Rainbow refugees and asylum seekers can access free general healthcare, mental health support, gender-affirming healthcare, and HIV care and treatment in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Proving your eligibility
You will need to show your health service provider proof you have sought asylum or been accepted as a refugee. This is usually the letter from Immigration New Zealand confirming that you have an ongoing application for refugee or protection status, or that you have been recognised as a refugee or protected person. You will also need to show proof that you are the person in that letter. This might be your passport, Refugee Travel Document or a Certificate of Identity. Further details can be found here on the Ministry of Health website.
Every time your visa is renewed or changed, you should update your immigration status and eligibility details with your GP and other public health services you use, such as the public hospital at your local District Health Board (DHB). If you receive a medical bill from the DHB, contact them as soon as possible to explain that you do not have to pay for this care. You can do this by asking the hospital reception staff to update your eligibility information on your patient record.
Asylum seekers and Convention refugees can access the same publicly funded health and disability services as all people in New Zealand. This care is free at the hospital, and you pay a subsidised cost to visit a doctor or get prescriptions from a pharmacy. If a pharmacy asks if you are a resident or citizen, tell them you are a refugee or asylum seeker and should be charged the same as NZ residents.
In New Zealand most people see a family doctor or general practitioner (GP) first for all non-urgent, less serious health concerns. GPs are found at Medical Centres which are usually open business hours, Monday to Friday. Enrolling with a GP and a medical centre is one of the first things you should do once you have arrived in New Zealand. You can find a GP near you by visiting Healthpoint or use this website to search for nearby GP practices and to see how much they will charge if you are enrolled with them.
Some doctors offer free visits for refugees and asylum seekers or extended consultations at a cheaper cost. See here for more information about GPs providing this support in Auckland.
Gender Minorities Aotearoa’s website includes the names of some trans-friendly GPs in different parts of New Zealand. Rainbow Path can also help you find a supportive GP.
In case of a medical emergency, call 111 for an ambulance. If you’re near the hospital and the situation is serious but not life threatening, make your own way to the 24/7 emergency department at your local hospital. If it is a mental health emergency, you can also dial 111 or go to the Emergency Department at your nearest hospital, or phone your DHB’s crisis assessment team.
Ambulance: Dial 111 for an ambulance. Ambulance services are available 24/7 but are for emergencies only. They are only free in the Wellington area or Wairarapa. In other parts of New Zealand you might receive a bill to pay after using the St John Ambulance Services, even if you did not call the ambulance yourself.
Mental Health Support
The Mental Health Foundation’s website offers many resources around mental health and wellbeing. It also has information and links to access support if you or someone you know is in a crisis situation or worried about suicide.
Refugees As Survivors (RASNZ) works to provide people from refugee backgrounds with access to quality, culturally-sensitive mental health and wellbeing services to assist with positive resettlement in New Zealand. These services are free and are available to asylum seekers too. They include:
- psychological assessment and therapeutic interventions
- body therapy
- community programmes and initiatives for people from refugee backgrounds
- tailored support for young people from refugee backgrounds
OUTLineNZ is a national service that provides both peer support and counselling to support the wellbeing of Rainbow people in New Zealand. They provide a confidential, free, affirming phoneline staffed by trained volunteers from the Rainbow community. This is available every night from 6-9pm at 0800 688 5463 (0800 OUTLINE) and callers can also leave voicemails out of hours requesting a callback.
People living in Auckland who are 28 or older can access trans peer support at OUTLine (or at RainbowYOUTH if you are 27 or younger). This service offers transgender, non-binary, and gender-diverse people and their whānau to access support, information and a sense of community.
OUTLine also offers face-to-face and video specialist counselling. Sessions usually cost $80-120, but there are also sometimes subsidised/free sessions available, and OUTLine can also help with figuring out funding.
Trans and non-binary asylum seekers and refugees can access publicly funded gender-affirming healthcare. Some public hospital websites only say these services are free for NZ residents and citizens. However, the Ministry of Health website clarifies that refugees and asylum seekers can access public gender-affirming healthcare.
In most parts of the country, access to gender-affirming hormones is provided through sexual health services. Some GPs will prescribe gender-affirming hormones, or ask your GP to refer you to a sexual health service, endocrinologist, or the local transgender healthcare pathway (if there is one available where you live). If you are self-injecting hormones, there is a nationwide Needle Exchange Programme where you can get one free needle and syringe for every used one you return.
There is a national service and long waiting list for genital reconstruction surgeries. Other surgeries such as “top surgery” are provided by some public hospitals through the local District Health Board (DHB). All surgeries have some medical eligibility criteria, but they do not exclude asylum seekers or refugees.
Hauora Tāhine is the name for the Pathways to Transgender Healthcare Services in Auckland. Their Transgender Health Key Worker can help you navigate the healthcare system and give you information on healthcare options and social supports. Contact Jove on 021 589519.
People living in Auckland can access trans peer support workers at RainbowYOUTH (if you are 27 or younger) or OUTLine (if you are 28 or older). They will work with Jove at Hauora Tāhine to help you access available gender-affirming healthcare through the three Auckland DHBs. RainbowYOUTH also has a peer support worker based in Northland.
Some other DHBs, including those covering Canterbury and the West Coast of the South Island have public information on their websites about accessing gender-affirming healthcare. You can also ask your GP to look for information about gender-affirming healthcare on their local DHB HealthPathways website.
HIV care and treatment
Everybody in New Zealand, including asylum seekers and refugees on temporary visas, receives the same care and treatment for HIV, free of charge.
Body Positive Inc. is a group founded by and run for people with HIV/AIDS. Body Positive recommends that anyone travelling to New Zealand brings as much of their current HIV medication with them as they can. This will provide you time after your arrival to arrange a specialist appointment and obtain more medication free of charge through the public health system. You may need to switch to a different combination of drugs, if the combination you currently take isn’t available in New Zealand – (List of HIV Medications Funded in New Zealand).
Other information for people living with HIV about travelling to New Zealand can be found on the Body Positive website here.