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International student healthcare

Find out how to access healthcare if you're an international student


Healthcare in the UK is generally provided by the National Health Service, or NHS. Most healthcare provided by the NHS is free at the point of delivery. If you're an international student studying at Royal Holloway, you might be entitled for free treatment from the NHS.

Am I entitled to free healthcare under the NHS?

You are entitled to free necessary treatment from the NHS if you are either:

  • A full time student from any country on a course for more than 6 months
  • Studying on a course of any duration which is substantially funded by the UK Government
  • From a country which is part of the European Union (EU). If you're a student from another country in the EU and in the UK for less than six months, you'll need a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) from your home country
  • From a country which is not from the European Union (EU) that has a bilateral agreement with the UK (more information and a list of countries with bilateral arrangements can be found at the Department of Health website).
  • The husband or wife of any of the above and living here whilst your wife or husband is a student
  • A dependent of any of the above (meaning any child under 16, or under 19 if they're in full time education).

EU students who are not entitled to register – for example those attending an academic course of less than six months – only qualify for emergency treatment, meaning they can't use the NHS for non-urgent pre-existing problems to be investigated while in the UK. 

NHS cover begins from the date you arrive in the UK but does not continue while you are out of the UK, so if you are eligible to use the NHS you should be aware that you are covered only when you are physically present in the UK. You will not be covered while you are travelling to or from the UK or while you are in any other country.

What healthcare the NHS provides

Registration with the NHS will entitle you to these services for free:

  • Consultations with your GP / nurse
  • Hospital treatment in the Emergency Department / A&E
  • Minor injuries clinics and walk-in units
  • Treatment with a Specialist or Consultant if you have been referred by your GP 
  • Contraception and sexual health services 
  • Maternity services.

What services might I need to pay for? 

If you are prescribed medication you will need to pay a prescription charge when you pick up the medication from a pharmacist, as detailed below.

You may need to pay for any dental treatment within the NHS scheme, for the cost of eye tests and glasses or contact lenses if you require them, some vaccinations and if you have forms of letters you need to ask your GP or practice to complete for you.  

Prescriptions and rescribed medications 

When a doctor thinks you need medication they will usually write you an NHS prescription which you can then take this to a pharmacy to be dispensed. 

The standard charge for dispensary drugs is currently £8.40 per item on your prescription. 

From time to time your GP may recommend that you purchase medication ‘over-the-counter’ without a prescription; this is because they know that the particular medication recommended is cheaper this way. 

Travel medicines are not included under the NHS provision and both tablets and vaccinations are paid at the full cost (which can be quite substantial).

Can I access more of my prescribed medication in the UK? 

Some of the more common medications such as asthma inhalers, insulin for diabetes, acne treatment, antidepressants and contraceptive pills can be prescribed. However, you would need to make an appointment after your new patient health check to discuss this.

If you have a long term medical or psychological condition that requires medication it is a good idea to bring a brief letter, in English, from your doctor outlining your medical history with a full list of the medication that you are taking and if possible any letters from Specialists or recent test results with you when you register at the GP surgery.

If you are taking regular medication, including oral contraceptives, you should bring sufficient supplies to last for at least two months after your arrival in the UK.

Please bear in mind that you may be given slightly different medication from that originally prescribed by your home doctor, as local protocols vary and some medications available abroad are not available in the UK.

Preparing before you arrive in the UK

You should have a Meningitis ACWY vaccination before you come to the UK, if it is available in your home country. If you are not able to have this before you travel this vaccination is available from the GP surgery for those under the age of 25. 

If you do not qualify for NHS treatment, then you must make sure that you have taken out suitable health insurance before you come to the UK.

If you are an international student you must bring your passport & visa along when you register for healthcare.

Health insurance and private medical care

If you don't qualify for full NHS treatment, you'll need to get private medical insurance, as private health care can be very expensive. If you have an accident or fall ill, only emergency treatment will be provided for free. 

Even if you do qualify for NHS treatment, you may still want to consider medical insurance. Aside from actual medical expenses, there are a range of other costs you may have to take into account such as paying for a relative to visit you in the event of an accident or serious illness, or for you to return home for treatment. You may already be covered if you have medical insurance in your home country, so check with your provider to find out if you need extra cover.

Private medicine may be offered by some specialists that also work within the NHS.  In general, “going privately” may allow you to access services faster that in the NHS, but at a much higher cost.

Dentists and opticians (eye care)


Generally speaking, you should get your teeth checked by a dentist every six to nine months, so if you are staying in the UK for longer than this period of time, you may need to register with a UK dentist. In the UK, there are many dentists offering NHS treatment and equally, many who are treat private patients. NHS treatment is cheaper than private treatment, but is not free. 

If you are eligible for full NHS treatment, you should register with your doctor first, otherwise you will have to pay the full cost. You should give the dentist your NHS medical number from your medical card.

The GP surgery on campus does not provide dental services, though you can find one near you using the Find a Dentist tool on the NHS website.


Whether you already wear glasses or contact lenses, or your eyesight changes during your studies, a UK optician can help you. If you need to see an optician, you should go to a high street optician; some reputable opticians include Boots, Specsavers, Vision Express and Dollond & Aitchison. 

You can make an appointment for an eye test, and afterwards the optician will either update your current prescription or prescribe you glasses or contact lenses if you need them. 

If you already have glasses or lenses, bring the details of your prescription (in English) along to the UK. 

Charges for frames and lenses do vary but are a reasonable price and you should shop around for a good deal.

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