Do You Need Private Health Cover While on a Working Visa in Australia?


Young man working from cafe in australia on his working holiday visa

The Australian government and businesses desperately need more overseas workers to fill the labour shortages. With the borders being closed for two years, few migrants have been able to enter Australia. Now that borders are open again migrant workers are coming back. But there are a few points to note about Australia’s healthcare system and applying for a working visa. 

Australia’s healthcare system is under pressure. To ensure migrant workers receive the health care attendance they may require, and as part of their visa requirements, one must take out a health insurance policy. This requirement isn’t new; it has been in place long before the pandemic and allows migrants to be treated in private hospitals without the long waiting periods that come with non-urgent surgery at public hospitals.   

What is Private Health Cover?

Private health cover is the insurance that finances part of the medical costs incurred from an injury, illness or preventative health care.

There are two kinds of health coverage - hospital and extras. Hospital health insurance covers the costs of being treated in a hospital, such as a surgeon, anaesthesia, operating theatre, and accommodation. Extras coverage will provide a rebate on dental, optical, chiro, physio, and ambulance (depending on the level of cover you take up).   

A large number of Australian citizens have one or both levels of health insurance coverage. High-income earners pay an additional tax called The Medicare levy if they don’t have hospital health insurance coverage. Others take out hospital health insurance for greater peace of mind. It is important to consider that people without hospital coverage and that need non-urgent surgery will have to adhere to significant waiting periods. Nevertheless, by opting for hospital health insurance, one can skip the public hospital queue and have the surgery in a private hospital by the doctor of choice and as soon as the surgeon is available. 

Health insurance doesn’t provide free healthcare for residents or immigrants, it is a subsidised cost. For example, most adults pay to see a general practitioner at a reduced cost.

Doctor handing a document to a patient.

Working Visa Health Insurance Requirements

You may be required to organise health insurance if you’re coming to Australia on a visa subclass 188, 400, 403, 407, 408, 417, 462, 482, 485, 489, and others.

The visa required will depend on the reason for visiting Australia. 

Working Visas

If you’re coming to Australia to work, you’ll need one of the following: 

188 – Business Innovation and Investment (Provisional)

400 – Temporary Work (Short Stay Specialist)

403 – Temporary Work (International Relations)

408 – Temporary Activity

476 – Skilled Recognised Graduate

482 – Temporary Skill Shortage

485 – Temporary Graduate

489 – Skilled Regional (Provisional)

Student or Training Visa

If you’re coming to Australia to study, you’ll be on one of these two visas and will need student health cover: 

407 - Training

500 - Student

Visas for Visiting Australia

If you’re in Australia temporarily, you may apply for one of these visas:

417 – Working Holiday

462 – Work and Holiday

600 – Visitor

601 – Electronic Travel Authority (ETA)

651 – eVisitor

771 – Transit Visa

HIF has an online quoting tool which makes it easy to find the right policy. 

The Australian government strongly recommends that anyone visiting Australia makes arrangements for private health insurance (regardless of whether or not it is a visa requirement). Having hospital insurance cover ensures they are fully covered for any unplanned medical and/or hospital care while being in Australia.

Young female at local library applying for working visa

Access to Medicare

Australian citizens and residents are covered by Medicare, but most migrant workers are not eligible for this type of coverage. To gain access as an overseas visitor, one must be travelling on a passport from a country with a Reciprocal Healthcare Arrangement (RHCA) with Australia.  

There are only 11 nations that have a RHCA with Australia - New Zealand, United Kingdom, Ireland, Italy, Malta, Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, and Slovenia.

Overseas visitors from countries with these reciprocal agreements, are covered for any medically necessary treatments. Nonetheless, visitors are treated in a public hospital and can’t choose their own doctor or private hospital. Non-emergency GP appointments aren’t covered under the agreement, so they are charged at full-price. 

Visitors from these countries are covered immediately for urgent health care in Australia, because these countries cover Australians in the same way when they visit their country. The treating doctor will determine if the treatment is urgent or if the visitor can wait until returning home. For more information, see What They Are and How You Can Benefit. Even if you can take advantage of a RHCA, it’s still worth considering health insurance to cover you for non-urgent hospital treatment.

Services like ambulance cover, dental, optical aren’t covered by Medicare. Australian citizens pay full price for these if they don’t have extras health insurance cover, and visitors need to pay full price for these services too if they don’t take out extras coverage.  

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FAQs for Private Health Cover for Working Visas

Can I begin claiming straight away after taking out health insurance? 

Health insurance funds have waiting periods for expensive procedures. The Australian government allows health funds to have a 12 month waiting period for pre-existing conditions, pregnancy, and birth-related treatments. There is a 2 month waiting period for psychiatric treatment, rehabilitation, and palliative care. Health funds can have up to a 2 month wait time for other treatments.

Are all health funds the same?

No, it’s worth researching different options. The amount you pay in insurance premiums differs between funds and the amount you can claim in rebates also varies. 


Do I need overseas health cover, why can’t I take out the same type of policy as residents? 

The overseas health insurance cover comes with a health insurance certificate for those people who need to show evidence. Moreover, the overseas health cover policies include items that aren’t required by Australian citizens because they have access to Medicare. A Medicare card entitles you to a rebate when you visit a general practitioner. With overseas cover, you can claim the same rebate as Medicare provides. Some medications in Australia are subsidised by Medicare through the Pharmaceutical Benefit Scheme. Taking out overseas health insurance allows you to pay the same subsidised rate rather than the full price on all medications.    

For some visa holders, it’s better to take out resident health cover. For example, business owners and sponsored employees may be eligible for a resident’s health cover policy.   

I’m coming to Australia on a visa that doesn’t require health insurance, what are the risks of not taking out health insurance? 

Australia has a world-class medical system that can be expensive. If you have an injury or illness while in Australia and you need treatment, the costs add up quickly. For example, the full cost of having your appendix removed can be as much as $30,000. Complex surgery and ongoing care in hospitals can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Having a health insurance policy or travel insurance means you have peace of mind that should anything happen, you’ll be covered.

When can I expect my Visa Compliance Letter after signing up with HIF?

Good news, you’ll automatically receive your compliance letter via email as soon as you sign up for an overseas health policy so there’s no waiting period. If your visa application is unsuccessful, HIF will refund any pre-paid policy minus a $50 admin fee. 

Does everyone take out the same Visa-compliant health insurance?

No, HIF has four policies to choose from - one basic, two middle, and one top cover level of insurance. All are compliant with the Department of Home Affairs so it’s up to you to choose what level of cover will suit your circumstance. Check out the visa-compliant health cover tables here.  

Is there a minimum length of policy? 

Yes, two months is the minimum for Visa health insurance. 

So, if you're on your way to work in Australia, you'll have a lot to organise. Health insurance should be a priority on your list, and arranging visa compliant cover with HIF is as quick and easy as it gets. Take a look at your options or get a quote today.

Tammy George

Please note: Tammy's blog is general advice only. For further information on this topic please consult your healthcare professional.

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