Best Backpacker Travel Insurance

Find affordable long-term worldwide travel insurance flexible to your adventure needs and working holiday visas

There are a bewildering number of insurance options aimed at backpackers and long stay students and travellers headed for Australia and worldwide. 

What is right for you? How do you avoid paying too much or worse not having coverage when you need it most?

To add to the confusion, Medicare (the Australian public health system) is available to many travellers for at least part of your stay on a working holiday visa or student visa to others it is not. 

In this page, we show you how much medical coverage you need and how to get it at a reasonable cost. We will also uncover all the important things backpackers need to consider when assessing their insurance needs.

Information covered below:

So, do you even need travel insurance?

The simple answer is YES. If you are coming to Australia your visa application requires it.

For example, Question 33 for a Working Holiday Visa (subclass 417) asks, "Do you hold health insurance to cover your stay in Australia?"

So unfortunately, not having insurance can affect your application. We wondered if there was a way around this, so we did our homework and it turns out that getting travel insurance is a good idea anyway. But all travel insurance is not created equal. Infact, most travel insurance is really designed for tourists and not backpackers who need coverage for things like outback adventures, surf lessons and especially manual work which a holiday work visa often leads to.

Discover more or get a Quick Quote from Our Top Choice!

Below see why they could be a good choice for you.

At Jobaroo many of us have learned the hard way and we have been on a mission to find insurance that meets the needs of backpackers who need flexibility in the length of their stay but also want to choose the activities they are covered for without paying too much. Also wouldn't it be nice if we could get coverage for the things that really mattered like our laptop or our iPad? And what about coverage if we lose our passport? 

5 Things Backpackers Need In Their Insurance Policy 

When you are shopping for travel insurance you will be confronted with long lists of what is covered and what is not - especially if you refer to the fine print. What do you really need to look out for? Here are our top five things that we think are important for a backpacker.

  1. Flexibility in Duration of Stay. Second year visas and side trips mean that backpackers need flexibility. Find a policy that covers you for the length of time you know you will need like 1 year but also enables you to extend the policy for however long you want and charge you for only that time. The reality of long term travel in Australia with the potential to get a second year work visa, is that you never know what you will need - maybe 1 year or just a few extra months. Many policies will have only limited options. Some annual insurance policies only enable you to renew yearly. Ideally you should be able to choose the number of extra months after your initial agreement and be able to change this easily.
  2. Adequate Emergency Medical Including Transport. As we discuss below in more detail, some nationalities are covered by the subsidised public healthcare system in Australia (Medicare) and this does have some advantages for those who can get it. However if you plan to travel internationally (like New Zealand, Thailand or Indonesia which many backpackers do) Medicare will not cover you for those trips. Also emergency transport such as road or more often - air ambulance in the outback is not covered by Medicare. Therefore it is important to ensure your policy contains a medical transport component.
  3. Adventure Sports. Choosing the sports or adventure activities you need coverage for without paying for the ones you don't is the key here. Most insurance policies have two levels of coverage, a basic and a premium coverage for "adrenaline sports". However, what we found is even the premium coverage does not actually cover backpackers for many activites they are likely to want to do and the basic coverage is far too restrictive.
  4. Destinations. As a general rule, your policy should enable you to choose the specific destinations you need coverage for. In general, if you are not travelling to Asia or North America, insurance should be significantly cheaper. 
  5. Personal Items. Your passport, iPod, cameras and laptop, apart from the clothes on your back, can be expensive to replace and easy to loose while backpacking. You may want to consider insurance that enables you to replace these highly prized items. 

How Medicare and Travel Insurance Work Together (or Not)

For many long term travellers to Australia, you can get access to the country's national healthcare system called Medicare. 

If your home country has a Reciprocal Health Care Agreement (RHCA) with Australia, receiving a Medicare card is often as easy as applying on the government's Medicare website which will enable you to access Australia's public health system. For example, if you are from New Zealand, United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland, Sweden, Netherlands, Finland, Italy, Belgium, Malta, Slovenia or Norway you will be able to get one. However, there are some exceptions so be sure to check out the RHCA page.

If you apply for Medicare, do this as soon as you arrive in the country. It is an easy process which you can do here. You will get access to the system through a temporary number immediately and then a card is posted out to you. If by chance you need to go to a Doctor or hospital in the meantime, you will be charged for the service but you will also be able to get a refund once you have applied. 

If you hold a passport from Canada, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan unfortunately at this time Medicare is not available but even if you could get Medicare you would likely need travel insurance anyway

As we have already pointed out, you will need insurance anyway if you are applying for a holiday work visa but if you can get Medicare it means that you do not have to make claims on your medical insurance for a lot of things while you are in Australia such as a doctors visit and public hospital care. There is also subsidised perscriptions medicine available under the Pharmacutical Benefits Scheme PBS. There is a big long list on what is covered on the PBS right here

If you can get Medicare please be aware that there are many things that are not covered by Medicare and indeed most Aussies have private health insurance to fill the gaps.

Some things not covered by Medicare which you may need:

It is important to note that travel health insurance often does not cover you for many of these things either although emergency transport is in our "Top 5 things backpackers need" list. The purpose of travel insurance is geared more to getting you through emergencies so that you can get longer term care in your home country if you need it.

"Reciprocal Health Care Agreements aren't designed to replace private travel health insurance for overseas travel" Source: Human Services Government Website Australia

What if you decide to stay in Australia indefinitely?

Private Medical health insurance for Australian residents is what the majority of people have in addition to Medicare and for most travellers this is seen as an unneccessary expense. However, if you decide to stay longer term then you might like to make the switch from being a traveller to getting insurance that covers being a resident. 

How Much Coverage Do You Really Need?

The most important part of a travel health insurance policy is coverage for your emergency medical expenses.

As a general rule, most policies will cover you for $2 - $5 million (£1.5 - £4 million). Although it is possible (though highly unlikely) you will need more than  $1 million, the reality is that less coverage will most likely not save you much. 

For backpackers, a lot of travel insurance offering simply do not work - you end up paying too much for coverage you do not need OR don't have the coverage you do need especially in the case of adventure sports. 

At a bare minimum, you should consider the activities you are likely to want to engage in and make sure you are covered for those. Beyond the basic emergency medical needs like transport, we recommend you should make a little list of things that are most important to you. That way you can compare insurance companies based on your requirements

For example:

Insurance is usually sold as part of a package with some optional extras. If you start by knowing what you do want and need, it is much easier to find a good match.

Our Top Pick - Simple, Flexible Travel Insurance Made for Backpackers

Finally a company that has recognised the needs of backpackers and long term travellers. World Nomads are a clear standout amongst their competitors who prefer to focus on the tourist crowd.

World Nomads focuses on the needs of backpackers:

Best of all, because they only offer insurance online they are able to keep costs lower and pass the savings on without compromise. You see a full review here including what happened when we made a claim.

Final Personal Word

Insurance expenses are annoying especially when you are on budget and feeling that you will probably not not needing to use the insurance anyway - well that's the way we feel. So we are pleased to find at least one company that actually seems to be trying hard to do the right thing for backpackers. The bible for backpackers - Lonely Planet even recommends this travel insurance.

Australia is a favourite destination for worldwide-travellers and with lots of adventures in store - what could be better than to be worry free and to explore fully!


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