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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.

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.

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.

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.

Healthcare during the transition period if you’re travelling to have planned treatment

There will be no changes to healthcare access for UK nationals visiting or living in the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland before 31 December 2020.

You can still apply for the S2 funding route or EU directive route as you did before.

If you’ve requested authorisation for your treatment by 31 December 2020, it can go ahead once it’s authorised, even if the date of the treatment is from 1 January 2021.

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.

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.

Check the GOV.UK healthcare guides if you require information about healthcare in another EEA country.

Planned treatment in the EU from 1 January 2021

You can still access planned treatment abroad under the S2 route from 1 January 2021, if you’re either:

  • a UK State Pensioner living in the EU before 31 December 2020
  • a "frontier worker" (someone who works in one state and lives in another) before 31 December 2020, for as long as you continue to be a frontier worker in the host state
  • an EU national living in the UK before 31 December 2020

Page last reviewed: 30 January 2020
Next review due: 30 January 2023