The United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) is widely recognised as one of the world’s leading healthcare systems.

Treatment at public hospitals is generally of a good standard, though expats looking to take advantage of the NHS should be prepared for long waits and hard-to-get appointments. Private hospitals in the UK tend to specialise in a particular type of care. You will be attended to much quicker, but the cost of treatment at private hospitals is high, so you'll probably avoid going to them unless you have health insurance.

Public healthcare in the United Kingdom

GPs will likely be your first point of contact and can refer you to other specialist NHS services. Once in the UK, you should choose a local GP in your area and book an appointment to register as a patient.

You should note that while public healthcare throughout the United Kingdom operates under the umbrella of the NHS, each country within the UK has its own NHS organisation. While the general process of accessing public healthcare is more or less the same in each of the UK’s four countries, there may be slight policy differences, such as whether prescription medication is partly subsidised or fully funded. You can find out more by visiting the NHS website of the area you will be moving to.

Dentists in the United Kingdom

UK dentists are world-class, but unlike GPs, they are not free to all residents. NHS dentists are subsidised by UK tax, providing check-ups and essential dental treatments for a relatively low fixed charge. If you’re getting cosmetic treatment, you will need to see a private dentist, and while standards are the same in both the private and NHS dentists, private practices can offer higher quality fillings or crowns. See a complete list of treatments covered by the NHS on the NHS website. You should register with a local dentist once you have settled in.

Private healthcare in the United Kingdom

Private healthcare and dental care in the UK can be expensive, but it does guarantee preferential treatment and, crucially, no long waiting lists that many NHS patients complain about. Most specialist doctors (consultants) work in both the private and state sectors, so once you’re at the front of the queue, the standard of medical care in the NHS is as high as in the private sector. Private hospitals are plentiful and located throughout the country. Some of the UK’s best specialists are located on Harley Street in central London.

Health insurance in the United Kingdom

The NHS is a residence-based system, meaning anyone living in the UK legally and permanently has access to NHS services and funding. Generally speaking, non-EEA citizens must have Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) status to be considered ordinarily resident.

If you’re not considered ordinarily resident but have been in the country for longer than six months, you’re considered an ‘overseas visitor’ and will be liable to pay an NHS surcharge, which will provide you with access to NHS services.

EEA citizens visiting the UK on a short-term basis may use their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), as was the case before Brexit.

Regardless of their immigration status, all foreigners in the UK are entitled to free emergency treatment at NHS hospitals.

Private health insurance allows shorter waiting times in the private healthcare sector. Many health insurance providers also offer international coverage for when you travel back to your home country or overseas.

UK employers are not legally obligated to provide medical insurance to their employees. While some employers might contribute towards private healthcare, in most cases, you must pay for your own health insurance. With the range of health insurance products on offer, it is best to do a fair amount of research and comparison to find the best policy to suit your healthcare needs.

Medicines and pharmacies in the United Kingdom

Pharmacies, or chemists as they are more commonly referred to in the UK, can be found easily on all major high streets and in shopping centres.

Most medicines are readily available. If a particular type of medication is unavailable, pharmacies in most UK cities can order it. For certain types of medicine, you will need a prescription from a GP, while others are available over the counter.

You can often find a pharmacy located close to a GP’s surgery or hospital. Independent pharmacies are fast disappearing in the UK and being taken over by chains such as Boots and Superdrug, which sell beauty goods alongside health and medical products.

Pre-travel vaccinations for the United Kingdom

No special vaccinations are required for expats moving to the UK. That said, we recommend you keep routine vaccinations like those for polio, chicken pox, mumps, measles and rubella, and yearly flu shots updated.

Emergency medical services in the United Kingdom

You should make emergency calls to 999 or the general European emergency number, 112. The operator will then dispatch an ambulance to the location of the incident. Alternatively, you can call 111 when immediate medical help is needed but it is not a 999 emergency. If the situation is less critical, you can make your own way to the nearest hospital with an accident and emergency unit for immediate treatment.

Expat Health Insurance

Cigna Health Insurance

Cigna Global Health Insurance.

Medical insurance specifically designed for expats. With Cigna, you won't have to rely on foreign public health care systems, which may not meet your needs. Cigna allows you to speak to a doctor on demand, for consultations or instant advice, wherever you are in the world. They also offer full cancer care across all levels of cover, and settle the cost of treatments directly with the provider.

Get a quote from Cigna Global – 10% off

Moving Internationally?

Sirelo logo

International Movers. Get Quotes. Compare Prices.

Sirelo has a network of more than 500 international removal companies that can move your furniture and possessions to your new home. By filling in a form, you’ll get up to 5 quotes from recommended movers. This service is free of charge and will help you select an international moving company that suits your needs and budget.

Get your free no-obligation quotes from select removal companies now!