New Students: Healthcare

Moving to a new country can be stressful – differences in food, weather and customs can be hard cope with and cause you to pay less attention than usual to your health.  Here are a few tips on how to look after yourself as well as practical information on how the healthcare system works in Scotland.

The National Health Service

The National Health Service (NHS) is the UK’s state health service which provides treatment for UK residents through a wide range of services. NHS treatment is provided for all students with a Tier 4 visa and their dependants. Please note you may have to pay for dentistry and some more specialised services. An Immigration Health Surcharge will be payable at the time of submitting a visa application (both inside and outside the UK). This cost will vary depending on the length of your visa. For more information, please see our immigration guide.

Access to Medical Care: Registering with a GP

It’s advisable to register with a doctor, also known as a General Practitioner (GP), soon after arriving in the UK. Do not wait until you are ill or require treatment to register.

You will have to arrange accommodation before being able to register, as your GP must be in your local area. Registering with a GP is easy and free. You can find a list of your local GPs on the NHS24 website. You will need to take your passport, visa and proof of your UK address (e.g. your accommodation contract or a utility bill) to register.



If you need medication, your doctor will give you a prescription which you must take to a dispensing pharmacy. In Scotland, prescriptions are free for everyone. You won’t need a prescription for some first-line treatment medicines such as aspirin, some painkillers, cough medicines, etc.  These can be purchased in local pharmacies and supermarkets. Your GP or pharmacist will be able to provide detailed advice about this.

If you require regular medication for an existing condition, you should bring details of your current treatment to help medical staff here to work out a prescription for you.

Please bear in mind that you may be given slightly different medication from the one originally prescribed, as local protocols vary and some medications from abroad are not available in the UK.

Out of Hours Services

 If you need medical attention and you can’t wait until your GP surgery opens, you should call NHS24 on 111.

During the call you will be asked about your location and your reason for contacting the service. This will be used to direct your call to a suitable health professional, such as a nurse, pharmacist or dental nurse. They will talk to you about your symptoms and tell you what care they think you need. They might suggest that you treat yourself at home, that you see a doctor or another health professional or, in some cases, they might call an ambulance for you.


If you have an accident or are seriously ill, you may need to go to the hospital. The emergency department in a hospital is called A&E (Accident & Emergency). If you cannot go there yourself you can call an ambulance by dialling 999 (this is a free number). Be prepared to provide the telephone number from which you are calling and the address where help is needed.


Your local pharmacist can give advice on common health problems and can answer questions about medicines.

Appointments are not necessary. Ask to speak to your pharmacist in a private area if there is something you don’t want other people to hear. If your symptoms are serious, your pharmacist might suggest you should go to your GP. To find an out of hours service pharmacy, phone NHS 24 on 111. Please note there are no pharmacies that provide 24 hour services.

Eye Care

It’s important to get your vision checked once every 2 years. Eye tests are free in Scotland. You can find a list of opticians in Edinburgh on the NHS website.

 Dental Care

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You should try and register with a dentist soon after you have arranged accommodation.  Check that your dentist will accept you as a patient under the NHS, as charges will be cheaper (dental treatment is not free in Scotland). You should always check prices with your dentist before you proceed with any treatments as fees can vary. You can obtain details of NHS dentists currently registering patients by visiting the NHS website.

Preparing for Scottish Weather

The weather in Scotland can be unpredictable, but generally the coldest daytime temperatures are in the period from November to February.  The climate can seem harsh, and wet or windy weather will make it seem even colder.

A good way of keeping warm is by layering your clothes and you may also want to buy thermal underwear.  A waterproof coat, an umbrella and strong shoes are useful in the rain.  You should ensure you arrive with enough warm clothes for your first few days.

Keeping Healthy

A healthy diet will help you to feel good both physically and mentally.  Adjusting to being away from home can be difficult: different routines and mealtimes can affect when and where you eat. You should also try and eat a varied, balanced diet, with the recommended five portions of fruit or vegetables a day. The NHS website offers lots of advice on healthy eating. It is also important that you take some form of regular exercise. You can join a gym (you might want to consider the University’s Centre for Sport and Exercise), choose an activity that you enjoy or simply walk or cycle.

Remember – if you have any questions, please email the International Student Advisory Service:


Categories: New Students

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