If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, your access to healthcare when visiting an EU country is likely to change.
If you're planning a visit after the UK leaves the EU, you should continue to buy travel insurance so you can get the healthcare treatment you need, just as you would if visiting a non-EU country.
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 have to pay the full costs of your treatment.
It is also important to discuss your plans with your GP before making any final decisions about travel or medical arrangements.
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. If you're using an EHIC issued by the UK, this will still be valid until the UK leaves the EU.
However, you may be able to access NHS-funded healthcare in another European Economic Area (EEA) country or Switzerland if you fulfil certain eligibility criteria.
There are 2 possible routes described below. The criteria vary depending on the access route.
The S2 route
This is a direct funding arrangement between the NHS and the state healthcare provider in the country of your choice. Please note that 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.
The EU directive on cross-border healthcare: the EU directive route
This is a funding arrangement between you and the NHS. Using this route means you will have to pay the costs of your treatment abroad upfront and then claim eligible costs from the NHS when you return.
For some treatments you'll need to get prior authorisation from NHS England before receiving treatment. Find out what types of services require prior authorisation – this is not necessarily a definitive list.
Find out more about the EU Directive eligibility criteria.
Although applying for funding prior to treatment is not mandatory for all treatment abroad, we recommend you contact NHS England on email@example.com or apply for funding before treatment in all cases. This will enable NHS England to confirm your eligibility and the funding or reimbursement process.
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 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 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
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.
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've created a checklist 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
- Wales – contact your local health board
- Scotland – contact your local NHS board
- Northern Ireland – contact the health and social care board
What is the EEA?
The European Economic Area (EEA) is a free trade zone between the countries of the European Union (EU), Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein. Your EHIC will also cover you for healthcare that becomes necessary during a trip to Switzerland.
However, if want to go to Switzerland for treatment, this must be authorised in advance under the S2 route. It is not possible to claim funding for treatment in Switzerland under the EU Directive route.
Going outside Europe for treatment
Neither the S2 route nor the EU Directive route applies to treatment outside the EEA, except for treatment in Switzerland under the S2 route. However, if you want to have treatment outside the EEA, such as in Canada or the US, speak to your local clinical commissioning group (CCG).
Important contacts in England
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 email@example.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
For questions on giving birth abroad, refunds of co-payments, or about the EHIC, contact Overseas Healthcare Services on 0191 218 1999 or email@example.com.
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:
Page last reviewed: 13 February 2019
Next review due: 13 February 2022