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You may have seen ‘repatriation’ in different insurance policies and wondered, ‘Hang on, what does that mean?’

Or, you know exactly what it means, and you’re looking for more information on how it can protect you on your next trip.

Either way, we can help set the record straight.

What does repatriation mean?

The definition of repatriation is the act of being transported home from overseas, which can happen for a variety of reasons. When it comes to travel insurance policies, repatriation typically refers to a medical evacuation that gets you home in a time of urgent medical need.

You might need to be repatriated because you have fallen seriously ill or have been grievously injured, and the medical facilities abroad aren’t adequate. In the worst of circumstances, repatriation also includes covering the cost of bringing your remains home should you pass away.

Medical evacuation and repatriation back to Australia can be very expensive. It’s a small part of some travel insurance policies that can offer peace of mind in extreme situations.

Should I consider repatriation ‘cover’ in my travel insurance policy?

According to a recent survey from the Australian Consulate, 68% of respondents believed that the Australian Government would take care of their emergency medical treatment while overseas.1 However, that is not the case.

Let’s say you have a particularly nasty fall off a motorcycle in Thailand.

There’s no reciprocal healthcare agreement between Australia and your holiday destination, which means that you incur these medical costs. Happily, you took out travel insurance so these costs can be covered.

But what if you require emergency evacuation back to Australia for surgery to save your life? That’s an entirely different cost – and a significant one. Repatriation costs can reach hundreds of thousands of dollars, as you could need to pay for one or all of the below:

  • airfares on a medical flight (which are much more expensive than regular flights) or a commercial one (since patients on a stretcher can take up to six seats)
  • emergency medical treatment
  • a nurse or healthcare professional to monitor your health during the trip
  • transport to the hospital back in Australia or overseas.

Is this an absurd hypothetical? Not really – 162 Australians were hospitalised while on holidays in Thailand between 2019 and 2020, and 297 Australians required repatriation worldwide.1 Minor injuries may not interrupt a holiday or break the bank, but it’s worthwhile being sure of your future health by considering comprehensive cover that will take care of repatriation costs.

two tourists taking photos in a jungle with travel insurance covering medical evacuation repatriation

In what circumstances will repatriation be denied?

There are some instances where your travel insurance may not cover repatriation. While these can differ between insurance providers, some common exclusions include:

  • if you contracted some form of contagious disease;
  • if you committed a crime of some sort, which would typically void cover;
  • if you were intoxicated (consumed illegal drugs or too much alcohol); and
  • if you weren’t wearing a helmet or qualified to ride a vehicle (like a motorcycle or scooter) when the incident occurred.

What if I or my travel companion pass away overseas?

It’s not something anyone wants to think about, but it’s worthwhile being mindful of the possibility of death while you’re out of the country.

Why? Because the cost to transport a body can be significant, which is one thing an emotionally distraught family shouldn’t have to deal with. Sometimes referred to as ‘death cover’ in travel insurance policies, repatriation can pay for the costs to get the body back home.

You may feel that ‘death cover’ and repatriation is something you only need to worry about when you get older, or if you have a medical condition, but it can be comforting to know you can embark on your adventure and not worry about creating problems in the future, should the worst happen.

Frequently asked questions

How do I get repatriated in an emergency?

The first thing you need to do in an emergency is contact the relevant services and authorities. This means an ambulance or hospital for a medical emergency and the police in the event of a crime, for example. Once you’ve sought immediate emergency help, you then need to contact your provider.

Most travel insurance providers (or their underwriters) have an emergency worldwide assistance hotline for their customers to call when they’re in dire need. Your provider may operate this hotline through their own internal emergency assistance team or by a global assistance company that your provider is partnered with for situations like these.

Whoever you talk to when you (or someone on your behalf) call the emergency number, they’ll ask for the details of your situation and talk you through the process. They will then assist with organising your care, including:

  • rescue by helicopter, car, ambulance, boat or plane – whatever is best for your situation;
  • transport to a medical centre or hospital for emergency care; and
  • medical repatriation to take you to the nearest or most appropriate hospital if there are no such facilities nearby or in the country you’ve travelled to.

Does medical-only travel insurance cover emergency evacuation?

Medical-only travel insurance can include repatriation and emergency assistance, but not every medical-only policy will. It’s essential that you check the Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) of any travel insurance policy before you buy, whether it’s cancellation-only, medical-only or a comprehensive policy.

Can I be evacuated to another country besides Australia in an emergency?

Yes, you can be transported to another country should the need arise. In some cases, this may be vital to ensure you receive adequate medical care for your needs. If you are taken to another nation, once you’re in a stable condition, you’ll be able to return to Australia.

What if I’m on a cruise and need to be repatriated?

Cruise ships have their own infirmaries and sick bays, but these facilities might not be able to deal with your situation. Should you need to be evacuated, your provider can arrange an airlift and travel to the nearest adequate hospital.

However, a standard travel insurance policy won’t be enough to ensure you’re covered for medical treatment and evacuation on a cruise. You’ll need to add cruise cover to your policy, which most providers offer as an optional extra.

What if I was travelling with friends and family?

If your travel companions are also listed on your policy, they’ll also be covered, should something happen. If one person in your group is ill or injured, travel insurance can cover the costs of everyone else’s altered travel plans.

Depending on your policy, your provider might also cover the costs of bringing your family to your bedside in a foreign country while you recover. From there, you’ll be able to return home to Australia together.

Can I be repatriated without a return ticket?

If you’re travelling overseas without a return date planned and paid for, you may still be repatriated by your insurance should the need arise. However, the cost of your return ticket may be deducted from the benefits your provider pays towards your treatment and repatriation, so you might end up paying for this cost yourself.

How should I shop around for travel insurance with repatriation cover insurance?

It’s one thing to appreciate the value of comprehensive travel insurance – it’s another to find a policy that (a) suits the needs of your trip and (b) comes at a reasonable cost.

But remember, if you cannot afford adequate travel insurance for your trip, you should reconsider whether you can afford to travel at all.

We’re here to help you find a happy medium between great coverage and competitive pricing. Use our free comparison service today to shop around for travel insurance, and we’ll be able to show you different options for your trip.

We make it easy to compare quotes based on price, what’s covered, excess amounts and additional features, all within minutes.

Sources

1 Australian Government: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade – Consular State of Play 2019-20. Published September 2020. Accessed June 2021.

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