Introduction to the New Zealand health system for International Students

International students arriving in New Zealand will come from many different countries with a variety of health care systems. Some will come from countries where the delivery of health care is very similar to that operating in New Zealand, e.g. Australia and Britain. Others will come from countries where a wide variety of potent drugs are available to be purchased at pharmacies without the need to see a doctor. Yet others will be totally unfamiliar with the principles and practices of Western medicine as offered in this country. This section is an attempt to introduce you to the New Zealand health system in general, the way medicine is practiced in this country and, in some cases, at Massey University in particular.

Primary Health Care

While studying in New Zealand the main and most frequently used point of access to health care services you will require will be at the primary health care level. The model is that everyone should contact their primary health care provider in the first instance, who in turn will treat you or refer you on to other health care providers. Your primary health care provider for you while studying at Massey University is the Massey University Student Health Centre. We are fully equipped to either manage your particular health problem ourselves, or if it is necessary, refer you to another appropriate provider.

Massey University Health Centre - Your Primary Health Care Provider

The Massey Health Centre is staffed with doctors and nurses who are trained to help you with any health related problem. We run an appointment system which means you should either telephone or come in and make an appointment prior to being seen. 

The Massey Health Centre is open between 8.30am and 5pm Monday to Friday. Outside normal hours, at weekends and on public holidays, your primary health care needs are provided by a group of general practitioners working from one central building in the city. This is the City Doctors Group at the City Health building at 22 Victoria Avenue, Palmerston North. You should attend this location for any urgent out of hour’s care you might need.

Secondary Health Care

Secondary health care is hospital based health care. There is an emergency department in the Hospital for extreme or very serious emergencies but generally, you would enter hospital after referral by a primary health provider, i.e. your general practitioner. Hospitals are where people stay when they are too ill to remain at home or require an operation. The main hospital in Palmerston North is the public hospital and is available to everyone although it is not free to everyone.

Private Health Care and Public Health Care

All New Zealand public hospitals provide free health care to New Zealand citizens and residents. While visitors to this country can utilise the services of the public hospital, they must pay for that care. While our public hospitals handle all the serious and acute medical conditions requiring hospitalisation, we also have private hospitals which deal with the non-urgent hospital care that people need, such as a vast array of non-urgent surgery. Everyone, New Zealanders and visitors alike, must pay to utilise these private hospitals.

The vast majority of primary health care in New Zealand is private. That means people must pay to visit their general practitioner. At Massey University the Health Centre is partially subsidized by the University which means that you pay much less to be seen by us than you would to be seen at a general practitioner in town. Being enrolled at Massey means you have paid a Student Services Levy, part of which is used to fund the Health Centre, and this further reduces the cost to you when you are seen.

General Practitioners and Specialists

General practitioners, like the doctors at the Massey Health Centre, are generalists. If you have a particular problem that needs specialised treatment then you can be referred to a specialist. A specialist is a doctor with extra training in one specific area of medicine. Senior hospital doctors are specialists and they run specialist clinics at hospitals.

Specialists also work in the private sector. They will only see patients on referral from a general practitioner and you have to pay to see them.

Immigration Medical Requirements

It is a requirement that you undergo a full immigration medical examination if you intend to study in New Zealand for six months or more. For some of you this examination will have been performed in your country of origin. For others, you will need to have this examination soon after arriving in New Zealand.

The examination requirements are both intensive and extensive and as a result, very time consuming. The examination must be carried out by a doctor and is a time consuming examination.

For some of you, the Immigration Department will require that you have regular chest x-rays as screening for tuberculosis. You must see a doctor for referral for such examinations. Medical insurance does not usually cover the costs associated with immigration medicals.

Radius Medical The Palms are the only medical facility in Palmerston North who can carry out immigration medical appointments. 

Please contact them directly on: 

Phone: 06 354 7734 

Medical Insurance

Even though we provide low cost primary health care to Massey students, it is not free to international students and if an international student was to become seriously ill, the cost of hospital treatment would almost certainly exceed several thousand dollars. For this and other reasons, the New Zealand government has made it compulsory for all international students studying in New Zealand to take out medical insurance. This means that for most medical problems you might develop while in New Zealand, there will be no direct cost to yourself. Your insurance will cover most things.

However, there are some things your insurance policy will not cover and you should read your policy carefully so that you are aware of those conditions that are excluded. Pre-existing medical conditions, any condition you had prior to arriving in New Zealand, may be excluded, particularly if you did not declare it at the time you took out the insurance policy. Consultations about sexually transmitted diseases and contraception are not covered by most insurance policies either.

Pregnancy related matters are not covered by insurance policies and if you were to become pregnant in New Zealand and wished to have a termination, most often a surgical procedure, then you could be facing a bill in excess of $1,000. If you choose to continue with the pregnancy then you would be referred to a midwife, a nurse specialising in pregnancy care, and that cost again would be over $1,000.

International students studying at Massey University on New Zealand government sponsored scholarships are still required to have medical insurance but in their particular cases, any medical care that is not covered by the insurance policy will be provided free as if for a New Zealand resident. The New Zealand government agrees to pay for any care not covered by insurance.

Medication and Pharmacy

In New Zealand the availability and use of medication is restricted in a variety of ways.There are a number of medicines that can be purchased in supermarkets and other shops for symptomatic relief of common illnesses, such as coughs, colds and headaches.

Another group of medicines can only be purchased at a pharmacy or chemist and require that you receive some advice about the medication at the time of purchase. These are known as pharmacy only medicines but you still don’t need a doctor’s prescription to purchase them.

A further group of medicines ca only be obtained at a pharmacy with a doctor’s prescription, i.e. you must have seen a doctor first to obtain the prescription. This restriction is in place mainly to ensure you receive the correct medication for your particular complaint. Because many of these medicines have potential side effects and interactions, it is important that you don’t take such medicines unnecessarily. Within this group of prescription only medicines is a sub group which insurance companies will reimburse the associated prescription charges. If possible, your doctor will use this group of medicines if a prescription is necessary.

Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC)

In New Zealand the government runs a "no faults" insurance type scheme known as ACC, to cover the costs of any accident you might have while in New Zealand. This scheme applies equally to New Zealanders and foreign visitors, such as international students. If you attend the doctor with an accident related matter, it is important to let the receptionist and doctor know that your complaint is accident related. This will result in some additional questions being asked of you and your needing to sign a form. What it will mean however is reduced costs for accident related consultations. However, your insurance company will still reimburse any costs of medical care over and above what ACC will pay for.

Illness and Your Studies

The University has in place regulations relating to illness or accident that might prevent you from attending exams or completing course work or which might interfere with your ability to complete exams to the best of your ability. If you believe that your study or performance has been seriously affected by illness or accident then you should, as soon as possible, see one of the doctors at the Massey Health Centre where the aegrotat (exam not sat because of illness or accident) or impaired performance (exam attempted but unwell at time or immediately prior) forms can be completed.

On rare occasions, because of prolonged serious illness, some students need to withdraw from University on medical grounds. Again, you will need supporting documentation from a doctor under such circumstances. please click here to go to the IP/Aegrotat page.


Massey University Health Centre Fees

International students are subject to costs. Please click here to view our fee structure or call our reception team for further information on 06 350 5533.

Massey Contact Centre Mon - Fri 8:30am to 4:30pm 0800 MASSEY (+64 6 350 5701) TXT 5222 Web chat Staff Alumni News Māori @ Massey