Navigating the twists and turns of healthcare bureaucracy in any country can be a daunting task, and the UK is no different. If you are like most university students, health insurance is one of the farthest things from your mind, but knowing the basics can keep you out of a jam. Here are ten helpful tips for understanding UK health insurance to keep your stress levels down and start you on your way to a healthy study abroad experience.
Available insurance and who qualifies
The UK has a national health system called the National Health Service (better known as NHS), and as an international student, you may qualify to receive benefits. If you have a Tier 4 student visa and are studying for six months or longer, you have access to NHS. Otherwise, you will need to look into private insurance.
As of April 2015, non-EEA students studying in the UK for over six months will have to pay a health surcharge of £150 per visa year when applying for your visa. Not sure how much you'll need to pay? You can use the Immigration Health Surcharge calculator here.
If you qualify for NHS, you will receive the same benefits as UK citizens. GP (General Practitioner or primary doctor) office visits, emergency treatment, family planning, compulsory psychiatric treatment, and diagnosis and treatment of certain communicable diseases are provided at no cost. You may, however, need to pay for prescriptions, vaccinations, dental, and optical treatments. For non-urgent cases, NHS also operates a 24-hour health service available by phone (dial 111) for residents of England, Wales, and Scotland.
Finding a doctor
When you first arrive in the UK, add finding a doctor to your list of things to do. Some universities have a health centre on or near campus. But if you would prefer to have your own doctor, visit the local post office, university, or NHS website for a local listing and choose one close to where you live.
How to register
It may sound strange to find a doctor when you aren’t even sick, but it takes time to register. You can only register for insurance by visiting a surgery (doctor’s office), or health centre. When you visit the office, bring a letter from your university proving that you are a student and ask to be added to the NHS list. If the doctor accepts your request and your paperwork checks out, you will receive a card in the mail which contains your NHS number.
Visiting your GP
Most illnesses and minor problems can be treated by your registered GP. They also provide other services like vaccinations, women’s health, family planning, and contraception. Some doctors may even make house calls if you are too sick to leave your home.
If your doctor prescribes a medicine you can easily pick it up at the local chemist (pharmacy) or a larger supermarket. Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland do not charge for prescriptions, but you may have to pay if you reside in England. The cost is £8.20 per item, but you are in luck if you are under 19 and studying full-time because prescriptions are free for you. Additionally, if you need more than three prescribed items in three months, you can opt to pay £29.10 for the tri-monthly Prescription Prepayment Certificate (PPC). More info here.
You must always visit your GP first in order to get a referral to see a specialist. Your GP will meet with you to discuss your concerns, and you will either be treated by the GP or be given a referral for a specialist in the area. Specialists usually work in hospitals.
If you have a medical emergency, call 999 for an ambulance. If you do not need an ambulance, but still have an emergency, you can visit the hospital emergency department, which is open 24 hours a day.
If you have a dental dilemma, take your NHS card to the nearest dental office. Be sure to ask if the dentist accepts NHS, however, because some dentists only take private patients. Treatments aren’t usually free, so ask about costs up front.
Help, I have more questions!
Visit the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) website for more information.