5 Things International Students Need to Know About the UK Healthcare System

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Prodigy Finance - June, 18 2024

7 min read

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At Prodigy Finance, we're committed to helping international talent to achieve their education dreams. We offer international student loans to qualified individuals attending top master's programmes in the US.

  • International students with a Tier 4 visa for over 6 months qualify for the NHS (National Health Service) by paying the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) with the visa application
  • To access most NHS services, register with a local General Practitioner (GP) once you’ve landed in the UK
  • Emergency services are also covered under the NHS. For life-threatening emergencies, call 999 immediately

Enrolling at a UK university for international studies is exciting. But amidst the rush of packing and planning, don't forget about your health. The UK's National Health Service (NHS) is there to look after you. However, as a foreign student, understanding what processes need to be followed to get medical attention can be a bit confusing at first.

This article highlights five key things every international student should know about the UK healthcare system. From eligibility and registration to emergency care and mental health support, here’s all you need to know to get medical care during your time studying in the UK.

1. What is NHS and how does it work?

National Health Service, more commonly known as NHS, is the UK’s healthcare system. It is funded through taxes. International students studying in the UK for over six months are eligible to use the NHS. Once you register with the NHS, you can visit the local GP (family doctor) for checkups, basic treatments, and even emergency care. The services are mostly free, but prescriptions and some other care may have charges.

The NHS is centred around General Practitioners (GPs), who are basically your family doctors. They would be your first point of contact for check-ups for both physical ailments and mental health issues. If you need medicine, your GP can give you a prescription. You can get this medicine from a pharmacy.

In case you need to visit a specialist, the GP will refer you to the concerned department at a hospital.

NHS Coverage for International Students
If you're an international student with a Tier 4 visa for more than 6 months, you are qualified for NHS after paying the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) with your visa application (more on this later). Let’s discuss what healthcare services you can or cannot access once registered with NHS:

Consultations and basic physical and mental healthcare with your GP.

Emergency care at A&E (Accident & Emergency). Although follow-up treatment or admission as an in-patient to the hospital incurs additional charges.

The NHS doesn't cover eye tests, some dental care, or the cost of the glasses or contact lenses.

Currently, prescriptions in England cost £9.90 per item, but there are exceptions! Full-time students under 19 get them for free. In Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, prescriptions are generally free too.

While the NHS provides excellent basic care, it is advisable to take out private health insurance in case of unforeseen circumstances, dental care, or private treatment. International students can benefit from financial support through student loans provided by Prodigy Finance. This makes it easier to manage expenses, including healthcare costs, while pursuing their education in the UK.

2. Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) for UK Study Visa

International students on a Tier-4 visa and intending to stay for more than six months in the UK must pay an Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) as part of their visa application fees. IHS costs £776 per year of intended stay for students and even their dependents. For example, if the visa is for two years, each applicant would have to pay £1,552 along with the visa application fee. Failure to pay or paying an incorrect amount can result in the visa not being granted.

Once paid, you’ll have access to the same healthcare as a UK resident. You will have access to GP appointments, A&E services, hospital treatment, sexual health services, and psychiatric treatment during your stay in the UK.

As an international student, you are exempt from paying the IHS if:

  • Your visa is valid for less than six months
  • You’re studying a particular healthcare profession
  • You are an EU, EEA, or Swiss national

3. Registering for a GP and Dentist in the UK

Between settling into the new environment, juggling between classes, and making friends – there is a lot on your plate as an international student. Healthcare can often take a backseat in this scenario. Registering with a GP near your accommodation is a quick and important step to ensure you have access to NHS services. This can be done at any local GP clinic or by visiting the official NHP website.

Finding an NHS Dentist

While the NHS covers many essential healthcare services, dental care can be a bit different. You'll need to find an NHS dentist accepting new patients. You can search online or ask your university for recommendations. Unfortunately, NHS dentists can often be booked up, so you may need to join a waiting list, or make alternative arrangements.

Once registered, you may book appointments through a phone call.

4. On-Campus Healthcare System

UK universities generally do not have independent on-campus clinics or healthcare facilities. The NHS is the primary healthcare provider in the United Kingdom. However, many universities offer excellent support services to help international students navigate the NHS and access healthcare. They hold regular workshops or information sessions specifically for international students to explain how the NHS works.

Most of the universities have dedicated “wellbeing” divisions with designated staff members who can assist their students with early diagnosis and intervention, and health promotion covered under NHS. For example, the University of Edinburgh and the University of Nottingham have health centres that provide a variety of preliminary consultations and vaccinations for their students.

5. Emergency Care for International Students in UK

Emergency care in the UK is provided through the National Health Service (NHS) Accident and Emergency (A&E) departments. These departments are open 24 hours a day and are designed to handle life-threatening emergencies, such as severe injuries or illnesses that require immediate medical attention. International students can access A&E services without having to pay any fees as long as they have registered with the NHS.

However, being admitted as an in-patient and any follow-up treatment does incur additional charges.

While accessing medical emergency services in the UK, remember these two key things:

  1. In life-threatening situations, dial 999 for emergency assistance. You can also use 112, which works across Europe and is free to call, even from a mobile phone. These should be used for cases like excessive bleeding, chest pain, difficulty breathing, major burns, suspected stroke, or anything that feels like a serious threat to your health. An ambulance will be dispatched right away.
  2. For urgent but non-life-threatening situations, call NHS 111, a 24/7 service for medical advice. They can guide you to the nearest urgent care medical facility. Even if you are unsure about the situation, don’t hesitate to call NHS 111. They can correctly assess the situation and clear up your doubts about the medical care needed.


Students should familiarise themselves with the UK healthcare system upon arrival. By staying informed and proactive, international students can ensure they have the support they need to stay healthy so that they can focus on their academics. Consider private insurance for extra coverage. The UK government and the universities prioritise student mental health. So, don't hesitate to seek help if needed. Staying both mentally and physically healthy is important while studying abroad.


Can I get a refund for the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS)?

IHS is refundable in certain circumstances. If your UK study visa is refused or you withdraw the visa application before a decision is made, the IHS fee is refunded in full. Also, if the applicant receives less time on their visa than requested, a partial amount is refunded based on the duration granted. It is important to note that the refund process is automatic and the amount is credited back to the account or card directly.

What if I have a pre-existing medical condition?

The NHS will provide you with healthcare facilities even if you have a pre-existing medical condition. You would need to discuss your condition with your GP, and they can refer you to a specialist if required. Make sure to take out private medical insurance if the treatment is not fully covered under the NHS scheme.

Can I access healthcare services if my course is less than six months?

IHS is not applicable for student visas under six months. You can receive treatment from the National Health Service (NHS) by paying for the services. You may still be eligible for free NHS treatment if you are from a country that has a reciprocal healthcare agreement with the UK.

What if I need to visit a pharmacy?

You can go to any local pharmacy to get advice and buy over-the-counter medications. You may not need to see a GP for minor conditions like insect bites, sore throat, minor cuts, etc. Pharmacists may also address your concerns about how to use the medication and any potential side effects and also answer other questions you may have.

What are the common health issues that international students in the UK may face?

Students might encounter new germs and viruses in the UK, leading to colds, flu, or other unfamiliar illnesses. Also, they may take time to adjust to a new environment and lifestyle while being away from home which can significantly impact mental well-being. It is important to reach out to healthcare providers and discuss your concerns.

Prodigy Finance Ltd is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority in the United Kingdom. Prodigy Finance loans are offered to eligible borrowers and these loans are governed by English law.

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