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Information for visitors to England

Accessing health services while in England

Not every NHS treatment in England is free of charge, examples of things you may have to pay for include charges for dental treatment and prescription costs

Non-UK residents will also be charged for hospital treatments. If you are an overseas visitor to the UK you may be charged for some treatments and, depending on how urgent it is, you will usually have to pay in advance.

Different rules may apply to visitors from the EEA (European Economic Area). For more detailed advice see the Information for EU/EEA visitors section.

For an overview of the most common services provided by the NHS in England, such as emergency and urgent care, general practitioners (GPs) or dental services, see NHS services explained. Also, get advice on how to access each service, do's and don'ts in emergencies and the costs involved (if any).

Where to go for treatment

Only call 999 or go to A&E in a genuine emergency. There's a wide range of other options for getting treatment quickly. Ask yourself the following questions before you decide what to do:

The NHS is a residence-based healthcare system. If you are planning to live and work in England you’ll have to register with a general practitioner (GP). GPs are the first point of contact for nearly all NHS patients. They can direct you to other NHS services, and are experts in family medicine, preventative care, health education and treating people with multiple and long-term conditions.

You can also register as a temporary patient with a GP practice when you are in the area for more than 24 hours and less than three months. It is up to the GP practice to decide whether to accept new patients or not. Treatment will be free of charge.

Download a copy of It's your practice – a patient guide to GP services (PDF, 1.9MB) which is produced by the Royal College of General Practitioners to help you choose – and get the most from – GP practices.

If a GP decides to refer you to hospital, or for any other specialised treatment, then this will not necessarily be free of charge.

Hospital services

Hospital treatment is free to 'ordinary residents' of the UK. But if you are visiting the UK – to stay with family, on business, as a tourist, or if you are living here without proper permission – then you are likely to be charged by an NHS hospital for the treatment you receive. Not paying this charge may have an effect on any future immigration application you make and you risk being turned down.

Some services or treatments carried out in an NHS hospital are exempt from charges, so that they are free to all overseas visitors.

UK hospitals will treat you for most infectious diseases, including sexually transmitted infections (STIs) free of charge, to limit the spread of those diseases. Read the common health questions about infections.

If you are taken to A&E (accident and emergency department), a minor injuries unit or walk-in centre for emergency treatment then this is free of charge. However, if you are admitted to hospital for any other emergency treatment a charge may be incurred. You should not go to A&E for non-emergencies, but see a GP instead.

Compulsory psychiatric treatment, treatment imposed by a court order and family planning services are also free of charge. Note that neither maternity treatment, nor terminations of pregnancies are classed as family planning services.

Exemptions

Some people who are not ordinary residents in the UK are still entitled to at least some hospital treatment free of charge. These include those working for UK-based employers and students on courses of at least six months in duration. UK state pensioners living outside the EEA, and those visiting from countries that have a reciprocal healthcare agreement with the UK, are also entitled to free hospital treatment, but not pre-planned treatment or treatment that can await their return home. For more information see the exemption categories listed below.

If you need hospital treatment during your stay in the UK, ensure you can provide evidence that you are entitled to free treatment. For ordinary residents, this means showing that you are lawfully and properly settled in the UK (for example, showing a passport/visa plus rental agreements, utility bill, etc). For those that are exempt from charges, this will likely include your immigration status plus evidence of study/work, or which country you are visiting from, as appropriate. If you cannot provide evidence showing you are entitled to free treatment then the hospital will charge you.

Visit the legislation.gov.uk website if you wish to read the full regulations, statutory instruments 2011 No. 1556 and 2012 No 1586.

Exemption category: exempt from all NHS hospital charges

If one of the following applies to you then you will be exempt from charges for all of your NHS hospital treatment, except any statutory charges such as prescriptions. Download the Department of Health's guidance on implementing the overseas visitors hospital charging regulations (PDF, 421kb) for further details.

  • Anyone who has lived lawfully in the UK for the 12 months prior to treatment. An absence of up to 182 days is allowed but you must have had immigration permission to be in the UK for the full 12 months
  • Anyone taking up, or resuming, permanent residence in the UK. You must have the right to live here permanently, or a route to settlement allowing permanent residence in time. You may be asked to show how you emigrated to the UK
  • Anyone who is working in the UK for a UK-based employer or who is self-employed in the UK. This does not include people looking for work
  • Any full-time student attending either a course of at least six months' duration, or a course substantially funded by the UK government
  • Any volunteer with a voluntary organisation providing services similar to health or social services
  • Diplomatic staff posted to the UK
  • Serving NATO personnel
  • Anyone who receives a UK war pension, war widows pension or armed forces compensation scheme payment
  • Former UK residents of 10 continuous years or more who are now working abroad (including self employed people) for not more than five years
  • Anyone given refugee status in the UK
  • Those seeking asylum or humanitarian protection, until their applications, including appeals, are decided
  • Failed asylum seekers receiving section 4 or section 95 UK Border Agency support
  • Children in the care of the local authority
  • Anyone who is detained in prison or by the Immigration Authorities in the UK
  • Anyone employed on a ship or vessel registered in the UK
  • The spouse or civil partner and any children (under 16) of anyone who is exempt under the above criteria, but only if accompanying the exempt person on a permanent basis

If one of the following applies to you, then not only will you be exempt from charges for all of your NHS hospital treatment, but your spouse/civil partner/dependent children will also be exempt from charges in their own right. This means you, as the principal exempt family member, do not have to be in the UK with them at the time of their treatment, nor do they have to have been with you in the UK permanently.

  • Members of Her Majesty’s UK armed forces
  • UK civil servants or British Council/Commonwealth War Graves Commission staff recruited in the UK, or anyone in a post overseas that is financed in part by the UK government in agreement with another government or public body
  • Missionaries acting overseas for an organisation principally based in the UK
  • Those who have been formally identified, or suspected as being, a victim of human trafficking

Exemption category: exempt from some NHS hospital charges

If one of the following applies to you then you will be exempt from charges for treatment if it becomes necessary during your stay and cannot wait until your return home. This includes any pre-existing conditions that doctors say need prompt treatment while here. Any pre-planned or routine treatment will not be free.

Download the Department of Health's guidance on implementing the overseas visitors hospital charging regulations (PDF, 421kb) for further details.

  • Anyone receiving a UK state pension if they have lived legally in the UK for 10 continuous years or more at some point. This also covers their spouse, civil partner or child under 16 if they are travelling with them
  • Some people visiting from a country with which the UK has a bilateral healthcare agreement (some agreements are limited to nationals of that country – see below)

Rules for visitors from within the EEA differ, see the section Visitors from the EU/EEA for more details. 

Comments

The 2 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

nekorinchigochigo said on 14 July 2013

Hello.
I have a concern and would like to ask you some questions.
I'm a non-EU student going to come to do my postgraduate study in England.
I will register with a GP practice and recognise that all hospital services are free of charge, as my course length is 12 months.
But, how about the treatment of pre-existing conditions?
Can be they treated under NHS system?
Now in my country, I regularly see a doctor.
But I don't know how it could be.possible in the UK.
Thank you in advance.

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cortes said on 17 January 2013

I have lived in Spain for 8 years i am a pensioner ,i am registered here at the doctors and have all papers and medical card. If i return to England will i get health car straight away i have an on going condition and need to be getting health care straight away when i move back. many thanks.

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Page last reviewed: 02/10/2013

Next review due: 02/10/2015

Important contact numbers

If you have a question relating to healthcare services in England, or would like to find out more about accessing NHS services, please contact NHS England by telephone (0300 311 22 33) or email england.contactus@nhs.net
 

Bilateral healthcare agreement countries

For the following countries, you must be a national of that country and be a resident there, or be a UK national lawfully resident there:
Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia, Georgia, Gibraltar, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, Moldova, New Zealand, Russia, Serbia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan.

For the following countries, your nationality is not relevant but you must be a lawful resident there:
Anguilla, Australia, Barbados, British Virgin Islands, Falkland Islands, Iceland, Isle of Man, Jersey, Montserrat, St Helena, Turks and Caicos Islands.

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