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A guide to the NHS for international students in the UK

Are international students eligible to use the NHS? Is the NHS free for international students? Your guide to using the NHS as an international student in the UK

    Joy Hunter's avatar

    Joy Hunter

    Student content curator
    February 25 2022
    NHS sign on a building


    In the UK, the NHS is the system that residents use to access both physical and mental healthcare services. Most healthcare services are free at the point of use, but some procedures may require additional payment. The NHS stands for the National Health Service.

    So how does the NHS work for international students in the UK? 

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    This guide explains how international students can access NHS services, what costs are involved, and how to register with the NHS as an international student. 

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    Can international students in the UK use the NHS?

    If you’re a full-time international student studying in the UK for a period longer than six months, you are eligible to use NHS services.
    If you are studying for a period of less than six months, you will not be eligible to use NHS services. If this is the case for you, it’s advised that you take out private health insurance cover during your stay. 

    How much does it cost to use the NHS as an international student?

    To use the NHS as an international student, you will be required to pay an immigration health surcharge (IHS), which costs £470 per year of your intended stay. If your visa duration contains part of a year that is six months or less then you will be required to pay £275 for that portion of your stay. 

    This cost must be paid as part of your student visa application and cannot be avoided, even if you choose to take out private medical insurance once you arrive. 

    Once you have paid this, you are eligible to use the following NHS services free of charge: 

    •    A&E (accident and emergency) services 
    •    NHS hospital treatment
    •    GP services
    •    sexual health, family planning and contraceptive services
    •    diagnosis and treatment of certain infectious diseases
    •    treatment of any conditions caused by domestic violence or sexual violence 
    •    some palliative care services
    •    psychiatric treatment or treatment that has been ordered by a court
    •    Covid-19 tests and treatment, as well as vaccination against Covid-19. 

    If a doctor prescribes a medicine to you, you can get this sent to a local pharmacy for collection. 

    The cost of that prescription depends on where in the UK you are registered. 

    In England, prescriptions cost £9.35 per item unless you are under 19 and in full-time education, over 60 or pregnant. If you fall into any of these categories, your prescription will be free. 

    Prescription costs are paid upon collection of the medicine at your local pharmacy. 

    In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, prescriptions are free of charge in most cases. 

    How do I register for the NHS and get an NHS number?

    Though you will have already paid your immigrant health surcharge as part of your student visa, once you arrive in the UK, you will need to register with a general practitioner (GP) at a local doctor’s surgery or medical centre before you can access NHS services. 

    You will receive an NHS number when you register with a GP. 

    It is advisable to register with a GP as soon as you arrive; don’t wait until you fall ill.

    You can use this NHS search tool to find your nearest GP service. 

    To register with a GP, you will need to visit your local doctor’s surgery, clinic or medical centre during consulting hours with the following documents: 

    •   a letter from your university proving your enrolment to the institution
    •    your passport
    •   any further immigration or visa documents.

    Often, your university will have an affiliated medical centre you can register with or they will let you know which GPs in the area are open to taking new patients and what their hours are. This will usually be addressed during your freshers or orientation week. 

    When you register, make sure to ask to be added to the list of National Health Service (NHS) patients. 

    Most GP surgeries will have female and male doctors. You can state whether you would prefer to see a male or female doctor when booking any future GP appointments. Depending on what you are booking an appointment for, you may also be booked in with a practice nurse, who can treat and advise on a range of minor illnesses. 

    Is my NHS number the same as my National Insurance (NI) number?

    International students may get confused between their NHS number and their National Insurance number. They are different. 

    Your NHS number is given to you once you register with a GP and is used to prove that you are eligible for NHS services in the UK. 

    Your National Insurance number has nothing to do with accessing health services. Instead, this number is used for administration around national insurance fees, benefits, employment and taxes. 

    I brought my family with me to the UK on my international student visa. Can they use the NHS?

    If you have brought a spouse, civil partner or children with you to the UK, they will be entitled to free NHS hospital treatment, but only if they are dependents with their own visas. 

    Each dependent will have to pay the immigrant health surcharge individually and register with a GP to access the full services offered by the NHS.

    Are dental care and eyecare free on the NHS?

    It is possible to access some dental services through the NHS but waiting lists can be extremely long and lots of dental practices will not accept NHS patients. 

    If a local dentist practice is accepting NHS patients, they will usually ask for your NHS number and contact your GP to check the care you are entitled to. 

    Even if you are entitled to dental care through the NHS, you may still have to pay for some dental procedures or services. 

    The other option for dental care in the UK is to pay for a private service or take up an insurance policy such as Denplan. 

    Eyecare is provided by opticians who are separate from GP surgeries and often operate from high-street shops such as Specsavers or pharmacies such as Boots. 

    You will normally have to pay a minimum charge of about £20 for an eye test on the NHS in England, but eye tests are free in Scotland. If you need glasses or contact lenses, the optician will give you a prescription, which you pay for yourself. Beyond that, the cost of frames and lenses varies considerably (alongside your budget and taste). 

    Certain groups may be eligible for a free eye test. 

    There may be variations in the services and costs in England, Wales and Scotland, so be sure to check those with your GP when accessing services. 

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