not in receipt of a veteran’s pension or social security are eligible for a range of free health services.

If you are planning on staying in Australia for more than a few months then it is a good idea that you enrol in Medicare as soon as possible once you arrive.

Applying for Medicare

There are a few ways to apply for Medicare. You can apply in person at a Medicare office, telephone to receive an application form, or via the internet at, You will be required to show proof of identity and eligibility so you will need to provide your passport with resident stamp. You will also need to provide details of your income, residence and assets.  Once your application has been accepted you will receive a green and gold plastic Medicare card by post. It can take several weeks to arrive after applying. Cards are valid for up to five years but you must get a new one if you change address or get married etc… If you fall ill or get injured before you receive your Medicare card then you will have to pay for your treatment in full and claim a refund or delay payment until you receive the card.

How to get medication

If you’re visiting Australia, you can bring a maximum of four weeks’ prescription medicines with you. The brand names for drugs and medicines can vary considerably from country to country. If you regularly take medication overseas, you should ask your doctor for the generic name. If you wish to match medication prescribed overseas in Australia, you need a current prescription with the chemical name, the dosage, the manufacturer’s name and the medication’s trade name. This must be endorsed by an Australian-registered doctor before you can take it to an Australian chemist. Many medicines in Australia can be prescribed only by a doctor through an official prescription, which is written in a secret language which is decipherable only by doctors and pharmacists. Some medicines sold freely in other countries require a doctor’s prescription in Australia, while certain medicines that require a prescription in other countries are available over the counter in Australia.

To obtain medicines prescribed by a doctor, take your prescription to any chemist. Your prescription may be filled immediately if it’s available off the shelf, or you may be asked to wait or come back later.

At least one chemist’s is open in most towns during the evenings and on Sundays for the emergency dispensing of medicines, and there are 24-hour chemists’ in some cities. A roster is posted on the doors of chemists’ and published in local newspapers and guides. If you are ever in urgent need of medicine when chemists’ are closed, you should contact your GP or a police station. If registered with Medicare then thousands of medicines are available for free although for some you will be required to pay for them. It is best to talk to your GP to find out what medicines are indeed free via proscription.

Emergency numbers and procedures

Dial 000 for an ambulance, police and fire brigade only in an emergency. Ambulances generally come without a doctor but usually with a paramedic. Many ambulances are equipped with cardiac, oxygen and other emergency equipment. Unlike in the UK, Ambulance services aren’t free and are not covered by Medicare, although in most cities you can become a member of the St John’s Ambulance Association for around $20 per year, which entitles you to free ambulance services. Private health insurance may include ambulance costs.