Changes after Brexit

The UK left the EU on 31 January 2020. As a doctor, you may have questions about what this means for you.

Location: UK International
Audience: All doctors
Updated: Monday 8 November 2021
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The UK and EU have agreed a Brexit deal. The UK entered into a transition period which ended on 31 December 2020. This page sets out the changes that the deal has brought about. 



EEA (European Economic Area) doctors who moved to the UK before 31 December 2020

If you arrived in the UK before 31 December 2020, you and your family should have applied for re-settled or settled status under the EU settlement scheme.

The deadline to apply was 30 June 2021 but you might still be able to apply if the deadline did not apply to you, or you have ‘reasonable grounds’ for not applying by the deadline.

EEA doctors moving to the UK after 1 January 2021

If you arrived in the UK after the 1 January 2021, you and your family will need to apply through the UK’s points-based immigration system. The skilled worker route was introduced on 1 December 2020 and replaces the tier 2 route.

The health and care worker visa

As a doctor working in healthcare, you will be eligible to apply for the health and care worker visa. If you are a doctor currently on a tier 2 visa, and you need to extend your visa, you can switch onto the health and care worker visa.

You can apply and pay for your visa online. It’s cheaper to apply for and you do not need to pay the immigration health surcharge.

Once you have submitted all of the required documentation, you will usually get a decision on your visa within three weeks.

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BMA immigration advice service


If you have an immigration query, we can refer you to our dedicated immigration advice service, where you can get free, basic advice on your visa situation.

Call - 0300 123 1233​

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Immigration health surcharge

On 21 May 2020, the prime minister announced that health and care workers were to be exempt from paying the health surcharge. This means that doctors and their dependents will no longer have to pay the charge. This includes EEA national doctors who arrived in the UK to work after the 1 January 2021 and applied under the new immigration system.

Irish nationals moving to the UK

You can continue to live and work in the UK without requiring permission - your residence rights are not dependent on the UK's membership of the EU.

If you arrived before 31 December 2020, you may want to consider applying under the EU settlement scheme. Your non-Irish, non-British family members may also apply for settled status without you having to do so.

If you arrived after 31 December 2020, any non-Irish, non-British family members will need to apply through the new immigration system to stay in the UK.

Travelling between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland

If you are a UK or Irish national, you can continue to travel between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

If you are a frontier worker, in order to keep your status you will need to apply for a frontier worker permit, which will let you come to the UK while living elsewhere as described above. To be eligible, you must demonstrate that:

  • you're from the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein
  • you live outside of the UK
  • you have worked in the UK by 31 December 2020
  • you have kept working in the UK at least once every 12 months since you started working here.

If you’re an Irish citizen, you do not need to apply for a frontier worker permit but you can choose to do so.

You cannot apply if you're a British citizen (this includes dual citizenship).

From 1 January 2021, non-British, non-Irish workers who wish to work in the UK while remaining residents outside the UK need to apply through the UK’s points-based immigration system.


Employing EEA staff

Employer checks

You can continue to conduct right to work checks on EEA nationals using a passport or national identity card as evidence.

You can access employment law advice by contacting [email protected] or calling 0300 123 1233.

NHS Employers has published Preparing for the end of the EU transition: workforce guide for employers which summarises workforce priorities and suggests some of the actions employers can take to enhance organisation readiness.

Supporting your EEA employees

You can tell your employees about the settled status scheme. The Home Office has produced some guidance to raise awareness of the scheme.

You can also use the employer toolkit which includes more information about the scheme.

If your employees are BMA members, they can access our immigration advice service, which provides free, basic immigration advice.


Patients - access to healthcare

Following the agreement of a UK-EU trade deal, UK access to reciprocal healthcare arrangements will continue.

This means that:

  • EU citizens visiting the UK are able to access emergency and necessary NHS care free of charge with a valid EHIC card. Likewise, any EU citizens residing in the UK that are registered to the S1, or other schemes, are also able to continue to receive free NHS treatment
  • UK residents are able to access healthcare in EU on the same terms– using either their existing EHIC cards or the UK Government’s new GHIC (Global Health Insurance Card). Those in possession of a UK S1 certificate issued prior to 1st January 2021 – typically UK pensioners living in an EU country – also continue to be able to access care in their country of residence. However, arrangements for those seeking to retire to an EU country in the future are yet to be finalised
  • UK students going to the EU can apply for a GHIC that is limited to the length of their course
  • At present, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland are not included under the new GHIC, and future visitors to the UK will be considered chargeable for NHS care. Visitors from these countries, and Norway, who began a temporary stay in the UK on or before 31 December 2020 can access NHS care using their EHIC for the duration of their visit. The UK is currently seeking to conclude agreements on reciprocal healthcare with the EEA EFTA States and with Switzerland
  • However, the UK has already agreed a deal with Norway which allows future Norwegian visitors to the UK to access NHS treatment free of charge using their passports. 

Primary care

Under the terms of the new UK-EU trade deal, visiting patients with valid EHIC cards can access primary care and GP appointments freely. 

EU and EEA citizens who reside in the UK continue to be eligible for free NHS treatment.

It is important to note that the majority of primary care services, including GP appointments, remain free of charge for all patients and that practices should continue to register and treat all visitors. Practices do not need to see evidence of eligibility to register a patient, regardless of their country of residence or immigration status.

Read our guidance to find out more about access to healthcare for overseas visitors and registering patients. 

Secondary care

Emergency care is provided for free throughout the UK.

EU and EEA visiting patients can access all secondary care services free of charge using either EHIC or other relevant reciprocal arrangements. However, depending on the clinical assessment of the care required, they could be advised to delay treatment until their return to their country of residence.

EU and EEA citizens who reside in the UK will continue to be eligible for free NHS treatment.

Provisions for Ireland

British citizens who live in Ireland and Irish citizens who live in the UK will continue to have the right to access healthcare freely.

Under existing Common Travel Area arrangements with Ireland, UK residents continue to be able to access necessary healthcare in Ireland by showing proof of residency (such as a UK driving licence, a biometric residence permit, or a Northern Irish medical card) or EHIC or GHIC as used elsewhere in the EU.

Irish citizens, including people of Northern Ireland who are Irish citizens, who were born in the UK and are residents in the UK should apply for a GHIC.

UK citizens returning from the EU

Former UK residents who have emigrated and no longer reside in the UK are usually chargeable for non-emergency care on short visits to the UK.

UK nationals who moved to Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein or Switzerland on or before 31 December 2020, are still entitled to access NHS care when visiting the UK, using an EHIC.

For more information read the DHSC’s guidance on implementing the overseas charging regulations.

Across the UK

The websites of the national health authorities provide more detailed information: