Healthcare guide for expats moving to the United Kingdom

Are you researching an expat health insurance for the UK? It is important to inform yourself on the local healthcare system first.

This page outlines the different types of health cover available to residents in the United Kingdom. For information about income protection and health insurance, please read our page Protection in the United Kingdom.

Residents in the UK have the choice between 3 types of health cover: solely covered by the public healthcare system (the NHS); covered by the NHS alongside a local UK private medical insurance; covered by an international insurance.

Health statistics

  • 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
The National Health Service (NHS)
Everyone residing in the UK is eligible for NHS care and it is free (except prescriptions, dental, and optical). Click here to find out more about how the NHS system works.

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 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 waiting 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.

A UK Private Medical Insurance
A UK Private Medical Insurance (PMI) is a classic British style insurance, which works alongside the NHS.

Having a UK PMI enables the insured to avoid waiting lists when needing to see a specialist and for hospitalisation, and offers a more comfortable hospital experience. 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 NHS (e.g. waiting lists) and only wish to be treated within the UK.

Many companies offer this type of insurance to their employees. However, for many expatriates, a UK-style private insurance may not correspond with their need for many reasons:


  • They do not cover private GPs, maternity or prescriptions.
  • Dental and optical 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 (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. Many foreign doctors practising in the UK/London are not registered with UK insurance companies.
International Health Insurance
An expatriate health insurance allows you to avoid the inconveniences 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.
  • 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 GP referral.
  • Chronic conditions are usually much better covered. They can even be completely covered.

International Health Insurance policies are also called 1st sterling/1st euro/1st dollar policies (depending upon the currency you have chosen) as they cover you from the beginning of your medical costs.

Which expat insurance should you choose?
We can help you decide which international health insurance, income protection or life insurance is best suited to your needs by comparing the solutions of different insurance providers. Don’t hesitate to contact us to request your insurance comparison.
Practical information
Emergencies : 999
Useful links: The NHS


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