Going overseas for a medical procedure (medical tourism)
Medical tourism is when you go overseas for medical treatment. Each year, over 15,000 Australians travel for medical tourism. Most people don't suffer serious complications.
Unfortunately, things don't always go as planned.
Before you go, gather the information you need. Research the hospital, procedure and surgeon performing it. Make informed choices about your medical procedure. This helps you reduce the risks of things going wrong.
Explore this page to learn about:
- procedures Australians often undergo overseas
- countries Australians often travel to for treatment
- quality of care and health standards overseas
- safety of medical tourism
- advice for patients
- insurance and medical tourism
- final tips before you go
Common procedures Australians undergo overseas
The most common types of procedures Australians undergo overseas are:
- cosmetic surgery
- dental procedures and surgery
- heart surgery
- in vitro fertilisation (IVF) and other fertility treatments
- gender reassignment
- stem-cell therapy
- cancer treatments
Common destinations for medical tourism
Many Australians travel overseas for health care to save money. This is especially the case in South-East Asia for cosmetic and dental surgery. Some common destinations for Australian medical tourists are:
Most medical tourists go overseas to save money. However, some go for experimental or alternative treatments unavailable in Australia. This can be the case for Australians travelling to the United States (US) and United Kingdom (UK).
Before you go overseas for medical treatment, read your destination's travel advisory. See the 'Health' section for information about local healthcare.
Advice for travelling overseas for a medical procedure
As with medical procedures in Australia or overseas, there's always risks. You could suffer from complications, or you could die. Get the facts first, before you go. Then, you can make an informed decisions about your procedure and reduce the risk of things going wrong.
Research the destination, doctor, hospital and procedure before you go.
- Find out if the hospital is accredited by the country's state or federal body responsible for regulating health care. Don't go to an unofficial medical facility.
- Check if the surgeon who will perform your procedure is qualified and accredited. Most countries publish this information on an official government website.
- See if there are reports of antibiotic resistant bacteria in the hospital. These infections may not be treatable. You could die.
- Compare the complication risks they give you to those mentioned in Australia. Be especially wary if a hospital overseas suggests much lower risks.
- Find out if you can get travel insurance to cover your procedure. Check it covers complications and post-operative care.
- Learn about your legal rights in your destination. Find out if you can take legal action against the hospital and surgeon if things go wrong.
The cost of medical treatment overseas
Cost is one of the main reasons Australians travel overseas for medical procedures. In some countries, elective procedures can cost a fraction of the price of getting it done in Australia. But make sure you consider all possible costs.
- If you have a complication during or after the procedure, you may have to pay more to resolve it. Make sure your estimate also covers this.
- Your travel insurance policy may not cover additional issues that arise from your medical procedure. Check your travel insurance policy.
- In some countries, doctors and hospitals don't have to get professional insurance for when things go wrong. Make sure your surgeon and hospital have professional indemnity and malpractice insurance.
- If your procedure is botched, you may return home with a new or worse problem. It could cost you to fix it. Choose your surgeon and hospital wisely to reduce the risk of things going wrong.
Remember, you're financially responsible for costs incurred during and after treatment overseas. You, your family or travel insurer will have to pay if things go wrong and you need medical assistance, or a medical evacuation back to Australia.
The Australian government can't pay your bills or loan you money.
Quality of care and health standards overseas
Many hospitals overseas operate at a similar standard to Australian facilities. However, quality and standards in some countries can be poor. Some may have low training standards for doctors and nurses. Others may have high rates of infection and complications.
- The quality of care you receive may not be of the same standard you would expect in Australia.
- Minimum health standards in some countries can be very low, even in economically developed nations.
- Standards can differ greatly within countries. Standards vary between regions, hospitals and medical professionals.
Your health is your responsibility. It's up to you to research the risks and determine if a hospital or surgeon meets an acceptable minimum standard.
Medical tourism and insurance
- If things go wrong with your procedure, there'll be another bill to pay.
- When you're overseas, you don't have Medicare to fall back on.
- Reciprocal health care agreements only cover some situations, in some countries.
- You're unlikely to get subsidised care through your destination's public health system.
Learn more about medical tourism and insurance from the Better Health Channel (Victorian Government).
Travel insurance for medical tourism
Basic travel insurance policies rarely cover you for medical tourism trips. You'll need to get a specialised policy that covers complications or costs associated with your procedure.
- Find a travel insurer that covers complications from your specific procures. Some offer this as a paid extra on their policies.
- Find out what you're covered for. Ask your insurer about post-operative care, complications and medical evacuation back to Australia.
- Talk to your travel insurer and be open about your plans. If you forget to tell them something important, you may void your policy.
As with any insurance product, always read the Product Disclosure Statement (PDS). Understand what you're covered for and what's excluded.
Australian private health insurance for medical tourism
Some private health insurers in Australia have arrangements with hospitals overseas. They may give you the option to undertake a medical procedure overseas. Some may cover your travel expenses and medical fees. They may help organise your trip.
If you have private health insurance in Australia, tell them about your plans. Ask your private health insurer if they:
- will cover your medical procedure and travel cost
- have a list of hospitals and surgeons overseas that they endorse
- offer a travel insurance policy that covers you if things go wrong with your procedure
Even if your private health insurer won't cover you, always tell them about your plans. Otherwise, if you suffer a complication down the track, you may void your Australian health insurance policy.
Consular services and medical tourism
Consular services are limited in when and how we can support Australians overseas.
For how the Australian government can and can't help, see the Consular Services Charter.
What we can do
- We can contact your family in Australia, with your permission.
- We can provide you a list of reputable local hospitals and doctors that speak English.
- We can give you a list of local lawyers who speak English. Lawyers can help you pursue your legal options if there's medical malpractice.
What we can't do
- We can't pay for your medical expenses, medical evacuation or legal costs.
- We can't loan you money to pay your bills.
- We can't get you out of trouble (or out of jail if you're arrested) if you can't pay your bill.
- We can't represent you in legal cases, or intervene with local legal processes.
- We can't recommend hospitals or surgeons for your procedure.
Final tips before you go
- Talk to your doctor in Australia about your plans. Ask for their advice.
- Ask your private health insurer if they'll support your procedure overseas. If not, ask if they offer a travel insurance policy that covers you for complications overseas.
- Get travel insurance. Choose a policy that specifies cover for medical tourism.
- Read about your destination, See the 'Health' section in its travel advisory.
- Research the hospital and surgeon. Ensure they're qualified, experienced and accredited.
- Make sure your last will and testament is up to date. Even if you're young, fit and healthy you could die if things go wrong
- Get a health check at least 6 weeks before you go. Make sure you've got appropriate vaccinations.
- Take someone with you. If things go wrong you'll need their support on the ground. They may need to make decisions for you.
- Read the travel advice for your destination. Understand what each advice level means.
- Read general advice about vaccinations and preventative health.
- It's expensive if things go wrong. Learn more about choosing the right travel insurance.
- Things may go wrong with your procedure. Understand what happens if you die overseas.
- Learn how to get medical assistance overseas.
- If you don't pay your bill, you could be arrested or jailed overseas.
- We're limited how and when we can help if things go wrong. Read the Consular Service Charter.
- Learn more about medical tourism and insurance (Victorian Government Better Health Channel).
- Read the suite of travel health information (Department of Health).
- Read about the impact on medical tourism on Australians (Royal Australian College of General Practitioners).
- Before you go, see the checklist in the Medical Tourism Advice Position Paper (Royal Australasian College of Surgeons).
- Read about medical tourism (Center for Disease Control (CDC), United States Government).
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.
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.