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Travelling to Europe for medical treatment

What to do before going abroad for medical treatment

If you're thinking about having medical treatment in another European country, it's important to understand how it works and the risks involved. If you don't follow the correct procedures, you may end up being responsible for the full cost of the treatment.

For example, your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) does not cover going abroad for medical treatment. The EHIC is for emergency treatment that becomes necessary while you're abroad.

Find out more about what the EHIC covers

As an NHS patient, you have the right to receive treatment anywhere in the European Economic Area (EEA). However, conditions may apply in some cases.

Read about entitlements to treatment abroad.

There are two ways to access NHS-funded healthcare in other EEA countries:

1. S2 route (or E112) – this is a direct arrangement between the NHS and the state healthcare provider in the country of your choice. Prior approval is required.

2. EU directive on cross-border healthcare (or Article 56) – generally, you'll have to pay the costs of treatment abroad and then claim reimbursement from the NHS when you return. Depending on the treatment, it may be necessary for you to obtain authorisation from NHS England before receiving treatment.

Find out what types of services require prior authorisation (PDF, 72kb).

Each option works in a different way. Read a detailed description of the S2 route and the EU directive on cross-border healthcare.

Where to start

If you're planning to have treatment abroad, it's important to discuss your plans with your doctor before making any final decisions about travel or medical arrangements.

You will need to apply for funding prior to treatment if:

If you're still not sure whether prior authorisation is required, contact NHS England by emailing England.europeanhealthcare@nhs.net.

TipAlthough applying for funding prior to treatment is not mandatory for other requests, we do recommend you contact NHS England or apply for funding before treatment in all cases. This will enable NHS England to confirm your eligibility and the funding or reimbursement process. 

You'll need to be aware of how your aftercare will be provided when you return home and understand the conditions under which you will be treated abroad.

Tip

You should also ensure you have adequate insurance. Most travel insurance policies will not cover you for planned treatment abroad, so you may need specialist cover.

Do your research

Going for medical treatment abroad isn't easy, and your GP or NHS England can only do so much to help you. You will have to make the arrangements yourself, including finding a healthcare provider and making all the travel arrangements.

This makes it important that you do some research and gather enough information to make an informed choice. You should consider:

  • any language barriers
  • whether you know enough about the people who will treat you and the facilities available
  • communication between medical staff abroad and in the UK, such as exchanging medical records and arranging aftercare back home
  • how to make a complaint if things go wrong – the NHS is not liable for negligence or failure of treatment

Tip

We've created a checklist that should help you get organised, and also provides you with information about the risks involved.

How to contact a local health commissioner

What is the EEA?

The European Economic Area (EEA) is a free trade zone between the countries that make up the European Union (EU), Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein. Your EHIC will also cover you if you need healthcare during a trip to Switzerland. However, if want to go to Switzerland for treatment, you should contact NHS England to check if NHS-funded treatment is possible.

Going outside Europe for treatment

The right to seek NHS-funded medical care does not extend beyond Europe. However, speak to your local clinical commissioning group (CCG) if you want to have treatment outside Europe, such as in Canada or the US. Find your local CCG now.

Page last reviewed: 11/09/2015

Next review due: 11/09/2017

Important contacts

For all general enquiries relating to healthcare in another EEA country or accessing NHS treatment within England, contact NHS England on 0300 311 2233 or england.contactus@nhs.net.

For specific questions on the progress of your application for planned treatment in another EEA country, contact the European Team on 0113 824 9653 or England.europeanhealthcare@nhs.net.

For questions on giving birth abroad, refunds of co-payments, or about the EHIC, contact the Overseas Healthcare Team on 0191 218 1999 or overseas.healthcare@dwp.gsi.gov.uk.

Contact details for other EEA countries

Each EEA country is required to provide information on their health services for residents from other EEA countries through a national contact point. See our country-by-country guide if you require information about healthcare in another EEA country.

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