Student tips: What happens if I become unwell while staying in a homestay?

You’ve chosen your school, booked your course and your homestay, checked your passport and booked your flight. You have probably even selected your wardrobe and picked out which clothes you will take to London with you and which you will leave at home. However, just like when you are at home, illness can affect you at any time and usually comes when you are least expecting it. Getting sick while away from home can be upsetting and seeking medical help when you are not at your best can be tiring. It is therefore important you include the possibility of becoming unwell as part of your travel plans. You should know where to seek medical treatment, if you need to pay for it, who to inform and if necessary that you are able to return home early.

Preparation is essential. if you are staying with your host for a while, it is sensible to know where your local doctor and hospital are located as well as your local pharmacy. Speak with your host family about this, make it clear that you are not unwell at the moment but you are preparing ‘just in case’. Prior to becoming unwell, you should be aware where the following resources are located and how the might be able to assist you:


Pharmacists are excellent resources for minor health problems, such as colds, flu, stomach upsets, allergies and skin conditions. They are in an excellent position to give advice on most medicines and for most minor issues they should be the first person you visit.

Local Doctor:

In the UK, local doctors are known as a ‘GP’ or ‘General Practitioner’. Therefore if your host recommends visiting a GP they are advising you to see a doctor. If you will be staying with the same host for more than a month or two it would be good advice to register with your local GP so that if you do become unwell it will be easy to book an appointment to see them. GPs can give you medical advice, treatment and prescribe medication. A prescription is a form from the doctor giving the pharmacist permission to give you medicine that is not readily available to buy ‘over the counter’. GPs can also refer you to specialists doctors or to hospitals if necessary.

NHS – 111:

This is an excellent resource if you are worried about an urgent medical concern. Simply call 111 and you will be put in contact with a fully trained advisor. The advisor will ask you some questions to assess your symptoms and then either give you some advice, refer you to a GP or a local A&E (see below). This service is free, for urgent medical issues and is available 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. For less urgent issues please make an appointment with the local GP.

NHS Walk-in Centres:

These centres are usually open 7 days per week and are very useful if you have minor illnesses and injuries but would like to see a medical professional quickly. You do not need to make an appointment to attend a walk-in centre but you should expect to wait for a while as each person is seen in turn.


For serious injuries or if you are extremely unwell and require emergency treatment you may wish to attend the local hospital. In the UK the emergency department of the hospital is often called A&E (short for accident and emergency) or Casualty. It is important to state you should only attend A&E in the most serious of cases and for less severe illnesses/injuries you should use one of the above resources instead. You can find your closest A&E department by following this link: Click Here

Who to inform?

If you are feeling unwell it is important to get plenty of rest (sleep if possible) as well as to eat and drink lots of fluids (especially important) whenever you are able . Before you go to bed to rest, we strongly recommend that you inform both your host and your school about how you feel and what you plan to do. They can then keep an eye on your condition and if you feel worse give you advice/help you contact relevant medical care. Your school will also be able to give you advice and if you are not attending class, will be able to mark down why you are absent (especially important if you are a visa student). It would also be a good idea to inform someone at home, for example, your family or a close friend.

If your condition is more serious or if you do not start to recover after a few days please contact one of the medical resources as described above.

How much will I need to pay?

It is a common misconception that healthcare (known as the NHS) in the UK is free for everyone to use. It is a government-run health care system that is funded by the UK taxpayer. While all emergency and life-threatening treatment are free and a number of students from overseas are eligible to free healthcare, it is always advisable to ensure you have adequate health insurance. Please also note that even if your GP appointment is free you may still have to pay for some services e.g. prescription charges and dental treatment. If your health concern is more serious you may wish to return home early to seek medical care closer to home. Having health insurance that covers emergency repatriation in the case of illness will help cover you for such a possibility.

We sincerely hope you do not become unwell while staying in the UK and enjoy your visit to the fullest. However, it is important to be well prepared, understand what to do if you do become unwell and to have an appropriate level of health insurance just in case you require it.

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