The National Health System (NHS) offers healthcare coverage to all legal residents, regardless of nationality, visa status, or tax or insurance contributions. So, international students in the UK can benefit from the NHS in the same way as British citizens.

However, to register with the NHS, international students will have to pay a surcharge at the same time when they apply for a UK student visa. Here’s what you need to know as an international student about the healthcare system in the UK.

Do International Students in the UK Need Private Health Insurance?

International students in the UK do not need to purchase a private health insurance policy, neither for the visa application or enrollment. You can, of course, get private insurance so you have coverage if you want to get medical treatment in private clinics or hospitals in the UK, but it is not a necessity. The NHS covers most things you need and is used by the vast majority of British citizens and residents.

How Much Do International Students Have to Pay for Health Insurance in the UK?

International students in the UK have to pay £470 per year for health insurance. This is called an Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS), and you have to pay it along with the visa fee when you apply for the student visa. You also have to pay a separate IHS for each dependent that will be joining you, if any.

The Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) is a fee everyone coming to live in the UK has to pay so they can access NHS benefits. If your study course is shorter than six months, then the charge is only £235.

You can use this calculator to determine how much you have to pay for the Immigration Health Surcharge.

How to Pay the UK Student Immigration Health Surcharge?

You have to pay the Immigration Health Surcharge when you apply for your UK Student Visa. If you will submit your visa application online, you have to pay the IHS by debit or credit card during the application process. You’ll be redirected to a site where you have to complete the payment within 30 minutes before returning to the visa application.

If you will submit your application by post, then you have to pay the IHS online before you apply for the visa. You have to provide information on the type of visa you are applying for, your email address, and your passport number.

After payment, you will receive an IHS reference number to submit for your visa application.

How Does the NHS Work for International Students in the UK?

Once you pay the Immigration Health Surcharge, you will be registered to the NHS and you can benefit from national-level healthcare during your studies. Under the NHS, you do not need to pay anything for:

  • Consulting with your doctor or visiting a walk-in clinic.
  • Hospital treatment after an emergency (A&E).
  • Treatment for minor-injury treatment in a public clinic.
  • Consultation or treatment with a specialist when referred by your GP.
  • Contraception

The NHS, in most cases, does not cover the cost of the following:

  • Prescription medication.
  • Dental care.
  • Eye care, such as sight tests, glasses or contact lenses.
  • Wigs and fabric supports.

After arriving in the UK, you have to register with a local General Practitioner (GP) clinic, which is the first place you must head to seek medical treatment or consultation.

What Are General Practitioners (GP)?

Doctors serving under the NHS are known as General Practitioners (GP). They work in local clinics along with other doctors, nurses, and administrative staff. You should register with a GP so there is a doctor in charge of your ongoing healthcare and you have a point of reference for medical concerns.

GPs will keep track of your medical history and records and refer you to medical specialists or consultants if you need more specific treatment.

How to Register With a GP as an International Student in the UK?

Most GPs in the UK will have a website through which you can register. If online registration is not possible, you could call or email them or visit the clinic in person. You will need your student residence card, your IHS reference number, as well as a GMS1 registration form to register. You can find a local GP on the NHS website based on your town, city, or postcode.

Doctor’s Visit in the UK for International Students

International students can visit a GP or walk-in clinic in the UK free of charge. If you visit a walk-in clinic during the open hours, you will have to wait your turn. If you want to skip the long wait, you could book an appointment with your GP. However, you might still face a few days’ wait until your appointment depending on how busy the clinic is.

When you show up for your appointment, head to the reception to let them know you are there and provide your appointment card if you have one. They will direct you to your doctor, who will look you over and offer a diagnosis or refer you for further treatment.

Your GP might refer you to a consultant or specialist. The NHS will only cover visits to a medical specialist if you have a referral letter from a GP, otherwise, you have to pay the specialist costs yourself.

NHS Number for International Students

After registering with the NHS, you will receive an NHS number. Each NHS number is unique to an individual, and allows medical providers keep track and access your health records. You do not need this number to book a doctor’s appoitment or to access NHS services, it is simply for identification and record keeping.

If you need it, you can find you NHS number doctor’s prescriptions, lab results, appointment letters, or via the NHS website.

Is Dental Care Covered With NHS?

International students are usually not eligible for free dental treatment under the NHS. However, most preventative and procedures are very affordable. There are three band of payment for dental care in the UK:

  • Examination, diagnosis, preventative care, and emergency care such as pain relief or a temporary filling: £23 80.
  • Actual fillings, root canals, or tooth extractions cost about £65.20.
  • All the treatment in Bands 1 and 2, as well as certain more complicated procedures, such as crowns, dentures and bridges: £282.80.

You only pay once, even if the treatment requires more than a single trip within two months.

Only minors (under 18 years of age), hospital inpatients, pregnant women, or women who have had a baby in the lat 12 months are eligible for free dental care.

Is Prescription Medication Covered With NHS?

As an international student, you usually have to pay for any prescription medication, unless you fall in one of the exemption categories:

  • You are a hospital inpatient.
  • You are pregnant or had a baby in the last 12 months.
  • You are under the age of 18.
  • You have a medical condition such as cancer, diabetes, or epilesy and have a medical exemption certificate (MedEx).

Currently, a prescription charge under the NHS is £9.35 per item. If you get a prescription prepayment certificate (PPC), you could save up on some prescription costs. There are two PPCs:

  • 3-month PPC – £30.25
  • 12-month PPC – £108.10