NHS hospital treatment is free for people who usually live in the UK and are legally allowed to live here. This is called being ‘ordinarily resident’. If you are not ordinarily resident, you may have to pay for some types of treatment. This may still be the case even if you have a British passport or have paid UK taxes in the past.
People visiting the UK who have cancer should get 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 the following:
- Services at a hospital accident and emergency department or a walk-in centre. However, if you need to stay overnight in hospital or need more appointments, there may be charges.
- Transport to an NHS hospital by ambulance in an emergency.
- Treatment for most infectious diseases, including sexually transmitted infections.
Returning to the UK to live permanently (for former UK residents)
If you are a former UK resident and decide to return to the UK to live permanently, you can have free, full NHS hospital treatment from the day you return. You may be asked to show evidence that your return to the UK is permanent. This can include proof of settling at an address in your name in the UK, or the sale of a property overseas. 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
If you are a former UK resident who has lived in the UK for 10 continuous years at some point, and are working abroad for no more than five years, you can have free, full NHS hospital treatment. This includes treatment for pre-existing conditions.
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
If you receive a UK State Pension and live in an EEA country or Switzerland for part of the year, you are entitled to free, full NHS hospital treatment as long as:
- you live in the UK for at least six months each year
- you are not registered with a state healthcare provider in another part of the EEA/Switzerland.
If you have a UK State Pension, live in an EEA country and have registered an E121 or S1 form there, 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.
There are routes by which UK state pensioners living in another EEA country (with a registered UK S1 form) can access pre-planned treatment on the NHS (or in a third EEA country). These are called the S2 Route (formerly E112) or the EU Directive on Cross-border Healthcare Route. For further information on your rights under these routes, please contact the health authority in your EEA country of residence.
If you have a UK State Pension and live outside the EEA or Switzerland, but have lived in the UK for 10 continuous years in the past, you are 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. It does not include routine or pre-planned treatment, which should be provided by your healthcare provider in the country where you normally live. However, you can opt to pay for routine or planned treatment provided by the NHS in the UK.
The section below on visitors to the UK with an EHIC gives more information on what entitlement means.
If you live overseas and receive UK War Pensions, War Widows’ Pensions or Armed Forces Compensation Scheme payments, you are entitled to free NHS hospital treatment when in the UK.
If you are working in the UK for a UK-based employer, or are legally self-employed in the UK, you are entitled to free NHS hospital treatment. This does not apply if you are looking for work.
If you are studying in the UK for at least six months or doing a course that is substantially funded by the UK, Welsh, Scottish or Northern Ireland governments, you are entitled to free NHS treatment. In Scotland the length of the course does not matter, as long as it is full time. Students from EEA member states or Switzerland, who are studying in the UK for six months or less, need to produce a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) to establish their entitlement to full NHS treatment.