If you are migrating from The EU, Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein or Switzerland, you don't need to pay anything to use the NHS (National Health Service). This is because when British people go to these countries they also get to use the health services of these countries (Though this may all change in 2019/2020 when Brexit happens 😭)
If you come from anywhere else - The US, China, Mars - you're out of luck and will need to pay a health surcharge as part of your immigration application.
Immigration health surcharge
This charge covers your use of the NHS and is the governments way of making sure people don't come over to the UK trying to take advantage of the free healthcare system. The standard fee is:
- £150 per year per person for students
- £200 per year per person for everyone else
You will need to fork out the entire amount at the start of your process and that pays for the duration of your visa.
You need to pay this surcharge even if you have health insurance
Once you have paid the surcharge or you were exempt from paying it, and your visa allows you to be here for more than six months, you will be entitled to free NHS hospital treatment on the same basis as an ordinarily resident. This will apply from the date your visa is granted until your visa expires.
When you have this, it means that you don't need to pay for healthcare when you go into hospital.
However, when your visa ends (even if it's earlier than planned) you will need to pay for any further NHS hospital treatment from that date on, even if you have paid the surcharge.
You will also be charged for any treatment you received before the start date of your visa.
Private Health Insurance
As the UK offers public healthcare to all residents via the NHS, there isn't always a reason for people to buy private health insurance.
In fact, only around 10% of the UK population has private medical insurance
However, that isn't to say there aren't some pros with private health insurance.
The one that is front and centre is the fact that the waiting times at the NHS can be LONG, you can find yourself queueing for hours - especially if you want to see a specialist. With private health insurance, you can expect on-demand appointments alongside clean, nice environments. It can be a much better experience if you can afford it.
Which Provider To Choose
There are 3 major players to choose from each with their own pros and cons.
Bupa is the largest health insurer in the UK (and generally the most expensive), followed by Axa, followed by Vitality. All three have a range of options available so it is worth exploring all of their websites and services.