How healthcare in the UK works for expats

When I first moved to the UK as an expat, healthcare and what was allowed for me was really confusing. Am I allowed to go to the doctor? How much will it cost?

Let’s break it down.

Healthcare in the UK

The service in the UK is called the NHS: the National Health Service. You’ll see or hear “NHS” everywhere. That’s British healthcare.

The system is fairly similar to what Canada has – the NHS is a public healthcare service for all residents and citizens. Even as an expat, you’re allowed to access this service.

How to use UK healthcare as an expat

The NHS Surcharge

As part of your UK visa, you’ll have to pay the NHS Surcharge, which is only ever increasing in price. This is a non-negotiable fee within your visa application. Every time you renew your visa, or change to a new one, you will need to pay this price in full.

People who have paid the surcharge (or who are exempt from having to pay it or have had the requirement waived) can use the NHS in a similar same way to an ordinarily resident person while their visa remains valid.

You will still need to pay for certain NHS services like dental treatment. But this is the same for British citizens as well. If you still need to register for a dentist, check out my post: How to Get a UK Dentist

Fun fact: for those in the UK, only people in England have to pay for prescriptions – all of the other UK nations receive them for free.

Current Cost of the NHS Surcharge

The NHS Surcharge is in the middle of increasing. Currently, the UK Gov lists the costs as:

  • £470 per year for a student or Youth Mobility Scheme visa (£940 for a 2-year visa)
  • £470 per year for visa and immigration applicants who are under the age of 18 at time of application
  • £624 per year for all other visa and immigration applications (£3,120 for a 5-year visa)

The new surcharge will be £776 per year for students and those on Youth Mobility Scheme visas and £1,035 per year for all other visa and immigration applications. The same amount must be paid for any dependants.

As this is currently in the process of changing, make sure to check online what the rate is as the time of your application.

Hospital treatment

Visiting the hospital is free of charge for people who are UK residents. And again, don’t be confused – as an expat living in the UK on a visa: you are a RESIDENT. You just aren’t a British citizen.

The ability to use the hospitals does not depend on nationality, payment of UK taxes, National Insurance contributions, being registered with a GP, having an NHS number, or owning property in the UK.

There are some stipulations for example, if you’re seeking asylum or you are an EU resident, but for the sake of this post were talking about expats on visas like what I did.

How it works day-to-day

Couple of points on how the NHS works for me in my day-to-day life as an expat on a visa:

  • If I need to, I’ll visit my GP (which is my doctor). They’ll run any tests they need, send me for blood work, prescribe medications, etc. All like they would for a British person
  • If I need to, I can go straight to the A&E at the hospital (accident and emergency) what Canadians would call ER
  • Dentists are different – You can still use them like a regular British person but they operate differently than the typical doctors office and will include some fees
  • I’ve only ever needed to show proof of my visa when registering for the doctor – I haven’t needed it at every appointment after that

Once you are in the UK on a visa, think of yourself as a UK resident. You have paid for the NHS and you are entitled to use it, if you need to.