The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) provides healthcare for both people living in the UK and visitors to the country. If you’re thinking of moving to the UK or are already living there, knowing how the NHS works will help you get the most out of this service.


Who is eligible for the National Health Service in the UK?

The National Health Service (NHS) is the UK’s public health system. It’s free for all UK citizens and accessible to anyone in the UK who needs healthcare services. Most non-UK residents who plan on staying in the UK on a valid visa for more than six months will need to pay a fee to access the NHS. This is known as the immigration health surcharge. The fee varies for each visa and you pay the total amount upfront for each year that you will be staying in the UK. As of 31 December 2020, EU, EEA and Switzerland will also need to pay the surcharge when coming to live in the UK for more than six months.

How much does the National Health Service cost per year?

Most services are free, however, there are costs attached to certain consultations and hospital visits.

NHS services such as family doctors or GPs, walk-in centres, specialists and hospitals are free for anyone that lives in the UK. This includes returning UK expats and people staying temporarily on a work or study visa for longer than six months.

Here’s a breakdown of the services offered and costs.


Resident charge

Visitor charge

GP consultation



Walk-in urgent treatment centre



Specialist consultation


Charges apply

Emergency services (A&E)



Hospital treatments


Charges apply


Charges apply

Charges apply


Charges apply

Charges apply

Access to the NHS when you’re on a visa: The immigration health surcharge

If you’re coming to the UK for longer than six months, you will need to pay an immigration health surcharge (IHS) as part of your visa application. The surcharge allows you to make use of the services offered by the NHS.

The charge is currently set at £470 per year for students, Youth Mobility Scheme (T5) visa applicants and applicants under 18 years. For all other visas, the fee is £642 per year. You’ll need to pay the total amount upfront to cover your visa duration. For example, if your entry visa is valid for five years, your health surcharge will cost £3,120.

If you’re just visiting the UK, you’ll need travel insurance

If you are visiting the UK for less than six months you can still easily access NHS services, but you may be charged for many other services such as specialists and hospital procedures. You can access walk-in urgent treatment centres for free, but secondary care facilities such as hospitals and specialists will be charged in advance at 150% of the NHS rate.

Taking out travel insurance can give you extra peace of mind while you’re travelling.

How to register for the NHS in the UK

Once your visa has been granted and you’ve paid the surcharge, you can use NHS services, but you’ll also need to register with a GP.

You can choose any GP practice near to where you reside, in what is known as your catchment area. Usually, there will be more than one option available. You must complete and return a registration form, available at your chosen practice. We recommend that you register with a GP in your area as soon as you have a permanent address in the UK. This will allow you access to healthcare as and when you need it.

Once completed, you’ll be able to visit your GP to access any medical treatments you may need.

GPs may only refuse to register you on reasonable grounds. One of the most common grounds is if you have chosen a GP that is outside your catchment area, so make sure you do research on the closest options to your residential address. GPs may also run out of space for new patients – another reasonable ground for refusal.

In these cases, it’s usually as simple as finding another GP in your area.

The NHS services cover everything from antenatal screenings to transplants and emergency treatment. This means that while their service is free or low-cost, there can be quite a wait involved. If you aren’t able to take the time off work, private medical centres, such as Medicentre, are situated across London and make for an efficient and convenient alternative. However, you will have to pay for all treatments and consultations at these centres.

See also: UK immigration changes: What you need to know for 2021

How to use NHS services

Any issue that can’t be treated with a visit to your pharmacist will generally require a visit to the GP. Your doctor can refer you to specialists if they think it’s necessary. After registering with a GP, you can usually make an appointment to see them by phone, in person or online.

There are walk-in urgent treatment centres available for immediate help with minor ailments that are not life-threatening.

NHS 111 is a service for urgent help over the phone or online, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can call 111 or visit the website to find out information about your symptoms, get advice and speak to a medical practitioner.

For medical emergencies, call 999. Here’s a helpful guide on the actions you should take for the type of issue you’re experiencing:

Type of issue



Minor illness

Headaches, sore throat, cough, upset stomach, colds, aches, pains, rashes, over-the-counter medication, NHS prescriptions

Visit a pharmacy

Urgent medical advice

Non-life-threatening urgent help via the phone or online

Call 111 or visit

Urgent medical attention

Bites, stings, fevers, vomiting, sprains, breaks, minor head injuries, minor burns, ear and throat infections

Visit an urgent medical centre

Illness or condition

Sicknesses, medical conditions, specialised treatment

Visit your GP

Life-threatening emergency

Serious life-threatening emergencies

Call 999

How dental care works

NHS patients may see any NHS-registered dentist. This service is not free but is subsidised by the UK government. There are three cost bands:

Band 1

Basic care that covers an examination, diagnosis and advice, x-rays, a scale and polish, and planning for further treatment. You’ll pay a fee of £23.80.

Band 2

Medium care that covers all treatment included in Band 1, as well as fillings, root canal treatment and extractions. You’ll pay a fee of £65.20.

Band 3

Major work that covers all treatment included in Bands 1 and 2, as well as more complex procedures, such as crowns, dentures and bridges. You’ll pay a fee of £282.80.

You won’t have to pay:

  • To have your denture repaired
  • To have stitches removed
  • If your dentist has to stop blood loss
  • For a prescription, unless you pay for prescriptions in which case a fee of £9.15 will apply

Where to find your NHS number

Your NHS number is a 10-digit code that can be found on any letter you’ve received from the NHS. You do not need to know your code to use the NHS. To get your number, simply follow the prompts on the NHS website.

See also: Do you know the difference between your NI and NHS number?

How to use the NHS app

The NHS app is a useful tool to book appointments, check medical symptoms and view your records on your mobile. It’s available in the App Store and Google Play for both iOS and Android.

There’s also a wealth of information on health conditions, medicines and services available on the NHS website.

Moving to the UK? Take the stress out of the process and hit the ground running when you arrive. Download your free UK Relocation Pack here.

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