In this post, we answer all of the most frequently asked questions and concerns regarding the NHS (National Health Insurance). Though the UK’s healthcare system might seem intimidating to international students, it is actually very accessible and simple to use. Below, we outline exactly how to register with a GP, how much it will cost, and what your insurance will cover.

How to find a GP as an international student?

Registering for a GP is a relatively quick and simple process.

To find the GP nearest to you, visit the NHS website and type in your postcode. You will then be given a list of hospitals and clinics nearest to your location:

The results are automatically listed in order of proximity to your postcode, though users can opt to sort them by their user rating, number of registered patients, or a range of other qualities.

For those looking to register with a new GP, it is important to check that the clinic is currently accepting patients, as noted above.

Once you have picked a clinic, visit their website to see if there are specific days or times for new patient registration. The clinic’s website should also have a PDF of their registration form, which you can either choose to print and fill out in advance or wait to do so at the practice.

Be sure to bring your passport and proof of your address (a tenancy agreement, utility bill, bank statement, etc.) when visiting the clinic to register.

After registering, you should receive your NHS card in the mail within 7-14 days. However, patients are welcomed to book an appointment with a doctor at the clinic 24 hours after registration — no NHS card needed!

How much does it cost to register with a GP?

Nothing! Registration is free and most GP services (excluding non-essential services such as travel vaccinations) are free. However, there is a small fee for prescriptions. The specific cost of prescriptions can be found here.

Is the NHS free for students?

Not quite. Though there is no cost for registering with a GP and receiving GP services, the Home Office has recently introduced an Immigration Health Surcharge which is a required fee attached to every visa application. As of 2017, the Immigration Health Surcharge is a one-time payment of £200. This fully ensures international (non EEA) students during their time living in the UK.

Will the immigration health surcharge cover my family and friends when they visit?

No. Overseas visitors will not be covered by your insurance. It is important that friends and family purchase travellers insurance before going abroad. The cost of receiving overseas medical treatment without insurance can be astronomical, so be sure they have bought the proper insurance! World Nomads is an excellent travel insurance company that offers affordable deals on short and long term travel insurance.

Can I see a doctor without a GP?

Technically, yes. International students who are sick and who haven’t yet registered with a GP can go to an A&E (accident and emergency). They help patients who don’t have a GP, were not able to schedule an appointment with their GP, and/or who are visiting under urgent circumstances. Though A&E services are a vital part of the NHS, these clinics are often overcrowded, understaffed, and extremely slow in seeing patients. The average wait-time is often 4 hours, which is hardly ideal when you’re sick and seeking immediate treatment.

There are several walk-in sexual health clinics around London that do not require you to have a GP or make an appointment. There is usually a wait-time at these facilities as well, though it is never as long as at an A&E.

Am I required to register with a GP as an international student?

No, but I highly suggest that you do! It is a fast and simple process with several benefits:

  • You will have access to a doctor with whom you can periodically schedule appointments rather than spend hours sitting in a waiting room
  • Your doctor will also be able to refer you to other doctors (such as dentists, dermatologists, etc.) in case you want to see a specialist
  • It guarantees that your medical history is recorded in the UK — which is important in case of serious accident or illness