EHIC stands for European Health Insurance Card. As a result of Brexit, the EHIC will eventually be replaced by the Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC). However, the EHIC can still be used until it expires. The purpose of both cards is to provide free or discounted medical care in EU member countries.
Both cards confer the same benefits for UK nationals who live in the UK. Cardholders can expect to receive medical treatment in a state-run hospital or by a GP in any European Union country as would a local citizen of that country.
What this means is that if local people get free medical treatment, then you should too, but if they must pay, you also pay at the same rate.
Check where possible when using your EHIC that you are getting treatment through a public healthcare system, and not private. The same will apply for a GHIC.
Brexit and EHIC/GHIC
On the 1 January 2021, the Brexit transition period ended after a last-minute Brexit deal. Up until this point people who travelled to European Union countries with an EHIC card were covered for emergency medical treatment, however some non-EU countries would also accept the EHIC card. These countries were:
This is now not the case and both the EHIC and GHIC cards will no longer be valid outside of an EU country.
Note: Both medical cards are for emergency medical treatment while in an EU country, it will not cover you if you are travelling specifically to get medical treatment (medical tourism).
My EHIC is still valid, do I also need a GHIC?
The simple answer is no. If your EHIC card is still in-date, you can carry on using it until it expires, regardless of how much time is left on your card (it is valid for five years).
The expiry date appears on the bottom right of the card. If your EHIC has expired, you will need to apply for the new GHIC card before your travel date. Therefore, check the date before your travel date as the GHIC may take up to two weeks to arrive.
A GHIC card is necessary once your EHIC card has expired or for a first-time applicant.
The EHIC/GHIC provides an extra layer of protection in addition to travel insurance, you should have both when travelling to an EU country.
How to apply for a GHIC?
Apply for a GHIC using the free GHIC website. The application must be made online, it cannot be done through your GP or Post Office.
It is recommended that you apply for this at least two weeks before your travel date, to ensure it arrives beforehand.
You do this yourself and it is easy to do. The most important thing to remember is that it is FREE. So, look out for copycat websites that try to charge you.
To apply you must be over the age of 16. Every person who wishes to travel must have their own GHIC card. You can apply on behalf of a child by including them as dependant in the relevant section on the application. Each person will receive a separate card.
Lost or stolen cards must be reported by calling 0300 330 1350 (from abroad call 0044 191 218 1999) or by emailing email@example.com.
Watch out for copycat EHIC/GHIC Websites
When searching for EHIC/GHIC on the internet, you will see many websites that ask for a fee to process your application for an EHIC or GHIC card. Bearing in mind the cards are free of charge, there should not be a charge.
These websites refer to themselves as ‘reviewing’ or ‘forwarding’ services and will have an official look to them. All they do is forward you to the official site. But before doing so they will ask for a fee usually around £20, this will appear at the bottom of the website, usually a tick box that asks for cash.
Other services such as passport and driving licence applications are also targeted by copycat sites.
Only use the official site and do not click on any adverts or sponsored sites with the name in it. The GHIC official website is www.nhs.uk/GHIC
If you have been caught out by a copycat website and paid a fee when you did not need to, getting a refund is not usually possible. However, it is worth contacting them as soon as possible asking for a refund. It may also be worth reading their terms and conditions to see if they allow refunds.
Is the EHIC/GHIC an alternative to travel insurance?
These cards are not a substitute for travel insurance as they cover just medical treatment. While this is valuable, it is limited.
Travel insurance covers a whole lot more for example, cancellations, baggage loss, evacuations, loss or delays, repatriation, theft and 24/7 assistance.
Travel insurance will cover the cost of medical treatment where payment is required, not all EU countries have free medical care. State hospitals in some EU countries may require a payment for treatment, even with an EHIC/ HIC card, in this situation the travel insurance will cover the cost and by using your EHCI/GHIC card you will not need to pay any excess.
The UK has state-run hospitals, but not all EU countries have these. Some just have private hospitals.
If I have travel insurance do I need the EHIC/GHIC?
Travel insurance policies often contain exclusions. It is prudent to have an EHIC/GHIC card as well, as these have no exclusions. For instance, if you have been drinking and need medical treatment as a result, you will get it. The card will still work even if you have a pre-existing medical treatment, which insurance polices will exclude. Going abroad for treatment known as medical tourism is not allowed.
What if I forget to take my EHIC or GHIC card abroad?
If you go abroad without your EHICH or GHIC card and have an emergency, a Provisional Replacement Certification (PRC) will need to be obtained to prove that you are entitled to medical treatment. This can be obtained from the NHS Overseas Healthcare Service by calling 0044 191 218 1999.
Can the EHIC/GHIC be refused?
According to the European Commission, being refused medical treatment when using an EHIC is a likely breach of EU law.
However, there have been cases where holidaymakers have had their EHIC’s refused in some countries for public healthcare. This should not happen, but in a minority of cases it has.
It is still important to take a valid EHIC with you. This is also where your travel insurance can come in handy too.
The situation for the GHIC is currently unknown, as it is newly launched and with all the current travel restrictions (COVID-19 pandemic 2019/2020) people are not able to holiday abroad.
Careful what you are asked to sign
You need to be careful when asked to sign anything, especially if you cannot understand what it says. If you are refused treatment in a state-run facility, be prepared to go elsewhere.
If you need to seek emergency medical treatment and end up paying for private treatment, obtain as much evidence as possible. You will need it when contacting the British Embassy locally, while you are still there. If that is not possible, report the matter the European Commission’s SOLVIT system on your return home. This system monitors that EU rules are being applied correctly.
One rule of thumb when getting medical treatment abroad is to show your card before treatment and keep any receipts.
I paid for treatment when EHIC/GHIC was refused, can I get a refund?
It depends, if you have travel insurance and the medical condition is covered, then a claim should be possible.
As with most insurance policies, there will be an excess to pay, meaning you will be liable to pay for the first part of a claim. For example, if your claim is for £250 and your excess on the policy is £50, you will only receive £200 back. Depending on how much the excess is on your travel insurance policy, you will need to take this into consideration before making any claims and what pay out you are likely to receive.
If your policy does not cover the condition you are making a claim for or choose to travel without insurance, you probably will not be reimbursed for these costs.