What is the UK National Health Service (NHS)?

NHS is the health service in the UK available to everyone. International students will need to register to use public medical services in the UK.

Moving to another country is no easy task as you have to readjust to so many new things and services may be run very differently to how they operate in your home country. One of these is likely to be the health service, so the GB Mag team has summarised the main points about the National Health Service (NHS), including how to register and what services are provided.

What’s the NHS?

The NHS stands for National Healthcare Service. Under the NHS, NHS Scotland, NHS Wales and HSC (Health and Social Care) Northern Ireland, free emergency treatment is available to everyone, phew!

Are international students entitled to free healthcare?

If you are going to be studying in the UK for over six months then you should be entitled to full or partial use of all NHS facilities, although you will have to pay a surcharge of £150 for every 12 months of your studies if you are a student coming from outside the EU.

If you’re staying in Scotland, you can make use of the NHS for free regardless of the length of your stay. In Northern Ireland the service is pretty much the same, except that they offer social care too, which is help and support for people who require physical or practical help.

You will have to pay £9.65 (the price is reviewed yearly) for any medicine the doctor prescribes in England however prescriptions are currently free in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Contraception is free for everyone regardless of where you live.

Do international students need health care insurance?

If you are here for less than six months you are required to obtain health insurance from your own country and provide evidence of this as part of the immigration process. And if you need medical care during your stay you will need to provide copies of your passport and medical insurance.

What does NHS registration entitle international students to?

When you arrive in the UK register with a General Practitioner (GP) as soon as you can and apply for an NHS card to get access to these services for free:

  • Consultation with a GP 
  • Hospital treatment in Accident and Emergency 
  • Hospital treatment if your doctor recommends it 
  • Contraceptive services 
  • Maternity care 

What will I need to pay for?

  • Any medication the doctor prescribes for you
  • Any dental treatment within the NHS scheme
  • The cost of eye tests and glasses or contact lenses
  • Any forms or letters you may need
  • Vaccinations

Free treatment for students from EEA and Switzerland

If you come from a European Economic Area (EEA) country or Switzerland you and your family qualify for full NHS treatment. You should obtain a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) before coming to the UK, which entitles you to treatment.

However, this may not apply to you if you are a national of Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein and have been resident in Switzerland before coming to the UK.

Non-EEA nationals that do not have to pay for their  medical care

If you meet the following conditions you and your family (children must be under the age of 16 or 19, if in full-time education) will qualify for NHS treatment.

  • Your course lasts six months or more in England and Wales. 
  • If your course is less than six months long and you are studying in Scotland.
  • If your course is less than six months long, and the UK government is providing at least 35 per cent of the funding for your course.