Hospital treatment for cancer in the UK – a guide for overseas visitors
This information is for people who are not United Kingdom (UK) residents and want to know more about treatment for cancer in the UK.
The information on this page is aimed at:
former UK residents who live overseas
residents of countries in the European
Economic Area (EEA), visit dh.gov.uk/overseasvisitors
residents of countries with a bilateral healthcare agreement with the UK, visit dh.gov.uk/overseasvisitors
anyone looking for privately paid cancer
treatment in the UK.
This information is only intended as a general guide. You can find full guidelines on the Department of Health website. If you have any further questions, ask your doctor or nurse at the hospital where you are having your treatment. You may also wish to speak to the hospital’s overseas visitors manager, who can give you more information. We have listed other organisations that may be able to help you at the end of this page.
Free hospital care from the National Health Service (NHS)
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The NHS provides free hospital treatment for people who live in the UK. If you don’t usually live in the UK, you may have to pay for treatment. Having a British passport or having paid UK taxes in the past doesn’t automatically mean you can have free care. People visiting the UK who have cancer are advised to take out travel insurance with medical cover before travelling.
NHS emergency care
Any visitor to the UK is entitled to some free emergency NHS care. This may include:
services provided at a hospital accident and emergency department or a walk-in centre – if you are then accepted as an inpatient or given an outpatient appointment, charges may apply
transport by ambulance for an emergency condition to an NHS hospital.
Returning to the UK to live permanently (for former UK residents)
If you decide to return to the UK to live permanently, you can have free, full NHS hospital treatment from the day of your return. If you’ve been out of the UK for more than three months, your hospital may ask for documents that show you’re entitled to free care, such as a British passport or evidence of where you live in the UK.
You may also be asked to show evidence that your return to the UK is permanent. This may include proof of the sale of a property overseas or the transport of your possessions to the UK.
Former UK residents working overseas
You can have free, full NHS hospital treatment – including treatment for pre-existing conditions – if you have lived in the UK for 10 continuous years at some point, and are working abroad for a period of no more than five years.
Your hospital may ask for documents that show you are entitled to free care. This can include a British passport or a letter from your employer.
UK state pension holders
You will be entitled to free, full NHS hospital treatment as long as you:
live in the UK for at least six months each year
live for the remainder of the year in another EEA country
are registered as a UK resident.
If you have registered as a resident in an EEA country and have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) issued by that country, you will only be entitled to NHS treatment that is clinically necessary while in the UK. The section on Visitors to the UK with a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) below gives more information on what this entitlement means.
UK state pensioners residing for more than three months outside the UK
If you don’t have an EHIC from the country you live in, or you live in a non-EEA country, you’re not automatically entitled to the routine monitoring of chronic conditions, or pre-planned treatment if you visit the UK.
You’ll be able to have treatment for an illness that happened after your arrival in the UK. But you’ll need to show that you’re getting a UK state pension and have been resident in the UK for at least 10 continuous years in the past.
War pensioners: People who receive UK war pensions or war widows’ pensions and live overseas are exempt from charges for their full NHS hospital treatment.
Referrals for non-emergency cancer treatment are usually made by a GP (family doctor). If you want to return to the UK as a permanent resident, you should register with a GP practice as soon as possible. You may be asked to show documents that confirm your identity.
If you need to see a GP urgently you should ask for an emergency appointment. If this isn’t possible, you may wish to speak to the practice manager or you can ask to speak to your GP by phone. If you have difficulty registering with a local GP, contact your local Primary Care Trust (PCT) either directly or via the local Patient Advice Liaison Service (PALS).
Before returning to the UK to live permanently you may wish to gather as much information from your own doctor as possible. This can include test results and copies of x-rays or scans. If your medical records are not in English, you could have them translated in your country of residence before you travel.
Being registered with a GP does not mean that hospital treatment will then be free. Your hospital will decide if your treatment is free or if you will have to pay.
Visitors to the UK with a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)
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If you’re a citizen of an EEA country you can apply for a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) before you travel. If you become ill during your visit to the UK, it allows you in some circumstances to have free NHS care. This includes routine treatment of an ongoing chronic illness or a medical condition that you had before.
Your hospital doctor will decide if treatment is needed straight away or if you can return home to have it. If you don’t produce a valid EHIC then you may have to pay for NHS hospital treatment. It’s the responsibility of the hospital to decide if you have to pay and how much your treatment would cost. If you decide to pay for NHS treatment you will be treated as an NHS patient, not as a private patient. The EHIC doesn’t cover your travel costs to return home and doesn’t cover private treatment.
Pre-planned NHS treatment in the UK (for EEA countries)
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This can be an option for some people when a treatment they would benefit from is not available in their own country. People currently registered as living in a EEA member state who need planned hospital treatment in the UK have to have permission from the social security institution of that country. They will be issued with form S2 and must make advance arrangements for their treatment. They are given the same priority as NHS patients. Without an S2, treatment costs will be charged.
People living in reciprocal healthcare agreement countries (emergency and pre-planned treatment)
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The UK has an agreement to provide certain NHS treatment for citizens of some non-EA countries. If you’re visiting the UK and need NHS hospital treatment, you will be entitled to free emergency treatment in some circumstances. The hospital doctor will decide if treatment is needed straight away or if you can return home to have it.
If you need a treatment that’s not available in your own country, you may be able to get it free in the UK under the bilateral agreement. You’ll need to get permission from the social security institution of the country that you’re a resident of. You must make advance arrangements for your treatment and you will be given the same priority as other NHS patients.
Spouse/civil partner and/or dependent children
The above exemptions also cover your spouse/civil partner and/or dependent children, but only if they’re visiting the UK at the same time as you.
Information for foreign nationals seeking private treatment in the UK
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Private medical treatment for cancer in the UK is offered by:
private hospitals and clinics
some specialist NHS hospitals that also treat private patients.
Payment for treatment can be made through private health insurance. You can also self-fund, which means that you pay the hospital or clinic directly.
Before you travel, it’s important to make sure that you’re entitled to enter the UK as a general visitor. If you live outside of the EEA, you may need a visa. To find out if you need a visa to enter the UK, visit the UK Border Agency website.
You may also be asked:
what your diagnosis is and what arrangements have been made for treatment
how long your treatment will take
how your treatment will be paid for.
Your doctor, health insurer or private hospital will be able to help you with this information.
If you need a visa and your treatment takes longer than six months, you can apply to extend the time you’re allowed to stay.
This application is made to the UK Border Agency. Your doctor may be asked some questions about your treatment and when it’s expected to finish. You may also be asked to show that you have the money to pay for your treatment, and to support yourself while you’re in the UK. For more information visit the UK Border Agency website.
Refugees and asylum seekers
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Refugees can have free NHS hospital treatment. If you’re an asylum seeker and your application for UK citizenship is still being considered, you can have free hospital treatment. If your application and any appeal is rejected, you may be asked to pay for any new treatment. Treatment that began before your application or appeal was rejected should be completed free of charge.
Immediately necessary or urgent treatment shouldn’t be cancelled or delayed while payment is being sought. It’s up to your hospital doctor to decide if you need to continue your treatment in the UK or if it can wait until you can return home. Just because this treatment may be given ahead of payment being received does not mean that it’s then free of charge. Hospitals will seek to recover charges wherever possible.
NHS Direct (England)
Tel 0845 46 47
Health advice and information 24 hours a day, 365 days a year online and on the telephone.
NHS 24 (Scotland)
Tel 08454 24 24 24
NHS Direct (Wales)
Tel 0845 46 47
HSC – Health and Social Care in Northern Ireland
Department of Health Overseas Visitors Policy Team – hospital treatment
Tel 0113 254 5819
Offers advice and help on charging regulations and relevant NHS bodies.
UK Border Agency
Provides information on which nationalities need a visa to enter the UK.
Free and independent advice on NHS services and your rights. Find details for your local office in the phone book or visit the website.
This information has been compiled using information from a number of reliable sources, including: