European health cards for travel are changing - what you need to know

Now that Britain has officially left the EU, old EHIC cards - which provided limited medical cover abroad - will be phased out.

The European Health Insurance Cards allowed travellers in the EU - as well as some other countries like Norway, Iceland and Switzerland - to receive limited public health care for free, at a reduced fee or at the same price as residents of the country the traveller was in.

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Though travel abroad is off for the moment thanks to the ongoing pandemic, some are wondering what to do with their old EHIC cards - and what scheme will come in to replace the cards.

This is everything we know so far about the validity of EHIC cards and the new scheme - the GHIC - which may come in to replace it.

When will my current EHIC card expire?

You should check the expiry date on your current EHIC card, as this will indicate when it expires.

Eventually, all EHIC cards will expire and thus will be phased out completely for UK residents.

If you are travelling to the EU for any reason in the coming months, don’t assume the EHIC will cover you in every country or for every health-related issue; you should check the rules on the government’s website carefully.

Will EHIC cards be replaced?

The government has announced a new card - the Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) - to replace the old EHIC.

The scheme is very new, so some of the details are still being worked out, but you can apply for a free card on the government’s page here.

How does a GHIC differ from an EHIC?

Though named a “global” health insurance card, the government’s website states that the GHIC will give users the same rights as an EHIC: “the right to access state-provided healthcare during a temporary stay in the European Union (EU)”.

The GHIC does not cover you in Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein or Switzerland, unlike the EHIC.

The card covers “necessary healthcare” in the EU, which means anything which becomes medically necessary during your stay, treatment for which cannot wait until your return to the UK.

This may include things like emergency treatment, routine medical care for pre-existing conditions which require monitoring or routine maternity care - as long as you haven’t gone abroad to give birth there.

You’ll need to pre-arrange some treatments such as dialysis or chemotherapy.

You should check that you’re not booked in with a private healthcare provider, as the GHIC, like the EHIC, only entitles you to state care.

Will I need travel insurance alongside a GHIC?

As with the EHIC, the GHIC card is not intended to be used as replacement for comprehensive travel insurance.

It won’t cover the cost of any private medical healthcare such as being flown back to the UK.

You should make sure the insurance you take out separately to the GHIC card covers your healthcare requirements.

The GHIC will also not cover you if you travel abroad specifically for medical treatment such as giving birth.

How do I apply for a GHIC?

You can apply for a GHIC through the government website at this link.

Please be wary of any fake websites made to look official which charge to help you with the application process. The application is free, and you should not be charged for it.

You’ll need your national insurance number to apply, and you must be at least 16 years old. For under 16s, a parent or guardian has to apply on their behalf.

If you have an EHIC that is still in date, you don’t need to apply for a GHIC until the EHIC expires.