Navigating the Maze: A Guide to Australia's Healthcare System for International Students


Australia, with its stunning landscapes, vibrant cities, and world-class educational institutions, beckons international students from all corners of the globe. But amidst the excitement of settling into a new life Down Under, understanding the healthcare system can feel like navigating a maze. Fear not! This comprehensive guide will equip you with the knowledge and resources to confidently access Australia’s excellent healthcare facilities.

Understanding the System: Public vs. Private

Australia boasts a two-pronged healthcare system – public and private. The public system, funded by the government, is accessible through Medicare, a universal health insurance scheme. Medicare covers a significant portion of medical services, including consultations with general practitioners (GPs), specialist referrals, hospital treatment, and subsidised medications. However, most of international students are generally not eligible for Medicare upon arrival.

This is where Overseas Student Health Cover (OSHC) comes in. OSHC is a mandatory health insurance plan for international students on a student visa. It offers coverage for a range of essential medical services, including doctor visits, ambulance services, hospital stays (including some private hospitals), and some medications.

The private healthcare system provides an alternative, offering faster access to specialists, private hospital rooms, and potentially more choice in treatment options. However, private health insurance is not mandatory for international students and comes with additional costs.

Enrolling in OSHC: Your Safety Net

Before departing for Australia, it’s crucial to choose a registered OSHC provider and purchase a policy that meets the minimum requirements set by the Australian Government Department of Home Affairs. Research different providers to find a plan that suits your budget and health needs. Here are 3 OSHC providers to consider, but be sure to compare plans from other providers as well:

  • Medibank OSHC: A well-known Australian health insurer, Medibank offers a range of OSHC plans with varying levels of coverage. Costs typically start around AUD 579 per year for singles cover and can increase depending on the policy options you choose.

  • Bupa OSHC: Bupa is another major health insurer in Australia, offering OSHC plans with a focus on network benefits. Sample costs for Bupa OSHC plans start around AUD 691 per year for singles cover.

  • Allianz Care: Allianz Care offers OSHC plans with a global reputation and 24/7 support. Costs can vary depending on the plan you select, but 12 month pricing for Allianz Care OSHC starts around AUD 630 per year for singles cover.

Please note that these are just a few examples, and costs can vary depending on the length of your stay, your age, and the level of cover you choose. It’s important to compare plans from different providers to find the best fit for your needs.

Once you arrive, make sure to carry your OSHC provider contact details and membership card at all times. Familiarise yourself with the specific inclusions and exclusions of your OSHC plan to avoid unexpected costs.

Finding Your First Point of Contact: The GP

Your General Practitioner (GP) is your first port of call for most non-emergency medical concerns. GPs can provide general medical advice, diagnose illnesses, prescribe medications, and offer referrals to specialists if needed. Look for clinics offering “bulk billing,” where the GP directly bills your OSHC provider, leaving you with no out-of-pocket expenses.

Utilising Your OSHC Benefits

Understanding how to claim on your OSHC policy is essential. Typically, you’ll pay for the service upfront and then submit a claim to your OSHC provider for reimbursement. Retain all receipts and consult your provider’s website or call their hotline for claim procedures.

Beyond OSHC: Additional Considerations

Prescription Medications: While OSHC covers some medications listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), you may need to pay a co-payment for each prescription.

Dental and Optical Care: Basic dental and optical services are generally not included in OSHC. Consider purchasing additional coverage if necessary.

Mental Health Services: Many OSHC plans offer mental health coverage. Don’t hesitate to seek help if needed.

Emergency Situations: In a life-threatening emergency, dial Triple Zero (000) for immediate assistance from an ambulance, fire department, or police.

Medicare Access for International Students

Some exemptions to the requirement to purchase OSHC may apply if you are a student from:

  • Sweden
  • Norway
  • Belgium

However, if you are in Australia on a student visa from the United Kingdom, Sweden, the Netherlands, Belgium, Slovenia, Italy or New Zealand, you can also apply for Medicare under your country’s Reciprocal Health Care Agreements. (Students from Norway, Finland, Malta and the Republic of Ireland are not covered by the agreements with those countries.)

Any Medicare coverage you are entitled to under a Reciprocal Health Care Agreement will be in addition to OSHC. Having reciprocal access to Medicare does not exempt you from needing to take out OSHC.

If you are a citizen of one of these countries, contact Services Australia to inquire about enrolling in Medicare after you arrive in Australia. Students from New Zealand can access public hospital care as public patients but won’t receive a Medicare card.


Don’t be afraid to ask for help! University health services, OSHC providers, and even your friendly neighborhood GP can answer your questions and guide you through the healthcare system.

By familiarising yourself with Australia’s healthcare system and actively managing your OSHC coverage, you can ensure peace of mind and access quality medical care throughout your studies. Now, go forth and explore