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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.

You also need to be ready for the changes to your access to healthcare that could happen after Brexit.

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

It's also important to discuss your plans with a 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 an emergency or treatment that becomes necessary while you're abroad.

Your EHIC may not be valid if there's a no-deal Brexit.

Going abroad for medical treatment after Brexit

If there's a no-deal Brexit, you need to be ready for possible changes to how you access healthcare in Europe.

If you're planning a visit after Brexit, 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 using an EHIC issued by the UK, it may not be valid if there's a no-deal Brexit.

This will depend on arrangements with individual countries and might mean you need to pay in full for treatment.

Your EHIC will still be valid until Brexit or if your treatment started before exit day.

The S2 route may not be available if there's a no-deal Brexit. This will depend on arrangements with individual countries.

If you're using an S2 issued by the UK, this will still be valid until Brexit happens or if your treatment started before exit day.

The EU directive route may not be available if there's a no-deal Brexit. This will depend on arrangements with individual countries.

Check the guide for the country you're travelling to

The EU directive route is still available until Brexit happens, or if your treatment has started or you applied for authorisation before exit day.

Going abroad for medical treatment before Brexit

You may be able to access NHS-funded healthcare in the EU, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein 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.

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 is a funding arrangement 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.

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 england.europeanhealthcare@nhs.net 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 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

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.

But if you want to go to Switzerland for treatment, this must be authorised in advance under the S2 route.

It's 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.

But if you want to have treatment outside the EEA, 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 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 Overseas Healthcare Services on 0191 218 1999 or overseas.healthcare@dwp.gsi.gov.uk.

Information for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales

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: 28 August 2019
Next review due: 28 August 2022