Australians are travelling overseas in ever-increasing numbers.
Whatever your age or destination, properly preparing before you leave and staying in good health while travelling can help you to have a happy and enjoyable trip.
This brochure is designed to provide travel tips and health information to help you prepare for a safe and healthy journey. It should be read in conjunction with Travel smart – hints for Australian travellers.
When you travel abroad, you leave behind Australia's support systems, emergency service capabilities and medical facilities. The Australian Government will do what it can to help Australians in difficulty overseas, but there are legal and practical limits to what can be done to assist travellers in other countries. You should have realistic expectations about this and read the Consular Services Charter, before you go.
Before you go - be prepared
Read the travel advice
Start with the latest travel advice for your destination. This advice will give you information on the main risks you may face and some precautions you can take while travelling and living overseas.
Register before you travel
Make sure you register your travel and contact details online before you travel. This will make it easier to contact you in an emergency, whether it's a natural disaster, civil disturbance or family issue. The registration information you provide is protected by Australia's strict privacy laws.
Subscribe to travel advice
Subscribe to receive email updates to travel advice. This will help you stay across any changes to the safety and security situation, local laws and health issues in the countries you're living in or visiting.
Overseas medical costs are not covered by Medicare.
We strongly advise you to take out comprehensive travel insurance.
Make sure it covers all medical expenses for injury or illness, as well as theft of valuables, damage to baggage, and cancellations or interruptions to flight plans. Fully disclose any pre-existing medical conditions in writing. It will save you worry and possible financial hardship. Medical costs overseas can be in the tens of thousands of dollars and many families have been burdened financially in paying these costs when things go wrong.
Compare insurance policies and make sure the cover you choose suits your needs and is valid for the whole time you'll be away. Always read the product disclosure statement carefully and make sure that you understand exactly what your travel insurance covers.
Be sure to confirm all details with your insurance provider and receive written confirmation of your policy.
If you plan to rely on the travel insurance provided by your credit card, before travelling you should obtain written confirmation that you're covered and ensure that you have the details of the policy clearly outlined in writing.
You may be able to obtain travel insurance for yourself and your immediate family or travelling partner under the one policy. However, cover varies from policy to policy so check the fine print. Make sure you confirm all details with your insurance provider and receive written confirmation of your policy.
More information on travel insurance, including tips for choosing a policy that's right for you, is avaviable on our travel insurance page.
Insurance for cruise passengers
Cruise passengers are strongly encouraged to take out travel insurance appropriate to their circumstances.
Medicare benefits are only payable to cruise passengers if you're travelling between two Australian ports. They are not payable for journeys between an Australian port and a foreign port or between two foreign ports.
Don't base your decision about taking out travel insurance on the assumption that 'it won't happen to me'. Accidents do happen.
Richard was a young Australian working in a US ski resort after travelling around the world. He had taken out travel insurance to cover his planned 12 months away. After earning enough money to stay on as a guest at the resort, he decided to defer his return to Australia by a week. Richard enjoyed skiing and the night life so much that he forgot to extend his 12-month comprehensive travel insurance policy, which expired three days before his return to Australia. On his second last day at the resort, he was hit by a car while crossing a road on his way to the ski fields and suffered serious head injuries. He was admitted unconscious to intensive care. A month after the accident, when Richard's family organised his return home, he was still in coma and could only be moved on a stretcher. His medical evacuation alone cost his family $80,000.
If you extend your overseas travel, make sure you also extend your travel insurance policy — it could save you and your family thousands.
Passports and visas
Your passport is your most important travel document. All Australian citizens must have a valid passport before leaving Australia and maintain a valid passport while overseas. All children travelling overseas, including newborn infants, must have their own passport.
Be aware that countries have different passport validity requirements. Make sure your passport has at least six months validity from your planned date of return to Australia. Carry extra passport photos just in case your passport is lost or stolen and you need to replace it while you're away.
Find out early what visas you need by contacting the foreign mission (embassy, high commission or consulate) of the countries you intend to visit. Some countries have specific entry and exit requirements, including compulsory vaccinations. Be aware that a tourist visa may not allow you to undertake any form of work — including voluntary or unpaid activities. Remember to also check the visa requirements of countries you might be transiting.
More information on Australian passports can be found on the Australian Passport Office website or by calling the Australian Passport Information Service on 13 12 32 in Australia.
- The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) in Australia and Australian missions overseas cannot help you arrange visas or work and residency permits for other countries.
- A visa does not guarantee entry to a foreign country.
- In most cases a tourist visa does not allow you to work in a foreign country including voluntary or unpaid activities.
Being a national or citizen of more than one country is called dual nationality.
Some countries offer citizenship to people who marry their citizens, or to persons whose parents or grandparents were born in that country.
You should be aware that if you have dual nationality, it may have implications when you visit the country of your second nationality.
You may be prevented from obtaining Australian consular assistance if the country you're in considers you to be one of its citizens.
If you hold another country's passport, seek advice about using it.
Take your Australian passport and use it to depart from and return to Australia.
For further information, read our information for dual nationals.
Planning your trip
Research your destination
Find out about the political, cultural and economic environment of your destination so you'll know what to expect on arrival. Consult the travel advisory for your destination and either purchase a guide book or search the internet for recent information. Talk with family or friends who are familiar with the countries you'll be visiting. You could also consult DFAT's country briefs to learn more about your destinations.
If you're concerned the airline may question your fitness to fly, we recommend you obtain a letter from your doctor confirming that you're fit for air travel.
If you have a disability, call your airline to find out about services provided including shuttle services, seating arrangements and special meals.
If you need to carry needles and syringes with you, obtain a letter from your doctor explaining why you need them and seek early advice from your airline on how to comply with enhanced airport and air travel security regulations.
If you're travelling with children or independently, it's recommended that you book your accommodation prior to arrival, especially if you're due to arrive at your destination late at night.
Protect yourself against loss and theft by carrying minimal pieces of luggage. Overloaded, you make yourself more vulnerable to bag snatchers and pickpockets. Secure credit cards and passports under your clothes or in a money belt.
If you're travelling to the USA, make sure you familiarise yourself with their specific airline baggage lock requirements. Information is available from the US Department of Homeland Security.
People with disability
Remember that not all countries provide the same level of support for people with a disability as is available in Australia. Therefore, it's important to plan ahead:
- Book direct flights where possible and when making bookings allow plenty of time for any necessary transfers between planes or other forms of transport.
- Contact the local tourist authority to find out if the public transport system at your destination will provide you with adequate access.
- Contact relevant foreign missions to check rules and regulations about any items you're travelling with, such as a wheelchair, equipment/aids or medication.
- Don't make assumptions about your accommodation. Check that it's suitable for you before you arrive.
- If any of your aids need electric current, check the voltage used in the country you're visiting. Also check which adaptors are needed as plug configurations do change from country to country.
Staying safe overseas
Local transport and tours
Be aware that the safety standards you might expect of transport and tour operators, including adventure activities, are not always met.
Sufficient safety equipment may not be provided and recommended maintenance standards and safety precautions may not be observed.
Make sure you organise an International Driving Permit before you leave Australia if you're planning to drive overseas.
Learn about road conditions and traffic culture of the places you plan to visit. If you're renting a car, make sure it's roadworthy.
Money and valuables
You can take a number of steps to protect yourself against loss and theft of money and valuables.
- Organise a variety of ways of accessing your money overseas, such as debit and credit cards, traveller's cheques and cash.
- Check with your bank whether your ATM card will work overseas.
- Register with your bank the period you expect to be travelling.
- Never let your credit card out of your sight.
- Make two photocopies of valuable documents such as your passport, tickets, travel insurance policy, visas and credit and ATM cards. Keep one copy with you in a separate place to the original and leave the other copy with someone at home.
Local laws and customs
In some cultures conservative standards of dress and behaviour can apply; for example, people may be offended by revealing or inappropriate clothes. Breastfeeding in public may also be considered offensive. You should talk to other travellers and consult guidebooks or search the internet for more information on local customs and laws.
Be aware that local laws and penalties, including ones that may appear harsh by Australian standards, apply to you. Age or health concerns are not valid excuses. Many countries apply capital punishment, including for narcotics-related crimes. Every year, many Australians of all ages are arrested overseas on drug charges.
Staying healthy overseas
Health checks and vaccinations
Make an appointment with your doctor or travel clinic for a basic health check-up at least six to eight weeks before you depart to find out if any vaccinations or further health checks are required for your destination.
It's important that you discuss your personal travel plans with a health professional to ensure you have the correct vaccinations for your trip and any booster doses of childhood vaccinations you may need.
Vaccines can prevent you from contracting some diseases, but it's also important to remember:
- New vaccines are constantly being released but diseases continue to evolve.
- Vaccinations may be an entry requirement of some countries so check with the foreign mission of the countries you are intending to visit or transit. In some countries you may be refused entry or required to have the vaccination at the border. We recommend you seek medical advice from your GP or travel doctor and have any vaccinations prior to leaving Australia.
- It's never too late to vaccinate; however, some vaccines require a long period to take effect and more than one dose may be needed.
- You may need boosters for childhood vaccines.
- Health risks within a country can vary from one region to another and local authorities may be slow to announce outbreaks of disease.
- New diseases can appear suddenly, as happened with the outbreak of the pandemic influenza (H1N1) in 2009. Check the latest travel advice and travel bulletins for your destination before you depart and while travelling so you can ensure you have the latest information.
- Common illnesses that travellers can pick up include those which result from eating or drinking contaminated food or water. Find out whether tap water and local food is safe to consume before you depart.
- There are a number of mosquito-borne diseases you can contract while overseas, particularly in tropical areas. Be sure to take measures to avoid being bitten such as wearing light-coloured, loose-fitting clothing that covers your arms and legs, regularly applying an appropriate insect repellent and staying in mosquitoproof accommodation.
To find out more about healthy travel and vaccinations, contact your nearest travel doctor or visit:
If you're taking medicines overseas, we recommend that you:
- discuss with your doctor the medication you'll need to take
- carry a letter from your doctor detailing what the medication is, how much you'll be taking with you, and stating that it's for your own personal use
- leave the medication in its original packaging so it's clearly labelled with your name and dosage instructions.
If you're travelling with medication, make sure it's legal in the countries you're visiting by contacting the relevant foreign mission in Australia>.
If you need to travel with large quantities of medication, it's good practice to separate the quantity between your luggage, in case bags go missing. Keep all medication in the original, labelled container to avoid customs problems.
If you have to inject your medication, it may be preferable to carry your own needles and syringes if it's allowed in the countries you're visiting. If you buy needles and syringes overseas, ensure they are sealed and sterile.
Take enough medication to cover the length of your trip. If you need to purchase medication at your destination, be careful not to buy imitation or counterfeit medications and prescription drugs, and always check the strength of a medication with a doctor. Be aware that packaging and labelling may be similar to those available in Australia, but the strength and active ingredients can vary from country to country.
It's an offence to carry or send Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) medication overseas unless it's for your own personal use, or for the use of someone travelling with you. You could be fined $5,000 and spend two years in prison if you break the law. Additional information is available on the Department of Health and Ageing website or by calling the PBS information line on 1800 020 613.
More information on travelling with medication is available on the Medicare website or by calling the Overseas Drug Diversion information line on 1800 500 147.
If you wear glasses, take along a spare pair and/or a copy of the prescription so that they can be replaced more easily if lost or broken.
Additional health tips
- If you're currently taking prescription medication, continue to take it as directed by your doctor.
- Make up a small medical kit, including items such as headache tablets, antacids, antiseptic lotion, cotton wool, bandaids, latex gloves, safety pins, SPF 30+ sunscreen and an appropriate insect repellent.
- If your trip will involve an increase to your usual physical activity, such as a lot of walking, gradually build up your fitness (after receiving clearance from your doctor) weeks, or preferably months, before you depart.
- If you plan to travel to locations or undertake activities at high altitudes (>2,500 m) you should see your doctor prior to travel and get advice specific to your situation. Altitude sickness can affect anyone, even the physically fit.
- Find out whether essentials are readily available at your destination. In some countries supplies of feminine hygiene products, nappies and contraceptives, including condoms, can be unreliable or unavailable, so it may be best to stock up before you leave.
- Don't try to save luggage space by combining medications into one container. Keep all medication in the original container to avoid problems with customs officials.
In the air
- Keep a supply of important medication with you in case your luggage goes missing.
- Continue taking your prescribed medication.
- Factor the effects of jet lag into your itinerary.
- If you've been scuba diving, don't travel in an aircraft for at least 24 hours after your final dive.
To help avoid deep vein thrombosis (DVT):
- drink plenty of fluids (but avoid alcohol and caffeine)
- stretch your feet and lower legs while seated
- walk around the cabin at regular intervals.
On the ground
- Exercise within your limits — especially in hot climates.
- Include rest time in your travel itinerary to recover from any fatigue.
- Wear comfortable shoes, a hat and sunscreen for sightseeing.
- Wear a pair of thongs when showering.
- Always take spare medication when going on excursions.
- Practice safe sex as HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmissible infections are widespread in many countries.
Where local tap water is not safe:
- only use bottled water to drink and brush your teeth and always check the seal
- don't put ice in drinks — freezing preserves germs, rather than kills them
- avoid uncooked food, including salads and fruit that you cannot peel.
Don and Claudia and their best friends Chris and Louise were talking and dreaming about safaris and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro for over 20 years. The time had come to realise their dream. Their travel agent had arranged tailored comprehensive travel insurance for all their needs. Their doctor had cleared their fitness and health conditions for their challenging trip to East Africa. They had a supply of medication for their respective minor health conditions and left Australia feeling well prepared. After having a fabulous time on safari in Kenya, everyone was looking forward to their climb up Kilimanjaro. Knowing that steep climbing triggers his asthma, Don put a ventolin respirator in his backpack and another one in the pocket of his trousers. On arrival at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro, the tour guide told his group to leave their backpacks, drinks and all non-essential equipment in the bus as everything needed would be provided on the way to and back from the summit. About a third of the way through the climb, Don started to feel short of breath and realised that it was time to use his respirator to regain his breath. He couldn't find the one he had put in his pocket and started to get very worried because he hadn't taken the spare one from his backpack. He kept slowing down and breathing more heavily. Claudia realised what was happening and immediately gave him the spare respirator that she always carried. Don had fully recovered after 10 minutes and reached the summit with his friends. Claudia's simple planning ahead avoided a potential medical emergency for Don and the group was able to continue and enjoy their holiday together.
If you have a medical condition, make sure you plan ahead and be prepared.
If you're travelling to Africa, South/Central America or the Caribbean you may be exposed to yellow fever. Yellow fever is a potentially fatal viral disease transmitted by mosquitoes. You should check with the foreign missions of the countries you intend visiting for any vaccination entry or exit requirements and discuss vaccination for yellow fever with your GP or travel doctor. For more information, visit the Department of Health and Ageing website.
For more information on the spread of HIV/AIDS, visit the World Health Organisation website.
Deep vein thrombosis
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) can occur on long flights but simple actions can reduce the danger. For more information, visit the Civil Aviation Safety Authority website.
Reciprocal health agreements
Australia has healthcare agreements with Belgium, Finland, Ireland, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
These agreements allow Australians to access urgent or emergency treatment overseas. However, medical services are only provided when it would be unreasonable to delay treatment until the person returns to Australia.
It's important to remember:
- Healthcare agreements are no substitute for travel insurance. They won't cover you if a doctor recommends medical evacuation back to Australia.
- You'll only be covered by these healthcare agreements once you're in the specific country. Health problems which occur during travel to and from an agreement country are not covered.
If you wish to be treated under the relevant reciprocal healthcare agreement, you must advise the medical staff in the country you're visiting. You'll need to provide the local authorities with:
- your Australian passport or other passport which shows you're a permanent Australian resident
- a valid Medicare card. If you don't have a valid Medicare card, or your card will expire while you're away, visit a Medicare office and arrange for a new card before travelling overseas.
Further information about health care when travelling overseas and international health agreements is available on the Medicare website, or by calling 13 20 11.
Department of Veterans' Affairs
If you receive a pension from the Department of Veterans' Affairs (DVA), it's your responsibility to advise DVA of your intention to travel overseas before you leave. Ask about the possible implications your overseas travel may have on your pension and healthcare entitlements. A DVA 'gold card' or DVA healthcare card does not guarantee that DVA will cover your medical costs while you're overseas. Further information is available on the DVA website or by calling DVA on 13 32 54.
Getting help overseas
DFAT provides assistance to Australians who find themselves in trouble overseas. This support is referred to as consular services; however, there are legal and practical limits to what can be done.
The Consular Services Charter sets out the standard of services all Australians can expect to receive from consular staff, including what they can and cannot do.
Australia has an agreement with Canada to provide consular assistance to Australians in some countries.
The 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre in Canberra can also be contacted for assistance from anywhere in the world on +61 2 6261 3305 or 1300 555 135 (local call cost within Australia).
Contact your travel insurance provider
Travel insurance companies often have 24-hour assistance centres that you can contact from anywhere in the world. If you get sick overseas or are involved in a medical emergency, you should contact your travel insurance provider as soon as possible. Make sure you take your travel insurance policy information and contact numbers with you so you can easily contact your insurer from overseas. Consider leaving details of your travel insurance policy with family or friends back home.
For more information on insurance, read the 'Travel Insurance' section of this brochure.
Australians in need of counselling services overseas can contact our Consular Emergency Centre on +61 2 6261 3305 to be transferred to a Lifeline telephone counsellor.