Overseas visitors – a guide to free hospital treatment in the UK
This information is for people who are not United Kingdom (UK) residents and want to know more about treatment for cancer in the UK.
This information is aimed at:
former UK residents who live overseas
residents of countries in the European Economic Area (EEA)
residents of countries with a bilateral healthcare agreement with the UK
anyone looking for privately paid cancer treatment in the UK.
This information is only intended as a general guide. You can find out more about accessing health services while in the UK by searching for ‘overseas visitors’ on the from NHS Choices.
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 can lawfully live in the UK and who usually live here. This is called being ordinarily resident. If you aren’t ordinarily resident, 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're 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. You may be asked to show evidence that your return to the UK is permanent. This can include proof of the sale of a property overseas or the transport of your possessions to the UK. You may also be asked to show a British passport or visa that allows permanent residence in the UK.
Former UK residents who are 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 letter from your employer outlining the period of your employment.
UK state pension holders
You’ll be entitled to free, full NHS hospital treatment as long as you live in the UK for at least six months each year.
If you live outside the UK for more than six months each year but have lived in the UK for 10 continuous years in the past, you'll be entitled to free NHS treatment if you need it when visiting the UK. This includes treating an existing condition that worsens or needs urgent treatment during your visit, but it doesn't include routine or pre-planned treatment.
If you are a UK state pensioner living in an EEA country who has registered an E121 or S1 in the EEA country where you live, you will have been issued a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) by the UK. This entitles you to all medical treatment you might need when visiting the UK, including routine treatment. It doesn't include pre-planned treatment. For this you'll need a formal referral with form S2.
The section below on visitors to the UK with a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) gives more information on what entitlement means.
People who live overseas and receive UK war pensions, war widows’ pensions or armed forces compensation scheme payments, are exempt from charges for their full NHS hospital treatment.
People following a course of study that lasts at least six months or a course that is substantially funded by the UK, Welsh, Scottish or Northern Ireland Governments are entitled to free NHS 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 establish if you have to pay and how much your treatment would cost.
If you decide to pay for NHS treatment you’ll 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 an EEA member state, and 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 (or E112 form) and must make advance arrangements for their treatment. They are given the same priority as NHS patients. Without an S2 (or E112), 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-EEA countries. If you’re visiting the UK from one of these countries and need NHS hospital treatment, you’ll be entitled to free 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 urgent treatment, it'll be free; otherwise, you'll need to pay in advance if you want to have the treatment in the UK.
Spouse/civil partner and/or dependent children
The above exemptions also cover your spouse/civil partner and/or dependent children, but usually only if they’re visiting the UK at the same time and for the same length of 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 to have private medical treatment. 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 get 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 recognition as a refugee is still being considered, you can have free hospital treatment. If your application and any appeal is rejected, any treatment that began before your application or appeal was rejected will be completed free of charge.
If your application is rejected but you’re receiving support from the UK Border Agency until you’re able to return to your own country (known as section 4 support), then you’ll continue to be entitled to free NHS hospital treatment.
If you’ve been refused asylum or aren’t receiving support from the UK Border Agency, you may need to pay for NHS treatment. 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.
Provides free and independent advice on NHS services and your rights. Find details for your local office in the phone book or visit the website.
Offers advice and help on charging regulations for NHS hospital treatment.
Provides free health rights information across Scotland.
Offers health advice and information 24 hours a day, 365 days a year online and on the telephone.
Provides information on which nationalities need a visa to enter the UK.
This information has been compiled using information from a number of reliable sources, including:
Thanks to Craig Keenan, The Overseas Visitors Policy Team of The Department of Health, and the people affected by cancer who reviewed this edition.