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Visitors who do not need to pay for NHS treatment

Some visitors to England do not have to pay for NHS hospital treatment. Find out whether you fall into any of the "exemption categories" below.

The exemption categories only apply to people who are not ordinarily resident in the UK. People covered by the immigration health surcharge and some visitors from EU countries, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland may also be exempt.

UK government employees and war pensioners

You are exempt if you are a member of Her Majesty's armed forces. This will include your spouse or civil partner and any children under 18, as long as they are lawfully present in the UK. As the principal exempt family member, you do not have to be in the UK with your family at the time of their treatment.

You are also exempt if you are:

  • a crown servant
  • employed by the British Council
  • employed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission
  • working or volunteering in employment overseas that is financed in part by the UK government

However, you must be visiting the UK as a requirement of the above employment, or you have been ordinarily resident in the UK immediately prior to taking up your current post or another of these posts in the past.

This includes your spouse or civil partner and any children under 18, as long as they are lawfully present in the UK. As the principal exempt family member, you do not have to be in the UK with your family at the time of their treatment.

If you, the qualifying employee, were not previously ordinarily resident in the UK and are only exempt because you are visiting the UK as a requirement of your employment, your spouse or civil partner and any children under 18 will only be exempt when visiting the UK with you.

War pensioners or those who receive armed forces compensation scheme payments are exempt. This includes your spouse or civil partner and any children under 18, provided they are lawfully present and visiting the UK with you.

Vulnerable patients, detainees, workers on ships and NATO personnel

You are exempt from paying for NHS healthcare if you are:

  • granted refugee status in the UK
  • seeking asylum or temporary or humanitarian protection until your application (including appeals) is decided
  • receiving support from the Home Office under section 95 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999
  • a failed asylum seeker and receive support from the Home Office under section 4(2) of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 or from a local authority under section 21 of the National Assistance Act 1948 or Part 1 (care and support) of the Care Act 2014
  • a child looked after by a local authority
  • formally identified as, or suspected of being, a victim of modern slavery or human trafficking – this includes your spouse or civil partner and any children under 18 as long as they are lawfully present in the UK
  • receiving compulsory psychiatric treatment or treatment imposed by a court order
  • detained in prison or by the immigration authorities in the UK
  • NATO personnel and the service cannot be provided by armed forces medical services – this includes spouses or civil partners and any children under 18 as long as they are lawfully present in the UK

Since 21 August 2017, any overseas visitors working on UK-registered ships are no longer entitled to free NHS care and their employer is liable for their NHS costs.

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

If you are living lawfully in the UK on the day the UK leaves the EU, you will be able to use the NHS in England as you can now, after that date.

If you start a visit to the UK before the day the UK leaves the EU and you are a citizen of an EU country, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein or Switzerland, you will be covered for some treatment if you fall ill or have a medical emergency during your visit, even if it finishes after exit day. You should still make sure you have adequate travel and health insurance for your visit.

Find out more information on the Swiss Citizens' Rights Agreement

Find out more about the EEA EFTA separation agreement (if there is a deal)

Find out more about the EEA EFTA Citizens' Rights agreement (if there is no deal)

Irish citizens and British citizens living in Ireland

Irish citizens who live in the UK and British citizens who live in Ireland will continue to have the right to access healthcare in those countries. This is because of longstanding arrangements under the Common Travel Area.

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