The Essentials on European Health Insurance Cards and the Global Health Insurance

The Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) is a free card that allows UK citizens to access state-provided healthcare throughout Europe. It is the successor to the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).

If you require medical treatment while traveling abroad, an EHIC or GHIC card can provide invaluable peace of mind. Here's how they work and what's changed since the United Kingdom exited the European Union.

A woman holding up a blue EHIC card

What exactly is the GHIC?

The GHIC is a card that allows you to receive necessary state-provided medical care while in the EU.

By using this card, you agree to pay the same price for treatment as citizens of that country. If it is free for them, it should be free for you as well.

If you need 'necessary healthcare,' it means you can't wait to get treatment in the UK.  

What has changed regarding the EHIC?

Most Brits can no longer obtain new EHICs since the UK left the EU. Instead, UK citizens should apply for the GHIC, a similar card.

Both cards allow you to receive state healthcare at a reduced or no cost across Europe. However, prior to Brexit, EHICs were valid in some non-EU countries:

  • Norway
  • Iceland
  • Liechtenstein
  • Switzerland 

This is no longer true. In the EU, you can only use a GHIC.  

EU citizens residing in the UK should be able to apply for a UK EHIC card.  

UK citizens living in the EU should be able to apply for a UK EHIC if they lived in the EU prior to the end of 2020. These rights must be protected by the UK-EU withdrawal agreement.

Is it necessary to replace my EHIC with a GHIC?

No, you are not required to replace your EHIC with a GHIC the next time you travel to Europe.

As part of the withdrawal agreement, the EU confirmed that UK citizens could continue to use their current EHIC until it expired.

EHIC cards are valid for 5 years. Check the date on the front of your card to see how much time remains on it.

What exactly does an EHIC or GHIC cover?

Existing EHICs and GHICs give you access to government-provided healthcare in the EU. 'Medically necessary' treatment is treatment that you cannot wait to receive in the UK.  

This includes the following:

  • A&E visits and emergency medical care
  • Long-term or pre-existing medical conditions treatment
  • Pre-existing condition monitoring as part of routine medical care
  • Oxygen therapy and dialysis

Routine maternity care should be provided as well, as long as you have not traveled to the country solely to give birth.

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

What does not fall under the purview of an EHIC or GHIC?

To be able to use your EHIC or GHIC health card, treatment must be deemed'medically necessary' by a doctor or hospital.  

Some of the costs that are not covered by an EHIC or GHIC are as follows:

  • The use of mountain rescue if you are injured while skiing - you will need ski travel insurance to cover this.
  • Treatment requiring travel to the EU

It is critical to understand that state healthcare in other countries will not always be the same as in the UK. This means you may have to pay for services provided free of charge by the NHS.

In which countries can I use my EHIC or GHIC card?

Most EU countries should allow you to use your EHIC or GHIC.

The EHIC and GHIC are not accepted in the following areas:

The EHIC and GHIC both provide access to healthcare in every other European country. However, the post-Brexit GHIC is not as comprehensive.

The GHIC, unlike the EHIC, does not provide coverage in non-EU European countries such as:

However, UK visitors in Norway can use their UK passport to obtain some medical treatment, such as emergency care and treatment for pre-existing conditions.

The United Kingdom has reciprocal health-care agreements with a number of non-EU countries. For example, UK citizens can receive emergency treatment for free or at a reduced rate in Australia and New Zealand. However, this does not include the treatment of pre-existing conditions.

Is the GHIC and EHIC free of charge?

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

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

These sites charge up to £30 per application. Regardless of the cost, they will not be able to get you your card any faster than if you applied yourself.

Is my EHIC card still valid?

Your EHIC is valid for 5 years from the date printed on the front.  

The fact that the United Kingdom has left the European Union has no bearing on the expiration date.

How do I obtain a GHIC?

The NHS website allows you to apply for a GHIC.

You'll need your national insurance number, as well as the numbers of anyone else you're applying for at the same time, to fill out the online form. You may be asked for your NHS number as well.

You will not be questioned about your current or previous medical conditions.

To be eligible for a UK GHIC, you must meet at least one of the following requirements:

  • You are legally resident in the UK but lack healthcare coverage provided by an EU country or Switzerland.
  • You live in the EU or Switzerland and have a UK-issued S1, E121, E106, or E109 form.
  • You are a UK citizen living in the EU or Switzerland with an A1 document.
  • You are a family member or dependent of an already-listed entitled individual.

How much time does it take to obtain a GHIC card?

After your application is approved, you should receive your new GHIC card within 15 working days.  

However, due to an increase in demand following the pandemic, the NHS has stated that processing applications is taking longer than usual.  

If you need emergency medical care while traveling abroad and do not have your card, you can apply for a Provisional Replacement Certificate (PRC).

How do I renew my EHIC card?

You can renew your EHIC by applying for a GHIC from the NHS.

You can apply for a GHIC up to six months before it expires. This allows you to get organized and ensures that you don't run out of cards.

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

In fact, keeping your EHIC is beneficial because it should cover you in some non-EU European countries such as Switzerland, Iceland, and Liechtenstein.

What if I misplace my EHIC or GHIC while abroad?

You should apply for a PRC as soon as you realize your EHIC or GHIC has been stolen or lost.  

You can do so by contacting NHS Overseas Healthcare at 0191 218 1999.

A PRC verifies your right to healthcare in Europe and provides the same level of protection as your lost or stolen card.

When applying for a PRC, you must have:

  • Personal information such as your name and address
  • Your Social Security number
  • The treatment facility's name
  • The email address for the department that is providing your treatment.

Is travel insurance required if I have an EHIC or GHIC?

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

Your EHIC or GHIC provides valuable protection, but your treatment may not be free. Even if it is, you may be charged extra for other expenses such as food.

For these reasons, the government recommends that anyone traveling abroad obtain travel insurance.

A good travel insurance policy should cover more of your expenses if you become ill or have an accident while on vacation. It should also cover the following:

  • Repatriation back to the UK if necessary

More than just medical expenses should be covered by travel insurance. There are numerous other holiday spoilers that you can claim with travel insurance, such as lost baggage, flight delays, and being forced to cancel your trip.

You do not need to arrange insurance for each member of your family individually. There are affordable family travel insurance policies available that cover everyone.

Also, just because you have travel insurance does not mean you don't need a GHIC health card. This is because your GHIC card will cover some incidents that may be excluded by travel insurance. For instance, an accident while intoxicated or under the influence of recreational drugs.

Some travel insurance companies also require a GHIC or EHIC card.

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