How to access health care in the UK

How do international students access health care whilst they're studying in the UK?

Now that you have registered and paid for the NHS, you are entitled to the national health service in the UK. But what if you really get sick whilst you’re studying here or even run into a medical emergency? What should you do?

In this guide we explore how you can access healthcare provisions in the UK as an international student.

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 which country you’re coming from, it may be useful for you to carry proof of your vaccinations. For information on what vaccinations are required to enter the UK check with the British consulates website in your home country.

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

The GB Mag team recommends you to 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.

How do international students access health care whilst they're studying in the UK?

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.

The NHS website offers extensive healthcare information and also operates a 24-hour helpline for specialist advice, which can be reached on 0845 4647 or 111.

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.

Private Medical Care

A wide choice of private healthcare is available in the UK and it has its obvious advantages. Although it can be expensive, 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.