Must-haves to prep for sickness in the UK

As an expat living in the UK, the country is full of all sorts of germs you’ve never been exposed to, so you’re going to get sick (especially early on). To be honest, getting ill in a foreign country is scary!

As a Canadian living in the UK, here’s my top tips for managing getting sick in the UK.

The most important step: be prepared!

If you’ve moved to the UK alone, no one is going to run to the shops to get you what you need when your sick, so my top tip is to have stuff ready.

Get a box or plastic container (you can usually find some good ones at the larger grocery stores) with all the basics:

  • Painkillers
  • Cold and Flu pills or liquid
  • Breath Right nose strips – these are incredible when you’re trying to sleep and can’t breathe
  • Sore throat lozenges
  • Nasal spray
  • Basic first aid like band aids (known as plasters in the UK)
  • I definitely like vitamins as well, that’s up to you but I find it really helps – Vitamin C is the big one for illness, but Vitamin D is also really helpful when living in the UK
101 Guide to Getting Sick in the UK

Where can I buy medicine?

I’ll buy most medicines at the grocery store like Tesco, especially the full-size stores (and not Tesco Express) since they will usually have everything you’d need. Many of them also have pharmacies if you need something over the counter or want to speak to a professional.

Other stores like Boots are good for medicines. In my opinion Boots is like a Shoppers Drug Mart in Canada or a CVS in the US.

You can also get stuff from Amazon pretty easily. Depending where you live, I’ve often got same-day delivery for Amazon items which is awesome.

Tip: No more than two packs of painkillers can be bought at any one time

You can only buy packs of 16 pills of paracetamol or ibuprofen from a shop or supermarket. You can get packs of up to 32 tablets or capsules if you buy them from a pharmacist.

This means that you can’t stock up on stuff all at once!! So plan accordingly and buy what you need in increments.

Get familiar with word differences

There are a lot of differences when it comes to British medicine and that can be really confusing. Here’s the basics:

  • Advil is a brand name which isn’t available in the UK, but the medicine in Advil is called ibuprofen
  • Tylenol has the same problem as Advil and in the UK this is called acetaminophen or paracetamol
  • North Americans usually say pills but Brits will say tablets or capsules
  • Many supermarkets will have their own branded stuff (like Tesco ibuprofen)
  • Nyquil is a brand that isn’t available in the UK, but a British alternative is called Night Nurse
  • North Americans call them Band Aids (which again, is a brand) but the Brits call them plasters

Fun fact! Medicine will have brail bumps on the packages! How cool!

Important numbers to remember in the UK


If you’re sick or something has happened and you’re not sure what to do, you can call 111 in non-emergencies. 111 is a free number to call when you have an urgent healthcare need that isn’t a life-threatening situation. Following a short assessment NHS 111 will direct you to the right service, at the right time and as close to your home as possible.


In the UK, the emergency number is 999 (which would be 911 in North America).

Register with a GP

Registering with a General Practitioner (GP) is what the we’d call a Doctor and it’s essential when you are living in the UK. GPs are the first point of contact for any medical issues and they can refer you to a specialist if needed.

It is important to register with a GP as soon as possible, even if you are not sick. This will ensure that you have access to healthcare when you need it. I’d just make sure to wait until you’re settled in whichever part of the UK you’re going to stay in.

Not sure what to do? I have a whole post about how to register with a doctor in the UK.

Stay Hydrated & Rest

Getting sick is never fun, but make sure to take it easy. Drink plenty of fluids and don’t be afraid to call in sick to work. It’s also helpful to remember that the tap water in the UK is safe to drink, so make sure you drink enough water to stay hydrated.

Remember that it takes time to adjust to a new environment and that getting sick is a normal part of life. With the right preparation and support, you can manage getting sick in the UK and get back to enjoying your time abroad.