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Does NHS cover medical expenses abroad?

Does NHS cover medical expenses abroad?

Navin Khosla NowPatientGreen tick
Updated on 26 Jan 2024

When it comes to healthcare coverage abroad, many UK residents are unsure about the extent of their entitlements and the services provided by the NHS. This comprehensive guide aims to clarify the coverage and benefits the NHS offers for medical expenses incurred while travelling or living outside of the UK. We will explore the eligibility criteria for obtaining a UK Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) or a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), discuss the healthcare options available for UK nationals in the EU, and provide insights into accessing treatment, mental health emergencies, medical tourism, and more.

UK GHIC and UK EHIC: Healthcare cover abroad

Before embarking on your journey abroad, it is essential to understand the healthcare coverage provided by the UK GHIC and UK EHIC. Both cards grant access to state-provided healthcare abroad, including emergency treatment, visits to A&E, routine maternity care, and more. While they offer similar coverage, it is important to note that they are valid in different countries. Therefore, it is crucial to check the specific countries where your card can be used before travelling. It is worth mentioning that a UK EHIC or UK GHIC is not a substitute for travel insurance, as it may not cover all health costs or repatriation expenses. It is advisable to have both a GHIC or EHIC and travel insurance to ensure comprehensive coverage.

Going abroad for treatment

If you are considering seeking medical treatment in another country, you may be eligible for NHS funding under the S2 (planned treatment) route. The S2 allows UK residents entitled to NHS treatment to receive planned treatment in an EEA country or Switzerland.

EEA refers to countries in the European Economic Area, which comprises the Member States of the European Union, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.

The eligibility criteria and funding options for S2 vary, and it is recommended to visit the NHS website for more information on eligibility and available funding.

Moving abroad: Planning your healthcare

Planning your healthcare when moving or studying abroad is essential to ensure continuity of care and access to necessary medical services. It is advisable to seek advice from the NHS about planning your healthcare arrangements before departure. The NHS website provides comprehensive guidance on healthcare options for UK nationals relocating or studying in the EU.

Eligibility and application for UK GHIC and UK EHIC

To obtain a UK GHIC or UK EHIC, you need to check your eligibility for application. The eligibility criteria depend on factors such as residency, nationality, and coverage under the Withdrawal Agreement. For example, you may be eligible for a new UK EHIC if you are living in EU countries, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, or Switzerland with a registered S1, E121, E106, or E109 form issued by the UK. It is crucial to review the eligibility requirements on the NHS website and apply for a GHIC or EHIC accordingly.

Emergency treatment abroad: Temporary cover with PRC

In situations where you require emergency treatment abroad but do not have a UK GHIC or UK EHIC, you can still receive help with paying for your treatment. The Provisional Replacement Certificate (PRC) provides temporary cover equivalent to that of a GHIC or EHIC, even if you have applied for a GHIC or EHIC and it has not yet arrived. The PRC ensures that you can receive the necessary medical care without undue financial burden.

Healthcare for UK Nationals in the EU

UK nationals visiting the EU can access certain free NHS treatments while abroad. These include treatment in a hospital, visits to A&E, family planning services, treatment for infectious diseases, and compulsory psychiatric treatment. The availability of other free NHS services depends on the length and purpose of your residence in the UK, rather than your nationality. It is advisable to check your entitlement to free NHS healthcare on the NHS inform website and ensure you have the necessary documentation to support your eligibility.

NHS treatment available to anyone

It is important to note that some NHS treatments are free and available to anyone in need, regardless of nationality. These treatments include hospital treatment, visits to A&E, family planning services, treatment for infectious diseases, and compulsory psychiatric treatment. The availability of other free NHS services may depend on your residence status and purpose of stay in the UK. It is advisable to consult the NHS inform website to determine your eligibility for free NHS healthcare.

Entitlement to free NHS healthcare for EU, EEA, and Swiss citizens

EU, EEA, and Swiss citizens may be entitled to free NHS healthcare in the UK based on their residency status. To qualify, you must be “ordinarily resident” in the UK, meaning you are legally living in the UK and not just visiting. Various factors, such as British citizenship, indefinite leave to remain, settled or pre-settled status from the EU Settlement Scheme, or limited leave to remain, determine your eligibility for free NHS healthcare. It is essential to review the specific eligibility criteria on the NHS inform website and ensure you have the necessary documentation to support your entitlement.

Accessing treatment: Eligibility and residency

Accessing NHS treatment while abroad depends on your eligibility and residency status. If you are entitled to free treatment, you can receive it immediately without a specific length of stay requirement. However, if you do not meet the conditions for free treatment, you must be provided with clear information about charges and potential costs. Language barriers can sometimes complicate communication, so it is advisable to seek help with translation if necessary. The FCDO provides lists of local English-speaking translators and interpreters to assist in making informed healthcare decisions.

Using EHIC and GHIC cards abroad

EHIC and GHIC cards provide access to state-provided healthcare in Europe, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland. It is important to understand the coverage provided by these cards and their limitations. While EHIC and GHIC cover state healthcare, they do not cover private treatment. It is crucial to have both EHIC or GHIC and travel insurance to ensure comprehensive coverage, including expenses such as medical repatriation. It is advisable to check the coverage details for each country on the NHS website before travelling and to apply for a GHIC or EHIC in advance.

Mental health emergencies and hospitalisation abroad

When facing mental health emergencies abroad, it is essential to consider the availability and quality of psychiatric care in different countries. Mental health resources, facilities, and attitudes vary, which may impact the type and level of care you receive. Local laws and policies regarding mental health can also influence your treatment options. The FCDO offers guidance for British individuals with mental health needs while travelling or living abroad, including links to organizations that can provide further assistance.

Medical tourism: Considerations and risks

Medical tourism, which involves travelling abroad for medical treatment or planned elective surgery, requires careful consideration. Standards of medical facilities, qualifications, and treatments vary widely across countries, and complications or adverse outcomes have been reported. It is essential to be cautious of websites offering medical treatments as part of a holiday package and conduct thorough research on private companies arranging treatment abroad. Discussing plans with your UK doctor or GP before committing to treatment abroad is advisable. Additionally, it is crucial to check your travel insurance coverage, as standard policies may not cover elective surgeries abroad.

Getting prescriptions and returning to the UK

If you require prescription medication while abroad, it is advisable to consult a local pharmacist. Many countries accept UK prescriptions, but it is essential to check the country’s travel advice for specific regulations regarding prescription medicines. In the EU, EHIC or GHIC cards may be used for prescriptions from state-approved doctors. However, it is important to note that prescriptions issued in the UK cannot be used elsewhere in the EU. Before returning to the UK, ensure you have an adequate supply of medication or arrangements to obtain it in the UK.


Understanding the coverage and entitlements provided by the NHS for medical expenses abroad is crucial for UK residents. Whether you are planning a short trip, seeking medical treatment abroad, or moving to another country, it is essential to be aware of your healthcare options and eligibility criteria. By obtaining a UK GHIC or UK EHIC, applying for the necessary coverage, and exploring the available resources, you can navigate the complexities of healthcare abroad while ensuring access to necessary medical services. Stay informed, plan, and prioritise your health and well-being when travelling or living outside the UK.


Medical Disclaimer

NowPatient has taken all reasonable steps to ensure that all material is factually accurate, complete, and current. However, the knowledge and experience of a qualified healthcare professional should always be sought after instead of using the information in this page. Before taking any drug, you should always speak to your doctor or another qualified healthcare provider.

The information provided here about medications is subject to change and is not meant to include all uses, precautions, warnings, directions, drug interactions, allergic reactions, or negative effects. The absence of warnings or other information for a particular medication does not imply that the medication or medication combination is appropriate for all patients or for all possible purposes.

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