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Your guide to the immigration health surcharge (IHS)

In March 2020, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a decision to increase the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) in the UK Budget, which would affect new visa and immigration applicants. In this Pacific Prime UK article, we will explain what the international health surcharge is and other details of this fee.

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What is the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS)?

The Immigration Health surcharge, also known as international health surcharge, is a surcharge that gives immigrants coming to the UK for 6 months or longer the same access to the National Health System (NHS) as a UK resident. In other words, you won’t have to pay it if you are coming to the UK as a tourist and staying for less than 6 months.

Paying the IHS entitles you to free healthcare in the UK. However, you will still need to pay for some other services, such as dental treatment, prescriptions, eye tests, and assisted conception.

Why do you need to pay the IHS?

The NHS is the UK’s state healthcare system, funded by general taxation and National Insurance contributions, which offers a multitude of complementary healthcare services including GPs, hospital treatments, family planning clinics, and subsidised dentistry to all UK nationals and legal residents. In light of the growing demand and pressure on its finances, the government introduced the immigrationhealth surcharge.

How much is the IHS?

From 2020, the updated IHS is GBP £470 per year for a student or Tier 5 (Youth Mobility Scheme) visa (GBP £940 for a 2-year Tier 5 visa), and GBP £624 per year for all other visa and immigration applications.

Please note that if you don’t stay for the entire duration of your visa, you won’t be able to get a refund on the remainder of the fee.

However, if your visa application is rejected, you will receive a refund of your payment for the healthcare surcharge, but not the visa application fee.

When do you have to pay for the IHS?

You will need to pay for the surcharge when you apply for the visa. It is generally paid online at the same time as when you pay for the visa application fee. 

After paying, you will receive a confirmation receipt in your email along with your IHS reference number.

Is anyone exempt from the IHS?

You don’t have to pay the healthcare surcharge if you are:

  • Applying for entry clearance for less than six months
  • Applying for a Short Term Study or Visitor visa
  • A Chevening or Commonwealth scholarship recipient*

*Chevening and Commonwealth scholarship students will have their surcharge paid by the UK Government, but will still need to obtain an IHS number.

Can I choose to purchase private medical insurance instead of the IHS?

You can take out private health insurance in addition to the healthcare surcharge. Nonetheless, you will still be required to pay the surcharge as part of your visa application.

When can you start to use the NHS?

You can start using the National Health Service (NHS) when both:

  • you’ve paid the healthcare surcharge (or are exempt from paying it)
  • your visa or immigration application is granted

Taking out private health insurance

If you’re studying in the UK for less than 6 months, it is highly recommended that you take out your private medical insurance. Actually, a private health insurance policy is recommended for all UK immigrants, even if they have paid the immigration health surcharge. 

This is because the coverage of the NHS is limited to GPs, hospital treatments, family planning clinics, and subsidised dentistry. What’s more, the NHS is notorious for its long wait times and has faced increasing pressure in recent years. It is a good idea to have a standalone health insurance plan to supplement the coverage gap and offer you an extra layer of protection.

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