Free GHIC and EHIC

Get free or discounted medical care in EU countries

The free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) is being phased out following the United Kingdom's departure from the European Union. In its place you can now get the similar, free Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC). You can still use an EHIC for now, but if you've not got one, you'll normally need to apply for a GHIC. Both cards get free or discounted medical care in all EU countries and Switzerland.

For the latest ways to save when going abroad, see our 60+ overseas travel tipsCheap flights and Cheap hotels.

Here are our eight need-to-knows about the GHIC and EHIC, including how to apply for one...

  1. A GHIC or EHIC gets you medical treatment in the EU for the same price a local would pay

    The GHIC and the EHIC are both free and do essentially the same thing.

    If you're a UK national living in the UK, they entitle the holder to the same medical treatment as a local citizen at state-run hospitals and GPs in any European Union country and Switzerland – extremely useful in emergencies.

    That means if a local citizen gets free medical treatment then you do too – but if they pay, you pay the same rates. As this is a reciprocal agreement, it also means EU citizens can use the NHS in the same way.

    Prior to 1 January 2021 you were also covered with an EHIC in Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. This is no longer the case and Switzerland is now the only country outside the EU to accept cards held by UK citizens (who live in the UK).

    It's also worth noting a GHIC or EHIC doesn't cover you if you're going abroad specifically to get treatment – see the NHS website for more info.

  2. Use the free official Gov.uk site to apply for a GHIC (there are copycat sites, but they're NOT free)

    You can apply for a free GHIC via the official NHS website – the Government says it's currently taking up to 15 working days from the point of approval to receive a new card, so give enough time before your trip. If you don't have your card for when you travel, but need treatment while away, you can apply for a 'provisional replacement certificate'.

    You can't get a GHIC from your doctor, nor can you get one from a post office.

    You must be over 16 to apply for a GHIC, and every family member requires a card. To apply on behalf of a child, just include them as a dependant in the relevant section of the application and you'll each receive a separate GHIC.

    The GHIC is valid in EU countries, and Switzerland (for UK and Swiss nationals), but isn't valid in Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, so it's worth remembering it's currently valid in fewer countries than the EHIC pre-Brexit.

    If you lose your card, or it gets stolen, call 0300 330 1350 (from abroad call 0044 191 218 1999) or email nhsbsa.ghicenquiries@nhs.net.

    Many non-UK nationals living in the UK can still apply for an EHIC

    If you're an EU, Swiss, Norwegian, Icelandic or Liechtensteiner national who was living in the UK before 1 January 2021, you can still apply for a 'UK EHIC'. This will be valid in the EU, as well as in Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. Those who moved to the UK on or after 1 January 2021 don't qualify for an EHIC.

  3. Beware copycat sites – you NEVER need to pay for a GHIC/EHIC

    Never pay for a Global Health Insurance Card.

    Watch out for websites demanding a fee for the GHIC or EHIC. Search on the internet for 'GHIC' or 'EHIC' and you'll find sites that describe themselves as "reviewing" or "forwarding" services, charging £20 or more 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.

    ALWAYS use the official NHS site to get yours for free. A Department of Health spokesperson says:

    These websites are not endorsed by the Department of Health. The Government is working with the Advertising Standards Authority, Trading Standards and search engines such as Google to raise awareness and ensure enforcement action is taken where appropriate.

    Quick question

    • Can you get your money back from a copycat site if you've paid?

      Unfortunately, far too many have been caught out through googling 'EHIC', and end up paying through an unofficial site. This could happen when searching 'GHIC' as well. If this has happened to you, it's unlikely you'll be able to get your money back. However, it's worth contacting the site straightaway and asking for a full refund, just in case.

      This won't always work, but it's worth a shot – back in 2012, one MoneySaver who paid for his EHIC via an unofficial website found its terms allowed refunds within 30 days, so used this to get his money back (see the Paid-for EHIC applicants could get refund MSE News story). This won't be in all sites' terms, but if it's happened to you, do give it a go.

      While it isn't unlawful to charge for a reviewing and forwarding service, tricking consumers into spending on unwanted services is. If you're concerned about an unofficial GHIC/EHIC website, contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 0808 223 1133. See the National Trading Standards website for more info.

  4. Already got an EHIC? Check it's not expired – over four million will in 2024

    Valid EHICs can still be used by UK nationals living in the UK to get free or discounted medical treatment in EU countries and Switzerland. According to figures given to MoneySavingExpert.com by the NHS, 4.3 million EHICs are due to expire in 2024. Ensure yours is valid before you go away – if it's not, you'll normally need to apply for the GHIC.

    Even if you've already got travel insurance, it's valuable extra protection, even if just for visiting a GP with a query while you're away.

    How to check

    The expiry date is on the bottom right of the card. If it's already expired, or is about to, you should renew (you'll receive the GHIC instead) – see how to apply.

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

    No. If you're a UK national living in the UK and you already have an EHIC, you can continue to use it in the EU and Switzerland until the card expires, even if that's years away (cards are valid for five years when issued).

    You only need a GHIC if you're a UK national living in the UK and your EHIC has expired or you're applying for the first time.

    See how to apply for a GHIC.

  5. You still need travel insurance as well as a GHIC

    While very useful, the GHIC and EHIC are only about medical cover. They give you access to state-run hospitals which, depending on where you travel to, can be few and far between, and more limited.

    Travel insurance has a much wider level of cover than a GHIC and EHIC. For example:

    • A GHIC or EHIC doesn't always mean free treatment – where it doesn't, travel insurance usually covers it. Even in a state hospital using a GHIC or EHIC, you may still have to pay a substantial amount in some countries. Travel insurance should cover this, though using a GHIC or EHIC may mean you won't need to pay the excess.

    • State hospitals might not be available. In the UK, emergency treatment tends to be on the NHS, but don't assume this type of coverage will always be available. You may be taken to a private hospital.

    • Cancellation, delay, repatriation, baggage loss and theft aren't covered. A GHIC and EHIC are purely a medical policy, while travel insurance covers many other areas. See Cheap travel insurance for more information.

    There are many things that may be excluded under a travel insurance policy that won't be excluded with a GHIC or EHIC.

    For example, you may not be covered by your travel insurer for treatment you receive for an alcohol-related injury, whereas you'd usually be treated as normal with an EHIC or GHIC (that's not an excuse to push it though). Plus, they still work if you have an existing condition (though 'medical tourism' – going abroad to get treatment – is not allowed).

    Additionally, some travel insurers will insist you have a GHIC/EHIC.

  6. Make sure you know what treatment's covered if you do need to access healthcare

    You can use the GHIC or EHIC in EU member states, and if you do need treatment while you're away, the European Commission has detailed country-by-country information on what's covered.

    This info will generally tell you about the kind of treatment you can access, how you can do that, and whether you'll be able to recoup the cost and/or have to make a payment.

    Remember, in some countries medical care is free, and in some you'll pay, but only the same as a local. Ensure you show your card before treatment, and keep any receipts.

    Here's a list of links to the relevant European Commission pages:

  7. There's a small chance your GHIC could be refused – another reason to ensure you've travel insurance

    Worryingly, we've previously heard reports of holidaymakers having their EHICs refused for public healthcare in some countries. This has only affected a very small minority of travellers, and you should always take a valid EHIC nevertheless.

    With the GHIC not being around for long, we've had little feedback on it so far. If you have trouble using a GHIC to access medical care, let us know at news@moneysavingexpert.com.

    Always ensure you've travel insurance in place, just in case.

    Be careful what you sign

    The European Commission's told us that if your EHIC's refused for public healthcare, it's likely to be a breach of EU law. To ensure you don't get caught out, ALWAYS check you're being treated under the public (rather than private) healthcare system when you show your EHIC. This will also apply if you've a GHIC.

    Be careful what you sign, particularly if you don't understand what it is, and be prepared to go elsewhere if you're refused public treatment. If it's a medical emergency and as a result you're forced to pay for private treatment, gather as much evidence as possible. You can then contact the local British Embassy while abroad.

    Will I get medical costs refunded if my GHIC/EHIC's refused?

    If you've got travel insurance, then you may be in luck. Assuming the condition you have is covered by insurance, you should be able to claim.

    However, most policies have an excess, which means you're responsible for the first part of any claim. Say the excess is £50 – if you claimed for treatment costing £200, you would only get £150 back as the first £50 is your responsibility. Therefore, factor in the excess to any payouts.

    If you don't have insurance or you're not covered for the condition, it's highly unlikely you'll be reimbursed. You can report the problem to the local British Embassy, though it probably won't get you your money back.

  8. If you don't have a GHIC and you're already overseas, you can apply for a 'provisional replacement certificate'

    If you find yourself without your GHIC or EHIC in an emergency (or even if you don't have a valid one), you can get a provisional replacement certificate (PRC) to prove your entitlement.

    Apply for a PRC online at NHS Overseas Healthcare Service, or if you prefer, call it on 0044 191 218 1999 (someone else can do this on your behalf if you're unable to). Lines are open 8am to 6pm UK time, Monday to Friday. The NHS says if you require a PRC outside of opening hours, to advise the hospital or doctor of the situation and they should be happy to wait until the office is open before considering payment.

    The PRC will give you the same cover as a GHIC/EHIC until you return home.

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