For more information about studying abroad, you can find a complete eBook on studying abroad in London here.
One of the major draws of the UK for me was the ability to be “abroad” without branching so far out that I was living in a hut in the middle of a rainforest somewhere. I like adventure, but I have my limits.
This especially translates to healthcare. Regardless of your political views on the NHS (which you may develop after living here and using it), Britain has a fine healthcare service that will take care of you if you need help. There are some differences between what you would expect in America versus the UK to keep in mind, though.
If you’re on long-term medication that you know you’ll need while abroad, have your American doctor give you a prescription that will let you fill it all and take it over with you. Traveling to the UK with medication is perfectly fine, but sending it through the mail is not. Keep that prescription with the medication as well, as if you need more or you were to lose the medication, a British doctor will be able to make sure you have the same drug or equivalent. Many drugs have different names in the UK and US, but it all works just the same.
The NHS works much differently from the American healthcare system. While you can go to a ‘private’ doctor or specialist in the UK, most people just go through the NHS that doesn’t incur any additional charges beyond what comes out of their taxes. This means that they’re filtering a lot more people through the same system, which is in contrast to America where you and your 10 neighbors could all easily have different doctors.
A “GP” (General Practitioner) is what we would imagine as a basic, family doctor. If you’re on a course that’s 6 months or over, you’re encouraged to register with your local GP (this is based on address). You can then go to your GP for any health concerns that come up or minor illnesses if you feel they may need treatment. As of April 2015, all students on Tier 4 visas will have to pay the NHS charge in addition to their visa, so don’t hestitate to go if you need to, as you’re already paying for it!
If you’re not in a course that would allow you to register with a GP, you still won’t have a problem. You have a few options. Firstly, pharmacists, or “chemists” as they are called in the UK, can give you medical advice. This is a huge change for Americans because we’re used to the pharmacist giving us our medicine, telling us how to use it, and then not wanting to be liable for any other medical advice. Because the NHS system is so heavily used, chemists are usally happy to give medical advice. Of course, this is to an extent. If you feel like something is imminently, terribly wrong, skip the chemist and go straight to the A&E. If you’ve had a cold for awhile or a cough that you’re not sure about, just ask the chemist and they’ll either be able to point out which over-the-counter drugs you should try or tell you to get yourself to the A&E.
So what if you have a health emergency or something that you’re pretty sure no amount of ibuprofen will fix? The “Emergency room” in the UK is called the “A&E” (Accident & Emergency), and many hospitals have them. Just as in the US, not every hospital has an A&E, so make sure that you know your closest one once you move in.
While A&Es can have long wait times (as they continue to take the more urgent patients first as they come in), you won’t be charged just for seeing one. There are no horror stories of how much an emergency room visit cost a British person, because that’s not how the NHS operates. If you have an emergency, no matter where you’re from, you will be seen for free. Prescriptions come with a small price tag (around 8 pounds currently), but the point is the prices are not astronomical like they can be in America.
As for how to stay healthy while abroad? It’s all common sense and we’ll assume your mom has already given you that talk. However, London’s parks are great for running and you can almost always find a gym with student prices, so don’t be afraid to seek those out. (Though, in all honestly, I know about one person who exercised regularly while in London, and the rest of us said we were going to and then ended up going to the markets to eat.) Really, with all of the walking you’ll do and the lack of preservatives and chemicals in British food, you may even feel better than you do at home.