However, what happens post-BREXIT? Are EHICs going to still exist?
The answer is that, instead, new applicants will receive a GHIC card. This stands for a newly created ‘UK Global Health Insurance Card’.
This guide explains in more detail what a GHIC is, how it differs from the EHIC, how to use a GHIC, and what it entitles you to. We also outline what the ‘New EHIC’ card is and the limitations of the GHIC in certain countries.
What is the GHIC for?
The UK Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) has replaced the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). This change came into effect on 4th January 2021.
The Government website explains that these two cards serve much the same purpose: “where the UK or an EU Member State is responsible for the healthcare of an individual, they will be entitled to reciprocal healthcare cover.”
That basically means that an agreement is in place that entitles EU citizens to access our NHS services when visiting Britain. In return, UK citizens can access state-funded health services that are provided by European Union countries to their own national residents.
When you use a GHIC card when travelling on the Continent, you will get medically necessary health services either free of charge or for greatly reduced cost. It covers you until you return home to the UK. That includes medical assistance to help you with a chronic or pre-existing health condition which requires urgent healthcare while you away from home. (More on this later.)
A GHIC also covers routine maternity help, including healthcare when you give birth abroad unexpectedly. However, your GHIC (or EHIC) does not cover you if you decide to go abroad to give birth.
Do I really need to apply for a GHIC?
Without this reciprocal arrangement in place, both EU and UK citizens would face health care charges or complex challenges to get medical assistance.
Instead, by applying for a GHIC – or using a still valid EHIC – you can benefit from prompt, largely free health services in the 27 countries which are now part of the European Union.
These countries are, in alphabetical order:
Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden.
If you already have a still-valid EHIC, then the answer is no, you don’t have to apply for UK Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC), as detailed below.
Can you still use an EHIC?
At the end of 2020, the GHIC started to be issued to anyone applying for this health care provision and of course, this will continue after the switching date on 4th January 2021.
However, GHICs are for first time or renewal applications. If you already have a valid EHIC you don’t need to apply for the new card. That’s because it has been established that your EHIC will be fine to use in EU countries until its expiry date.
Please keep in mind though that the countries covered by both a GHIC and EHIC are not all European nations in their entirety.
European countries not covered by GHIC
From 1st January 2021, neither a GHIC nor most EHICs will cover you in Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein or Switzerland. When visiting these countries, you must make sure your travel insurance covers you for healthcare cover.
Or, for travel and temporary residence in these countries, you could apply for a new form of EHIC. The eligibility criteria for this new EHIC are stringent though. For example, it is available to EU, Swiss, Norwegian, Icelandic or Liechtenstein citizens who live in the UK. It can also be issued to UK citizens who have been posted to work in the EU, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein or Switzerland by their employer. As well as UK citizens going to study in the EU, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein or Switzerland.
If your travel or temporary stay plans include other countries in the European Union, then the GHIC is the card that you need to apply for.
How to apply for a GHIC
Remember, you only need to apply for a Global Health Insurance Card if you don’t have a valid EHIC.
You get a GHIC card by applying on the NHS website: https://www.nhs.uk/using-the-nhs/healthcare-abroad/apply-for-a-free-ehic-european-health-insurance-card/
The application criteria and steps are similar to the ones used to get an EHIC. There are a series of questions that establish that you are eligible. If you key in information which invalidates your eligibility, you will receive immediate notification and can discard your application. Otherwise, you will progress through the questions. Then, your application and supporting evidence will be reviewed. A short time later, you will receive verification that you are entitled to a GHIC card.
What sort of evidence is required for a GHIC application? It is primarily proof of your nationality and address.
Please note, when you apply initially you may still see the terms ‘EHIC or European Health Insurance Card’, but you will in fact receive a GHIC. It sometimes takes a while for outdated terms to be replaced.
How to use a GHIC card and does it cover family members?
As soon as you receive notification that your application is successful, you can start to use your GHIC card and receive healthcare in the European countries within the agreement.
You simply present your card at the point of delivery, at state-funded (not private) healthcare providers. They will use your details to check you are eligible for free or reduced-cost services, under this new arrangement for UK and EU travellers.
Just like an EHIC, it is possible to apply for this new card on behalf of yourself, but also your spouse/ partner, your children and other family members. However, you and each person on the application must meet the nationality and residency conditions. These are fundamentally focused on making sure that you and they are UK citizens.
Having GHICs for your entire family travel party brings great peace of mind!
GHIC Frequently asked questions
After BREXIT do you have to pay for healthcare in Europe?
For some time, this was a grave concern as the UK approached the date it officially severed ties with the EU. Different countries have diverse healthcare pricing structures and systems. Which could have led to British people facing hefty charges if they were ill or injured when on holiday in Europe. Or, it suggested a need for expensive travel insurance with a substantial element of cover for medical assistance and help with pre-existing conditions.
Fortunately, the new UK Global Health Insurance Card has made it possible for UK citizens to get access to basic healthcare free of charge in countries covered by the European Union.
This card is free of charge, though you can pay an admin fee to a company who can assist you in applying for one.
Do you still need travel insurance if you get a GHIC?
Your travel insurance will also ensure that you get specialist treatment for any existing health conditions when you are staying abroad.
Also, GHIC and EHIC cards are not valid if you need medical assistance while on a cruise ship, even if you are near an EU country at the time.
Does the GHIC entitle you to entirely free medical help in EU countries?
Healthcare systems vary in countries within the EU. This means that they don’t always provide the same services free of charge that the NHS does. There may be situations in which you will be asked to make a ‘patient contribution’ to certain health provision costs. Others will ask for a percentage contribution towards the services and medicines you need – which is known as ‘patient co-payment’.
The healthcare providers in this situation are applying the same payment terms to you, as they would to one of their own citizens.
Also, if you access private healthcare services while in an EU country, this is NOT covered by your GHIC.
Can having a GHIC reduce my travel insurance cost?
Some travel insurance companies now insist that customers have a current EHIC – or a newly introduced GHIC. Some reduce the excess payments you make if you claim for health-related issues and hold one of these invaluable cards.
How can I find out what my GHIC covers in my destination country?
As mentioned, different countries have different healthcare systems and procedures, which means your GHIC card may not entitle you to the same services you have under the NHS.
There is a handy way to check what a GHIC entitles you to in each EU country. It is a European Commission website, that features a drop-down menu of countries. Click on the one of interest to you, and you can see the treatment, coverage and costs involved.
Are there countries which don’t accept any kind of GHIC or EHIC?
The Channel Islands
the Isle of Man
Should I just ask my hotel/travel rep to sort healthcare?
The pitfalls of this include the potential for them to guide you towards private healthcare provision, not covered by your GHIC (or still-valid EHIC). They may even give you the impression that you can ‘claim costs back’ when you get home, when in fact those charges are non-refundable under the GHIC reciprocal healthcare agreement.
So, it is recommended that you are cautious about suggested health providers from other people and that you check yourself that your course of action and healthcare provision in the EU is covered by your GHIC.
What happens if I lose my GHIC?
However, what should you do if you are in an EU country and you don’t have your GHIC card or still-valid EHIC card to hand? This could be because your GHIC has been lost, stolen or substantially damaged.
If you need health assistance, you should apply for something called a Provisional Replacement Certificate. This is often referred to as a PRC. It is like a temporary GHIC that shows you are entitled to the reciprocal health services enshrined in this agreement.
You get your PRC by calling an organisation called Overseas Healthcare Services. This is a department of the NHS Business Services Authority.
The number to call for a PRC when abroad is:
NHS Overseas Healthcare Services – +44 (0)191 218 1999
There will only be someone to process PRC requests during working hours (Monday to Friday, 8am-6pm). To access this help you will need your National Insurance Number.
NHS Overseas Healthcare Services will then email your PRC to the healthcare provider to show that you are entitled to free or reduced-cost services. Though some providers will still prefer a fax version!
What if I need to arrange healthcare help for pre-existing conditions while on Holiday?
If you decide to go overseas for a procedure or therapy available in the UK under the NHS, that is not covered by GHIC and you will have to pay the full cost yourself.
However, if you have a chronic or pre-existing health condition, and a GHIC, you can make arrangements to receive specialist care while on holiday or a business trip. This includes, for example, dialysis for kidney problems, or oxygen treatments for lung conditions.
It is important to set this up before you leave the UK. The best starting point is to discuss your travel plans with your GP and then research the treatment, coverage and cost implications in your destination country.
It is worth emphasising that your GHIC or still-valid EHIC can’t be used to cover treatments or maternity costs if you opt to go abroad for a specialist procedure or to give birth. In other words, GHIC cards can be used for emergency or necessary medical assistance while in an EU country, not for ‘elective’ treatments.
Do GHICs cover the cost of getting home in a medical emergency?
Can I use my GHIC outside Europe?
This is certainly not the case.
The whole principle of GHIC and EHIC cards is that they help you to access the reciprocal healthcare agreement between the UK and EU. Therefore, their application – and your rights – only extend to the 27 countries that currently form the European Union.
However, there is a possibility that when the details of the new GHIC are finalised, it will also be valid to use in other countries with a reciprocal agreement with the NHS. This could include, for example, Australia, New Zealand and Gibraltar.
If you need to know which countries a GHIC applies to, you are advised to check the most up to date list, as this is a new initiative that is still taking shape.
When do GHICs expire?
So, if you have an EHIC, it is worth making a note of its expiry date and applying for a new GHIC card in good time.