An expat guide to healthcare and health insurance in Scotland
Are you looking for expat health insurance in Scotland? It is important to learn about the local health system first.
This guide is for people who are moving to Scotland or are already living there as an expat. It explains how the Scottish health system works, your options of expat health insurance in Scotland and gives an overview of average costs of local healthcare.
- Total population (2016): 5,4 millions
- Gross national income per capita: £ 27,900
- Life expectancy at birth m/f (years): 81,2/ 77,1
- Total expenditure on health per capita and per year: £2,160
The Scottish healthcare system
The state healthcare system in Scotland is NHS Scotland (National Health Service), the same as in the rest of the UK. The NHS works on the principle of universal medical coverage and permanent residents in the UK are entitled to it. Find out how the NHS works and how to join.
Despite the NHS operating in all four countries of the UK (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), it is managed differently in each, and therefore NHS Scotland has some different rules. For example, prescription drugs are completely free, and eye tests and dental check-ups are also free for the entire population. Scotland is the only one out of the four countries to offer domestic personal care and nursing services for over 65s.
The NHS in Scotland has the reputation of being the most efficient compared to its neighbours, and Scotland has been used as an example to be followed by other NHS organisations.
What does NHS Scotland cover?
As in the rest of the UK, access to free healthcare is a fundamental principle of the NHS in Scotland. Free services for all categories of the population via NHS Scotland are:
- Appointments with general practitioners and specialists
- Stays and care received in hospitals and clinics
- Accident and emergency services
- Prescription drugs
- Eye tests and dental examinations
Services that may require a fee are:
- Dental treatments up to £384
- Glasses and contact lenses
The paid NHS services are free for certain categories of the population – these include pregnant women, children, full-time students, people over 60, people with low resources or with specific medical conditions. They may also receive vouchers towards optical costs. Travel costs for hospital appointments are subsidised for people with low resources.
The limitations of Scotland’s NHS
Although the NHS in Scotland is seen as an example to follow for the rest of the UK, it is under great financial pressure, as with everywhere in the UK, which can affect the quality and performance of the public health service. One of the most common problems for patients is long waiting times to see a specialist or to receive certain treatments.
More generally, the functioning of the NHS is not always suitable for the expat population. With NHS Scotland:
- Patients have the choice of which doctors’ surgery to register with (within the geographical/catchment area it covers), but not necessarily their choice of general practitioner.
- The consultation time with the general practitioner is considered too short (the average duration is ten minutes) and in general only one medical problem is treated per consultation.
- It is necessary to go through a general practitioner to get referrals to specialists, including gynaecologists or paediatricians. You cannot choose the specialist/consultant. You will usually be treated by the doctor on-duty at the time of your appointment.
- Shared wards in public hospitals lack privacy.
For these reasons, many expats in Scotland prefer to top up their NHS coverage with UK or international private health insurance.
Local private health insurance in Scotland
It is possible to take out private medical insurance (PMI) in Scotland to overcome the main disadvantages of the NHS. A PMI is a complementary insurance that often works in conjunction with the NHS, and it is a classic private health insurance which is valid throughout the UK. Some insurance companies may include the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.
Having a PMI makes it possible to consult a private medical specialist and to access tests or treatment very quickly in the private sector, therefore avoiding the long waiting periods in the public sector (although you still need to be referred by a GP first). A PMI also allows you to be hospitalised in private facilities where the stay will be more comfortable.
This type of insurance, which is often cheaper than expat health insurance, may be suitable for those who are generally satisfied with the NHS but wish to avoid its more major inconveniences, while agreeing to receive treatment only in the United Kingdom.
Many UK companies provide PMI-type health insurance to their employees. However for many expats in Scotland, local health insurance does not always meet their needs:
- This type of health insurance does not cover consultations of private GPs, maternity, dental and optical.
- In order to consult a private medical specialist (including a paediatrician or a gynaecologist), you must first go through a GP.
- Dental and optical costs are not covered. These options can be added separately but reimbursement limits are low.
- The monitoring of chronic conditions is not covered (an exception is often made for cancer).
- This type of insurance only covers you in the UK.
- You may only consult specialist physicians who are members of your insurance company’s network. Therefore, as an expat, if you wish to consult a doctor of your nationality practicing in Scotland, it may be that they are not approved by your insurer and therefore not covered by your policy.
International health insurance for expats in Scotland
Although more expensive than local private health insurance, international health insurance in Scotland is generally the most suitable option for an expat lifestyle. It is not geographically restricted to the UK and you can choose to be covered anywhere in the world (within the coverage area of your insurance policy), unlike local health insurance.
- Consultations with private GPs are supported.
- Maternity, dental care and optical costs may be included.
- You can consult a specialist (paediatrician or gynaecologist etc.) without having to be referred by your NHS or private general practitioner.
- Chronic conditions or potentially recurring illnesses are much better covered than with UK PMI policies, and can even be completely covered.
Please note that although IPMI policies offer maternity cover, there are not private maternity facilities in Scotland. Therefore, if you wish to give birth in a private hospital you would need to travel to a different part of the UK, or abroad.
What is the best health insurance for expats in Scotland?
The best health insurance in Scotland for one expat might not be the best for you, as everyone has different needs and expectations.
In order to find which is the best health insurance in Scotland for you, it is important to consider several aspects such as your medical history, age, specific needs in terms of medical cover, situation in Scotland, alongside other parameters.
Overview of medical costs in Scotland
NHS care is free, but below is an overview of the private sector’s medical costs.
Consultation with a general practitioner: prices range depending on the duration, from £100 for a 15-minute consultation, up to £300 for a one-hour consultation.
Consultation with a specialist: cost can range from £100 to £250.
Such as with any type of health insurance, the price of a medical insurance for expats in Scotland varies greatly depending on the personal situation, age and medical history of each individual as well as other parameters.
If you would like an idea of the cost of private health insurance in Scotland, we can prepare a personalised comparison of different international health insurance plans for you. Contact us today for your free expat health insurance comparison.
No specific vaccination is required to enter Scotland, but it is recommended to have an up-to-date vaccination schedule.
999 – Medical emergencies (ambulance, police, fire brigade and coastguard)
111 – Medical emergencies less urgent than 999 (24-hour service, call if your situation is not an emergency but you need medical help)
101 – Police (non-emergency)
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Visitors staying for more than 6 months in the UK must pay an ‘Immigration Health Surcharge’. Since Brexit, European citizens are also included.