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NHS and UK Health Insurance

By Joshua Wood

Summary: Are you eligible for coverage under UK's National Health Service (NHS)? Do you also need expat health insurance? This article provides an overview.

Health Insurance in the UK - Are Expats Eligible for Coverage by the NHS?

Expats in the U.K. that are working there can become eligible for coverage under the National Health Service.

Others will need expat health insurance

Here are a few health care tips from expats already in the UK (taken from our UK expat forum):

  • Get your health care sorted out and ask HR about added medical coverage. Many companies offer supplemental health care as a benefit, but some are cutting this out of their benefits plans. You are automatically covered under NHS, but for the first year of residency, you are limited to walk-ins and hospital emergency rooms. Once you live here for a year, you can register with a proper heath care facility and get a primary care physician, but until then, you have very limited choice of doctors and specialty care. This may be important for your children particularly.
  • Consider keeping a health insurance policy in the U.S. for major illnesses. The NHS health care system here is not as bad as people make it out to be, but the U.S. is still better for high end care. It is good to have the option of returning to the U.S. for extremely complicated issues.
  • Get caught up on all heath visits, tests, eye exams, dentist visits, etc. before you leave. The rules for tests are different here, so for instance, women get mammograms every 3 years, not every year. NHS does not really have the concept of an annual physical. Basically, you go to the doctor when you have something wrong. You are covered for annual physicals however, when you have the extra health insurance coverage. You can, of course, get a physical any time you wish, but you pay extra for it if you are not covered.

Also note that when you are covered by NHS, a GP will be a gatekeeper that must refer you to specialists. Long waits can occur for these specialists, and for test and procedures that are not considered to be urgent. Having supplemental insurance gives some expats peace of mind to avoid these if needed. NHS provides information about NHS waiting times.

The NHS in the UK determines eligibility in large part by whether or not you are from a European Economic Area country or Switzerland.

Here are some explanations of what overseas visitors and expats from EEA and Switzerland in the U.K. can expect to receive in terms of NHS benefits. Here is information for expats from outside the EEA

Here is Guidance on overseas visitors hospital charging regulations.

The NHS Choices provides lots of official information and health care information.


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About the Author

Joshua Wood Joshua Wood joined Expat Exchange in 2000. His areas of responsibility include creative aspects of the community, research, sales and business development. Joshua received his Master's Degree in Clinical and Counseling Psychology from Fairleigh Dickinson University and graduated from Syracuse University with a BA in English Textual Studies.

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First Published: Oct 24, 2010

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