The high standard of private healthcare makes the UK a popular choice for medical tourism. Harley Street in London is famous for its high concentration of medical clinics where some of the world’s best surgeons, physicians, and healthcare professionals work.
Foreigners from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) need a visa to enter the UK to receive medical treatment if they are not from an exempt nation.
The Standard Visitor visa has replaced the Private Medical Treatment visa for the UK. Conveniently, the same permit can now be used to carry out a range of activities in the United Kingdom. Standard Visitor visas are not expected to be affected by Brexit.
Foreigners who are travelling to the UK for medical treatment are still required to meet specific criteria in order to be granted a visa or visa waiver.
This article explains the special documents required to travel to the UK for private healthcare or donate an organ.
UK medical visa requirements
People from outside the EEA may need a visa to travel to the UK for private healthcare. The applicant must meet the general visit visa requirements and satisfy the medical treatment eligibility criteria.
The earliest a foreigner can apply for the visa for UK health tourism is 3 months before arrival. Visa processing generally takes 3 weeks.
Even those from visa-exempt nations should have the relevant paperwork ready to show border officials on arrival.
General requirements for Standard Visitor visa applicants
The applicant must:
- Be a genuine visitor, they must not intend to stay in the UK for extended periods or make it their home.
- Have sufficient funds for the visit, including the cost of the private medical treatment.
- Not carry out any of the prohibited activities such as work, receive payment from a UK source (some exceptions apply), study, or get married
Additional eligibility requirement to travel for private UK medical treatment
Visitors heading to the United Kingdom for an operation, cosmetic surgery, or other medical procedure must also meet some additional eligibility criteria to be granted a visa.
The medical inspector must be satisfied that applicants who are suffering from a contagious disease do not pose a danger to public health.
Foreign visitors cannot access free NHS medical treatment and must arrange private health services before arrival.
Private health visitors should have a letter from their doctor explaining:
- The medical condition that the traveller will be treated for
- Approximate cost and duration of the treatment
- The hospital or clinic where the treatment/consultation will take place
11-month medical visa
Standard Visitor visas are generally issued for stays of up to 6 months in the UK. To stay for up to 11 months, the patient must have evidence from a medical professional to show the treatment will last longer than 6 months.
A medical certificate may also be requested to confirm that screening for tuberculosis has been carried out.
Medical visa extension
Patients with a 6-month visit visa may be able to extend the permit for an additional 6 months from within the UK provided they have paid for the treatment they have already received and can cover costs of further healthcare services.
A medical practitioner must provide proof of arranged treatment and a letter stating how long it is likely to last. Details regarding the progress of ongoing treatment may also be provided.
Medical treatment with an EVW for the UK
Nationals of Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates can apply for an electronic visa waiver (EVW). Like the Standard Visitor visa, the EVW is valid for receiving private healthcare in the UK.
The EVW can be used to stay in the United Kingdom for up to 6 months. The application is more straightforward. Travellers are asked to provide just a few personal details, passport information, and travel plans.
Applicants should meet all the standard EVW requirements and have the documents outlined in this article available in case they are asked to present them by border officials.
Travelling to the UK to donate an organ
Foreigners who are eligible to donate an organ in the UK may receive free NHS hospital treatment.
There must be an identified recipient in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. In the case of receiving an organ, the foreigner must have a close personal relationship with the donor.
Organ donors must meet the following criteria to be granted a UK medical visa for this purpose:
- Have the genuine intention to donate an organ, be assessed as a potential donor, or receive an organ from someone in the UK with whom they have a close personal relationship.
- Provide evidence of medical tests showing they are a donor match to an identified patient, or that they are to undergo further eligibility tests.
- Have been issued with a letter dated a maximum of 3 months before arrival from either the lead nurse/coordinator of the NHS Trust’s Living Donor kidney transplant team or NHS consultant stating when and where transplant or tests will take place
The visa applicant may also be required to show proof that the recipient is living legally in the UK and will be in the country on the date of the proposed surgery.