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How to access NHS services in England if you're visiting from abroad

This information is for people who are visiting England from abroad. It tells you how to access different types of healthcare and whether you might need to pay. It also tells you how access to healthcare could change for some people after Brexit.

Find out how to access healthcare, including planned treatment, in Wales, Northern Ireland or Scotland.

How to get healthcare

If you're not sure how to get the help you need, use the checklist below to guide you.

  • Call NHS 111 if you urgently need medical help or advice but it's not a life-threatening situation. You can also call NHS 111 if you're not sure which NHS service you need.
  • Call 999 if someone is seriously ill or injured and their life is at risk.
  • Visit a walk-in centre, minor injuries unit or urgent treatment centre, if you have a minor illness or injury (cuts, sprains or rashes) and it cannot wait until your GP surgery is open.
  • Ask your local pharmacist for advice – your pharmacist can give you advice about many common minor illnesses, such as diarrhoea, minor infections, headaches, sore throats, or travel health.
  • Make an appointment with your GP if you're feeling unwell and it's not an emergency.

For information about conditions and treatments, read the Health A-Z guides.

You will need to pay for some things such as eye tests, dental treatment and prescriptions, just like people who live in England.

Find out more about paying NHS charges.

General practitioners (GPs)

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.

If you're planning to live and work in England, you need to register with a local GP.

You'll need to fill out a GMS1 form (PDF, 223kb) using exactly the same details you used when you filled out your visa.

It's up to the GP practice to decide whether to accept new patients or not, but they can only refuse for non-discriminatory reasons.

But being registered with a GP practice does not in itself mean you'll be entitled to free NHS hospital treatment.

Being registered with a GP practice may mean you're invited for screening services, but you may still have to pay for these services when they're not provided by the GP practice.

If you're in England for a short visit but need to see a GP, you can register as a temporary patient with a local doctor.

You need to be in the area for more than 24 hours but less than 3 months.

Again, it's up to the GP practice to decide whether or not they'll accept new patients.

Treatment will be free of charge, but make sure you present your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) if you have one. (See below for advice for citizens of EU countries, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland.)

Find a GP practice in your area.

Information:

Download a copy of It's your practice: a patient guide to GP services (PDF, 1.92Mb), which is produced by the Royal College of General Practitioners, to help you choose, and get the most from, GP practices.

Hospital services

Hospital treatment is free to people who are "ordinarily resident" in the UK.

To be considered ordinarily resident and entitled to free hospital treatment, you must be living in the UK on a lawful and properly settled basis for the time being. You may be asked to prove this.

Citizens of EU countries, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland who are ordinarily resident in the UK will still be able to get free hospital treatment in England after the UK leaves the EU. But citizens of these countries visiting the UK after the UK leaves the EU might not be able to access free healthcare. See the section below on citizens of EU countries, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland.

Citizens of other countries who are subject to immigration control are not classed as ordinarily resident unless they have indefinite leave to remain.

If you're visiting England from a country outside of the EU, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland for more than 6 months, you'll need to pay the immigration health surcharge, unless you're exempt from paying it.

This surcharge will generally cover you for healthcare – the same as someone who's ordinarily resident.

If you're visiting England from a country outside of the EU, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland for less than 6 months, you need to ensure you're covered for healthcare through personal medical insurance during your visit, even if you're a former UK resident.

If you need NHS hospital treatment, you will be charged at 150% of the national NHS rate if you are a national of a country outside of the EU, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland.

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

These include:

Information:
  • a GP referral is required for all non-emergency hospital treatment
  • for a detailed definition about what ordinarily resident means, see the GOV.UK guidance

Citizens of EU countries, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland

If you're a citizen of an EU country, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein or Switzerland, and you start your visit to the UK before the day the UK leaves the EU, you will be covered for some treatment in England if you fall ill or have a medical emergency during your visit.

You should use your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) or Provisional Replacement Card (PRC) issued by the country where you live. This cover will last until the end of your visit, even if it finishes after exit day, but will not apply on any future visits to the UK unless you are covered by the Citizens' Rights Agreements with Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, or by another reciprocal healthcare arrangement.

If there is a no-deal Brexit, your access to healthcare could change. See more information on Visitors from EU countries, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland.

Page last reviewed: 28 August 2019
Next review due: 28 August 2022