Overseas Visitors


Not everyone is entitled to free NHS treatment in England.

The NHS is a residency-based healthcare system, which means entitlement to healthcare in the UK is based on living lawfully in the UK. This contrasts with many other countries which have insurance-based healthcare systems. Eligibility for free NHS care (apart from primary medical, dental or ophthalmic treatment) is based on the concept of “ordinary residence”. A person who is "ordinarily resident" in the UK must not be charged for NHS services. Ordinary residence means, broadly, living in the UK on a lawful, voluntary and properly settled basis.

An "overseas visitor" is any person who is not “ordinarily resident” in the UK. A person is not ordinarily resident in the UK simply because they have British nationality; hold a British passport; are registered with a GP in the UK; have an NHS number; own property in the UK; or have paid (or are currently paying) National Insurance contributions and taxes in the UK.

If you are an overseas visitor to the UK you may be charged for some treatments; however there are exemptions where some NHS services are free to everyone regardless of their status and not every overseas visitor will automatically be subject to a charge.

The current list of exempt services comprises:

Only A&E services that are provided prior to an overseas visitor being admitted as an inpatient are free to all. Emergency services provided after a patient has been admitted as an inpatient and at outpatient appointments are chargeable.

Upfront Charging

Since October 2017, NHS providers and non-NHS providers have been legally required to recover in full charges for services that are not immediately necessary or urgent, in advance of providing them. Only clinicians can make an assessment as to whether a patient’s need for treatment is immediately necessary, urgent or non-urgent. 

Immediately necessary treatment is that which a patient needs promptly to:

Urgent treatment is that which clinicians do not consider immediately necessary but which nevertheless cannot wait until the person can be reasonably expected to return home.

Updated November 2018

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