The UK Health Care System: What Foreigners Need to Know

United Kingdom


The UK Health Care System: What Foreigners Need to Know

Residents of the UK receive free treatment in the National Health Service (NHS), so private health insurance is required if you do not want to wait for treatment in the NHS. Read more about the advantages and disadvantages of the British healthcare system

Order a checklist - step-by-step instructions for obtaining a visa and moving to the UK
Order a checklist - step-by-step instructions for obtaining a visa and moving to the UK

The UK health care system, known as the National Health Service or NHS for short, is funded by taxpayers and provides free care to all patients, regardless of income level. The NHS system was started after World War II. Many Britons prefer the NHS.

However, the private insurance sector is also highly developed in Great Britain. The clients of this sector are mostly wealthy Britons. The main advantage of the private sector is the absence of queues and faster provision of medical care. In recent years, there has been a fairly significant surge in the sale of private health insurance policies.

Many expats have a question before moving, which policy to choose - public or private.

How does the UK healthcare system work? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each type of insurance? Details in our material.

The National Health Service (NHS) in Great Britain

Hospitals in Great Britain are managed by NHS trusts - health service providers that are created specifically to provide hospital and community services. In total, there are about 219 trusts in the country, each of which manages several hospitals.

The first person you should contact if you are ill is a general practitioner (GP). According to statistics, there are 76 general practitioners per 100,000 inhabitants in Britain. After moving, a foreigner must find a general practitioner and register with him. The registration process can be completed online, by phone or in person.

After registration, you can make an appointment and receive the necessary medical care. If the general practitioner decides that you need the help of a specialized specialist, he will issue an appropriate referral.

In the event that urgent medical assistance is required, call 111. Consultants will assess the symptoms and instruct on further actions. This usually involves a visit to the emergency department (urgent care).

The National Health Service provides comprehensive medical care free of charge. However, foreigners who are nationals of non-EU, EEA and Swiss countries must pay a mandatory healthcare surcharge of £470 a year to have the same access to the NHS as locals.

What services do NHS patients get?

Consultations of a general practitioner.



Sexual health and contraception.

On the referral of a general practitioner, consultation and treatment by a specialized specialist.

What should NHS patients pay extra for?

Prescription medicines - a flat cost of £9.65 per unit, regardless of the type or quantity of medicine.


Ophthalmologist and production of glasses.

What are the benefits of the NHS system?

Free comprehensive medical care. The National Health Service is based on the principle of equal access to medical care. From consultation of a general practitioner to specialized assistance - all services are free of charge.

What are the disadvantages of the NHS system?

Long waiting time - it is quite rare to get an appointment with a general practitioner on the same day. Even an ambulance worker sometimes has to wait for hours.

It is difficult to monitor the state of health and undergo a routine medical examination - you can visit a specialist only on the referral of a general practitioner. A rather small selection of narrow specialists and limited treatment offers.

The private health care sector in Great Britain

The private health care sector includes clinics and hospitals run by charitable and non-profit organizations. There are a total of 515 hospitals in Great Britain, which offer a wide range of world-class services and treatment. However, most of them do not have an emergency department, traumatology and intensive care.

The patient registers with a general practitioner and can make an appointment on the same day. Those who are ready to pay for the VIP package can count on additional services.

In the private health care sector, a general practitioner can also refer a patient to a specialist. However, it is not necessary to get a referral to visit a specialist. You have the right to consult any specialist you like.

There are two ways to access the private healthcare sector:

Pay for the appointment with your own money immediately after the doctor's consultation.

Through a private health insurance plan that you or your employer buys.

The cost of services depends on the location of the hospital and the prescribed treatment. In general, the average cost of a doctor's consultation is between £40 and £200.

What are the advantages of the private health care sector?

Shorter waiting times for medical care – in the private health care system, you can see a general practitioner and/or specialist on the same day you make an appointment.

Better facilities - in most private clinics, the conditions are much better than in national ones, so the visit to the doctor will be more comfortable.

More freedom in making health care decisions - You can also choose the specialist you want to consult without visiting your general practitioner. In addition, private hospitals may provide treatment that is not available on the NHS. This will allow you to better control your health.

What are the disadvantages of the private health care sector?

High cost – medical services are usually quite expensive. The amount you have to pay for medical care can be quite large, especially if you do not have an insurance policy.

NHS vs Private Health System

Foreign nationals who have moved to the UK and have paid the immigration levy for healthcare are entitled to access the NHS. However, many expats also choose to take out a private health insurance plan.

If, according to an analysis by the Healthcare Quality Commission (CQC), the rating of medical services in the public hospital nearest to you is not at a high enough level, then you should consider private medicine. Since lump sums are expensive, it makes sense to get a good health insurance plan.

Health insurance in Great Britain

The main insurance companies in the UK are Allianz Care, Bupa Global and Cigna Global. The cost of the policy depends on your plan type, coverage and other conditions.

How to choose a suitable insurance policy? Does an expat need to take out local or international insurance? What does the policy cover? The consultation of a highly qualified lawyer will help to understand all the features of the health care and insurance system in Great Britain.

International health insurance in Great Britain

You can take out an international health insurance policy before entering Great Britain. Like private insurance, it offers access to a wider range of benefits and reimbursements. In addition, the policy is flexible and allows you to choose between different levels of coverage. The real advantage is that the coverage is valid worldwide.

During the registration of the policy, in addition to the basic list of services - assistance in emergency situations, transportation to a medical facility, outpatient and inpatient care, certain chronic diseases can be added or expanded with additional options that will make your policy a truly useful document: emergency dentistry, injuries during sports and active recreation, coverage of the purchase of medical drugs, etc.

In order to protect yourself from troubles abroad and save money on treatment, we advise you to take out medical insurance from verified agents. Issuing an insurance policy takes 3 minutes and guarantees the provision of high-quality medical services in United Kingdom.

Learn more about how to obtain British citizenship here.

Products from Visit World for a comfortable trip:

Immigrationeducation and business lawyer in the UK;

Travel and medical insurance for foreigners in the UK;

Insurance for international students in the UK.

More articles on the topic: 

Healthcare systems in the US and UK: what barriers do immigrants face?

Read the new UK immigration rules for international students here.

European Health Insurance Card. Read here how to get preferential medical care in the EU countries.

How to get a work visa in the UK: types of permits and basic requirements.

How to find a job in the UK: a guide for foreigners.

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