Post-Brexit medical treatment abroad: What’s the difference between an EHIC and a GHIC

Jan 24, 2021

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As the U.K. left the European Union and the transition period ended on 31 December 2020, inevitably, some changes were expected — especially for travellers.

It can be a bit of a confusing time for all, whether you are simply planning a European holiday, are an ex-pat living in Spain, for example, or planning to move or study abroad.

Can I still use my U.K. passport? What about driving? But what about if I fall ill while abroad? Will my European Health Insurance Card still be valid? And for how long? Here is all you need to know.

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(Photo by Nick Ansell – PA Images / Contributor/Getty Images)

What is a European Health Insurance Card?

The EHIC allows you access to state-provided medical treatment in any EU country or in Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein — where the scheme also applies. The same applies to EU citizens who are in the U.K.

The cards also cover pre-existing medical conditions and “routine” maternity care, as well as emergency care. Those with a chronic illness who need regular treatment like dialysis, for example, will receive it in the same way a citizen of that country would.

Can I still use it in Europe?

As part of the deal announced on 24 December 2020, the U.K. and the EU agreed that the cards can still be used until they expire. The cards last five years and the expiry date is printed on the front. Note that you can no longer apply for a new EHIC.

If I don’t have one, what shall I do?

If your EHIC has expired — or is about to — you should apply for its replacement, called the Global Health Insurance Card

What is the Global Health Insurance Card?

It serves the same purpose as the EHIC and gives people the right to access state-provided healthcare during a temporary stay in the EU. Note that it will not be valid in Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein or Switzerland.

Similar to the EHIC, it will cover chronic or existing illnesses and routine maternity care as well as emergencies, but treatments such as dialysis or chemotherapy will have to be pre-arranged to ensure they are available at your destination.

The government has warned that the GHIC is not an alternative to travel insurance, as it will not cover private healthcare such as mountain rescue at a ski resort.

(Photo by Gwengoat/Getty Images)

How do I get one?

You can apply for a GHIC online for free free. You should apply about two weeks before your EHIC expires, as the new card usually arrives within 10 days, according to the government website.

It’s operated in a similar way to the NHS in that the cards are based on residency, not nationality. So if you live in the U.K., you can get one.

However, U.K. students who are planning to study in an EU country can’t apply online. They’ll have to send their application by post, together with a letter from their U.K. university, in order to apply for a GHIC that’s time-limited to the length of their course.

You will also have to apply by post if you are not a British or Irish citizen, and must attach your visa or residence permit.

Featured photo by Photo by Nick Ansell/PA Images via Getty Images

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