Thousands of people every year depend on the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) to provide them with free or reduced cost healthcare when travelling in Europe, but Britain’s departure from the EU means that these cards are gradually being phased out.
The good news is that the EHIC will be replaced by a new Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC), which will ensure that UK residents’ rights to emergency and medically necessary healthcare will continue when travelling in the EU. This includes medically necessary treatment for pre-existing or chronic conditions.
Here’s everything you need to know about how the GHIC will work, and how to apply for one.
Who’s eligible for a Global Health Insurance Card?
You don’t have to have made a certain amount of National Insurance Contributions (NICs) or paid a set amount of UK tax to qualify for a GHIC. Instead, access to the card is determined by your residency, in the same way it is with the NHS, so if you’re ‘ordinarily resident’ in the UK and are not insured by another EU country, you’re likely to be entitled to a GHIC issued in the UK.
The government defines someone as being ordinarily resident in the UK if “they are normally residing in the UK (apart from temporary or occasional absences), and their residence here has been adopted voluntarily and for settled purposes as part of the regular order of their life for the time being, whether for short or long duration.”
You can find more guidance on being ordinarily resident in the UK here.
Where can I use the Global Health Insurance Card?
Even though the card is described as ‘Global’, you can only use it within the EU. The old EHIC could also be used in some non-EU countries such as Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Iceland, but now the UK has left the EU neither the new GHIC or the EHIC can be used outside the EU.
How do I apply for the Global Health Insurance Card?
You can apply for a Global Health Insurance card on the official NHS website here. All cards will look the same, except if you live in Northern Ireland, as from March 2021, you’ll be able to choose whether to have a standard GHIC card with a Union flag on it, or one with a plain background.
Do I have to pay for the card?
No, the card is free of charge, so it won’t cost you a penny. As with the EHIC card, there are several websites and services that tell you they’ll help you apply for a card in return for a fee. Often, they’ll say that the service offers a spelling check, or will send you a reminder when your GHIC card is about to expire. The NHS site is straightforward to use and totally free, so we would recommend you steer clear of any websites charging fees and only apply through the official NHS website.
How long will it take for my card to arrive?
It can take up to two weeks for applications to be processed, so you should ideally make sure you apply for one at least three weeks before you travel, if you want to be certain it will arrive in time. Usually though, your card should arrive within 10 days.
What if my card hasn’t arrived before I leave the UK, or I forget to pack it?
If you haven’t got your card with you and you need treatment while you’re abroad, you can request a Provisional Replacement Certificate to prove your entitlement to medically necessary healthcare.
You can apply for this Certificate by calling Overseas Healthcare Services at the NHS Business Services Authority on +44 (0)191 218 1999. The service is open from Monday to Friday from 8am to 6pm.
If I have the card does it mean they’ll be no cost for treatment if I need it overseas?
Not necessarily – some state healthcare in the EU has to be paid for by its own citizens, so whilst you would be eligible for similar treatment to locals, you might have to pay for certain treatments even if you have a GHIC.
According to the NHS website, the card should entitle you to “necessary healthcare” while you’re away, which essentially means any treatment that can’t wait until you’re back in the UK. For example, this would include emergency treatment and visits to A&E, as well as treatment for long-term or pre-existing medical conditions, such as diabetes or asthma. You may need to pay a percentage towards this treatment, even though you might get it free from the NHS if you were at home.
If the treatment you require for a pre-existing condition requires specialist machinery or drugs, such as dialysis if your kidneys have failed, or chemotherapy if you’re being treated for cancer, you’ll usually have to pre-arrange this with the relevant healthcare provider in the country you’re visiting to confirm your eligibility and any associated costs.
What happens if I travel without a GHIC but end up needing treatment while I’m away?
According to the government website Gov.uk, if you travel without a card, you should still be entitled to necessary healthcare while you’re abroad. You’ll need to apply for a Provisional Replacement Certificate by calling Overseas Healthcare Services at the NHS Business Services Authority on +44 (0)191 218 1999.
If I have a Global Health Insurance Card does that mean I don’t need travel insurance?
No, you should always take out travel cover before you go on holiday, as the Global Health Insurance Card will only cover some medical costs and won’t provide you with any financial protection if, for example, your baggage if lost or stolen, or if you experience travel delays or have to cancel your holiday.
What if my EHIC card doesn’t expire for a while?
You don’t have to apply for a GHIC card until your EHIC card expires. EHIC cards will still be valid for use in the EU until they run out.
Have you already applied for the new GHIC, or have you found the EHIC useful in the past? If so, we’d be interested in hearing from you. You can join the travel conversation on the Rest Less Community forum or leave a comment below.