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New free GHIC replaces the EHIC – what you need to know

The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) is being phased out following the Brexit deal in favour of a new, free Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC). Here's what you need to know, including what the two cards are, who needs which one and how to get a GHIC for free (thus avoiding shyster sites that charge a fee).

Here's our quick Q&A:

EHICs and GHICs are essentially the same thing – what do they cover?

If you're a UK national living in the UK, the only real difference is in the name: 

  • The EHIC entitles you to the same treatment at state-run hospitals and GPs in the EU that locals are entitled to, at the same cost (so in some cases it could be free).
  • The GHIC does the same, but despite being called a 'Global' Health Insurance Card, like the EHIC, it too only works within the EU.

Before Brexit, and during last year's transition period, the EHIC entitled UK holders living in the UK to the above when travelling in the EU. Plus it extended to non-EU countries Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, as well as some other overseas territories. Sadly, neither card is valid outside the EU as of 1 January 2021 if you're a UK citizen living in the UK.

Neither card is a replacement for travel insurance, as they don't cover holiday cancellation, mountain rescue, repatriation and more. So you need travel insurance on top – see our Cheap Travel Insurance guide for help.

If I have a valid, in-date EHIC, do I need a GHIC?

Not if you're a UK national living in the UK. If you currently have an EHIC, you can continue to use it in the EU until the card expires, even if that is years away.

How do I check my EHIC expiry? (WARNING! Millions are due to expire this year)

The expiry date is on the bottom right of the physical card, so check if you've still got time left on yours. It was estimated that more than five million were due to expire in 2020, and while we don't have the number for 2021 yet, it's likely to be a similar figure.

So who needs a GHIC?

If you're a UK national living in the UK, when your EHIC expires or you're applying for the first time, you'll now need to get a free GHIC instead.

How do I get a free GHIC (thus avoiding shyster websites that charge a fee)?

You need to go via the official Government website.

For the avoidance of doubt, here's where to go: Apply for a free GHIC via the official website.

If you don't quite know your GHIC from your EHIC just yet, don't worry, the Government's website is still catching up as well.

Its online application portal still refers to the EHIC in a few places for now. While it sounds a little daft, the Government has told us that if you apply now for what may appear to be an EHIC, you're really applying for a GHIC – though it may take a few weeks to arrive.

Watch out for websites demanding a fee for the EHIC or GHIC. Search on the internet for "EHIC" or "GHIC" and you'll find sites that describe themselves as "reviewing" or "forwarding" services, charging to process your application. They often look official, but scroll to the bottom and you'll find a tick box asking for cash.

These copycat websites also try to trick people into overpaying for driving licences, passports and others – see our full Copycat Sites guide for more.

What if I'm not a UK national living in the UK? Can I still use an EHIC?

If you're an EU, Swiss, Norwegian, Icelandic or Liechtenstein national living in the UK before 1 January 2021, then unlike UK nationals living in the UK, you should (providing you meet certain requirements) be able to apply for a new EHIC. This will be valid in the EU, as well as in Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. Those moving to the UK after 1 January 2021 won't qualify for an EHIC.

UK nationals living, working or studying in the EU, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein or Switzerland may also be able to apply for a new EHIC – see who can still apply

In both of these scenarios, most people can apply for a free EHIC via this NHS website – note this is a different application website to the one listed above. On this page you'll be asked to complete an online questionnaire to first confirm your eligibility, you'll then be directed to an online application form. You may also need to separately send proof of residence and nationality.

Certain groups of people won't be able to complete the online form though, and will instead have to email with proof of eligibility. The NHS website outlines which category you fall into and which application route to follow. Also see our Free GHIC and EHIC guide for full details.  

What if I want to travel but don't have an EHIC or GHIC?

If you don't have an EHIC or GHIC but need to travel, you will still be covered under the scheme so long as you're entitled to a card. In this scenario, if you require healthcare while within the EU you should contact the NHS Business Services Authority for a provisional replacement certificate. You can call it on +44 (0)191 218 1999. See our Free GHIC and EHIC guide for full details.  

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