Am I entitled to free UK healthcare cover?

Updated on 8 September 2019


The National Health Service (NHS) provides healthcare for people who live in the UK. Treatment on the NHS is generally free for UK residents at point of delivery. However, there are some exceptions if you are not living here permanently. We explain who is entitled to healthcare below.

Following the 2016 European Union (EU) membership referendum in the UK, on 29 March 2017 the UK provided notice to the European Council of its intention to withdraw from the EU under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union. At the time of writing (in March 2019), the date and terms of the UK’s departure from the EU have not yet been finalised. Therefore, please note that the guidance below reflects the law as it applies before the UK’s departure from the EU.

Generally, if you move to the UK permanently, you are exempt from charges for NHS hospital treatment. The rules may differ depending on which part of the UK you are living in (in other words, whether you live in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland). For example, prescriptions are free of charge in Scotland for permanent residents.

If you are a visitor to the UK and have not moved here permanently, whether or not you are liable for NHS charges depends on the country from which you have moved. In general, healthcare is available to citizens of the EEA countries – but not for pre-planned treatment or treatment that can await your return home. The UK has healthcare agreements with a number of other countries which may entitle you to free or subsidised healthcare treatment. You can find a list of the EEA countries on this website.

Please note that from April 2015, there are new Regulations that allow NHS bodies to make and recover charges for NHS hospital treatment from chargeable non-EEA overseas visitors who are in the UK for more than 6 months (but not permanently). You can read more about this on GOV.UK.

There are some NHS treatments that are free to anyone living in the UK regardless of the length of time you have been in the country or how long you intend to stay.

These include:

  • treatment as an outpatient in an accident and emergency department or a walk-in centre (the exemption from charges will cease to apply once the patient is formally admitted as an in-patient – this also includes emergency operations and admittance to high dependency units);
  • compulsory psychiatric treatment;
  • treatment for certain infectious diseases, including sexually transmitted infections (STIs); and
  • family planning services – this does not include maternity treatment or terminations of pregnancies.

You can find out more information about the rules for England on GOV.UK.

You can find out more information about the rules for Wales from NHS for Wales.

You can find out more information about the rules for Scotland on from the Scottish Government.

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