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If you immigrate to the UK from a country like South Africa, where you generally pay your own way for your medicines and your medical treatment, the UK’s National Health System (NHS) can be a bewildering entity to get your head around.

The NHS is recognised as one of the world’s leading health systems and all expats in the UK are entitled to free emergency treatment at NHS hospitals. Some expats will be liable for in-patient treatment and dental work, depending on where you are from. NHS services include medical care at doctors’ surgeries or at hospitals, treatment of physical or mental handicaps, dental care and eye tests at opticians.

NHS 101: making sense of UK healthcare

Here are some pointers to help you make sense of what you’re entitled to.

The NHS is free to ordinary residents

You and your family are eligible to receive free NHS treatment if you are an ordinary resident. This is not dependent upon your nationality, payment of UK taxes, national insurance contributions, being registered with a GP, having an NHS number or owning property in the UK.

Treatment in A&E departments and GP surgeries remains free for all. If extended treatment is required, or a lengthy hospital stay, non-UK residents who are not eligible for free healthcare will be required to pay.

Free NHS healthcare is available to:

  • British citizens resident in the UK
  • People who have been resident in the UK for 12 months or more
  • People who have a British work permit
  • Foreign students studying for 6 months or more
  • EU nationals living in the UK
  • Nationals from the 30 countries from the European Economic Areas and including Anguilla, Australia, Barbados, British Virgin Islands, Bulgaria, Channel Islands, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, New Zealand, Romania, Russia, St. Helena, Switzerland, Turkey and the Caicos Islands.

Expats need to register

Although emergency treatment is free, as an expat you will need to register for an NHS number to be able to make an appointment with a general practitioner (GP) or a dentist. GPs tend to be the first point of contact for most patients and they then refer patients to other specialist NHS services.

Same day appointments

Once you have registered, you and your family will be eligible for a same-day appointment by calling at 08:00. If this is not possible due to the surgery’s constraints, a date will be made for the following day or later in the week. If you are seriously ill, it is possible to demand to be seen within 48 hours.

Compulsory charges

There are some charges that have to be paid by everyone, irrespective of whether or not they are a UK resident. This includes prescription charges, payment for glasses and a contribution to adult dental charges. The standard charge per single prescription is £8.20. Some exceptions do apply – like children under 16 or in full-time education up to 18. Medical practitioners may also issue exemption certificates for other reasons like pregnancy or disability.

Private healthcare in the UK

If you decide not to use the NHS, private medical and dental healthcare is available. People occasionally choose to go this route to avoid the long delays, which can occur on the NHS. The main private insurers in the UK are BUPA, AXA PPP Healthcare, Norwich Union, Standard Life, Freedom Healthnet, HSA and General & Medical. To access private healthcare, you need to be a member of a scheme and make regular monthly payments. It’s important to note the payments are additional to the NHS tax which is compulsory for all UK residents.

We’ll help you out!

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