Baby's foot with hospital ID tag

The cost of care as an expat

Because many UK expats will still have friends and family living back in the UK, it's common for them to make frequent trips back and forth between their previous home country and their chosen destination, especially during holidays such as Easter and Christmas.

This arrangement works nicely for many expats, allowing them to enjoy the best of both worlds as they set up a new life in an new location while still being able to retain a taste of home. But it's not without complication, and it is wise for all expats moving between countries to understand their rights regarding healthcare in every place they visit. Otherwise, they may be left to face the financial consequences if their health take an unexpected turn.

One expat couple recently discovered the problems when they were put in a difficult position after the unexpected birth of their son.

While visiting the UK to see family over the Christmas period, Paul Barnes' fiancé, Sophie Henley, gave birth to their baby prematurely, meaning they had to receive care at the Royal Devon and Exeter hospital.

Despite holding British passports and having British citizenship, the new parents have residency in Zambia, and since they are residents outside the European Economic Area (EEA), they were required to pay a 150 per cent tariff on the care they received.

The Daily Mail has reported that the birth itself cost around £5,900, but as the couple's son was born prematurely and had to be admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit (costing up to £1,300 a day), the final total may well reach £60,000.

A spokesperson for the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust explained that the charges applied to overseas visitors are "determined by residency and those eligible for free treatment need to be living in the UK voluntarily and for settled purposes".

The Department of Health further clarified that someone's British nationality is not enough to make them eligible for free healthcare on the NHS, saying that "UK citizens who live outside the European Economic Area will need health insurance when visiting the UK". The purpose of these measures is to deter large numbers of pregnant women travelling to the UK to take advantage of the free maternity services.

The rules for UK expats in Spain and the rest of Europe

Healthcare in the UK remains free for British state pensioners living in the EEA and anyone who holds a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).

As you age, and especially if you have moved abroad to France, Germany, the Netherlands, or Spain, your expat retirement planning is likely to be relatively straightforward compared to if you move to somewhere outside of Europe.

However, this story does emphasise the need to understand what rights you have in any country you're visiting and to plan accordingly. With Brexit officially under a year away now, it is absolutely necessary for all British expats to keep up to date with how it may change laws and state benefits, not just in regard to healthcare but also in regard to wider financial considerations.

For instance, if the EHIC system is scrapped and the UK leaves the EEA, the existing reciprocal healthcare arrangements between the UK and EU countries are bound to change, and it's possible that a British expat travelling back to the UK from their European home to visit family may no longer be entitled to free healthcare on the NHS.

Contacting one of the Blacktower team for financial advice is an effective way of understanding all the financial implications of moving to another country. Get in touch with us today.

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