What to do if you get sick or injured while travelling overseas

Jun 01, 2019
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It's important to have a plan in place for if you fall ill or get injured while travelling overseas. Source: Getty

Getting sick or injured while travelling in a foreign country can be daunting – especially if you don’t speak the local language. But there’s no reason sickness or injury has to ruin that long-awaited holiday. In fact, with a few simple steps it can all be taken care of with as little stress as possible.

Here is everything you need to know when getting sick or injured abroad.

Do your research

First things first, to avoid unexpected healthcare costs it is important to do your research.

Australia has a Reciprocal Health Care Agreement (RHCA) with 11 countries, such as Belgium, Finland, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, the Republic of Ireland, Slovenia, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

The agreements help travellers cover emergency medical costs that can’t wait until they get home. However, it’s important to note that these agreements don’t cover all medical costs like travel insurance would, and the cover provided through the RHCA varies from country to country.

For example, in New Zealand the agreement covers limited subsidised health care and inpatient treatment, while in the United Kingdom RHCA covers medical treatment, inpatient treatment, outpatient treatment, some prescription medication costs and ambulance costs. Learn more here.

Check in with your travel insurance

“Australian travellers seeking medical help in the event of an illness or injury should refer to the Smartraveller website,” a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) spokesperson told Travel at 60

Australia’s Smartraveller website says if you are sick or injured and need medical help you should contact your travel insurer as soon as possible. Travel insurance companies often have 24-hour emergency hotlines that you can call at any time from anywhere in the world if you have a medical issue.

Travel insurance should provide cover for overseas medical expenses such as hospital accommodation, visits to the doctor, surgical fees and ambulance transport, Sophie Walsh, insurance specialist at Finder, told Travel at 60.

“They can advise you on how to go about receiving medical assistance in the country you are visiting, and advice on what to do next,” she added. “In many countries, hospitals will require either upfront payment or confirmation that your travel insurer will cover all your medical costs before providing treatment.”

Meanwhile, hospital bills, particularly in countries where Australia doesn’t have an RHCA in place, can be extremely expensive, Walsh said, adding: “So it’s important to compare travel insurance policies not just on price alone.”

“Peace of mind is priceless and it may only cost you a few dollars more to cover you for unlimited overseas medical expenses,” she added.

If you have any known medical issues, Walsh recommended shopping around as some insurance companies will have exclusions in place for pre-existing medical conditions. That way, if something does happen abroad, you’re able to get the medical attention you need and you won’t break the budget.

“If you’re not sure if your condition is covered, get in touch with the insurer directly before you purchase a policy and head off overseas, otherwise you may find your claim is rejected and you’re left facing a hefty bill,” she added. 

Don’t have travel insurance?

If you don’t have travel insurance, the DFAT recommends seeking medical assistance from local doctors or hospitals. The nearest Australian embassy can provide these details or you can call the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre in Canberra on +61 2 6261 3305 from overseas. However, it’s important to note in many countries you will be required to pay up front for medical services, so it’s worth forking out a bit extra for travel insurance to save yourself the stress.

Have you ever needed medical assistance abroad?

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