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What Expats Should Know about the UK Healthcare System

uk healthcare system what expats should know

The UK Healthcare system (or the NHS – National Health Service) is one of Britain’s most famous and cherished institutions.  However, what rights do expats have to use it?

One of the most amazing things about becoming an expat in the UK (and London in particular), is that you can be guaranteed world class professional healthcare for you and your family.  Healthcare is free at the point of service for every person who turns up at the hospital whether in emergency circumstances or a Doctor’s referral.

The Details and the Money

As an expat, if you’ve been based in the UK and working for a UK company for more than six months, you’re automatically entitled to free use of the UK Healthcare system (NHS), as are your dependents. The NHS is paid for through (mainly) taxation, and if you’ve been employed for six months in the UK then you’ve paid your share and are entitled to use.

Where a GP refers you for specialised services or tests, you may be liable for payment.  In addition, there may be out of pocket costs for dental and optometrist services.

Prior to completing six months employment, you and your family may still be entitled to use the NHS for limited emergency treatment. This will be covered by Australia’s Reciprocal Health Care Agreement (RHCA) with the UK.  Coverage under the RHCA is limited in nature, and generally will only cover emergency treatment.

uk healthcare system

Accessing the UK Healthcare System

No matter which area of the UK you move to, there will be a hospital within reasonable traveling distance. There are also clinics, GP surgeries, and trauma units. In case of emergency, you’ll either need to make your way to the nearest A&E (accident and emergency) or call an ambulance. The emergency services phone number is 999 which you use to access not only hospital services, but also police and fire brigade. If you are using an Australian mobile, you can actually just dial 112 and you’ll be connected.

If you need to see a doctor in a non-emergency situation, find a local GP surgery and phone for an appointment. New regulations in the UK are looking at having GP services seven days a week (although at present, the majority are only Monday to Friday).

Once you have found somewhere to live, you can register with a local GP practice by completing this NHS form.

NHS vs. Private Healthcare

Much like Australia, in the UK you can always opt for private healthcare. If you’re using travel insurance or international health insurance, you’ll be offered the choice of NHS specialists or private care, and you will be able to choose your hospital.

As in Australia, one of the main benefits of private health insurance, is you won’t need to wait for non-emergency medical treatment.

Most Brits don’t choose the private care. This is most likely due to the abiding love affair with the NHS “cradle to grave” mentality combined with technically having already paid for NHS treatment through taxation.

Should you Get International Health Insurance?

Obtaining international health insurance is a choice that is very individual, but as a rule of thumb, whenever you travel or move abroad it is worth being covered. Although during your first six months you’ll be covered by the RHCA, it is not fully comprehensive, so having that extra safety net can give you peace of mind.

Being so close to the rest of Europe, you will no doubt at some point want to take a quick weekend trip across to the continent.  If you have your international insurance in place (and assuming it covers healthcare outside of the UK), you can literally hop in the car and go and not need to worry about coverage for any emergency healthcare on your weekend travels.

If you are interested in international health insurance, then you can start building out your perfect expat health insurance plan and obtain a free online quote in minutes by visiting Cigna Global’s website.

Share below your experiences with the UK healthcare system?  How does it compare to Australia?

This article was written by Mark Angelides. Mark has lived in seven major cities throughout the UK over a period of twenty years. He has lived for six years in China in a variety of cities (both big and small). He has also spent several years in both Germany and the Czech Republic.

Disclaimer : This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute financial or taxation advice. As this information is not advice and has been prepared without taking into account your objectives, financial situation or needs you should, before acting on this information, consider its appropriateness for your circumstances. Independent advice should be obtained from an Australian financial services licensee before making investment decisions, and a registered (tax) financial advisor/accountant in relation to taxation decisions. To the extent permitted by law, we exclude all liability for any loss or damage arising in any way.  The Australian Expat Investor may receive referral commissions from companies referred in this article.



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