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Going abroad for medical treatment

If you're thinking about having medical treatment in another country, it's important to understand how it works and the risks involved.

If you do not follow the correct procedures, you may have to pay the full costs of your treatment.

You should discuss your plans with a GP before making any final decisions about travel or medical arrangements.

Your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) or UK Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) does not cover going abroad for planned medical treatments.

An EHIC or GHIC is for "necessary healthcare" from state services when you're visiting the EU. Necessary healthcare means healthcare that becomes medically necessary during your stay, and you cannot reasonably wait until you're back in the UK to get it.

You should also ensure you have adequate travel insurance.

UK-funded treatment in Europe from 1 January 2021

The UK has left the EU and access to treatment in Europe has changed.

Make sure you read the relevant funding route pages:

How the NHS can fund your treatment

You may be able to access NHS-funded healthcare in the EU, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein or Switzerland if you fulfil certain eligibility criteria.

The criteria vary depending on the access route. There are 2 possible routes.

The S2 (planned treatment) route

This is a direct funding arrangement between the NHS and the state healthcare provider in the country of your choice.

Even with the S2 route, some countries may require you to pay a proportion of the costs.

If you wish to use this route, you must get prior authorisation from NHS England before receiving treatment.

Find out about S2 route eligibility criteria

The EU directive on cross-border healthcare: the EU directive route

This arrangement is between you and the NHS. Using this route means you'll have to pay the cost of your treatment abroad upfront and then claim eligible costs from the NHS when you return.

You can only apply for reimbursement for treatment that started or was approved before 11pm on 31 December 2020.

Find out more about the EU directive eligibility criteria

Do your research

Going for medical treatment abroad is not easy and a GP or NHS England can only do so much to help you.

You'll have to make the arrangements yourself, including finding a healthcare provider and making all the travel arrangements.

This means it's important to 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'll 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

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

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.

We have created a checklist for treatment abroad that should help you get organised and provide you with information about the risks involved.

How to contact the relevant health commissioner

  • England – contact NHS England on 0300 311 2233 or england.contactus@nhs.net
  • Wales – contact your local health board
  • Scotland – contact your local NHS board
  • Northern Ireland – contact the health and social care board

Going outside Europe for treatment

Neither the S2 route nor the EU directive route applies to treatment outside Europe.

If you want to have treatment in a non-European country, such as in Canada or the US, speak to your local clinical commissioning group (CCG).

Find your local CCG

Important contacts in England

For all general enquiries relating to healthcare in Europe 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 a European 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 Overseas Healthcare Services on 0191 218 1999.

Information for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales

Contact details for European countries

Each European country is required to provide information on their health services through a national contact point.

The GOV.UK country healthcare guides explain how UK nationals usually access healthcare in each country.

Page last reviewed: 14 January 2021
Next review due: 14 January 2024