Health and healthcare

Last modified: 18 August 2016

Arriving in a new country is a very busy time for international students and there are a lot of changes to go through. For example, there are differences in food, weather and customs to cope with. In this type of situation, with all its stresses, you can find yourself paying less attention than usual to your health.

Existing health problems can also be made worse by the effects of adjusting to unfamiliar food, a different climate and the emotional strains of being away from home. It can be easy to concentrate on your studies and forget about taking care of yourself.

This section aims to give advice on looking after yourself, as well as practical information on how to obtain medical treatment. It also explains international students’ entitlement to free medical treatment under the UK state health system.

How the UK medical system works

Last modified: 05 November 2015

Register with a GP

Last modified: 07 September 2016

When you arrive in the UK you should register with a local doctor as soon as you can. Do not wait until you are ill. Click on the information below to find out how to do this.

How to register with a local doctor (‘GP’, General Practitioner)

When you arrive at your place of study you should register with a local doctor ('GP', General Practitioner) as soon as possible. These doctors are trained and experienced in diagnosing a wide range of health problems. They are based in local offices (called 'GP Surgeries') or Health Centres. Do not wait until you are ill. If your institution has its own Health Centre, you may be able to register there. Otherwise, you should register with any doctor close to where you live. See these lists of local doctors in each country:

Northern Ireland

or from your local authority or Post Office.

To register, you will need to visit the doctor’s surgery or clinic during consulting hours, taking a letter from your institution as proof that you are a student, along with your passport and any loose immigration documents. You should ask to be added to the list of National Health Service (NHS) patients. This means you will not have to pay a fee to visit the doctor. Most doctors’ surgeries have female as well as male doctors, and if you prefer you can ask to be put on a woman doctor’s list. If you only want to be seen by a woman doctor, you may need to say so whenever you make an appointment.

To avoid paying the full (private) cost of treatment make sure the doctor knows you want treatment from the NHS.

Who can register?

  • Doctors in England, Wales and Scotland normally accept students who are on courses of any duration onto their lists of NHS patients. They do not apply the same tests that determine whether or not you can have free hospital treatment.

    Doctors in Northern Ireland normally accept onto their lists of NHS patients students on courses of at least six months' duration. They also accept students on shorter courses who are substantially funded by the UK Government, the Northern Ireland departments, or the Welsh or Scottish Ministers.

    If you fall into any of the following groups you should obtain a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) before coming to the UK, as the doctor is likely to treat you in the same way as a permanent resident (even if you are a short-term visitor):
  • 'insured' European Economic Area (EEA) nationals, stateless persons or refugees, their family members and the survivors (irrespective of nationality) of these groups of people, insured in each case in an EEA member state
  • 'insured' Swiss or EU nationals, stateless persons or refugees, their family members and the survivors (irrespective of nationality) of these groups of people, insured in each case in Switzerland
  • non-EEA nationals legally resident and 'insured' in any EU country except Denmark

'Insured' in this context means that you qualify for state-funded healthcare in the EEA or Swiss state where you live.

If the doctor accepts you as a patient you will be sent a medical card through the post with your NHS number. However, being registered with a GP (doctor), and having an NHS number, does not give you automatic entitlement to free hospital treatment. The hospital providing treatment is responsible for establishing whether international students are entitled to free hospital treatment.

If the doctor does not accept you as a patient, try elsewhere or contact:

England: the local Primary Care Trust

Scotland: the NHS Board
Wales: the Local Health Board
Northern Ireland: the Business Services Organisation

or alternatively you can obtain their contact details from the doctor or the Post Office.

Appointments with a doctor

Under the NHS, appointments with doctors are free (except for certain things such as vaccinations for travel or getting a sickness certificate). Ask whether or not you have to make an appointment to see the doctor, and remember to arrive on time for any appointment you make. It is very unusual for a doctor to agree to visit you at home in an emergency.

NHS Debt and Immigration

Last modified: 24 September 2015

Since October 2011, the immigration rules have included provisions to refuse immigration applications by some people, if they have an outstanding unpaid invoice for NHS treatment.

See our information about General grounds for refusal


Last modified: 09 February 2016

Even if you are entitled to free NHS treatment whilst in the UK, you should consider taking out insurance which covers other medical-related costs. An insurance policy may cover, for example:

  • lost fees if you are unable to complete your course;
  • costs of returning home if a relative is ill;
  • costs of a relative visiting you in the UK if you fall ill;
  • cost of returning to your home country for treatment;
  • or in the worst possible situation, returning a body home for burial.

There is often a long wait for NHS treatment, sometimes many months. An insurance policy which gives you access to private medical care could give you much quicker access to the treatment you need.

If you already have medical insurance in your home country, check whether you can extend it to cover your stay in the UK, as well as looking at options available from UK insurers.

There are obviously lots of different insurance companies offering policies, but relatively few have ones specifically designed for international students. One of the longest established, for instance, is Endsleigh Insurance, which has produced a special health insurance policy for international students and their spouses or civil partners and children in the UK. Details of the policy can be found on the Endsleigh website. Please contact Endsleigh for further details.

Addresses and contacts

Last modified: 04 September 2015