Healthcare cover when travelling in the EU

19 January 2021 - Jason Harden

Missing your holidays abroad? We’re all having to cope with the realities of staying at home for a while longer, but one thing that will have changed when we finally get to sit on our sun loungers, is that the new post-Brexit relationship with the EU means the EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) which provided access to medical care across the EU will now gradually be replaced with a new GHIC (Global Health Insurance Card).

Should I throw away my existing EHIC card?
No – check the expiry date on your current card. EHIC cards will be acceptable in the EU as long as they are still in date. Cards are valid for five years from the date issued, so a card issued in 2020 will be valid until 2025. After that you will need a GHIC card.

What does a GHIC cover?
Like the EHIC, a GHIC can be used to get emergency and medically-necessary healthcare from a EU country’s state medical service whilst you are visiting. This includes travel in the EU for holidays, business trips and for studying abroad. The EHIC and GHIC cards provides cover for:

  • Emergency treatment and visits to Accident & Emergency
  • Treatment for a long term or pre-existing medical condition
  • Routine monitoring of a pre-existing medical condition
  • Standard maternity care (as long as you haven’t gone abroad to give birth)

They don’t cover:

  • Health tourism, where you have gone abroad specifically for medical treatment, such as plastic surgery, specialist dental work, or to give birth
  • Mountain rescue at ski resorts
  • Private medical healthcare, such as medical treatments on cruise ships
  • Being flown back to the UK by air ambulance

Do I still need health insurance? Or does this replace it?
The government recommends that everyone has comprehensive travel insurance when abroad, whether that is in the EU or anywhere else in the world. Without proper medical insurance as part of your travel insurance you may be left considerably out of pocket if you have an accident abroad: the Association of British Insurers quotes that an air ambulance from Mallorca to the UK costs £25,000. It is worth noting that every country’s healthcare system is different, and in some countries you may have to pay for some things that you’d get free from the NHS, for example food and hospital linen. Some insurers now insist that you have a GHIC card before they will issue travel insurance.

Does the GHIC cover me if I get COVID-19 when I’m in the EU?
The Department of Health and Social Care has confirmed that both the EHIC card and GHIC cards will entitle you to treatment for COVID-19  in the same way as the local population.

How much does the GHIC cost?
The GHIC (and the EHIC) are free to UK residents, and can be applied for via the government’s website Apply for a European Health Insurance Card – GOV.UK (
There are unofficial websites who charge to help you apply, these are unnecessary, as the application process is very simple and you do not need to use them. Most people will be able to apply online for a GHIC card, however students intending to study abroad will need to apply by post with a supporting letter from their university or college.

Can I get a family GHIC card?
No, each family member needs their own card, although one person can apply for cards for their partner and for dependent children under the age of sixteen as part of their application.

When do I need to apply for a GHIC card?
You should apply for a GHIC card before your existing EHIC card expires. The government are advising two weeks for the application, but we would suggest applying at least a month ahead. You will need to supply your full name, date of birth, address and National Insurance number.

Are there any exceptions in the EU to health cover with the GHIC card?
The GHIC card doesn’t cover you in Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Lichtenstein, although there are arrangements for these countries for a few groups of people such as UK students studying in the EU and some British State Pensioners who live in the EU.  The government advises travel insurance with medical cover if you are travelling to those countries.

More information on the GHIC and how to apply is on the NHS and websites:
Apply for a free UK Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) – NHS (
Apply for a European Health Insurance Card – GOV.UK (

It is important to have insurance in place when making your travel plans, and not leaving it until you are about to go abroad before booking your policy.

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