Healthwatch infographics of healthcare workers

Entitlements to NHS services for migrants

July 19, 2021

GP and nurse consultations in primary care, treatment provided by a GP and other primary care services are free of charge to all whether registering with a GP as an NHS patient, or accessing NHS services as a temporary patient. A temporary patient is someone who is in the area for more than 24 hours and less than 3 months.

Anyone in England can register and consult with a GP without charge. GP practices are not required to ask for proof of identity, address or immigration status from patients wishing to register. NHS guidance on how to register with a GP surgery clearly outlines that a practice cannot refuse a patient because they do not have proof of address or immigration status. If you or your organisation would like GP registration cards that explain these guidelines please get in touch with us at; 

For secondary care services, the UK’s healthcare system is residence-based. This means that you must be living lawfully in the UK on a properly settled basis to be entitled to free healthcare.

The measure of residence that the UK uses to determine whether someone is entitled to free NHS healthcare is known as ‘ordinary residence’. To be ordinarily resident in the UK, people from countries outside the European Economic Area (EEA) who are subject to immigration control need to also have the immigration status of ‘indefinite leave to remain’.

People who are not ordinarily resident in the UK may be required to pay for their care when they are in England. However, some services and some individuals are exempt from payment.

The National Health Service (Charges to Overseas Visitors) Regulations 2015 and government guidance on overseas visitors hospital charging regulations outline the NHS services that are currently free of charge irrespective of an overseas visitor’s country of normal residence (as long as they have not travelled to the UK for the purpose of seeking that treatment). These services are:

  • accident and emergency services, such as those provided at an A&E department, walk-in centre, minor injuries unit or urgent care centre (not including emergency services provided after being admitted as an inpatient, or at a follow-up outpatient appointment, for which charges must be levied unless the overseas visitor is exempt)
  • services provided for the diagnosis and treatment of some communicable diseases, including HIV, TB and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) (see the regulations for a list of diseases for which there is no charge for treatment).
  • NHS services provided for COVID-19 investigation, diagnosis and treatment
  • services provided for diagnosing and treating sexually transmitted infections
  • family planning services (does not include termination of pregnancy or infertility treatment)
  • services for treating a physical or mental condition caused by torture, female genital mutilation, domestic violence or sexual violence
  • palliative care services provided by a registered palliative care charity or a community interest company
  • services that are provided as part of the NHS 111 telephone advice line

Groups that are exempt from charge include:

  • refugees (people who have been granted asylum, humanitarian protection or temporary protection under the immigration rules) and their dependants
  • asylum seekers (people applying for asylum, humanitarian protection or temporary protection whose claims, including appeals, have not yet been determined) and their dependants
  • people receiving support under section 95 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 from the Home Office
  • children looked after by a local council
  • victims, and suspected victims, of modern slavery or human trafficking, as determined by the UK Human Trafficking Centre or the Home Office, plus their spouse or civil partner, and any children under 18 provided they are lawfully present in the UK
  • prisoners and immigration detainees

People whose application for asylum has been rejected may still be exempt from charge if they are supported:

People receiving compulsory treatment under a court order, or who are liable to be detained in an NHS hospital or deprived of their liberty (for example, under the Mental Health Act 1983 or the Mental Capacity Act 2005) are exempt from charge for all treatment provided, in accordance with the court order, or for the duration of their detention.

There may also be exceptional humanitarian reasons where the secretary of state can determine that a person is exempt from charges for relevant services. This exemption also applies to their child or companion who is authorised to travel with them but is limited to treatment that cannot wait until their return home.

People who are covered by reciprocal healthcare agreements, who hold an EHIC or who have paid the immigration health surcharge may also be exempt from payment for certain services. For further exemptions and information, see the NHS website on accessing services if you are visiting from abroad and government guidance on overseas visitors hospital charging regulations

Read more at:

A Better Tomorrow is a local Community Group supporting asylum seekers and refugees. Contact Phone Number: 07774 480 762 Contact Email:


Entitlements to NHS services for migrants video

This animation was produced with the support of Doctors of the World UK. Further resources to help healthcare professionals to support migrants’ health can be found in their Safe Surgeries Toolkit.