Healthcare in the UK for EU, EEA and Swiss students

Last modified: 05 April 2019

 The UK is due to leave the European Union in one of two ways:

  • having reached an agreement with the European Union (‘deal’ situation); or
  • without having reached an agreement with the European Union (‘no-deal’ situation) 

'No Deal’ situation - information for students currently in the UK or coming to the UK if the UK leaves the EU without a deal

The UK government (the Department of Health and Social Care) has published guidance pages for the following groups giving information about accessing healthcare in the UK in the event of a ‘no deal’ situation:

EU, non-EU EEA and Swiss citizens living in the UK

EU, non-EU EEA and Swiss citizens visiting the UK

Access to healthcare is decided by each country of the UK (England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales). They do this by writing and implementing regulations. Each of the four countries have regulations already in place which deal with healthcare and which indicate who are ‘overseas visitors’ (people who pay for certain treatment that is not free for everyone). 

However, each of the four countries need to take account of the promises made by the UK government to protect EU nationals and their family members who are in the UK before exit day from having to pay certain healthcare charges:

In a ‘no deal’ scenario, EU citizens and their family members lawfully residing in the UK by exit day will be able to continue to access in country benefits and services on broadly the same terms as now. This means that they will retain their entitlement to healthcare, education, benefits and social housing, including supported housing and homelessness assistance, on the same basis as now.

Agreements between the UK and EEA EFTA States and between the UK and Switzerland ensure similar protections are in place for citizens of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland and their family members.

England and Northern Ireland also have regulations in place to deal with charges for overseas visitors (those who will be charged for healthcare received in either England or Northern Ireland) after the UK leaves the EU. The following groups of people will not have to pay for certain treatment:

  • EU, EEA and Swiss citizens who begin receiving education or training in the UK before exit day, and
    • the need for treatment arises while receiving that education/ training (taking account of the nature of the treatment and the expected duration of the education/training), and
    • that treatment is provided on or after exit day but before the end of that education or training   
  • Those who have an European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) / Provisional Replacement Certificate (PRC) (see below) issued by an EEA State or Switzerland, where the holder’s visit begins before exit day and where the card / certificate is valid:
    • before exit day; and 
    • before the need for treatment arises (EHIC) / when the treatment is provided (PRC)
  • Those eligible to apply under the EU Settlement Scheme, where the treatment is provided before 31 December 2020

Explanatory Memorandums which accompany the Regulations for England and Northern Ireland state that future regulations will ensure people with pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme or with EU Temporary Leave to Remain can access free NHS care so long as they are ordinarily resident.

Scotland and Wales have regulations in place which exempt some students from paying for certain treatments.

'Deal’ situation - information for students currently in the UK or coming to the UK before 31 December 2020

Most students are able to obtain a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) from their country of residence prior to coming to the UK. This card allows EEA nationals to get the same medical treatment, which is free to residents of the country they are visiting, without being charged. The UK government has produced a leaflet about EHIC and access to medical treatment while in the UK. From October 2017, doctors' (general practitioners') surgeries in England are likely to check new patients’ eligibility for free NHS secondary care by asking to see an EHIC (where appropriate), even though general practitioners' services remain free of charge. 

In addition, if you are exercising your right to reside in the UK as a student or self-sufficient person, you are required to have comprehensive sickness insurance throughout your period of residence in the UK. Having an EHIC satisfies this requirement if you are not intending to be in the UK permanently.

It is important that you obtain this card before you leave your country of residence. If you have lost or forgotten your EHIC, you may be able to obtain a 'provisional replacement certificate'. This document is equivalent to the European Health Insurance Card. The website of the European Commission says:

It acts as a replacement if the European Health Insurance Cardholder has lost or forgotten his Card, or if the sickness insurance institution is unable to issue the applicant with a European Health Insurance Card prior to his departure. It has the same value as the European Health Insurance Card.

You cannot apply for this card in the UK and without it you could be charged for using the NHS unless you have alternative, adequate medical insurance.

If you want to learn more about using your EHIC, use this app in 25 languages.

Every member state of the European Economic Area provides information about how to apply for an EHIC in that country.

England and Northern Ireland have regulations in place to deal with charges for overseas visitors (those who will be charged for healthcare received in either England or Northern Ireland) after the UK leaves the EU. The following groups of people will not have to pay for certain treatment:

  • EU, EEA and Swiss citizens who begin receiving education or training in the UK before exit day, and
    • the need for treatment arises while receiving that education/ training (taking account of the nature of the treatment and the expected duration of the education/training), and
    • that treatment is provided on or after exit day but before the end of that education or training   
  • Those who have an European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) / Provisional Replacement Certificate (PRC) (see above) issued by an EEA State or Switzerland, where the holder’s visit begins before exit day and where the card / certificate is valid:
    • before exit day; and 
    • before the need for treatment arises (EHIC) / when the treatment is provided (PRC)
  • Those eligible to apply under the EU Settlement Scheme, where the treatment is provided before 31 December 2020

Explanatory Memorandums which accompany the Regulations for England and Northern Ireland state that future regulations will ensure people with pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme or with EU Temporary Leave to Remain can access free NHS care so long as they are ordinarily resident.

Scotland and Wales have regulations in place which exempt some students from paying for certain treatments.

Agreements between the UK and EEA EFTA States and between the UK and Switzerland ensure protections are in place for citizens of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland and their family members receiving healthcare in the UK as well as UK citizens receiving healthcare in EEA EFTA countries or Switzerland.

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