If you are going to study in England, then one thing that you have to consider is health insurance. Sure, you may be insured in the United States, but what will that do for you if you study overseas? If you are looking to study in England, then you will have to work with what is known as the National Health System, or the NHS.

What is the NHS?

The NHS is the organization that provides the majority of healthcare in England. The NHS came into play in 1948 and is, for all intents and purposes, a national health care system that provides mostly free care for residents of England. There are charges associated with eye exams, dental care, medications, and some parts of personal care as well. Primary care, inpatient services, long-term health care, eye care, and oral care are all part of the NHS.

There is still a private health care sector in England as well, and sometimes the private sector is used to help the NHS with subcontracted facilities and certain types of care. The private sector is still largely uninvolved, and much of the public wishes for it to stay that way as well.

How is the NHS Organized?

The NHS is divided into primary care and secondary care, and both parts each have their own trust that helps with care of that specific level. There are two types of trusts in the NHS as well: commissioning trusts are to help provide care for the local population, whereas provider trusts help the health care practices that provide the services.

The trusts are used to purchase services from both private and public practices. There are a variety of things that these trusts can purchase, here is a list of the most prominent:

  • General practice
  • Community nursing
  • Local clinics
  • Mental health services

Basically, the money goes where it needs to go in order to provide for the English citizens. Most NHS funding goes to hospitals (because they also do a majority of the care). Hospitals are better able to buy new equipment and hire more employees because of the money. Doctors can identify a need in their communities and receive some trust money as well. In short, if there’s a need, the NHS has funding on hand that is meant to help meet those important needs.

As you can imagine, the NHS has a lot of employees. It’s actually the largest health service in the world and is the fourth-largest employer. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army, Indian Railways, and Wal-Mart are the only other organizations that employ more people than the NHS. There are a lot of administrative costs associated with the NHS, but overall, the system seems to work quite well.

So What Does This Look Like For International Students?

As an international student, you actually do receive some of the benefits of the NHS. But you will not have all of them – you may be charged for some treatments and you may also have to pay for some of your costs before you receive care (unless it’s urgent, of course).

Special note for EEA Citizens Who Have EHIC. If you are a student from the European Economic Area (EEA), then you need to make sure that you have your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) with you. This will help to cover some of the charges you may have accrued otherwise. Now, because England has a different system than those in the EEA, you may still be charged. The EHIC is also not an alternative to travel insurance; there are some very expensive costs (most including transportation and theft) that travel insurance will cover that EHIC does not. Make sure you have both before leaving for England to study.

There are several categories of health services that you need to be aware of when looking at the NHS. Here are some of the things that you will have to consider.

General Practitioner Services. These services require you to register with a general practitioner (GP) as a patient. If you are only staying in the UK for a semester (up to three months), you can register as a temporary patient. They do not have to take new patients, and you may have to try a few practices before you find one that will take you. If you cannot register, there are also walking in centers and GP-led health centers, which are usually open 365 days a year and for extended hours. Many GP services from NHS providers are free, even if you’re a citizen of another country. If you need to find a GP practice or walk-in clinic, the NHS has a specialized search that you can use.

Hospitals.  This is where your NHS benefits as an overseas student may get confusing. Hospital treatment is free if you are a citizen of England.  There are also cases where an overseas student can get treatment free of charge:

  • Any treatment for sexually transmitted infections (STI’s).
  • Treatment for most infectious/contagious diseases.
  • Accident and emergency department care.
  • Minor injuries care.
  • Emergency care at a walk-in clinic.
  • Compulsory psychiatric treatment
  • Treatment imposed by court orders
  • Family planning (not including abortion and maternity treatment)

Now, you may be able to get other health care for free as well, but it is dependent on your paperwork. If you are living in England for an extended period of time (for example, your entire university career), then you may be eligible for more than what is listed above. If you are in England for at least 6 months and/or you work for a employer based in the United Kingdom, you can be eligible for free hospital treatment as well. To be eligible, make sure that you have your paperwork on hand to prove that you will be in the country for more than six months (rental agreement, visa, passport, etc).

If you are admitted to the hospital for an extended period of time or you have to have a procedure of some type, you may have to pay some charges. This will be settled by you and the hospital during your time of admission. If you don’t pay, then you can have immigration issues later on (you may be denied visas and such). Pay as quickly as you can and make sure everything is settled.

It sounds really confusing, but once you get into it, you’ll find that it’s not so bad. If you are having issues navigating through the ins and outs of the National Health System, then you can check out their general website at www.nhs.uk or you can check out the England-specific site at http://www.england.nhs.uk/. You can also look at specific legislation in the U.K. Government website.

Emergency Care Information

Every country has its own emergency number, and England is no exception. The emergency phone number throughout the United Kingdom is 999. If you are in another part of the European Union, you can also use 112 (it also works in the United Kingdom). There are dozens of great hospitals throughout England that will make sure that you are getting the urgent care that you will need.

The English health system and the NHS aren’t especially hard to navigate, but it may take some time to figure out what services you are eligible for as an international student. Either way, make sure that you have some money set aside for your health care, just in case. Your international student affairs office should also have information available about the services that you are eligible for.

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