Advice for foreign visitors to London
Not every NHS treatment in England is free of charge. There are, for example, charges for dental treatment and, for non-UK residents, charges for hospital treatments. If you are an overseas visitor to the UK you may be charged for some treatments and, depending on how urgent it is, you will usually have to pay in advance.
If you are a visitor from the European Economic Area (EEA) then you are strongly advised to bring a valid European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)with you, otherwise you may be charged.
Keep in mind that the UK’s healthcare system may be different from your home country’s and therefore your EHIC might not cover everything that you would expect to get free in your country.
Also, the EHIC is not an alternative to travel insurance. It will not cover any private medical healthcare or costs such as mountain rescue in ski resorts, being flown back home, or lost or stolen property. Therefore, it is important to have both an EHIC and a valid private travel insurance policy.
If an ambulance is needed, call 999, the emergency phone number in the UK. You can also dial 112, which is the ambulance number throughout the European Union.
The information below is a summary of the regulations about NHS charges for overseas visitors. If you wish to read the full regulations visit the legislation.gov.uk website, statutory instruments 2011 No. 1556 and 2012 No 1586.
If you need to see a doctor during your stay in the UK then you can register with a GP (general practitioner) practice as an NHS patient. You can register as a temporary patient with a GP practice when you are in the area for more than 24 hours and less than three months. It is up to the GP practice to decide whether to accept new patients or not. Treatment will be free of charge.
You can also download a copy of It's Your Practice: A patient guide to GP services, which is produced by the Royal College of General Practitioners to help you choose – and get the most from – a GP practice.
If you cannot register with a GP, then you can try an Urgent Care Centre or GP-led health centre. Registration is not required and patients do not need an appointment. Most centres are open 365 days a year and outside office hours.
Hospital treatment is free to ‘ordinary residents’ of the UK. But if you are visiting the UK – to stay with family, on business, as a tourist, or if you are living here without proper permission – then you are likely to be charged by an NHS hospital for the treatment it gives you. Not paying this charge may have an effect on any future immigration application you make and you risk being turned down.
Some services or treatments carried out in an NHS hospital are exempt from charges, so that they are free to all overseas visitors.
UK hospitals will treat you for most infectious diseases, including sexually transmitted infections (STIs) free of charge, to limit the spread of those diseases. Also read the common health questions about infections.
If you are taken to A&E (accident and emergency department), a minor injuries unit or walk-in centre for emergency treatment then this is free of charge. However, if you are admitted to hospital for any other emergency treatment a charge may be incurred. You should not go to A&E for non-emergencies, but see a GP instead.
Compulsory psychiatric treatment, treatment imposed by a court order and family planning services are also free of charge. Note that neither maternity treatment, nor terminations of pregnancies are classed as family planning services.
Some people who are not ordinary residents in the UK are still entitled to at least some hospital treatment free of charge. These include those working for UK-based employers and students on courses of at least six months in duration. UK state pensioners living overseas, and those visiting from countries that have a reciprocal healthcare agreement with the UK, are also entitled to free hospital treatment, but not pre-planned treatment or treatment that can await their return home. For more information see the exemption categories listed below.
If you need hospital treatment during your stay in the UK, ensure you can provide evidence that you are entitled to free treatment. For ordinary residents, this means showing that you are lawfully and properly settled in the UK (eg passport/visa plus rental agreements, utility bill payment etc). For those that are exempt from charges, this will likely include your immigration status plus evidence of study/work, or which country you are visiting from, as appropriate. If you cannot provide evidence that shows that you are entitled to free treatment then the hospital will charge you.