Expat Guide


The UK healthcare system is entirely different to the US, there is a National Health Service operated by the government to provide medical care to the public. There is Private care as well, if you can afford it or have health insurance, perhaps as a job benefit.

National Health Service


NHS is the National Health Service.

It’s likely that if you are a resident, working here and paying National Insurance, you are also eligible for NHS care which is therefore exempt from charges. Prescription drugs are low cost, just £6.00, no matter what the drug. (According to the 1989 regulations), you are entitled to NHS coverage if:

  1. you are from an EC country
  2. you are from a country with a reciprocal health agreement with the UK
  3. you are a student in a course lasting more than 6 months
  4. you came to the UK with a work permit
  5. you have refugee status or Exceptional Leave to Remain
  6. you are the wife or child of a person in 1-5

NHS hospitals are now graded and you can view your local hospital’s ratings and marks at the Department of Health, even their website.


Family physicians are referred to as GPs, and their offices are called a surgery. One bonus, doctors here still make housecalls if it’s urgent. You must first register your family with the doctor of your choice (in your district/catchment area), after which you can begin making appointments. It is important to register when you arrive, otherwise you may not be able to get prompt treatment if you become ill. Be sure to discuss fees if you’re not eligible for NHS care. After you register, you may receive a NHS number card in the mail. There are also private healthcare options, such as Bupa, which work similarly to American health insurance. You may want to ask someone you know from your area to recommend a good GP to you. You can always change if you’re not happy.


NHS prescriptions for adults are a flat price, around 6 pounds. For children and students, they’re free. Contraceptives are also free, as well as nicotine replacement therapies. It is also very helpful to know that acetaminophen is called paracetemol here. You’ll find that buying over the counter drugs can be a real pain, to buy packages of more than 16 ibuprofen tablets you’ll have to ask the pharmacist. Same with larger sizes of other medicines. Medications that you’re used to, such as Vicks, Sudafed, Robitussin, Advil, and a few others, are available here, some only just recently arrived.

Children's Healthcare

If you have young children, their names will be given to the local Health Visitor when you register with a GP, which is essentially a visiting nurse. If you have a newborn baby, they will come around every few days to every week at first, to weigh and check up on your baby. They will send you reminders/appointments for all immunizations, hearing and vision screenings, as well as regular evaluations, so you will always be on top of this. Your child will be given a red book, called a Health Record, in which everything about your childs health will be recorded.


If you are pregnant/expecting, you will visit a midwife/nurse at your GP’s surgery during your pregnancy. After the birth, your midwife/nurse will visit you the day after you return home from hospital, and a few times during the first 2 weeks. You can choose to be discharged from the hospital as early as 12 hours after the birth if all has gone normally. Even though they do not provide prenatal vitamins, or even advise you to take them, prenatal vitamins can be bought at a local chemist/pharmacy if you’d prefer to take them.


This information is from a leaflet published by the British Dental Health Foundation.

“There are several main ways to find a dentist. The first is to ask friends, neighbours or colleagues for recommendations. The second is to look in the Yellow Pages where all dentists are listed for your area. An alternative is to contact your local Health Authority who will have a list of NHS dentists in your area. Lists are also available from the Post Office and Main Libraries.”

“It may be an idea to visit the practice you are interested in, to have a look around before you make an appointment.” “All practicing dentists must be registered with the General Dental Council...All qualified dentists will have the letters BDS (Bachelor of Dental Surgery) or LDS (Licentate in Dental Surgery) after their name. Any dentist qualifying from Leeds Dental Hospital will have the letters BchD after their name. These are the main qualifications required...The MFGDP(UK) and the MGDS give an indication that they have studied general dental practice beyond the basic qualification level, the MGDS being the senior qualification.”

“You should decide whether you want a private or NHS dentist, then check that the dentist is still accepting patients. Most will only register you after an intial examination and will only keep you on their register providing you attend for regular check-ups. If you are registered with an NHS dentist and do not attend at least every 15 months, you may be removed from the list.”

You can go to any dentist. “Dentists operate differently from doctors and therefore do not have specific ‘catchment’ areas. If you are registered with a particular dentist and move out of the area, you do not need to change dentists.” “The Area Health Authority will have a list of all the NHS dentists practicing in your area. They should be able to provide you with a list of names and addresses, but will not be able to make any recommendations.” “Private dentists usually advertise in the Yellow Pages and they will list any special treatment options that they offer.”

You can mix private and NHS treatment. “Everything that you may need to keep your mouth heathy can be provided under the NHS. However you can choose to have some of your treatment provided on a private basis.”

“NHS fees are set by the Department of Health and in the majority of cases, the patient is liable for 80% of the charges up to a specified limit. People exempt from charges include children under 18, pregnant and nursing mothers and adults receiving certain types of benefit. Private fees vary quite considerably from one dentist to another. It is always advisable to ask about charges before treatment.” “Whether you choose a private or an NHS dentist, you should be told clearly before you start treatment what the fees will be. Ask for a written treatment plan, which will list the treatment and the appropriate fees.” “There are several dental capitation programmes available including Denplan and BUPA DentalCover and several dental insurance schemes such as CIGNA. It is important to check whether your dentist accepts patients under these schemes and what the relative costs would be.”

It is important to note that emergency dental care is not covered by the NHS, and you’ll be paying full fees, which seem relatively the same as US charges. Many dentists won’t take on new patients if it’s an emergency basis, so don’t wait for a crisis before registering with a dentist.

Opticians and Glasses

Some people are entitled to NHS help in paying for eye exams, glasses or contacts. The eye exams range from 15-20 pounds, and average glasses range from £50 to over £100, you can get anti-glare, scratch resistant lenses as well.


Visit our affiliate partner

UK Yankee is a resource and community for expatriate Americans living in or planning to move to the UK, established in 1999. Please join the discussions in our friendly expat community.