Healthcare for overseas visitors

If you’re visiting from overseas, you may want to know more about treatment for cancer in the UK. 

NHS hospital treatment is free for people who usually live in the UK. This is called being ‘ordinarily resident’. Any visitor to the UK is entitled to some free emergency care on the NHS. But if you are not ordinarily resident, you may have to pay for some types of treatment. Access to free NHS hospital treatment may however be possible if you:

  • are a former UK resident and decide to return to the UK to live permanently
  • are former UK resident working abroad for no more than five years
  • receive a UK State Pension and live in an EEA country or Switzerland for part of the year
  • are a citizen of a European Economic Area (EEA) country and hold a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) before you travel
  • live overseas and receive UK War Pensions
  • are studying in the UK for at least six months or doing a course that is funded by the UK, Welsh, Scottish or Northern Ireland governments
  • are a refugee.

It’s important to check your entitlement to treatment before you travel.

Referrals for non-emergency cancer treatment are usually made by a GP (family doctor). Individual GP practices make decisions about who they register.

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:

  • people who used to live in the UK but now live overseas
  • people who live in Switzerland or the European Economic Area (EEA): this is a group of countries that includes the UK
  • people who live in countries that have a two-way (reciprocal) healthcare agreement with the UK
  • anyone looking for privately paid cancer treatment in the UK.

This information is only a general guide. You can find out more about accessing health services while in the UK by searching for ‘overseas visitors’ on the NHS Choices website, the NHS Inform in Scotland, the Welsh Government or Northern Ireland Citizens Advice.

If you have more questions, ask your doctor or nurse at the hospital where you are having your treatment. Some hospitals have a particular person, sometimes called an 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)

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.

Visiting the UK with a European Health Insurance Card

If you are a citizen of a European Economic Area (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, medical condition that you had before, or maternity care. 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, 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 are unable to produce an EHIC card, you can contact the authority in your home country to apply for a Provisional Replacement Certificate (PCR). This certificate gives you with the same cover as an EHIC for a specified period of time. If you cannot obtain a PRC, you will have to pay for NHS hospital treatment.

If you decide to pay for NHS treatment, you’ll be treated as an NHS patient and not as a private patient. The EHIC doesn’t cover your travel costs to return home and doesn’t cover private treatment.

Returning to the UK to live permanently (for former UK residents)

You may be a former UK resident and a UK national (or have ‘indefinite leave to remain’ in the UK). In this case, if you decide to return to the UK to live permanently, you can have free and full NHS hospital treatment from the day you return. You may be asked to show evidence that you mean to settle in the UK. 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 that you have been granted ‘indefinite leave to remain’ in the UK.

Former UK residents living overseas (expats)

If you are a former UK resident but no longer live either solely or partly in the UK, and return as a visitor, you may be charged for NHS hospital treatment. There are some exceptions.

State Pension-holders resident in the EEA

You may be getting a UK State Pension while resident in another EEA country. In this case, if you have registered an S1 form in that country, you can return to England for all NHS treatment. This includes planned treatment. You do not need permission from your country of residence. But you will still need to make advance arrangements with an NHS hospital in England for planned care.

Resident in the EEA without a State Pension or S1

You may be a former UK resident who doesn’t get a UK State Pension or hasn’t registered an S1, but lives in an EEA country. In this case, you will need to rely on using a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), issued by the country you live in, for medical treatment while visiting the UK.

Planned treatment is not covered by the EHIC. Unless you have valid documentation, you may be charged for planned treatment. There are currently two potential routes available for EEA residents to access planned treatment in England:

  • the ‘S2 route’ – you will need to arrange an S2 form from the relevant organisation in your home country. The S2 means you are eligible for free state-provided treatment in England.
  • the ‘directive route’ – you may be able to buy state or private healthcare in England, then seek reimbursement from your country of residence. How much you’re repaid depends on how much that treatment would normally cost in the country where you live – you would get a maximum of this amount. If you’re planning treatment in the UK through this route, please contact the relevant organisation in your home country first.

Resident outside the EEA

You may be a former UK resident and visiting the UK from a country outside the EEA. In this case, unless an exemption applies (see below), you will need you need to make sure your healthcare is covered by travel insurance while you visit. If you need NHS treatment but do not have travel insurance cover, you will be charged 150% of the cost.

There are exemptions if:

  • You are visiting from a country that has a reciprocal healthcare agreement with the UK. This is usually limited only to immediate medical treatment.
  • You are a member of the UK armed forces, a war pensioners (including if you are a war widow), or you are a recipient of the armed forces compensation scheme.
  • You are a former UK resident working for the UK Government.


Registering with a GP

Referrals for non-emergency cancer treatment are usually made by a GP (family doctor).

Registration decisions are matters for GPs as independent contractors. In England, Scotland and Wales, GP surgeries may register overseas visitors as temporary residents if they are staying in the UK for less than three months, or offer to treat them as private patients (who would need to pay for consultations and medication). If you can show that you plan to stay within the UK for more than three months, you may be able to register as a permanent patient.

In Northern Ireland, the ‘ordinarily resident’ principle that applies to hospital treatment also applies to registering with GPs. This means overseas visitors are not normally entitled to register with a GP in Northern Ireland.

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 and can’t resolve it with the GP practice, contact NHS England (England), NHS board (Scotland) Business Services Centre (Wales) or health and social care trust (Northern Ireland). You could also contact your local health body through a patient advice service. These services differ across the UK. You could contact:

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.

Before returning to the UK to live permanently, you may wish to gather as much information as possible from your own doctor. 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 be free. Your hospital will decide if your treatment is free, or if you will have to pay.


Information for foreign nationals seeking private treatment in the UK

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 Home Office website.

You may also be asked:

  • what your diagnosis is
  • 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 Home Office. 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 Home Office website.


Refugees and asylum seekers

Refugees can have free NHS hospital treatment. If you are an asylum seeker and your application to be recognised 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.

You may have had your application rejected, but still be getting support because you have children or because there are recognised barriers to you returning home. This is called section 21 Local Authority support, or section 4(2) or section 95 Home Office support. Anyone getting these types of support can get free NHS hospital treatment.

If you are refused asylum or aren’t receiving support from the Home Office, you may need to pay for NHS treatment. However, in Wales and Scotland, people who have been refused asylum are entitled to free NHS treatment until they leave the country.

In any UK country, 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. Although treatment may be given before you have paid, this does not mean it is free of charge. Hospitals will seek to recover charges wherever possible.

Anyone who is a suspected victim of human trafficking won’t be charged for NHS hospital treatment. This will also include their husband, wife, civil partner and any children under 18, as long as they are present in the UK lawfully.


Useful organisations

Citizens Advice

www.citizensadvice.co.uk

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.

Department of Health Public Enquiries Unit – hospital treatment

Tel 0207 210 4850

or use the online contact form

www.nhs.uk

Offers advice and help on charging regulations for NHS hospital treatment.

NHS Inform (Scotland)

Helpline 0800 22 44 88

Emailnhs.inform@nhs24.scot.nhs.uk

www.hris.org.uk

Provides free health rights information across Scotland.

NHS 24 (Scotland)

Helpline 111

www.nhs24.com

Free health information and advice if you are ill and can’t wait until your local NHS service opens. Open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

NHS 111 (England)

Helpline 111

Free health information and advice if you are ill and can’t wait until your local NHS service opens. Open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

NHS Direct (Wales)

Tel 0845 46 47

www.nhsdirect.wales.nhs.uk

Free health information and advice if you are ill and can’t wait until your local NHS service opens. Open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

NI Direct (Northern Ireland)

www.nidirect.gov.uk

UK Border Agency

www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk

Provides information on which nationalities need a visa to enter the UK.

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