Accessing the NHS as a Working Expat in the UK

As an expat working in the United Kingdom, you will have access to the UK’s National Health Service (NHS). The NHS provides free healthcare coverage to UK residents, including expats. This article will provide guidance on your rights and the process of registering with a GP, accessing different NHS services, understanding prescription costs, and more.

Your Rights to Access NHS Services

Expat residents in the UK, including EU nationals, are entitled to register with an NHS General Practitioner (GP) and obtain free healthcare. However, most newcomers are required to pay an Immigration Health Surcharge during their visa application process before gaining access to routine NHS services, applicable to both visa holders and any dependents.

Working expats receive access to free NHS hospital and GP treatment on the same grounds as an ordinarily resident person, from the date their visa is issued until it expires. Do note that some services, like prescriptions and dental treatments typically require additional payments. Eye tests are usually carried out privately, but there are some instances where you can receive a free eye test

Registering With a GP

Registering with a local GP is essential for accessing many NHS services. Once you have decided which GP practice best meets your requirements, you need to fill out a registration form. You’ll find these forms readily available through various channels. The NHS App is a convenient option for digital access, or you can visit the GP surgery’s official website to obtain the form. Another alternative is to navigate to the GP surgery’s profile page on the NHS website. You can find the links under ‘Useful Resources’ below. If you prefer a physical copy, you can simply request a paper form directly from the surgery.

Identification When Registering with a GP

It’s important to note that you won’t need to provide any form of identification, an NHS number, or proof of your address during the registration process. However, some GP surgeries may request supplementary documents to help in retrieving your medical records or facilitating their transfer from your previous GP. Additionally, they might be used to verify that you reside within the surgery’s designated geographic area, often referred to as the “practice boundary.” This becomes especially significant when the surgery has a policy of only accepting patients who reside within this boundary.

Even if you don’t have a permanent address, rest assured that you can still complete the registration process. You have the option of using either a temporary address or the surgery’s own address.

GP Registration Refusal Criteria

But what happens if a GP surgery decides not to register you? It’s important to understand that they have the authority to do so under certain circumstances. They can refuse your registration if they’re not currently accepting new patients, if you reside outside the specific geographic area defined by the surgery and their policy only allows for patients within that area, or if you’ve been removed from the surgery’s patient list in the past. In the event of a refusal, the surgery is required to send you a written explanation within 14 days, detailing the reasons behind their decision.

Accessing NHS Services

Your registered GP acts as the gatekeeper for most NHS services. They can provide preventative care, diagnose conditions, prescribe medication, and refer you to hospitals or specialists for further treatment. Emergency care is always available without referral or upfront payment.  Waiting times for non-emergency services can be long, so register with a GP as soon as possible.

Understanding Prescription Costs

Prescriptions require a standard fee per item for UK residents, unless you qualify for an exemption. Generally, you can get free NHS prescriptions if you meet any of the following conditions at the time when the prescription is dispensed:

  • Age constraints: if you are 60 or over, under 16, or 16 to 18 and in full-time education.
  • Based on maternity: you are pregnant or have had a baby in the past 12 months and hold a valid maternity exemption certificate (MatEx).
  • Specific medical conditions: a valid specified medical condition medical exemption certificate (MedEx).
  • Continuing physical disability: that prevents you going out without help from another person, and have a valid medical exemption certificate (MedEx).
  • Hold a valid war pension exemption certificate: and the prescription is specifically for your accepted disability.
  • As an NHS inpatient.

People with certain medical conditions can get free NHS prescriptions if they have a valid medical exemption certificate (MedEx).

Dental and Optical Care

Most dental and optical care requires upfront payments or contributions from patients. However, eye tests are free for at-risk groups, and vouchers are available to help cover costs. Dental charges vary based on the type of care needed. NHS dental treatments fall into three charge bands: *

Band 1: This covers basic examination, diagnosis and advice. If clinically necessary, it can also include X-rays, a scale and polish treatment, and planning for additional treatment.

Band 2: This includes everything in Band 1, with the addition of treatments like fillings, root canal procedures, and tooth extractions.

Band 3: This band covers all treatments included in Bands 1 and 2, plus more complex procedures, such as dental crowns, dentures, and bridges.

You can check the current charges on the NHS website.

Always confirm optical and dental charges before accessing services.

Mental Health Services

Both emergency and routine mental health services are accessible through NHS referral. Waiting times for non-urgent psychiatrist appointments can be long. You may need to pay for private psychiatric services for timely access. Counselling through charities may also be available.


Before setting up a consultation with your GP, take a moment to consider other services that the NHS provides that might better suit your health concerns and may be a faster option.

Pharmacies serve as an excellent initial resource for guidance and treatment concerning minor ailments that do not require a prescription. In addition to dispensing prescribed medications, pharmacies can offer a vast range of healthcare services. With professionals trained not only in medicines but also in managing minor illnesses and providing health and wellbeing advice, your local pharmacy can be a reliable first point of call for many health concerns.

Essential Services

Pharmacists, as qualified healthcare professionals, can offer clinical advice and over-the-counter treatments for various minor illnesses, including coughs, colds, sore throats, tummy trouble, and general aches and pains. Should the symptoms indicate a more serious condition, pharmacists have the right training to ensure you’re guided to the appropriate healthcare resources, like a GP, nurse, or other relevant practitioners.

Pharmacies also provide essential services like dispensing NHS prescriptions, access to the repeat prescription service (with agreement from your GP), and disposal of unwanted or out-of-date medicines.

Home Delivery

For those unable to visit the pharmacy, some offer home delivery for prescription medicines. However, these services might be chargeable and you can check with the respective pharmacy regarding this.

Convenient Operating Hours

Many pharmacies operate during extended hours in the evenings and at weekends, ensuring you have access to health advice and medicines when you need it most.

NHS 111

For urgent but non-life-threatening medical issues where you’re uncertain about the necessary course of action, the NHS 111 online service can provide guidance and a wealth of useful information 24/7.

Please note that it’s not typically necessary to schedule an appointment or register in advance for these services, making healthcare more accessible to everyone. So, before you head straight to your GP, think about these alternative paths, as they might be more suitable for meeting your medical needs.

Tips for New Arrivals

  • Consider purchasing travel insurance with health coverage to bridge NHS access gaps.
  • Bring medical documentation and prescriptions from home to help NHS doctors continue your care.
  • Check here for the most up-to-date NHS access rules for visitors and newcomers. 
  • NHS 111 offers 24/7 phone and online advice on urgent medical issues. Call 111 for guidance.

In the Event of an Immediate Crisis or if Urgent Assistance is Required

If you or another person is at immediate risk, either dial 999 without delay or head straight to the Accident & Emergency (A&E) department.

If you’re experiencing urgent difficulties but they’re not reaching emergency levels, connect with NHS 111 online assistance or make a phone call to 111 for help.

Useful Resources

Accident & Emergency Departments

Click here to locate your closest Accident & Emergency (A&E) in England.

Click here to locate your closest A&E in Scotland.

Click here to locate your closest A&E in Wales.

Click here to locate your closest A&E in Northern Ireland.


Click here to locate GPs in England.

Click here to locate GPs in Scotland.

Click here to locate GPs in Wales.

Click here to locate GPs in Northern Ireland.


Click here to locate dentists in England.

Click here to locate dentists in Scotland.

Click here to locate dentists in Wales.

Click here to locate dentists in Northern Ireland.


In summary, as a working expat in the UK, understanding your healthcare rights and access to NHS services is essential. Registering with a GP, knowing prescription costs, and exploring alternative healthcare services can help you make informed choices about your healthcare needs. Remember, the NHS provides a range of options to address your health concerns, and it’s important to consider what suits you best. Don’t forget to explore the useful resources provided here to help you navigate the healthcare landscape in the UK effectively. Your health and well-being are important, and the NHS is here to support you during your time in the UK.

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