An expat guide to healthcare and health insurance in the UK
Are you researching an expat health insurance for the UK? It is important to learn about the local healthcare system first.
Residents in the UK have the choice between 3 types of health cover:
- solely covered by the public healthcare system (the NHS);
- adding a local UK private medical insurance on top of their NHS cover;
- adding an international medical insurance on top of their NHS cover.
Whether you are moving to the United Kingdom or you are already living there as an expat, read our guide to the British healthcare system and your different options of medical insurance for the UK.
- Total Population: 63,136,000
- Gross national income per capita (PPP international $, 2013): 35 760
- Life expectancy at birth m/f (years, 2013): 79/83
- Probability of dying between 15 and 60 years m/f (per 1 000 population, 2013): 90/56
- Total expenditure on health per capita (Intl $, 2013): 3,495
- Total expenditure on health as % of GDP (2013) 9.4
Public healthcare in the UK
The public healthcare system in the UK is called the National Health Service (NHS). It operates in all four countries of the UK (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland), with some differences between the countries.
Everyone residing in the UK is eligible for NHS care and this service is mainly free. Click here to find out more about how the NHS system works and the differences between each country.
The British are very proud of their healthcare system. However, the NHS does not always correspond to an expatriate’s expectations due to a number of reasons:
- The consultation time with a general practitioner (GP) is considered too short (the fixed appointment time is 10 minutes). Generally, only one medical issue is treated per consultation.
- You need to be recommended by a GP in order to see a specialist, even for gynaecology and paediatrics.
- Waiting lists can be long. You may have to wait several weeks, or even months, before seeing a specialist or being admitted to hospital.
- The quality of care you receive may depend on the area in which you live.
- There is a lack of privacy due to shared wards.
Subscribing to a UK private medical insurance as an expat
A UK private medical insurance (PMI) is a standard British style insurance, which works alongside the NHS. This kind of insurance compensates the main NHS drawbacks.
PMIs cover you in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Some of them include the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.
Having a UK PMI enables the insured person to avoid waiting lists when needing to see a specialist and for hospital treatment, as well as offering a more comfortable hospital experience in the private sector. This type of insurance, usually cheaper than an expatriate insurance, may be suitable for those who are satisfied by the NHS but would like to avoid the biggest disadvantages of the public health system (e.g. waiting lists) and are happy to only be covered within the UK.
Many companies offer this type of insurance to their employees. However, for some expatriates, a UK-style private insurance may not correspond with their needs for many reasons:
- They do not cover private GPs, maternity or prescriptions.
- Dental and optical costs are not covered. However, a dental or optical “add-on” may be added to the policy, but the reimbursement limits are often low.
- In order to see a private specialist, you must still be referred by a GP.
- The follow-up of chronic conditions is not covered e.g. general check-up for asthma (an exception is often made for cancer).
- It only covers you within the UK.
- You may only be seen by a practitioner who is registered and approved by your insurance company. Therefore, as an expat in the UK, if you wish to see a doctor of your nationality practicing in the UK, they may be not registered with UK insurance companies.
- These policies apply a no-claims discount (NCD) meaning your premium increases should you use the policy.
Subscribing to an international health insurance for the UK as an expat
An international health insurance for the UK is often a better option for expats than a local health plan. It allows you to avoid the drawbacks of a UK PMI.
- Your health cover is not restricted to the UK: you can opt for treatment anywhere you wish, as long as it is within your zone of cover, which may include your home country.
- Consultations with private GPs are covered.
- You can be covered for maternity, dental, optical, and prescriptions.
- You can see a specialist directly, without needing to ask for a referral from your NHS GP.
- Chronic conditions are usually much better covered. They can even be completely covered.
- Most international policies do not apply an NCD, meaning your annual increase will be based on age, medical inflation and the insurer’s yearly rate review.
- Unlike a UK PMI, you have a choice of currency for the payment of your insurance policy: pounds sterling, euros or dollars.
What is the best health insurance for expats in the UK?
With so many insurance choices available, an expat in the UK can rightly ask oneself what the best insurance solution is. But when it comes to insurance, there is no “one size fits all” solution. The best health insurance in the UK for one expat might not be the best for you as everyone has different needs and expectations.
In order to find which one is the best health insurance in the UK for you, it is important to consider several aspects such as your medical history, your age, your specific needs in terms of medical cover, your situation in the UK, alongside other parameters.
How much does a private health insurance cost in the UK?
The price of a medical insurance for expats in the UK varies greatly depending on the personal situation, the age, the medical history of each individual as well as other parameters. The tariffs given below aim to give you an idea of prices but might not apply specifically to your own situation.
If you wish to have an idea of prices first, here are some premium examples for an individual health insurance policy that doesn’t include maternity cover, for a 35 year old person who lives in London (Kensington) and who doesn’t smoke.
These quotes have been made with health insurance companies that offer mid-range market priced policies.
- Example of yearly premium with a health insurance policy valid in the UK only (UK PMI), for a person who lives in London (Kensington):
|Including dental||Without dental|
|With a £250 excess per year||£1117||£1314|
This insurance policy includes cover in the private hospitals located in central London. The tariff can be lower if London is not included in the zone of cover of the insurance policy.
- Example of yearly premium with an international health insurance policy delivered by a British insurance company and valid worldwide, except the USA:
|Without dental||With dental|
|With a 225€ yearly excess||2397€||2780€|
- Example of yearly premium with an international health insurance policy delivered by a French insurance company, and valid in the UK, in France as well as 8 other countries:
|Without dental/optical||With dental/optical|
|With a 500€ yearly excess||2902€||3484€|
Unlike British health insurance companies, French insurance companies generally tend to offer a better optical and dental cover, and include preventative tests, such as health screenings.
French insurance companies also offer preferential rates for larger families (beyond two children, the following children are covered for free), which is something you may consider if you move to the UK as a family.
An adviser at Expat Assure can carry out for you a personalised comparison of different insurance solutions. Request your free insurance comparison today.
Useful links: The NHS
Get in touch
Call us on +44 (0)20 3137 2857
We are open from 9am to 5pm from Monday to Friday
We build partnerships with reputable insurance companies who are long-established in the expatriate insurance industry. All the international insurance companies we work with have both individual and corporate plans. Find out more about our partners here.
- Canada - Are you researching an expat health insurance for Canada? It is important to find out about the local healthcare system first.