Healthcare for overseas visitors

If you are visiting the UK from another country, you may be able to have free NHS healthcare.

Most healthcare in the UK is provided by the National Health Service (NHS). People who usually live in the UK and are legally allowed to live here (ordinary residents) get most NHS healthcare free. This includes care from a general practitioner (GP) or family doctor, and treatment in a hospital or clinic.

If you visit the UK from another country, you are known as an overseas visitor. You may be able to have some NHS healthcare free. There are rules about this. If you are not eligible for free NHS healthcare, you will have to pay. 

If the healthcare professional advising you thinks that the treatment you need can wait until you return home, you will have to pay if you want to have it in the UK.

There are lots of rules about whether you can have free NHS treatment if you are an overseas visitor. This information is only a general guide.

Healthcare for overseas visitors to the United Kingdom (UK)

If you visit the UK from another country, you may be able to have free NHS healthcare.

Most healthcare in the UK is provided by the National Health Service (NHS). People who usually live in the UK and are legally allowed to live here (ordinary residents) get most NHS healthcare free. This includes care from a general practitioner (GP) or family doctor, and treatment in a hospital or clinic. People may pay for some NHS services, such as prescriptions, dental care and eye care.

People living in the UK may also choose to pay for private healthcare. This is provided by private companies and is separate to the NHS.

If you visit the UK from another country, you are known as an overseas visitor. You may be able to have some NHS healthcare free. There are rules about this. If you are not eligible for free NHS healthcare, you will have to pay. If the healthcare professional advising you thinks that the treatment you need can wait until you return home, you will have to pay if you want to have it in the UK.

You may also choose to travel to the UK and pay for private healthcare.

This information is for people affected by cancer who:

  • are visiting the UK from another country
  • used to live in the UK and are returning to live in the UK permanently
  • used to live in the UK but now live in another country
  • are refugees or asylum seekers in the UK
  • are victims or suspected victims of modern slavery or human trafficking
  • want to pay for private healthcare in the UK.

This information is only a general guide. There are lots of rules about whether you can have free NHS treatment if you are an overseas visitor. This can depend on where you come from, what type of visa you have, and your family and work situation. You can find out more from the organisations listed in this information (see ‘Useful organisations’ below). Some UK hospitals give information and support to overseas visitors. This is usually provided by a person called an overseas visitors manager.


Emergency healthcare

Some emergency NHS healthcare is always free to everyone in the UK. You never pay for:

  • accident and emergency services – these are services that are provided in an emergency department (A&E), walk-in centre, minor injuries unit or urgent care centre
  • emergency transport to an NHS hospital by ambulance.

But if you are an overseas visitor, you may have to pay if you need:

  • emergency treatment after you have been admitted to a hospital as an inpatient, or at a follow-up outpatient appointment.


Seeing a general practitioner (GP)

People living in the UK will often see their general practitioner (GP) or family doctor first for non-emergency NHS healthcare. You are usually registered with one GP or a group of GPs. GPs can also arrange other NHS services if you need them, such as appointments to see a specialist doctor.

If you are an overseas visitor, you may have to pay to see a GP. But this varies across the UK. In England, you do not have to pay to see a GP. But you may still have to pay for any treatment, tests, medications or hospital treatment. In other areas of the UK, you may have to pay for the GP appointment as well as any other costs.

A GP will not refuse to see you because you are an overseas visitor. But they may refuse to see you because they have registered as many patients as they are allowed. If this is the case, you will be able to find another surgery to register you.

If you are coming to the UK to live permanently, you should register with a GP as soon as possible. You may be asked to show your passport, visa or proof of a UK address. You do not have to provide this when registering with a GP, but it is helpful to do so.

Before coming to the UK, you should get as much information as possible from your own doctor. This can include medical records, test results and copies of x-rays or scans. If your medical records are not in English, it is helpful to have them translated before you come to the UK. 

To find out more about GPs:


Private healthcare in the UK

You can pay to have private treatment for cancer in the UK at:

  • private hospitals and clinics
  • some specialist NHS hospitals that also treat private patients.

You can pay using private health insurance. You can also pay the hospital or clinic yourself.

You will need to arrange the treatment with the hospital in the UK before you travel. You must also check that you are allowed to enter the UK. If you live outside the EEA or Switzerland, you may need a visa. You can find more information on the Home Office website.

You may be asked to show:

  • why you need treatment in the UK
  • where and when you are having treatment
  • how you will pay for treatment and other costs in the UK
  • that you will leave the UK when your treatment or visa ends.

Your doctor, health insurer or private hospital can help you get this information.


Refugees and asylum seekers

If you are a refugee in the UK, you can have free NHS healthcare. This includes GP and hospital care, and urgent and non-urgent treatment.

In England, you can have free NHS healthcare if:

  • you are applying for asylum and waiting for a decision – this includes if you make an appeal
  • you are getting support from the Home Office, called section 95 support (or section 4(2) support if your asylum application has been rejected)
  • you are getting support from a local authority, called section 21 or part 1 support.

If you are an asylum seeker in Scotland or Wales, you can have free NHS healthcare. This includes if your application is refused but you are still in the country.

In Northern Ireland, you can have free NHS healthcare while you apply for asylum and wait for a decision. This includes if you make an appeal.

If your application is refused, any treatment started before your application was refused will be completed for free.

In England, if you are refused asylum and do not get support from the Home Office or a local authority, you may need to pay for NHS healthcare. If the treatment is not needed before you can return home, you may be asked to pay before you have treatment.


Useful organisations

Citizens Advice provides free and independent advice to people living or working in the UK about healthcare. You can find details for your local office at:

The Refugee Council works with refugees and people seeking asylum in the UK. They can provide practical support and advice on how to access health and social care services. Find out more on their website or call 020 7346 6700.

The European Commission has information about moving and working in Europe.

The UK Home Office has information about visas and immigration for the UK. You can find out more at gov.uk

England

NHS 111 (England) is the free number to call when you have an urgent healthcare need. It directs you to the right local service and is open 24 hours a day, every day. Call the helpline on 111.

NHS Choices has information about health and NHS healthcare in England.

Scotland

NHS 24 (Scotland) has free health information and advice if you are ill and cannot wait until your local NHS service opens. Call the helpline on 111 (open 24 hours a day, every day).

NHS Inform provides free health and care information for the people of Scotland. Call the helpline on 0800 22 44 88 or find information through the website.

Wales

NHS Direct Wales has advice if you are feeling ill and are unsure what to do. It also has health information on a wide range of conditions, treatments and local health services. Visit the website or call the helpline on 0845 46 47 (open 24 hours a day, every day).

Northern Ireland

Health and Social Care Online (Northern Ireland) has information about Health and Social Care Services in Northern Ireland.

NI Direct (Northern Ireland) has information about government services in Northern Ireland, including healthcare.


Returning to live in the UK permanently

If you used to live in the UK and are returning to live legally in the UK permanently, you can usually have free NHS healthcare from the day you return. This includes people who:

  • are British citizens
  • are EEA nationals
  • have a right of permanent residence (also called indefinite leave to remain) that lets them live in the UK permanently.

You may need to show evidence that you will stay in the UK. This can include proof that you have an address in the UK, or proof that you have sold your property overseas. You may also be asked to show your passport or proof that you have been given right of permanent residence in the UK.


Former UK residents living in another country (expats)

If you used to live in the UK but now live in another country, you may have to pay for NHS healthcare when you are visiting the UK. You may have to pay even if you are legally allowed to live in the UK permanently, have a UK passport or have paid UK taxes.

You may have the same rights to NHS healthcare as any visitor from the country you now live in. If you now live in the EEA or Switzerland, this means you can use an EHIC, the S2 route or the directive route to get some NHS healthcare in the UK. If you live in another country, there may be a reciprocal healthcare agreement – see ‘Visiting from another country (outside the EEA)’ above.

Some people are allowed to have full and free access to NHS treatment even though they do not live in the UK. We have a list of organisations that can provide more information about this (see ‘Useful organisations’ below).

If you are a UK pensioner living in another country

If you get a UK state pension but live in another country, you may be able to return to the UK for free NHS treatment. This may include planned treatment. The rules vary across the UK and can depend on:

  • how long you lived in the UK
  • where you live now
  • whether you now spend any time living in the UK
  • whether you have worked for the UK armed forces, UK government or as a Crown servant.

If you work in another country

If you have to live in another country some or all of the time to work, you may still be able to have free NHS treatment in the UK. This varies across the UK. It can depend on how long you have been away and the terms of your contract with your employer.

If you work in another country for the UK armed forces, UK government or as a Crown servant, you are often able to have free NHS healthcare in the UK.


If you are a war pensioner or get armed forces compensation

If you get a war pension (including war widow or widower pension) or you get armed forces compensation, you are allowed free NHS healthcare in the UK.

We have a list of organisations that can provide you with more information (see ‘Useful organisations’ below).


Refugees and asylum seekers

If you are a refugee in the UK, you can have free NHS healthcare. This includes GP and hospital care, and urgent and non-urgent treatment.

In England, you can have free NHS healthcare if:

  • you are applying for asylum and waiting for a decision – this includes if you make an appeal
  • you are getting support from the Home Office, called section 95 support (or section 4(2) support if your asylum application has been rejected)
  • you are getting support from a local authority, called section 21 or part 1 support.

If you are an asylum seeker in Scotland or Wales, you can have free NHS healthcare. This includes if your application is refused but you are still in the country.

In Northern Ireland, you can have free NHS healthcare while you apply for asylum and wait for a decision. This includes if you make an appeal.

If your application is refused, any treatment started before your application was refused will be completed for free.

In England, if you are refused asylum and do not get support from the Home Office or a local authority, you may need to pay for NHS healthcare. If the treatment is not needed before you can return home, you may be asked to pay before you have treatment.


Victims of modern slavery or human trafficking

Anyone who is a victim or suspected victim of modern slavery or human trafficking can have free NHS healthcare. You can find more information on the gov.uk website


Private healthcare in the UK

You can pay to have private treatment for cancer in the UK at:

  • private hospitals and clinics
  • some specialist NHS hospitals that also treat private patients.

You can pay using private health insurance. You can also pay the hospital or clinic yourself.

You will need to arrange the treatment with the hospital in the UK before you travel. You must also check that you are allowed to enter the UK. If you live outside the EEA or Switzerland, you may need a visa. You can find more information on the Home Office website.

You may be asked to show:

  • why you need treatment in the UK
  • where and when you are having treatment
  • how you will pay for treatment and other costs in the UK
  • that you will leave the UK when your treatment or visa ends.

Your doctor, health insurer or private hospital can help you get this information.


Useful organisations

Citizens Advice provides free and independent advice to people living or working in the UK about healthcare. You can find details for your local office at:

The Refugee Council works with refugees and people seeking asylum in the UK. They can provide practical support and advice on how to access health and social care services. Find out more on their website or call 020 7346 6700.

The European Commission has information about moving and working in Europe.

The UK Home Office has information about visas and immigration for the UK. You can find out more at gov.uk

England

NHS 111 (England) is the free number to call when you have an urgent healthcare need. It directs you to the right local service and is open 24 hours a day, every day. Call the helpline on 111.

NHS Choices has information about health and NHS healthcare in England.

Scotland

NHS 24 (Scotland) has free health information and advice if you are ill and cannot wait until your local NHS service opens. Call the helpline on 111 (open 24 hours a day, every day).

NHS Inform provides free health and care information for the people of Scotland. Call the helpline on 0800 22 44 88 or find information through the website.

Wales

NHS Direct Wales has advice if you are feeling ill and are unsure what to do. It also has health information on a wide range of conditions, treatments and local health services. Visit the website or call the helpline on 0845 46 47 (open 24 hours a day, every day).

Northern Ireland

Health and Social Care Online (Northern Ireland) has information about Health and Social Care Services in Northern Ireland.

NI Direct (Northern Ireland) has information about government services in Northern Ireland, including healthcare.

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