Taking care of your health
Explore this page for travel health advice for all Australians, no matter who you are, where you're going or what you're doing overseas. Your health is your responsibility, and prevention is better than cure.
On this page
- health checklist before you go
- taking care of your health while you're away
- how the Australian Government can help overseas
This page is for Australian planning to travel overseas. If you're already travelling and need medical care, see our general advice on medical assistance overseas.
Health checklist before you go
- Research your destination
- Get travel insurance
- Talk to your doctor
- Get your vaccinations
- Pack and prepare your medication
- Think about your special health needs
- Think about what activities you're planning
1. Research your destination
Every destination is different. This includes the health risks you may face when you get there. Be informed, be prepared. Know the risks so you can make informed choices about where you go and what you do there.
Then, read travel guides, do online research and talk to people you know who've been there before. For each destination you're travelling to or through, find out about:
- infectious diseases there, including water borne, food borne and STIs
- other types of health risks, such as altitude sickness or injuries from car crashes
- availability and quality of health care, medical facilities and medications
- laws about medication, if your prescription is illegal you could be arrested or jailed
Read the travel advice for your destinations before you go.
2. Get travel insurance
Health cover is one of the main reasons Australians get travel insurance. It won't prevent you getting sick or injured, though it can prevent you suffering financially. Medical assistance overseas can be very expensive.
You must pay for all medical care you receive overseas. You can't expect to get free or subsidised care through your destination's public health system, like you would in Australia.
You need travel insurance. You also need to make sure you choose a policy that is right for you.
- Read the fine print. It's in the product disclosure statement (PDS).
- Declare all pre-existing conditions to your insurer upfront. If you don't, you may void your policy.
- Tell your insurer the activities you plan to do, before you go. Many common activities like skiing are excluded in basic policies. You may need to pay extra.
- Check if you have free credit card travel insurance. Some cards include cover. However, they often have different conditions than paid policies. Understand the differences. Read the CHOICE guide to free credit card travel insurance.
- If you're going overseas for a medical procedure, you may not be covered by a basic policy. Ask your insurer or talk to your private health insurer in Australia.
- If you're going somewhere with a reciprocal health care agreement, you still need insurance. Agreements are limited in what they'll will cover.
If you have a terminal illness, you may not be able to get basic travel insurance. However you may be able to find a specialised insurer that covers you for health, accidents or property problems unrelated to your illness. Talk to your insurer to find out.
Learn more about getting international travel insurance before you go.
3. Talk to your doctor
Your doctor is the expert on your health. Take their advice.
- See your doctor 6 to 8 weeks before you go. You need enough time to apply their advice.
- Ask if it's safe for you to travel. If you're a mature traveller or have a pre-existing condition, travelling could put your health at risk. Especially if you rely on specialised care that may be hard to find overseas.
- Tell your doctor where you're going. Ask for preventative advice that suits your needs in that destination.
- Ask your doctor what vaccinations or boosters you need. Some require several courses over time.
- Ask for practical advice for while you're away. Your doctor can advise you how to reduce the risk of having problems health problems overseas.
If you're planning to travel while pregnant, you're making decisions for two, not just yourself. Talk to your obstetrician, travel insurer and airline. They can advise if there's any other steps you can take to reduce risks to you and your unborn child.
See our general advice on vaccinations and preventative health.
4. Vaccinations and preventative health
- Ask your doctor what vaccinations or boosters you need. They can check your health record so see what you've had.
- Ask how many shots (or courses) you'll need, and when to get them. Some vaccinations need several applications and take time to have an effect.
- Find out which infectious diseases are common in your destination. Learn what practical steps you can take to help reduce your risk of infection.
- Find out if you need a vaccination certificate to enter your destination. This is especially common in countries with Yellow Fever.
Some preventative products like mosquito nets you can probably get when you get there. Others, especially repellents and medications, may be safer to buy before you go. Not all counties share Australia's high quality and safety standards.
5. Stock up on supplies
You may have challenges refilling your script or finding medical supplies overseas. Your medication may not be available in your destination, it could be low quality or even illegal there.
- Ideally, take enough medication for your whole trip. You may wish to take a bit extra, in case things change and your return home is delayed.
- Find out if your prescription medication is legal in your destination. Local authorities could charge you for carrying or using drugs. You could be arrested or jailed.
- Find out if the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) has restrictions on your medication. There are laws and restrictions on the amount and types of PBS subsidised medicine you can take overseas.
- Keep you medication in the original packaging. Carry your script and a letter from your doctor that explains why you have it. If authorities question you about your medication, this can help prove it's for personal use, not for sale.
- When you're packing, keep some of your medication in different bags. If one bag is lost or stolen, you won't have to worry about running out.
6. Consider your special health needs
Some Australians are more likely to need medical assistance overseas. This especially applies to people with a pre-existing medical condition, such as:
Age, gender and sexual orientation can also impact your health while travelling. This especially applies to:
Research your destination before you go. Find out if your population group faces increased health risks there.
If your condition requires frequent care, you may need to see a doctor while you're away. Identify a suitable medical professional in your destination and book an appointment before you go.
Explore our information for different types of travellers. See our advice based on who you are.
7. Think about what you're planning to do
The activities you're planning to do overseas affect your health. Your health also affects what activities you can do safely.
- Research your destination and planned activities before you go.
- Find out if you can get high-quality heath care in your destination. Check the 'Health' section of the travel advisory.
- Research the activity you plan to do. Find out if it commonly leads to particular health problems, especially injuries.
- Check your travel insurance policy. Basic policies don't cover you for higher risk activities. You may be surprised what some policies exclude. Some will only cover your activity if you pay extra.
If you're going overseas for a medical procedure, choose your hospital and surgeon wisely. Standards vary. The wrong choice could lead to serious and expensive complications, or death. Read our general advice on medical tourism.
Make smart decisions while you're away
You'll enjoy your time overseas more if you don't get sick or injured. You can make choices while you're there that reduce your risks.
- Partying or getting romantic with someone over there? Use a condom. Not just for birth control, but to prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
- Going on a road trip? Learn about the road rules and follow them. Stay within the law. Think about road safety, you'll be less likely to have an accident and need medical assistance overseas.
- Riding a motorbike or scooter? Wear a helmet and proper protective clothing. Think about road safety, just like you would in Australia.
- Exploring street food and local cuisine? Choose vendors and restaurants that look clean and are popular with locals.
- Eating with your hands? Wash them first. Make sure they're dry to reduce the risk of diseases. Travellers diarrhoea (healthdirect) is the least of your worries.
- Getting a tattoo? Choose a shop with high safety and hygiene standards. Always ensure they use fresh needles. The wrong choice and you can catch an infectious disease, including HIV / AIDS.
If you're planning to go to a dangerous destination with a 'Do not travel' warning, you're putting yourself at serious risk. You could die. Take our advice level seriously. The Australian Government may not be able to help you if things go wrong.
What the Australian Government can do
The Australian Government is limited in when and how it can help Australians overseas. You're responsible for your own health overseas. It's up to you, your family or your travel insurer to organise and pay for any medical assistance you need.
For more information about how we can help, see the Consular Services Charter.
What we can do
- We can provide you or your family with a list of local hospitals or doctors that speak English.
- We can provide you or or your family with a list of local lawyers that speak English.
- We can publish some information about general heath risks in your destination. We also publish local emergency contact numbers is each travel advisory.
What we can't do
- We can't pay your medical bills for you, or loan you money.
- We can't recommend hospitals, doctors or lawyers.
- We can't organise or provide you with health care or medicines.
Before you go
- Research your destination. Find out if there are specific health risks overall or in certain areas and if your medication is legal.
- Get travel insurance. Make sure it covers your pre-existing conditions and injuries from your planned activities (don't just rely on a reciprocal health care agreement).
- See your GP or travel doctor for a health check. Get a letter for any medications you need to carry to prove you aren't carrying or using drugs.
- Get your vaccinations early, some you'll need to start taking well before you go for them to have an effect
- If you can, take a bit more than enough medication to last the trip.
- Keep your medication in original packaging.
- Pack some of your medication in your carry-on baggage. Just in case your other bag is lost or stolen.
- Get your affairs in order. Ensure your will is up to date. Even if you're fit and healthy, you could die if things go wrong.
- Learn about vaccinations and preventative health measures you can take.
- Learn how to reduce your risk from infectious diseases.
- Read about travelling with medication and medical equipment.
- Learn how to look after your mental health.
- Some medical emergencies in certain countries are covered by reciprocal health care agreements.
- Understand what happens if you die overseas. Think about the impact on your next of kin.
- See our advice for travelling with a disability.
- Learn how to take care of your health at sea if you're going on a cruise.
- Choose the right travel insurance that covers your health when things go wrong.
- Reduce the risk of getting injured. Especially if you're planning high risk activities.
- Know how to get medical assistance overseas.
- Understand how and when the Australian Government can help overseas. Read the Consular Services Charter.
- See travel health information and travel health advice (Department of Health).
- Read advice on overseas travel (Victorian Department of Health and Human Services).
- Read the Staying healthy when travelling overseas fact sheet (NSW Department of Health).
- See country and disease specific advice for travellers (US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
Getting medical assistance overseas can be challenging and expensive, especially in an emergency. Read our advice on what to do when when you need help.
When you go overseas, you may be exposed to a range of infectious diseases. Before you go, learn about the health risks in your destination and see your doctor.