Check if your immigration status lets you get free healthcare

This advice applies to England. See advice for See advice for Northern Ireland, See advice for Scotland, See advice for Wales

Some NHS treatment is free and available to anyone who needs it. This includes:

  • treatment in a hospital Accident and Emergency department

  • registering with a GP - and going to GP appointments

  • family planning services

  • treatment for some infectious diseases - for example coronavirus

  • compulsory psychiatric treatment

You will still have access to free NHS healthcare even if your leave says you can’t access public funds. 

Most people have to pay for some NHS services, like dental treatment, prescriptions and glasses. You might not have to pay for these services if you can get certain benefits like Income Support or asylum support. 

If you have to pay for healthcare, you might be able to get help - check if you can get help with health costs.

Check if you can get other free NHS services 

You might have to pay for other NHS services - these services are called ‘secondary healthcare’. Whether you can get free secondary healthcare depends on the length and purpose of your residence in the UK and your immigration status, not your nationality. 

Secondary healthcare is care from a hospital for something that isn’t an emergency - for example, an operation to replace your hip or maternity care.

To get free secondary healthcare, you need to be ‘ordinarily resident’ in the UK. This means you normally live in the UK legally or you’re returning to live in the UK and you’re not a visitor.You might be asked to prove this.

You’ll also need to have one of the following:

  • British citizenship - for example, if you have dual nationality

  • Irish citizenship 

  • indefinite leave to remain

  • ‘settled’ or ‘pre-settled’ status from the EU Settlement Scheme

  • applied for settled or pre-settled status and are waiting for a decision - you’ll need to show your application certificate

  • limited leave to remain on a work, student or family visa - you must also have paid the ‘immigration health surcharge’ unless you don’t have to pay

If you applied to the EU Settlement Scheme before your treatment and your application is refused, you might still have to pay for the treatment.

If you’re just visiting the UK, you won’t get free secondary healthcare - unless you’re a visitor from Ukraine.

You’ll also get free secondary healthcare if you’re:

  • a victim of human trafficking - your family can also get free secondary healthcare

  • an asylum seeker and you get paid Asylum Support

  • having treatment for something caused by torture, female genital mutilation (FGM), domestic violence or sexual violence

If you’re still not sure what healthcare you can get, check if you're entitled to free secondary healthcare on GOV.UK.

Accessing treatment

If you're entitled to free treatment, you can get it immediately. You don’t need to have been in the UK for a certain amount of time.

If you don’t meet the conditions for free treatment, you must be given clear information about charges in a way you understand. This could include providing information in your own language or through an interpreter. 

If you don’t get clear information, it could be discrimination. Find out how to complain about discrimination.

Paying for hospital treatment

If you have to pay, you'll usually have to pay before you have the treatment.

If your treatment is urgent

You won't have to pay before your treatment if it’s urgent but you might still have to pay after.

If you’re not entitled to free NHS hospital treatment, you'll still get medical treatment: 

  • that stabilise a life-threatening condition, like renal failure 

  • for something you need straight away, like maternity care 

You’ll get treatment to deal with the emergency, but you might have to return home to complete the treatment once the emergency is over.

If your treatment is not urgent 

If it’s not an emergency, but treatment has to start straight away, you might be asked to sign a form that says you’ll pay. 

It’s very important to find out how much you’ll have to pay - they might not know the exact amount. If the treatment is not urgent, you can refuse it if you can’t afford it. You can delay your treatment until you can raise the money. If you can’t raise the money, you’ll be refused treatment. 

If you're entitled to free hospital treatment, but you’re being charged, you should contact the NHS Trust that’s charging you and explain why you’re entitled to free treatment.

Check if your health charges are covered by an EU or EEA country or Switzerland

You might be entitled to have your NHS healthcare paid for by another country - for example, if you live in the UK but get a state pension from the EU, EEA or Switzerland.

You’ll need to have either an:

  • S1 certificate - for example, if you’re a 'frontier worker'

  • S2 certificate - for example, if you have an S2 visa

You can find out more about when your health costs in the UK are covered by an EU or EEA country or Switzerland on GOV.UK.

If you’re visiting the UK from an EU country

You can use a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) issued in that country. Your EHIC will cover the costs of treatment if you get ill on the visit. You can also use an EHIC from an EU country if you’re a student and either:

  • your course started before 1 January 2021

  • you’re studying in the UK for less than 6 months

If you’re visiting the UK from Norway you can use your Norwegian passport to get medically necessary healthcare for free - for example an accident or illness that can’t wait until you get home.

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Page last reviewed on 27 June 2023