You don't want to be hospitalised here!

Posted Date: 13 June 2016
Expensive hospitals

Healthcare costs vary substantially throughout the world. Brace yourself for some of the most eye-watering…

No one plans to get hurt, especially while on holiday when you’re in relaxation mode. But venturing to new frontiers with unfamiliar conditions, food and languages certainly poses some fresh challenges.

You don’t have to be base-jumping off volcanoes to land yourself in the emergency room either.

Getting sick or injured during a holiday can be a disaster. But some countries are worse than others for bad luck to strike – due to exorbitant costs, inaccessibility or poorly equipped facilities.


The USA is a beacon of adventure for many travellers. So pervasive is American culture that many of its attractions are recognisable from books, films and television. Of course that’s no substitute for experiencing it in person. Unfortunately, healthcare is still something of a shambles in the States. In short, it’s prohibitively expensive. Without accepted health insurance or proof of your ability to pay, payment is usually demanded upfront.

Four of our top eight most expensive claims in 2015 came from the USA. One of our biggest claims in 2015 came from a New Zealand customer at $537,000.00 who required an air ambulance home following encephalitis in Africa.

We’ve found that it’s not uncommon for US Hospitals to employ collection agencies to chase customers, who have already arrived home, to pay for outstanding medical fees that they weren’t aware of. 

If this happens to you, and you receive any invoices that are related to your medical treatment, please don’t be alarmed, it is common practice - just send these directly to our claims team to look into.


The world’s largest country in geographical terms by some distance, Russia’s vast expanse aches to be explored. The Trans Siberian Railway is a preferred method for many – one of the truly epic train journeys.

However, a country that big and unforgiving, in terms of climate, faces natural barriers to effective infrastructure. Good hospitals can be few and far between. Good English, even more so.

In a recent case, one of our Australian customers tripped over a tree root and fractured her ankle. During major surgery – which involved drilling into her ankle – she was only given a local anaesthetic.

This surgery resulted in infection and subsequent operations. The initial claim was over $20,000.00 and is set to increase further. We’ve brought her home where she can have further good medical treatment and where she is now still recovering.

Road conditions are also notoriously inconsistent in Russia, not to mention the drivers themselves. There are 35,000 road deaths recorded in Russia each year

Drivers often keep dashboard cameras running constantly to record potential accidents for insurance purposes. It can also be a useful safeguard against fickle road authorities.

Visitors should be vigilant in their approach to road safety. Road rules are not universal. Sadly, carelessness is.


Mexico is a vibrant culture of food, music and people, making it an irresistible prospect for travellers. Ancient Aztec and Mayan ruins offer a breath-taking glimpse of history, while the beaches and nightlife could keep even the most curmudgeonly globetrotters entertained.

In Mexico City and other main centres, private hospital standards are relatively good. Like the USA however, private facilities require hefty payment prior to treatment. Among the islands and regional areas, resources start to fall away drastically.

Unfortunately, over the years we’ve had a few customers hospitalised while in Mexico. The biggest medical claim we’ve had was for $167,000.00. A customer was unluckily hit by car and required surgery for multiple fractures. They were then returned to Australia by air ambulance in a stretcher with a nurse and a doctor.

Parts of Mexico – and Central America in general – are rife with crime. Knowing the problem areas to avoid is key to staying safe. States such as Guerrero, Michoacán and Tamaulipas are subject to high levels of crime and drug-related violence. For visitors, these places really aren’t worth the risk.

Mexico is still grappling with diseases like Zika virus, malaria and dengue fever. Travellers should consult their doctor well in advance to ensure they are up to date with immunisations.


Thailand is incredibly popular as a tourist destination, largely due to its idyllic island beaches and relatively low cost. Exquisite temples and forests also offer a soothing contrast to the bustling tourist hubs.

However, medical facilities are not always up to the necessary standard. Beyond major cities, resources are limited. Decompression chambers can be found near popular dive sites in Koh Samui, Koh Tao, Pattaya, Phuket and Bangkok. Medical evacuation to Bangkok or potentially all the way home comes at significant cost.

A recent claim for cardiac surgery in Southeast Asia plus a doctor-escorted flight back to Australia cost $170,000.00. Yikes.

It’s also worth getting the requisite shots for things like malaria, Japanese encephalitis and filariasis. Use insect repellent liberally and do your best to secure mosquito-proof accommodation. Anyone suffering from fever symptoms should seek medical attention immediately.


China’s unique catalogue of attractions makes for a magical itinerary. This is a country where you’ll find manmade marvels like the Great Wall and the Terracotta Army alongside natural wonders such as Huangshan mountain range and Jiuzhaigou National Park.

Like Russia, China poses some problems in terms of distance. Major cities like Beijing and Shanghai are well equipped, but getting from place to place can be time consuming. If you need immediate treatment in a remote area, practices can be a little haphazard.

Hospitalisation costs can add up extremely quickly! A claim for a New Zealand customer who had cardiac problems recently amounted to $262,000.00. A doctor escort to New Zealand was required in this instance.


When it comes to island getaways, Fiji is high on most people’s shortlist. In 2015, it attracted half a million tourists from Australia and New Zealand alone. Fiji boasts the pristine sand, crystal waters and swaying palms that postcards are made of.

The flipside of paradise and seclusion, however, is that medical facilities can be thin on the ground. Navigating Fiji’s chain of small islands can be a challenge at the best of times, let alone when conditions aren’t favourable. Fiji is subject to cyclones, most recently highlighted by Tropical Cyclone Winston in early 2016.

Severe illness or injury in Fiji generally requires an air ambulance home. A claim for repatriation via air ambulance to Australia for surgery on a fractured hip suffered on a tropical island cost $98,000.00. This cost can rise even further depending on what kind of medical escort you need.

Pack sunscreen and stay safe to get the most out of your trip to Fiji.


The lure of climbing Africa’s highest peak, Mount Kilimanjaro, is too great for many hikers to resist. To reach the 5,895-metre, ice-capped summit while giraffes and elephants traverse the plains below is an altogether otherworldly experience.

Chances are your body will agree. Ascending beyond 2,500 metres puts you at risk of altitude sickness, regardless of your physical fitness level. Rapid ascents don’t allow your body time to acclimatise, making you susceptible to altitude sickness which can potentially be life threatening.

Evacuation by air ambulance to Nairobi in Kenya – or potentially further depending on the severity of the condition – would cost in the tens of thousands of dollars. Getting air-lifted from the side of a volcano is no picnic. And that’s before you factor in hospital fees.

A customer was hospitalised in 2014 for a blood clot in the brain (Cerebral thrombosis). A business class upgrade and doctor escort was required. Cost we incurred to get the customer home safe and well - $67,000.00.

Malaria and HIV/AIDS remain prevalent in Tanzania, so travellers should consult their doctor for all necessary precautions. And remember to drink bottled water. You’ll need plenty of it.


Where ever you’re travelling, we believe it’s vital you take out travel insurance – we unfortunately only get to hear horror holiday stories when things have gone wrong.

Should the unexpected happen, and you are hospitalised at all, either you or someone on your behalf should contact us immediately. Our Emergency Assistance team is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

If you require medical care or incur medical expenses overseas that are likely to exceed $2,000, you or someone acting on your behalf will need to contact Southern Cross Emergency Assistance for prior approval as soon as possible on +61 2 9191 1180.

We will be able to review your claim, organise emergency evacuation if necessary, provide the hospital with a payment guarantee so you don’t have to pay up-front (subject to you meeting the terms and conditions of your policy), and keep your family back home informed of your situation. Keep hold of your receipts and any doctor’s notes as we will need to see these alongside your claim.

If you need to visit a GP for a minor medical reason, you don’t need to contact Southern Cross Emergency Assistance. Instead, simply pay your account and claim.

If you need specialist treatment (including physiotherapy and chiropractic treatment) you must get a referral from a registered medical practitioner.

Related articles

Travel disease

Nasty travel diseases

There are some nasty diseases that all travellers should be aware of. Learn how you can avoid catching them. Read more

Common medical claims

Unusual suspects

Find out what caused more than 1 in 5 of overseas injuries in our medical claims survey. Read more

Healthy travel hacks

10 healthy travel tips

Practical tips and hacks for staying healthy and travel fit while you're on holiday. Read more


Issued and underwritten by Southern Cross Benefits Limited trading as Southern Cross Travel Insurance. 

We are a Registered Financial Service Provider and a member of the Insurance & Financial Services Ombudsman Scheme.  Southern Cross Benefits Limited has an A (Strong) financial strength rating given by Standard & Poor's (Australia) Pty Ltd. The rating scale is: AAA (Extremely Strong) AA (Very Strong) A (Strong) BBB (Good) BB (Marginal) B (Weak) CCC (Very Weak) CC (Extremely Weak) SD or D (Selective Default or Default) R (Regulatory Supervision) NR (Not Rated). Ratings from 'AA' to 'CCC' may be modified by the addition of a plus (+) or minus (-) sign to show relative standing within the major rating categories.  Full details of the rating scale are available at Standard & Poor's (Australia) Pty Ltd is an approved agency under the Insurance (Prudential Supervision) Act 2010.

All our travel insurance policies (including but not limited to the benefits, terms, conditions and exclusions) and premiums quoted are subject to change.

Copyright © 2020 Southern Cross Benefits Limited