An EHIC or GHIC card can provide vital peace of mind if you need medical treatment when you’re overseas. Get the lowdown on how they work and what’s changed since we left the EU with our guide.
The Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) is a free card that should get you access to state supplied healthcare in Europe and it replaces its predecessor, the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).
What has changed with the EHIC?
The EHIC gave UK citizens access to state supplied healthcare in Europe. However following Brexit, new EHICs are no longer be available to most Brits.
Instead UK citizens should apply for a similar UK Global Health Insurance Card.
EU nationals living in the UK, however, should still be able to apply for a UK EHIC card. Similarly UK citizens living in the EU should also be able to apply for a UK EHIC, so long as they were living in theEU before the end of 2020. These rights should be guaranteed under the UK-EU withdrawal agreement.
What is the GHIC?
The GHIC should provide access to state supplied medical care, should you need it while you’re in the EU.
This may either be free, or at a reduced cost and you should pay what locals pay.
Do I need to replace my EHIC with a GHIC?
No. Thankfully that’s one thing you don’t have to worry about 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 it runs out.
EHIC cards last for five years. To find out how long is left on your card, check the date on the front.
Is my EHIC still valid?
Your EHIC lasts for five years and is valid until the date shown on its front. The fact that we have left the EU doesn’t matter.
What does an EHIC or GHIC cover?
Existing EHICs and GHICs provide you with access to state supplied healthcare in the EU. This extends from emergency medical care to treatment for pre-existing medical conditions, even chemotherapy, oxygen therapy and dialysis.
Routine maternity care should also be included, so long as you haven’t travelled there just to give birth.
You should pay the same price for treatment as citizens of that country. This means that if it’s free of charge for them, it should be free of charge for you too.
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 the doctor or hospital.
It also only provides treatment in state hospitals and won’t cover the cost of repatriation to the UK, or mountain rescue if you’re injured on a ski-ing trip. You’ll need ski travel insurance for that.
It’s also important to be aware that state healthcare in other countries won’t necessarily be the same as 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?
Broadly speaking, both the EHIC and GHIC provide access to healthcare in Europe, but there are important differences between the two.
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 and Liechtenstein.
UK visitors to Norway, can however, use their UK passport to get some medical treatment such as emergency healthcare and treatment for pre-existing conditions.
It’s also worth noting that we do have some 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.
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 a number of scam sites that are unnecessarily charging UK citizens a fee to apply for a GHIC card. These sites charge as much as £30 per application and won’t be able to get you your card any quicker than if you applied for it yourself.
How do I apply for a GHIC?
You can apply for a GHIC from the NHS through the government website.
The online form is easy to fill out - just make sure you have 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.
It usually takes around 10 days before you receive your card, but it’s best not to leave it until the last minute. In fact you can apply for a new GHIC card as much as six months before your current card runs out.
If you need treatment in an emergency before your card has arrived you can apply for a Provisional Replacement Certificate.
How do I replace my EHIC?
EHIC cards do still work, so you only need to replace yours if it is running out.
In fact it’s worth holding on to your EHIC because it should cover you in more non-EU European countries, like Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein.
If the time has come to replace your EHIC, you can apply for a GHIC up to six months before your EHIC runs out. This allows you to get organised and means you won’t be left without any card for a period of time.
What happens if I lose my EHIC or GHIC when abroad?
You might worry about what happens if you don’t have your EHIC or GHIC card on you when disaster strikes.
Whether you lose your EHIC or GHIC while you’re abroad, or it’s stolen, the good news is you won’t be stranded without access to treatment.
As soon as you realise it’s lost, you should apply for a Provisional Replacement Certificate. You can do so by contacting the NHS Overseas Healthcare services - either online or by calling + 44 191 283 3909.
In the absence of an EHIC or GHIC, a PRC proves that you’re entitled to healthcare in Europe and provides the same level of cover as your lost or stolen card.
Do I need travel insurance if I have an EHIC or GHIC?
Yes, you do 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, or if it is you may face supplementary charges for expenses like food.
For these reasons the government recommends everyone travelling overseas has travel insurance.
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A good travel insurance policy should pick up more of the costs you’ll incur if you’re ill or have an accident while you’re away. It should also provide cover in private hospitals, pay for rescue services and repatriation back to the UK if that’s 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 or cut short your trip, which you can claim for with travel insurance.
Importantly, 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 - for example an accident while you were drunk or under the influence of recreational drugs - would be covered by your GHIC card.
Some travel insurance companies also insist that you have a GHIC or EHIC card.
You don’t need to arrange cover for each member of your family individually, you can find good value family travel insurance policies that covers your whole brood.