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The cost of a foreign illness vs a travel vaccination

6 min read
11 Oct 2019
travel vaccination certificates lying on a map

Aussies love to travel, with over 11 million heading overseas in 2018 for holidays and short-term trips, as noted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).[1]

But international travel isn’t without its risks.

In the Consular State of Play report for 2017/18, The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) note that illness was the leading cause of death for Aussies abroad, with 518 Australians dying from an illness when overseas that year.[2] This was an increase of 15% compared to the previous financial year.

The cost of vaccination vs the cost of a foreign illness? The jab always wins out

a close up of a doctor giving a patient a vaccination

Vaccines aren’t exactly pleasant, and they can range in price from the inexpensive to the costly. Getting sick on your holiday, however, can completely derail your dream escape, and put you in serious danger.

Medical care overseas can become seriously expensive, especially if you need to spend time in hospital. Medical evacuation back to Australia can become even more expensive, which is why it is important to get travel insurance that includes medical cover that includes evacuation/repatriation.

Depending on the severity of the situation and the care required, hospitalisation and a medical evacuation back to Australia can cost tens of thousands of dollars – much more expensive than getting vaccinated and purchasing travel cover.[3]

A vaccination may prevent you from falling prey to one of these foreign illnesses and help you enjoy your holiday the way you intended. Bear in mind you might need to take several doses over the course of several weeks before you leave.

Always check with your GP when considering travel vaccinations.

What vaccinations do I need?

women pointing at a map

When planning for your overseas trip, checking to see if you should get a travel vaccination for a foreign illness is just as important as planning your itinerary, though arguably less fun.

Dr Joe Pollak from the Travel Vaccination Clinic advises travellers to get vaccinations even when staying in five-star resorts and luxury hotels.

According to Dr Pollak, a common cause of disease is ice carrying bacteria from contaminated water.[4]

If you’re curious about recommended travel vaccines and additional travel advice for other countries, you can use DFAT’s Smartraveller website to find the latest official information.

So what shots might you need to have before you go on your next overseas holiday?

The following 10 countries are the most popular international travel destinations for Aussies, as recorded by the ABS in 2018.[5] Listed next to them are diseases which DFAT has, in the past, recommended Australian travellers immunise against before travelling.

CountryPast DFAT vaccination alerts
New ZealandNo specific diseases or foreign illnesses
Indonesia·         Polio

·         Yellow Fever

·         Measles

United States of AmericaNo specific diseases or foreign illnesses (that have vaccines available)
United Kingdom·         Measles
China·         Japanese Encephalitis

·         Rabies

Thailand·         Japanese Encephalitis

·         Rabies

Japan·         Japanese Encephalitis

·         Measles

·         Rubella

Singapore·         Japanese Encephalitis
India·         Influenza

·         Japanese Encephalitis

·         Meningococcal

·         Cholera

·         Rabies

·         Typhoid

·         Hepatitis

·         Tuberculosis

·         Diphtheria

Fiji·         Meningococcal

·         Typhoid

·         Hepatitis

·         Tuberculosis

·         Measles

·         Mumps

·         Leptospirosis

Sources: Smartraveller, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australian Government. Accurate as of June 2019.

This table will help give you an idea of what shots you might need based on illnesses common to those countries. As always, check DFAT’s travel warnings for updated information and consult with your GP for guidance specific to your destination and planned holiday dates.

Foreign illnesses and diseases with no current vaccination

There are some diseases which currently have no vaccination or treatment, and other illnesses which may have a medication available but no preventative vaccination. For example, depending on where you travel, you may encounter Zika Virus or dengue fever, malaria, and others.

DFAT has warned travellers in the past that the following countries experience these illnesses:

  • Indonesia: Zika virus
  • United States of America: West Nile virus
  • China: avian influenza (bird flu), hand, foot and mouth disease, dengue fever, malaria
  • Thailand: Zika virus, dengue fever
  • Singapore: Zika virus, dengue fever
  • India: Zika virus, dengue fever
  • Fiji: Zika virus, dengue fever

Source:  Smartraveller, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australian Government. Accurate as of June 2019.

a mosquito on human skin

While it might not be 100% effective, it could be worth bringing some strong insect repellent to keep mosquitoes and other bugs at bay.

Australia’s Reciprocal Health Care Agreement

Australia has a Reciprocal Health Care Agreement with several countries, including New Zealand and the United Kingdom. This means if you’re injured or need medical aid in one of these countries, you’ll have some hospital fees covered.

Note that this only covers medically necessary care that can’t wait until your return to Australia. To access this care, you will need to hold a valid Medicare Card.

It’s vital to remember the agreement only covers certain treatments and care, and places you in the care of the partner nation’s public health system. This is why it’s still important to take a look at travel insurance for your journey.

Additionally, if you are bringing medication with you, you’ll need to be aware of the requirements and regulations in place at any nation you plan to visit. For example, Japan has strict rules regarding foreigners bringing medications into their borders, so be sure to check which ones are allowed.

If you bring in an illegal medication and have to pay a fine or have it confiscated, this generally won’t be covered by travel insurance.

Does travel insurance cover travel vaccinations?

Travel insurance doesn’t cover the cost of travel vaccination. However, both travel cover and travel vaccines are worth paying for when travelling overseas to help prevent you from falling sick, and to help cover medical expenses if you do.

If there is an epidemic of a dangerous disease, DFAT may issue a travel warning against travelling to any countries affected. Travel insurers are unlikely to cover you if you travel to a country experiencing an outbreak after a travel warning has been issued. Some policies may not provide any cover regardless of there being any warnings if there is an epidemic or pandemic.

Travel insurance is certainly beneficial in most circumstances, and can cover a range of other medical costs and hospital fees if you’re injured on your journey.

Most comprehensive policies will include cover for cancellations and delays, lost or stolen luggage, travel documents and money, injuries and much more. Just remember that there are several common travel insurance exclusions to be aware of when purchasing cover for your next overseas trip.  Always ready the Product Disclosure Document (PDS) to make sure you have the cover you need.


[1] Australia’s International Travel – 2018. Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australian Government. 2019.

[2] Consular State of Play 2017-18. Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australian Government. 2018.

[3] Testimonials. Travel Insurance Saver. 2019..

[4] Travel Vaccinations Q & A with Dr Joe Pollak. Craig Morrison, Fast Cover Travel Insurance. 2018.

[5] Australia’s International Travel – 2018. Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australian Government. 201

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avatar of author: James McCay

Written by James McCay

James is a devoted husband, father, animal lover and history buff. He studied Creative and Professional Writing at QUT, and is often buried in a book. While he writes on a variety of topics, a personal favourite is cars and all things motoring. James hopes to make a positive difference for readers through his writing.

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