The NHS (National Health Service) is the UK’s state health service.  It provides treatment for UK residents through a wide range of health care services. Some services are free and some have to be paid for.

Limited treatment that is free for everyone

The following limited NHS treatment is free for everyone, including international students:

  • emergency treatment (but not follow-up treatment)
  • family planning services
  • diagnosis and treatment of certain communicable diseases

To qualify for any other free or subsidised NHS treatment, you must meet certain conditions. This depends on factors such as your nationality/immigration status, the length of your course, and whether you paid the “immigration health surcharge” when you applied for your visa. General information for all international students coming to the UK is set out below.

Immigration Health Surcharge

You will not have to pay hospital fees if you paid the immigration health surcharge for your current period of immigration permission.

If you have already reached the expiry date of your immigration permission, it is OK as long as you made an application for an immigration extension before your immigration permission ran out AND you are still waiting for a decision on your application (or if you have already been refused, then you have remained in the UK and are still within the period you are allowed in order to pursue an administrative review or appeal against the refusal).

Reciprocal Health Care Agreements

You do not have to pay for hospital fees if you come from a country with a reciprocal health care agreement with the UK:

  • Nationals of countries in the European Economic Area (see note below)
  • Nationals of: Armenia; Azerbaijan; Georgia; Kazakhstan; Kyrgystan; Moldova; New Zealand; Russia; Tajikistan; Turkmenistan; Ukraine; and Uzbekistan
  • Residents of Anguilla; Australia; Barbados; Bosnia and Herzegovina; British Virgin Islands; Channel Islands; Croatia; Falkland Islands; Gibraltar; Isle of Man; Macedonia; Montenegro; Montserrat; Serbia; St Helena; and Turks and Caicos Islands

Please note that this list changes as new arrangements are agreed or existing agreements end.

If you are covered by a reciprocal health care agreement, you will be eligible for some NHS treatment even if your course lasts less than six months. Reciprocal health care agreements generally cover hospital treatment, the need for which arose during your stay, but do not always cover treatment of an existing condition. Before you travel, you should seek advice from the health authorities in your home country about what treatment will be covered. You may still need to take out some form of medical insurance.

If you are a Swiss national or a national of one of the member states of the European Union who has come to study in the UK from Switzerland, you will have the same healthcare eligibility as European Economic Area (EEA) nationals (see below). However, this does not apply to you if you are a national of Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein and you have been resident in Switzerland before coming to the UK.

European Economic Area (EEA) Nationals

All European Economic Area (EEA) nationals and their family should obtain a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) before coming to the UK. This card entitles the holder and their family to full NHS treatment on the same basis as the student categories described above.

Visit the European Commission’s website for more information on the EHIC

Others must have health insurance

If you are not in one of the eligible categories described above, and your course is under six months long, you and your family are only entitled to limited free NHS treatment.

You will have free emergency hospital treatment, but only the treatment given in a NHS Accident and Emergency department is free of charge. Once you are admitted on to a ward or given an outpatient appointment, charges will apply.

GPs may agree to treat you for free, but this will usually be limited to urgent treatment that cannot be delayed until you return home. You will have to pay for any other treatment as a private patient.

It is therefore very important that you take out medical insurance for the duration of your visit to the UK. Please note that medical treatment is very expensive if you do not have private medical insurance.

This information was correct at time of publication.  For updates, please refer to the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) website.