health insurance in the UK
United Kingdom

Health insurance in the UK

Do  EU students  need to buy health insurance to study at a British university? What is health insurance like in the UK?

Health insurance in the UK – do EU students need to buy it? The short answer is: not yet! As we all know, the UK has left the EU and we are currently in a transition period, with many issues still to be decided before 1 January 2021. At present, EU nationals who take up their place at a university in the UK in September 2020 must hold a EHIC card, if they want to use the National Health Service until 1 January 2021. EHIC cards are issued by your home country, so make sure you apply for one in good time and bring it with you.

What NHS services are covered by the EU EHIC card?

You will be able to use a GP  surgery (general practitioner) and an NHS dentist, receive free hospital treatment, call an ambulance and go to a hospital  Accident and Emergency department, access contraceptive and maternity services, and mental health support.

Is the NHS free?

 Not all NHS services are free.

Just like every  other user of the NHS, you will need to pay for any prescriptions you are given , which currently cost a flat fee of £9.15 per item – unless you buy a pre-pay certificate(PPC) which costs £29.65 for three months’ worth of medicines – and dental  treatment. Dentists who work for the NHS have a fixed sliding scale of  three bands: Band 1 covers examination, x-rays and drawing up a treatment plan and costs £22.70. Band 2 is £62.50  includes everything in Band 1  as well as root canal treatment, fillings and tooth extractions. Band 3 is £269.30 and provides dentures, crowns and bridges – as well as all the items in Bands 1 and 2. You will need to find a local dentist and ask to register with their surgery, so choose a couple and check out reviews on  comparison sites like Yell before registering.

When it comes to eye tests, certain people can get this service for free – if they have glaucoma, are under 18 or are claiming benefits – but students will usually not qualify and will have to pay around £20-£25 . Every high street has a number of independent and chain opticians and you don’t always have to book an appointment. Eye tests should be repeated every two years, so you are unlikely to have to pay more than once during your time at university. If you develop a problem with your eyes, you will be sent to an eye hospital – where treatment is free.

How do I register with a GP?

Most British universities have their own health centre and once you have  arrived, simply register with the GPs at the centre. If you have decided to live off-campus, you are free to register with any local GP who has spaces on their list. Just pop in to a surgery near you, ask if they are still accepting patients, see if you like the atmosphere, ask how long it usually takes to get an appointment and sign up.

Most practices will call you in for a full medical and take a thorough history, so if you have any paperwork from your home doctor or a list of prescriptions you have been taking, give the surgery a copy, for their records. Surgeries in the UK can be one-doctor traditional practices with fairly restricted hours, or large partnerships where a roster of doctors  work from 8am to 8pm and often offer video calls, telephone consultations and automated repeat prescription and appointment  services online. Choose the type of medical care that suits you best. Appointments are free and you may be referred to a hospital specialist for further diagnosis – which is also free.

GPs charge for travel vaccinations – with the cost depending on the vaccine – and usually expect you to pay a small fee for medical references requested by an employer, or private sick notes.

Brexit and health insurance- what is pre-settlement status?

The EU settlement scheme has  recently been launched in the UK and all EU students who are beginning their studies in September 2020 are eligible to apply for pre-settlement status, as long as they arrive in the UK before 31 December 2020 and apply for pre-settlement by 30 June 2021.  If you are accepted, you will be entitled to stay in the UK for five years and to use the NHS, just like every UK citizen.

The application process is simple: you can fill in the form online at by uploading proof of identity and nationality; proof that you are studying at a recognised British university and a photograph. There is no fee to pay and you will get a reply within a few weeks. Once you have been granted pre-settlement status you can carry on using the NHS  without worrying about producing an EHIC card (which will expire on 1 January 2021 as far as we know now) or buying health insurance.

Do students starting at a UK university in 2021 need private health insurance?

The latest information provided by the UK government indicates that students who are beginning their courses in 2021 will need to pay an immigration health surcharge  of £470, from  January 2021. This charge is paid by all international students as part of their visa applications, and entitles them to use the NHS services listed above. There is, however, a possibility that, like many other countries , including the USA and Australia, Britain will require foreign students to arrange their own private health insurance. 

What does private health insurance cover?

This depends on the kind of  policy you buy, and whether or not you include travel or contents insurance .

One of the great benefits of taking out a health insurance policy is that it covers health-related  situations. For example, if you fall ill or have an accident and are hospitalised, insurance will pay for a relative to come and stay with you. Similarly, if you have to drop out during your course, and then return to repeat a year, because of ill-health, most policies will cover the cost of the course tuition fees for that period, so you do not end up thousands of pounds out of pocket. The National Union of Students has long recommended and worked closely with Endsleigh Insurance, whose international student health insurance policies offer 24 hour medical support and any costs not covered by the NHS, up to a total of £2 million. 

How do I choose health insurance?

The most important factor is making sure that any health conditions you have are actually covered by the policy you choose. Remember, if you have what is called a pre-existing condition, this could raise the cost of the policy you take out, and if you decide not to declare it when filling in the application, your policy will be invalidated and you won’t get any money.

As a rule of thumb, many policies EXCLUDE the following illnesses:

  • Cancer
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Respiratory diseases
  • Cardiovascular diseases 
  • Diabetes
  • Epilepsy

Other conditions are INCLUDED, and do not affect the cost of the policy, namely:

  • Tonsillitis
  • Acne
  • Flu
  • Cataracts
  • Acid reflux
  • Migraine
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

It is important to know that you can only buy health insurance for one year at a time during a three year course. So shop around, ask your students’ union what they recommend and what providers they use , read the policies slowly and carefully and compare their cover. Many people who buy health insurance do so because they are treated more quickly than NHS patients with the same condition and probably have more choice in when and where they are treated. 

How much does student health insurance cost in the UK?

This depends entirely on the level of cover you want to take out and what you want to include in the policy. Costs also take into account your age, and whether or not you smoke.The most efficient way of organising health insurance is by using a comparison site, like or which will give you a wide range of options and prices and help you make an informed decision. If you intend to add travel insurance at the same time, to cover trips home,you will also be able to arrange it through these sites.

We will update this blog as and when any new information comes to light. If you would like to discuss anything you have read, then just drop Elab an email or call us. We are here to help!