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uk health services

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 in case you need to access these services whilst you are in the UK.

What's the NHS and am I entitled to free healthcare?

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!

If you're lucky enough to be joining us 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 you reside in the UK if you are not an EU resident and the other exceptions do not apply. 

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.

NHS services are free throughout Great Britain, though you'll 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 and contraception is free for everyone regardless of where you live.

Will I need health care insurance as international student?

If you are here for less than 6 months you are required to obtain health insurance from your own country and provide evidence of this as part of the immigration process.

If you are exempt from NHS Charges and require hospital care you will need to provide your passport, visa, NHS card and proof of attendance at university.

What does NHS registration entitle international students to?

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

  • Consultation with your Doctor 
  • 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
  • Vaccinations

Free treatment for students from EEA

If you come from a European Economic Area (EEA) country, 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.

Non-EEA nationals that are exempt from pay for medical care

If you are not from an EEA country, you'll still qualify for NHS treatment, along with your spouse and children (who must be under the age of sixteen or nineteen, if in full-time education). if you meet the following conditions

  • 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. You will need to provide evidence of this. However, you might not be eligible for GP treatment.

Do Swiss Nationals qualify for free care under the NHS?

If you are Swiss, or a national of one of the EU member states who has come to study in the UK from Switzerland, you will have the same healthcare eligibility as EEA nationals. 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.











How do I make sure I am prepared before I arrive?

If you have any pre-existing conditions or are undergoing medical treatment it will make things easier for you to bring any current prescriptions, so that you're treated in the right way.

Depending on the area you're coming from, it may be useful for you to carry proof of your vaccinations. For information on what vaccinations are required for entry into the UK, click here.


How do I sign up to a doctor in the UK?

The GB Mag team recommends you register with your local doctor , who are often called General Practitioners or GPs for short, when you first arrive. That way when you need to see a doctor you won't have a problem in getting an appointment.

A lot of universities have their own doctor's practice, and you'll be given information on how to register there.

Typically, to register at your nearest surgery, you'll need to take your passport, proof that you're a student (i.e. your student card) and evidence of your UK address (your accommodation contract will do for this). Once you've registered you'll be posted a card with your NHS number on.


How do I book to see the doctor?

Each surgery will have different rules for making an appointment. They can get pretty busy so it's best to try to book by phone or at the surgery's reception, as far in advance as possible. Most surgeries reserve part of the day for emergency or drop-in appointments, so do tell the receptionist if your problem is urgent.

If the doctor prescribes you medicine they will write what you need on official headed paper (called a prescription) which you must take to a pharmacy.


Do I always need to see a doctor to get medicine?

If you go to a pharmacy, which are easy to find as they use the globally recognised green cross over their doorways, you can pick up medicine prescribed by the doctor or 'over the counter' medicines and remedies for minor injuries and illnesses.


Where can I get medical advice from?

The NHS website offers extensive healthcare information and also operates a 24 hour helpline for specialist advice, which can be reached on 0845 4647


Where do I go for specific medical needs?

Sexual Health

There are many sexual health clinics or drop-in centres around the UK (also known as Genito Urinary Medicine or GUM clinics) where you can go for sexual wellbeing advice, STD (Sexually Transmitted Disease) tests or for free contraception. Click here to find clinics in your area.


Dentists in the UK recommend that you get your teeth checked out every six months, so if you're here for a while then you should go to either an NHS or private dentist. If you're going to an NHS dentist then make sure you have registered already with your GP (doctor) as you will need your medical NHS card when you sign up. Treatment is not free but it's cheaper than private.


All you specs wearing students (specs = glasses) know how important it is to look after your eyesight. If your sight becomes worse or you are wondering where to buy glasses or contact lenses in the UK then you need to go to the optician for an eye test first. There are lots of high street opticians which offer a good service (some supermarkets even have opticians now), so check out which one offers the best deal for you as prices for tests, frames and lenses can vary.


What about private healthcare?

A wide choice of private healthcare is available in the UK and it has its obvious advantages, although it can be expensive but you can take out healthcare insurance to keep the costs down. If you can afford it then you will be sure to be seen quickly and treated efficiently, although the level of care and service you get on the NHS is very good and world famous!


What do I do in a medical emergency?

In case of serious emergency call 999 which is FREE to ring from any phone. For more general help and advice ring the NHS helpline on 0845 4647 or 111.

To check your symptoms online or for further information visit the NHS website at

To find local NHS services to you including GPs, dentists, opticians, pharmacies, hospitals and the services they offer visit NHS UK.