Healthcare in the UK for foreign visitors: are NHS services free?

nhs treatment uk

Do foreign visitors pay for NHS treatment?’. This is a common question among international travelers planning a stay in the UK, and the answer is not as straightforward as one might expect.

After Brexit, in addition to requiring an electronic travel authorisation for the UK, certain nationalities will be required to take additional steps to receive NHS healthcare at a hospital in Britain.

Does the UK have free healthcare?

All residents of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales are entitled to free healthcare under the National Health Service (NHS), which is funded through general taxation. The NHS covers care by a general physician, mental health care, and hospital treatment.

General Physicians (GPs) are experts in family medicine, preventative care, health education, and treating people with multiple and long-term conditions. They are the first point of contact for nearly all NHS patients and can direct them to other NHS services if required.

UK residents have several options to access healthcare :

  • If they are feeling unwell but it is not an emergency, they can make an appointment with a GP
  • Those not in a life-threatening situation but need urgent medical help, or are not sure which NHS service they need, can call NHS 111
  • Those with minor illness or injuries that cannot wait until a GP appointment can go to a walk-in centre, minor injuries unit or urgent treatment centre
  • Those with a common minor illness such as diarrhea, headaches or sore throats can ask a local pharmacist for advice
  • If a life is at risk or someone is seriously injured or ill, they can call 999.

Who can access free NHS treatment?

In general, free NHS treatment is only available for those registered as residents in the UK. Those who are planning to live and work in the UK need to register with a GP practice by filling out a GMS1 form with the same details they used to apply for a visa.

However, registering with a GP does not automatically mean that a patient is entitled to free NHS treatment in a hospital. An individual may be invited for free NHS screening services after registering with a GP, but they may still have to pay for this service if a GP practice does not provide them.

Nevertheless, foreigners visiting from abroad for a short period of time, more than 24 hours and less than 3 months, can still register as a temporary patient with a local GP. This treatment is free of charge if the patient presents a valid European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).

Furthermore, a number of treatments and services are provided by NHS hospitals free of charge for all patients, including:

  • A&E services, excluding emergency treatment, if the patient is first referred by a GP
  • Family planning services, excluding abortions or infertility treatment
  • Infectious disease treatment, including sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • Treatment for physical or mental conditions caused by domestic or sexual violence, torture or female genital mutilation (FGM), with the exception of patients who have explicitly come to the UK to seek this treatment.

NHS Charges for non-UK residents

While citizens of the EU, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland visiting the UK can currently obtain free treatment with a valid EHIC, citizens of other countries planning to stay for longer than 6 months need to pay an immigration health surcharge which covers all healthcare treatment, with only a few exceptions.

However, overseas visitors traveling to the UK from outside the Schengen Area for less than 6 months will need to ensure they have valid travel insurance that covers any healthcare costs that may be incurred during the stay, even if they are a former British citizen. This is because they are likely to be charged up to 150% of the NHS national rate for treatment.


Examples of treatment costs for these citizens are as follows:

  • General surgery – £1.621
  • Trauma & Orthopaedics – £2.766
  • Pediatric surgery – £1.813
  • Cardiology – £2.397
  • Infectious diseases (excluding COVID -19) – £897

COVID Testing and Treatment

The British government has declared that charges for COVID-related services for all foreign visitors to the United Kingdom, including those living in the UK without a valid permit, will be waived. No immigration checks are required for these services.

This includes testing for coronavirus, even if the test shows a negative result, as well as any treatment for COVID-19 infection that may be required.

How Will Brexit Affect Free NHS Treatment?

Citizens of the EU, EEA or Switzerland who plan to continue to live in the UK after Brexit will still be able to use the NHS free of charge  if they have ‘pre-settled status’ or ‘settled status’ for the United Kingdom.

Those who do not currently have this designation should apply to the EU Settlement Scheme to get pre-settled or settled status before December 31st 2020 in order to continue to receive free NHS treatment in the UK.

Holders of an EHIC issued in an EU country will only be able to use it to receive treatment for a health issue that started while they were in the UK until December 31st 2020.

After this date, it will be necessary to have settled or pre-settled status to receive free NHS treatment, otherwise they will need to have private health insurance to cover NHS healthcare costs.


Holders of a European insurance card will not be able to use this document to receive free NHS treatment in Britain after Brexit.

To get an NHS number, it is necessary for a foreign citizen to register with a GP practice in the UK.

To get an NHS number, it is necessary for a foreign citizen to register with a GP practice in the UK.

To register for the NHS as a foreigner, it is necessary to complete a GMS1 form using the came details they used to complete their UK visa application.

Foreign citizens to the UK, with the exception of nationals of the EU, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland, are currently charged 150% of the national NHS rate for any treatment they require.