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EHIC and GHIC cards: what you need to know

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The Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) is a free card that gives UK citizens access to state-supplied healthcare in Europe. It replaces its predecessor, the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).

An EHIC or GHIC card can provide vital peace of mind if you need medical treatment when you’re overseas. Here's how they work and what’s changed since the UK left the EU.

A woman holding up a blue EHIC card

What is the GHIC?

The GHIC is a card that provides access to necessary state-supplied medical care, should you need it while you’re in the EU.

Using this card means you pay the same price for the treatment as citizens of that country. If it’s free of charge for them, it should be free of charge for you too.

If you require 'necessary healthcare', it means you can't wait to return to the UK before getting treatment. 

What has changed with the EHIC?

Since the UK left the EU, new EHICs are no longer available to most Brits. Instead, UK citizens should apply for a similar card, the GHIC.

Both cards allow you to get state healthcare across Europe at a reduced cost or for free. But, before Brexit, EHICs were also valid in some non-EU countries:

  • Norway
  • Iceland
  • Liechtenstein
  • Switzerland 

This is no longer the case. You can only use a GHIC in the EU. 

EU nationals living in the UK should still be able to apply for a UK EHIC card. 

UK citizens living in the EU should be able to apply for a UK EHIC so long as you were living in the EU before the end of 2020. These rights should be guaranteed under the UK-EU withdrawal agreement.

Do I need to replace my EHIC with a GHIC?

No, you don't have to replace your EHIC with a GHIC the next time you book a trip to Europe.

As part of the withdrawal agreement, the EU confirmed that UK citizens could carry on using their existing EHIC until they run out.

EHIC cards last for 5 years. To find out how long is left on your card, check the date on the front.

What does an EHIC or GHIC cover?

Existing EHICs and GHICs provide you with access to necessary state-supplied healthcare in the EU. ‘Medically necessary’ treatment is treatment you can't wait to return to the UK to have. 

This includes:

  • Emergency medical care and A&E visits
  • Treatment for long-term or pre-existing medical conditions 
  • Routine medical care for pre-existing conditions that need monitoring
  • Chemotherapy
  • Oxygen therapy and dialysis

Routine maternity care should also be included, so long as you haven’t travelled to the country just to give birth.

If you're still unsure if your treatment is covered, you can use the European Commission's online tool to check what's covered in different countries. 

What isn’t covered by an EHIC or GHIC?

To be able to use your EHIC or GHIC health card, treatment needs to be deemed as ‘medically necessary’ by a doctor or hospital. 

Some of the costs not covered by an EHIC or GHIC include:

  • Returning to the UK
  • The use of mountain rescue if you’re injured on a ski trip - you’ll need ski travel insurance to cover this
  • Treatment where you have to travel to the EU 
  • Private treatment 

It’s important to be aware that state healthcare in other countries won’t necessarily be the same as in the UK. This means that you might need to pay for things that are provided free of charge by the NHS.

Where can I use my EHIC or GHIC card?

You should be able to use your EHIC or GHIC in most countries in the EU.

The following areas don't accept the EHIC or GHIC:

  • The Isle of Man
  • Jersey
  • Monaco
  • San Marino
  • the Vatican

Both the EHIC and GHIC provide access to healthcare in all other European countries. But the post-Brexit GHIC isn’t as comprehensive.

Unlike the EHIC, the GHIC doesn’t provide cover in non-EU European countries including:

  • Switzerland
  • Norway
  • Iceland
  • Liechtenstein

But UK visitors in Norway can use their UK passport to get some medical treatment such as emergency healthcare and treatment for pre-existing conditions.

The UK has reciprocal health arrangements with some non-EU countries. For example, UK citizens can get emergency treatment in Australia and New Zealand either free or at a reduced rate. But this doesn’t extend to the treatment of pre-existing conditions.

Is the GHIC and EHIC free?

Like the EHIC before it, the GHIC health card is free of charge and you can apply for one through the NHS.

Be aware, there are several scam sites that are unnecessarily charging UK citizens when they apply for a GHIC. 

These sites charge as much as £30 per application. Despite the cost, they won’t be able to get you your card any quicker than if you applied for it yourself.

Is my EHIC still valid?

Your EHIC lasts for 5 years and is valid until the date shown on its front. 

The fact that the UK has left the EU doesn’t impact the expiration date.

How do I apply for a GHIC?

You can apply for a GHIC from the NHS through the government website.

To complete the online form, you need your national insurance number as well as those of anyone else you’re applying for at the same time. You may also be asked for your NHS number.

You won’t be asked about your state of health or any previous medical conditions.

To be eligible for a UK GHIC, you need to meet at least 1 of the following criteria:

  • You're legally living in the UK and don't have healthcare cover provided by an EU country or Switzerland
  • You're living in the EU or Switzerland with a registered S1, E121, E106 or E109 form issued by the UK
  • You're living in the EU or Switzerland with an A1 document issued by the UK
  • You're a family member or dependant of an entitled individual already listed

How long does it take to get a GHIC card?

Once your application has been accepted, it should take around 15 working days to get your new GHIC card. 

But, due to an increase in demand after the pandemic, the NHS has stated that it's taking longer than usual to process applications. 

If you require emergency healthcare abroad and haven’t had your card, you can instead apply for a Provisional Replacement Certificate (PRC).

How do I renew my EHIC?

To renew your EHIC, you can apply for a GHIC from the NHS.

You can apply for a GHIC up to 6 months before the expiration date. This allows you to get organised and means you aren't left without any card.

EHIC cards are still accepted, so you only need to replace yours if it's expired.

In fact, it’s worth keeping your EHIC because it should cover you in some non-EU European countries, like Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein.

What happens if I lose my EHIC or GHIC when abroad?

As soon as you realise your EHIC or GHIC is stolen or lost, you should apply for a PRC. 

You can do so by calling the NHS Overseas Healthcare services at +0191 218 1999.

A PRC proves that you’re entitled to healthcare in Europe and provides the same level of cover as your lost or stolen card.

When applying for a PRC, you need:

  • Your personal details such as your name and address
  • Your National Insurance number
  • Your date of birth
  • The name of the treatment facility
  • The email address for the specific department providing your treatment

Do I need travel insurance if I have an EHIC or GHIC?

Yes, you need travel insurance even if you have an EHIC or GHIC.

Your EHIC or GHIC provides valuable protection, but your treatment may not necessarily be free. Even if it is, you may face supplementary charges for other expenses like food.

For these reasons, the government recommends everyone travelling overseas has travel insurance.

A good travel insurance policy should pick up more of the costs you incur if you’re ill or have an accident while you’re away. It should also provide cover for:

  • Private hospitals
  • Rescue services 
  • Repatriation back to the UK if necessary

Travel insurance should also cover more than just medical expenses. There are many other holiday spoilers like lost baggage, flight delays and being forced to cancel your trip, which you can claim with travel insurance.

You don’t need to arrange cover for each individual member of your family. You can find good value family travel insurance policies that cover everyone.

Also, having a travel insurance policy doesn’t mean you don’t need a GHIC health card. This is because some incidents that may be excluded by travel insurance would be covered by your GHIC card. For example, an accident while you were drunk or under the influence of recreational drugs.

Some travel insurance companies also insist that you have a GHIC or EHIC card.

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