This article will give you the basic healthcare information you need if you’re planning to visit the UK. The information applies to you if you’re a national of any EU country or Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland. The information we give doesn’t apply if the purpose of your visit is specifically to have medical treatment.
This information is about getting healthcare in England. Accessing healthcare in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland might be slightly different.
Overview of the health system for Europeans
The NHS in England is a ‘residence-based system’, not an ‘insurance based system’. In this context resident follows the ‘ordinary resident’ rules, not the tax resident rules. This means that if you are ordinarily resident (have habitual abode) in the UK then health care is normally free. If your a visitor, health care is not usually free. The way it works is that if you’re a visitor from an EU country and you fall ill whilst in England, you show your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). This covers the costs for medically necessary treatment. Basically, the UK and your home country sort out the cost between themselves.
If your more than just a brief visitor to the UK, for example, you work or study in the UK, you will usually need a visa or permit from the Home Office. As part of the Visa application you may need to pay the ‘Immigration Health Surcharge‘. This usually applies for stays of more than 6 months.
How to access healthcare in England
The first key steps to take before visiting the UK are –
- Arrange Travel or Health Insurance
- Bring with you your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)
The UK National Health Service operates a residence-based healthcare system. If you’re visiting England and need medical treatment, you may have to pay. It depends on your circumstances.
Emergency health services in the UK are free
Some services, such as Accident and Emergency (A&E) and visits to the Doctor (General Practitioner or GP), are free to everyone. The Health Service will also always provide urgent treatment – they will deal with payment after the treatment. A clinician will decide whether or not your treatment is urgent or immediately necessary.
Medically essential treatment
If you fall ill during your stay in England, you will be able to access healthcare, for which you’ll need to use a valid EHIC issued by your home country.
Your EHIC covers you for the treatment of pre-existing medical conditions as well as for routine maternity care. If the purpose of your visit is specifically to give birth or receive treatment, then the free service won’t apply.
The EHIC is not an alternative to travel insurance. It doesn’t cover
- private medical healthcare
- the cost of flights home
- lost or stolen property
What if your EHIC has been lost or stolen during your visit to England, and you need a replacement? Then contact the relevant organisation in your home country to request a Provisional Replacement Certificate (PRC).
If you don’t have an EHIC and cannot obtain a PRC, you may have to pay for treatment. The charge is currently set at 150% of the national NHS rate.
A few important points to note
Visitors to the UK from Norway – you will be entitled to medically necessary healthcare. All you need is to show a valid Norwegian passport.
Are you an overseas student? If your course of study at an accredited UK higher education institute began on or before 31 December 2020, you should use your EHIC for medically necessary healthcare until the end of your course.
If your UK course of study started after 1 January 2021 and lasts for more than 6 months, you’ll have to pay the immigration health surcharge as a part of your student visa application. Depending on your exact circumstances, you may be eligible for a reimbursement of this surcharge.
Theres a good web-site that explains the situation for students here.
Clearly, you should always take out health insurance. You will then be in a position to reclaim any healthcare costs that arise.
If you’re living with a pre-existing health condition, then taking out health insurance is even more important. It’s important to keep your insurance company informed about any health conditions you currently have.
A simple first step to take is to consult with your Doctor before you travel. You should also make plans to care for your condition during your UK stay. With the support of your Doctor, make sure you have with you your health condition identification – alternatively, a letter clearly identifying the medication that you’re taking.
A note about testing and treatment for Coronavirus (COVID-19)
Overseas visitors to England, including anyone living in the UK without permission, will not be charged for –
- testing for coronavirus (even if the test shows you don’t have coronavirus)
- treatment for coronavirus
Advice on healthcare in the UK for overseas visitors
Healthcare is not one of our specialisms. But we’re here to help. To find out more, please get in touch.
This article will give you the basic healthcare informa […]