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 the 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.

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.

War pensioners

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.

Workers

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.

Students

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.


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.


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.


Pre-planned NHS treatment in the UK (for EEA countries)

This can be an option for some people when a treatment they would benefit from is not available in their own country.

If you are registered as living in an EEA country or Switzerland, and need planned hospital treatment in the UK, you need permission from the social security institution of that country. They will provide you with an S2 form (formerly known as the E112 form). You must then make advance arrangements for the treatment. People with these forms are given the same priority as NHS patients. Without an S2 (or E112), treatment costs will be charged.

If you live in a European Union (EU) country, you may also be able to access pre-planned treatment on the NHS through the EU Directive on Cross-border Healthcare. In this case, you would be charged the NHS rate. You would then need to apply for reimbursement to the country where you normally live. To find out more about getting pre-planned treatment through this route, speak with the relevant authority in your home country.


People living in reciprocal healthcare agreement countries (emergency and pre-planned treatment)

The UK has an agreement to provide certain NHS treatment for citizens of some non-EEA countries. If you visit the UK from one of these countries and need NHS hospital treatment, you are 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.

Spouses, civil partners and dependent children

The above exemptions also cover your husband, wife, civil partner and dependent children. But this is usually only if they visit 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

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.

If your application is rejected but you receive support from the Home Office until you’re able to return to your own country (known as section 4 or Section 95 support), you’ll continue to be entitled to 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.


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 Overseas Visitors Policy Team – hospital treatment

Tel 0113 254 5819

Email overseasvisitors@dh.gsi.gov.uk

www.nhs.uk/NHSEngland/AboutNHSservices/uk-visitors

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

NHS Inform (Scotland)

Helpline 0800 22 44 88

Email nhs.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.


Back to Travelling in the UK

Healthcare for UK citizens

If you’re a UK citizen travelling in the UK, you can be treated free of charge.