There’s nothing worse than having to unexpectedly fork out a wad of cash on holiday to pay for medical treatment. That’s why anyone planning a trip to Europe should make sure to have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) on them at all times.

Despite the perks of the EHIC, some Brits are still in the dark about how much it can actually help them out. So, in this article, we’ll cover how the European Health Insurance Card can come in handy for people travelling abroad, how to apply for it, and whether Brits will be able to use it after Brexit.

The UK government has also struck a deal with the EU to make sure Brits still have access to medical care whilst in Europe. British travellers will now be eligible for the new Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) once their EHIC expires. If this applies to you, scroll further down to find out everything you need to know.

Someone holding two European Health Insurance Cards

What you can expect your European Health Insurance Card to look like

What is the European Health Insurance Card?

Put simply, the EHIC is a medical card that can be used throughout the EU, as well as in Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland.

The card entitles you to treatment in state hospitals at the same price as the residents of the country you’re visiting. This means, if residents receive free healthcare, so do you!

Can Brits use it after Brexit?

As of 1 January 2021, Brits won’t be able to use a UK-issued EHIC to access healthcare in Europe – EHICs issued by other European countries, however, are not affected. If you’re currently on a trip to Europe that started before 1 January 2021, you’ll be able to keep using your UK-issued EHIC until the trip ends.

As an alternative to the EHIC, the UK government has made a deal with the EU to create a like-for-like replacement – the Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC), which launched on 11 January 2021.

Under Britain’s new agreement with the EU, UK residents still have the right to receive emergency and medically necessary healthcare whilst travelling in the EU.

Current EHICs are valid as long as they are in date and people can continue to use these when travelling to the EU – you only need to apply for a GHIC when your current EHIC expires.

Who can apply for a UK-issued GHIC?

Once your EHIC expires, you’ll need to apply for a GHIC. Thankfully, this process is as straightforward as the old one.

All UK residents are eligible to apply for a GHIC. According to the UK government website, residents in Northern Ireland have the option to choose an alternative version of the GHIC card, which they will be able to apply for shortly. 

The UK has issued 27 million EHICs.

How to use an EHIC

EHICs are simple to use – all you have to do is present it once you arrive at a GP practice or hospital and you’ll be ready for treatment!

If you’re rushed to a medical centre and don’t have the card with you, it might be tricky to get treated without having to pay – so remember to carry it with you wherever you go.

If you happen to forget your card, fear not – you might be able to get a Provisional Replacement Certificate. This acts as a temporary EHIC, but using one can be a longer process, and might not guarantee free treatment.

Things to remember:

  • The EHIC is not an alternative to travel insurance – it won’t cover any private healthcare, or costs such as a return flight to your home country or lost/stolen property
  • It doesn’t cover your costs if you are travelling specifically for medical treatment
  • It doesn’t guarantee free services, as each country’s healthcare system is different 
  • You can only use the EHIC for state-run medical treatment. If you end up in a private health centre or hospital, you will probably have to pay for the entire bill yourself, unless you're covered by travel insurance
Happy family visiting doctor

You too can enjoy a great healthcare experience abroad with the help of an EHIC

What does it cover?

  • Treatment of a chronic or pre-existing medical condition that becomes necessary during your visit
  • Routine maternity care – as long as you're not going abroad specifically to give birth. If the birth happens unexpectedly, you’ll be covered for all medical treatment linked to the birth
  • The provision of oxygen and kidney dialysis, although you'll have to arrange and pre-book these treatments before you go on holiday
  • Routine medical care for people with pre-existing conditions that need monitoring

What's not covered?

Each country's healthcare system is different, and might not cover all the things you usually get from the NHS free of charge. If this is the case, some people usually have to make a contribution – also known as a ‘patient co-payment’.

To avoid costly co-payments, it’s wise to have both an EHIC and a comprehensive travel insurance policy in place before you travel. Some health insurers insist you hold an EHIC, and others will even waive the excess cost if you have one.

You may not be able to use the card in some parts of the EU, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein or Switzerland, as state-provided healthcare might not be available in certain areas. As such, it’s best to do your research on your destination before hopping on the plane.

For anyone planning on taking a relaxing cruise to get away from it all, remember that the EHIC will not cover you on cruises.

How much does it cost?

Good news – the EHIC is completely free! Once you’ve got your card, you’ll need to renew it every five years. Any Brits needing to replace their cards with a GHIC will also be pleased to hear that it comes at no cost.

How can you apply for one?

Even better news, the application process is very straight forward. All you need to do is apply for the card through the NHS website. You’ll be asked a series of questions, and will need to register some personal details.

The turn around is usually pretty swift too – once you send your application off, you can expect a response within five working days. If the NHS needs further evidence to support your application, they’ll email you with advice on what to do next.