International Student Health FAQ.

international students health faqs

Studying abroad: your guide to staying healthy in the UK

Living and studying in a new country is exciting – but it can be scary if you get ill and don’t know how to get help or are confused by the language.

When you get sick, we want you to feel better as quickly as possible. Our guide will answer all your questions about how to look after your health in the UK, in the simplest way possible.

NHS Healthcare

What is the NHS?

The National Health Service (NHS) is the free health service in the UK. Patients are only charged for prescriptions, dental care and sight services.

Who can use the NHS?

You can use NHS services for free if:

  • You are from an EU country
  • You are from a country with a health agreement with the UK.

For a full list of countries click here.

  • You are a student on a full-time 6 month course or longer in the UK.
  • You are studying on a course that is mostly paid for by the UK government

This will include your husband/wife and any dependants (children under 16, or under 19 in full-time education) who are living with you permanently in the UK throughout your whole course.

Do I have to pay for treatment on the NHS?

If you can use the NHS, as listed above, you will only have to pay for prescriptions, some vaccinations, dental care and sight services. For hospital treatment, you will need to take documents to show you are eligible for free treatment. For example:

  • Document from your university/college to show you are attending a course (or that one is about to begin or has recently ended)
  • Proof of nationality for EEA or Swiss nationals, or a valid student visa for non-EAA or Swiss nationals.

Do I have to pay for emergency treatment?

In the UK, it is FREE for anyone to receive:

  • emergency treatment at an Accident & Emergency (A&E) department in a hospital
  • emergency treatment in an NHS walk-in centre that gives similar services to an A&E department
  • family planning services (eg: contraception)
  • compulsory psychiatric treatment
  • treatment for some infectious diseases

How do I see a doctor?

It is a good idea to register with a doctor (GP) when you first arrive in the UK. Many universities have their own health centre for students, but all places of study will be able to tell you where to find your closest health centre and which to register with.

Take your student card and proof of address. You will receive an NHS card in the post, but this can take several months to arrive.

What to do in a medical emergency

In a medical emergency phone 999 and say ‘Ambulance’. An operative will ask you to describe the problem and will send help to your location.

You can also dial 112, which calls for an ambulance throughout the European Union.

Dial 111 for medical help or advice that is NOT an emergency.

Health Insurance

Do I need an EHIC?

To access health care in the UK, EAA & Swiss nationals need to show their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which is available free of charge from your national health service.

Do I need health insurance?

If you aren’t eligible to use the NHS free of charge, it is a good idea to have health care insurance to pay for any treatment you may need. Health insurance is not available on the NHS, so must be bought privately. Ask your place of study to find out if there are special student deals available.

Where can I get health insurance?

Many colleges and universities will have special health insurance packages for overseas students. Contact your student union for more information.

What needs to be included in health insurance?

Insurance companies in the UK offer lots of different deals for students: for your possessions, course fees, travel and medical expenses. You can buy insurance packages that cover everything or specific contracts for one area.

It’s important that you ask lots of questions and read the contract carefully to make sure that your medical bills will be covered, especially if you’re not eligible for free NHS treatment.

GP Services

What can I see a doctor for?

Health centres can help with a wide range of health issues, including

  • medical problems, including referrals to a specialist
  • mental health issues
  • contraception services
  • travel advice
  • STI or disease tests

Contact the health centre you are registered with for more information on their services.

Can I see a female doctor?

Most health centres will have both male and female doctors. If you would prefer a woman as a doctor, tell staff when you register and when you are booking appointments.

Do I have to pay for a doctor appointment?

Doctor’s appointments are free but it is still important to arrive at the health centre before the time of your appointment and to check-in with the receptionist, so the doctor knows you have arrived.

Will my medical care be confidential?

Health records are confidential in the UK, which means that if you’re over 16, a doctor is not legally allowed to discuss details of your treatment with anyone unless they have your permission. This includes any member of your family.

How can I get my medical records?

The NHS holds your medical records and you can apply to see them. For more information on the process click here or talk to your GP.


How do I get medicine in the UK?

There are 3 types of medication in the UK.

  1. For prescription medication you need to see a GP or other healthcare professional. You need to take your prescription to a pharmacy to get your medication. Many health centres have their own pharmacy but you can get your medication at any pharmacy you choose.
  2. For pharmacy medication (‘P’ medicines) you don’t need a prescription, but you will need to talk to the pharmacist.
  3. Over-the-counter (OTC) medication can be bought from pharmacies, supermarkets and other shops without supervision.

Do I have to pay for medication?

For prescription medication, you will have to pay for the prescription. Click here for the current prescription charge. All other medication will have different prices from pharmacies and shops.

Can I get more of my prescribed medication in the UK?

Some common medications can be prescribed by a GP, though they may be slightly different, or have a different name in the UK. Remember to bring any previous medication or prescriptions with you.

Who can help me decide what medication I need?

If you are worried about your health in any way, visit your doctor.

For minor problems, such as coughs and colds, a pharmacist can offer advice on suitable pharmacy or over-the-counter medication.

Sexual Health

Where can I get advice on contraception?

Contraception services in the UK are free and confidential, and you can talk to a healthcare professional at:

  • Most GP surgeries
  • Sexual health clinics
  • Walk-in clinics with family planning clinics
  • Some Genitourinary Medicine (GUM) clinics

Where can I get emergency contraception?

Emergency contraception, or the morning after pill, is a pharmacy medicine. This means it can be bought from any pharmacy, including online pharmacies, after talking to a pharmacist.

General Health

Do I need vaccinations?

Most universities advise students to have an MMR vaccination against measles and mumps, and also a Meningitis C vaccination. If you haven’t had these vaccinations when you arrive, your university health centre can help.

For country-specific vaccinations, contact the British Embassy in your country for further advice.

What is food like in the UK?

The UK is home to people from a wide-range of countries, ethnicities and cultures, and so many different types of food from different countries can be bought in restaurants and supermarkets.

What if I’m homesick

Feeling homesick is normal when you leave home, especially if you are in a different country, and it is not a sign of weakness. If you feel homesick, it’s important that you don’t feel alone. Talk to friends, your GP or tutor. There will also be a team of support staff at your university who will know how to help. For more advice click here.

Your Health Checklist

  • EHIC (for EAA/Swiss nationals)
  • Healthcare Insurance (for non-EAA/Swiss nationals)
  • Proof of the course you are studying and the University you are study at. 
  • Proof of nationality e.g. passport
  • Record of vaccinations
  • Your medical prescriptions
  • First aid kit
    • waterproof plasters
    • bandages
    • Alcohol-free cleansing wipe or spray
  • Medicines for minor problems
    • Painkillers (ibuprofen, aspirin or paracetamol)
    • Cold & Flu tablets/sachets
    • Cough lozenges
    • Anti-diarrhoea tablets
    • Antiseptic cream