Retiring abroad Retiring abroad and healthcare

Healthcare abroad

You may have to pay for healthcare depending on where you decide to retire

For those retiring abroad, healthcare is of particular concern. In the UK we enjoy free universal provision from the NHS; private medicine and medical insurance is auxiliary rather than essential. In some retirement destinations this is far from the case.

Where you need private cover

The US, for example, places far greater emphasis on private medicine, so medical insurance is essential. Those moving to South Africa will also need to take out adequate private cover.

Where you need to make a provision for healthcare payments

In France, Spain and Italy there is a good state system, which provides most medical care at greatly reduced cost. Expats retiring from the UK need to obtain an S1 form before they leave. Top-up medical insurance is still recommended, however, as you often need to pay a share (about 30%) of the cost of treatment and medicines. 

If you  need medical treatment you are expected to pay at the end of each consultation, but you can usually claim the money back from your insurer and have it paid directly into your account.

Where healthcare treatment is similar to the NHS

Canada, Australia and New Zealand are perhaps closest to the UK’s NHS, providing free care for all. Medical insurance there may increase choice and cut down waiting times, but it is not regarded as essential.

The table below shows the availability of free healthcare across a number of popular retirement destinations. 

Retiring abroad - where will you get universal health care?
The table below shows where you are able to access universal healthcare benefits in a range of popular countries in which to retire. We also show where a Visa is needed to live in the country.
CountryUniversal healthcare?Visa needed?
New ZealandYesYes
South AfricaNoYes
United States of AmericaNoYes

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Last updated:

March 2016

Updated by:

Paul Davies


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