How to get health care in the UK as an international student

Health care in the UK for a student

This article about how to get health care in the UK as an international student was updated by the Great British Mag content team on 5 August, 2019

First of all, it’s worth getting a deeper understanding of medical care in the UK if you’re still wondering, what do the NHS do?

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.

Are international students in the UK entitled to free health care from the NHS?

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. You can find out more about what the NHS is, how it works, and what care it will provide you with here.

What coverage and services does the NHS provide to international students?

If you qualify for NHS care and have paid the requisite fees, you will be entitled to the same coverage and services as UK citizens.

Free NHS services include:

  • General Practitioner (GP) office visits. A GP is a general doctor who is qualified to see patients of all ages. They are the first person you see if you need treatment
  • Emergency treatment (but not in-patient or follow-up treatment)
  • Family planning services, including contraception (but not including fertility treatments and abortions)
  • Compulsory psychiatric treatment
  • Diagnosis and treatment of certain communicable diseases, including sexually-transmitted infections

You may need to pay for:

  • Perscriptions
  • Vaccinations
  • Dental care
  • Optical care

To find local NHS services near to you including GPs, dentists, opticians, pharmacies, hospitals and the services they offer visit NHS UK. To check your symptoms online or for further information visit the NHS website.

How do I get access to NHS health care?

To access all the fabulous services that the NHS provides, you will need to register with a GP.

The GB Mag team recommends you to register with a GP when you first arrive. It may seem strange to be visiting a doctor when you are not sick, but the sooner you register with a GP, the better. 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 or a letter with your NHS number on it.

Your NHS number is what gives you full access to the NHS’s services so keep it in a safe place.

How do I make an appointment to see a 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. Pharmacies in the UK always have a green cross on their exterior.

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

What’s the fastest way to see a doctor?

If it is an emergency, you should go to your nearest Accident & Emergency (A&E) ward. If you cannot go there, call 999 and tell the operator that you need an ambulence to come to you.

If it is not an emergency – for example, you think you have an ear infection – you can visit your local walk-in NHS clinic. You do not need an appointment at one of these clinics; you can simply walk in (hence the term “walk-in clinic”).

Walk-in clinics are staffed with doctors, nurses, and nurse practitioners, all of whom are qualified to diagnose common ailments. They can prescribe medication and treatment. If they are unable to treat you, they will refer you to someone who can.

If you are feeling nervous about going to see a doctor or just do not have the time to pay a visit to a clinic, you can use an online service such as Push Doctor. Push Doctor allows you to consult an NHS-trained doctor over video chat.

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. This is a NON-EMERGENCY helpline. If it is an emergency, always dial 999!

Do I need to see a doctor to get medicine?

It depends on what kind of medicine you need. In the UK there are two kinds of medicine: “over-the-counter” and perscription.

Over-the-counter medicines are for minor injuries and illnesses – for example mild pain relief, cold and flu medication, lozenges to soothe sore throats, small bandages, and anti-bacterial gels. You do not need to see a doctor to get any of these things. You can buy them at supermarkets, at health and beauty stores like Boots or Superdrug, or at pharmacies.

Over the counter medicines are strong enough to deal with common ailments like colds and headaches. For more serious problems, such as infections or strong painkillers, you will need a perscription medicine. You cannot get perscription medicines without a doctor’s note. They are only available at pharmacies; high-street stores like Boots do not carry them.

What should I do if I have a pre-existing condition?

If you have any pre-existing conditions or are undergoing medical treatment there are steps you can take to ensure that the transition from your home country to the UK will be as quick and easy as possible.

First, ask your current doctor to write you an up-to-date summary of your condition. The summary should include the details of your condition, current management, recent test results and perscribed medication. The summary needs to be written in English. If the summary needs to be translated into English, make sure you use a registered translator to ensure that it is accurate.

If you are taking medication on a long-term basis, aim to bring a three-month supply with you to the UK. That way you’re certain to have enough when you first arrive.

When you arrive in the UK, register with a GP as soon as possible and make an appointment to discuss your medical needs.

You should also talk to your lecturers as possible. If they are aware of your needs, they will do their best to accommodate them and make it easier for you to do well at university. Do not be afraid to tell your lecturers exactly what you need; they will not think less of you.

You may also wish to speak to your university’s disability service. They can help you get the accommodations that you need to succeed at university, for example more time in which to take your exam.

How do I get sexual health care in the UK?

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.

Contraception in the UK is free and widely available in the UK. Learn more about menstrual health in the UK, click here; and to learn more about British students’ and sex, click here.

How do I find a dentist in the UK?

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.

How do I find an optician in the UK?

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.

Should I get private medical care?

A wide choice of private healthcare is available in the UK. Although it can be expensive, it is very quick and efficient.

If you would like to access private medical care, you can take out health insurance to keep the costs down.

That said, the level of care and service you get on the NHS is very good! Brits love the NHS because it provides quality medical care to every resident no matter how rich or poor they are.

What do I do in a medical emergency?

In case of serious emergency, call 999. It is FREE to ring this number from any phone. Tell the operator to send an ambulance to your location.

If you are able to move without endangering yourself, go to your nearest Accident & Emergency (A&E) ward for treatment.