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What are the rules on accessing the UK health service if you live in Austria?

The Local France
The Local France - [email protected]
What are the rules on accessing the UK health service if you live in Austria?

If you're British and live in Austria you will previously have been registered with the National Health Service, but once you move abroad things change - here's what this means for accessing UK healthcare both on a regular basis and if you have an accident or fall sick while on a visit back to the UK.

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The NHS is described by the British government as a "residence-based health service" which means that if you don't live in the UK you're not automatically entitled to NHS care, even if you are a British citizen and even if you still pay tax in the UK.

However funding, access and care rules can vary depending on your circumstances.

Moving to Austria

When moving to Austria, you need to register with the Austrian public health system.

Enrolment is generally automatic and linked to employment. A vast majority of workers are insured by ÖGK through their employer. Still, many, such as self-employed people, will have their insurance with SVS or BVAEB, in the case of public servants.

Insurance is also guaranteed to co-insured persons, such as spouses and dependents, pensioners, students, disabled people, and those receiving unemployment benefits.

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Healthcare in Austria is a state system, and similarly to the NHS it's free at the point of delivery, though there may be some differences depending on the company you need to sign up for. 

READ ALSO: Everything foreigners need to know about the Austrian healthcare system

Pensioners

If you are a pensioner, student or posted worker, it's likely that the UK will continue to pay for your healthcare through the S1 system.

However, being covered by S1 doesn't mean that you remain registered with the NHS - S1 only affects who pays for your care.  

So, in Austria, you register for a health card (e-card) in the same way as everyone else, and when the doctor swipes the health card the UK government will cover those costs. For everyone else in Austria, that would be the public insurer.

Full details HERE on how to request an S1. 

Can I stay registered with my UK GP?

No, you need to have a local address to be registered with an NHS GP. In practice, many people don't get around to telling their GP that they have moved and so stay registered for months or even years, but technically you should notify your GP so that you can be removed from the NHS register. 

Even if you do remain registered with a UK GP, they won't be able to issue prescriptions for you in Austria as most UK GPs are not licensed to practice outside the UK - therefore are not covered by insurance.

If you are on regular medication it may be possible for your GP to issue you with an advance stock of medication to cover you while you get settled in Austria, but many prescriptions are limited to a maximum of three months.

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What about travelling outside Austria?

Once you're registered in the Austrian system you will be able to get a your e-card, which has the EHIC on its back side and covers medical care while on trips in Europe. 

If your e-card doesn't show any information on the back, you need to contact your insurer to have it updated. More on this here.

If travelling outside of Europe - ie a holiday in the US - you need to ensure that you have travel insurance with full medical cover in case of any mishaps while abroad. 

READ ALSO: Reader question: How can foreign doctors practise medicine in Austria?

What about trips back to the UK?

Although your day-to-day healthcare will be covered by the Austrian system, there's still the possibility or falling sick or having an accident while on a trip back to the UK. 

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If you are an S1 holder you can show this to provide proof that you are entitled to NHS treatment, and if you are covered by the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement you can show your UK-issued EHIC or GHIC to provide proof of your entitlement to NHS care.

However if you don't have either of these, the CEAM covers all trips in the EU and European Economic Area, as well as Switzerland and the UK, so if you are charged for medical care while in the UK - because you do not have a UK address - then you will be able to claim the costs back once your return in Austria.

This also means that any Austrian nationals who are with you on your trip - such as an Austrian spouse or partner - have their care costs covered too through CEAM. 

READ ALSO: Six things to know about visiting a doctor in Austria

In practice, most UK nationals who need to use the NHS while on trips back to the UK report that no-one ever thinks to ask whether they are UK residents.

It's true that some Brits living in Austria keep their registration with a UK GP and make regular trips back to get prescriptions, while this can happen in practice it does involve lying or at least being economical with the truth about where you live.

Overall it's better to get registered with an Austrian GP so that they can get to know you and have a full overview of your care as well as any ongoing medical conditions and prescriptions. Most Brits are pretty happy with Austrian healthcare, which consistently ranks among the best in the world. 

Emergency care

There are certain types of NHS care that are not charged for, such as A&E treatment or treatment from paramedics, but if you need to be admitted to hospital you may have to pay.

NHS hospitals won't turn you away if you cannot prove residency, but they may present you with a bill when you leave if you cannot prove either residency or health cover in a European country.

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