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.
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.
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:
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.
There are some instances where your travel insurance may not cover repatriation. While these can differ between insurance providers, some common exclusions include:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
1 Australian Government: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade – Consular State of Play 2019-20. Published September 2020. Accessed June 2021.