Staying Healthy in the UK

We here at want your stay in London to be as safe and secure as possible. In addition to the many general safety tips that can be found in our Safety in the UK section, we felt it important to have a discussion of ways to stay healthy in the UK too. Study in Britain offers a bounty of positive experiences: world class education, exploration of historic and modern riches, the opportunity to immerse one's self in English, and a world class healthcare system in the British National Health Service (NHS). The NHS (established in 1948) is a publicly funded system that offers a vast array of services, the majority of which are free for the many who qualify.

Preparations Prior to Departure

If you're disabled or receiving medical treatment or have a history of illness, you'll need to bring current prescriptions and a report (in English) from your doctor. These documents should list what medicines you require and what type of medical assistance you may need while in the UK. This will ensure that you get all the proper treatment.

Upon arrival in the UK you may be asked by immigration to show certain health documents detailing which vaccinations you've had. Additionally, if you're from a country or region prone to high rates of tuberculosis, you may also be asked to provide a chest x-ray. Be sure to have these items in your carry on luggage so that you can easily produce them in the airport should you need to.

For a list of the various vaccines you'll need for entry to the UK check with the British Embassy in your city/country.

Registering with a doctor while studying in the UK

Register with a doctor as soon as you have found a place to live in the UK. If your place of study has a health centre, you may be able to register there; if not they could recommend a local doctor or GP (General Practitioner) to you.

To register you’ll need:

  • proof of your student status
  • your passport
  • evidence of your new UK home address

You will then be sent an NHS medical card with an individual identity code, which you can also use to register with a dentist.

You and NHS

NHS is a world class health care system that is both dedicated and generous. If your course of study is at least 6 months in duration, you (and any family with you) could qualify for free or reduced-cost treatment. This is especially designed to aid international students. If you are a citizen or resident of a country from the European Economic Area (EEA), you will receive free/subsidized treatment regardless of the length of your stay. However, it is important to note that if you are not a citizen or resident of the EEA and plan to be in the UK less than six months you qualify only for free emergency treatment from the NHS.

If you are not eligible for NHS treatment it is highly recommended that you take out health insurance.

You can find insurance information on most campuses. Student unions and banks can provide information too. For advice and a full list of insurance brokers contact The Association of British Insurers.

For a list of UK reciprocal health agreements go to the Department of Health website.

If, indeed, you are cleared to receive treatment from NHS you must register with a doctor once you have established your permanent address in the UK. You may be eligible to register with a doctor with your school or they might have a list of recommended doctors and general practitioners. You will need to provide proof of enrollment at your school, proof of address, and your passport. You will then receive your NHS medical card (with an identity code) through the mail. Consultations with your doctor are then free, though medicines must be paid for (unless under 19 and enrolled in school full time). Prescriptions are fairly cheap in the UK (GBP 6 per item).

A prepayment certificate can save you further money if you have frequent refills. Your doctor or school can provide you with details.

You can also use your individual NHS identity code to receive dental treatment at a reduced rate. Once you have your card and code, register with a dentist who accepts NHS patients.

If you have a disability this is something you should take up with your learning institution. Call them and discuss it and they will do what they can to accommodate you.

Getting Sick

Medicines for minor sickness such as headache, runny nose, and sore throat can be purchased at many supermarkets and all local chemists. You can get these items without a prescription and also get advice from any pharmacist at the chemist.

The 24 hour hotline NHS Direct is also available. Their nurses can assist you in any self-treatment for minor injury or illness or call an ambulance in the case of an emergency. If your problem is in any way unusual they will put you through to a specialist. You can also get information from the NHS Direct website.

The NHS Direct number is 0845 4647. Calls are charged at a local rate.

And, of course, they say that the best health insurance is taking good care of yourself. If you use your common sense and eat a good diet, exercise, and get enough rest you're likely to have no need of a doctor. Some people do complain of more cold-like symptoms when they first go abroad as their bodies adjust to new routines and sometimes are exposed to new germs. One good way to avoid repeat colds or flues when you first arrive is to boost your immune system. Vitamin C (found in citrus fruits and supplemental pills) and exercise are two great ways to do this. Other immune system-boosting supplements can be found at the local chemist as well.