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 Brexit deal in favour of a new, also free, Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) which launched at the beginning of this year. 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.
This guide explains how the cards work, who needs the new GHIC, and how to get one while avoiding shyster sites that charge a fee.
Thanks to former MSE Rose Harris-Birtill who wrote our original EHIC guide – some of the content, where relevant, is still included here.
What is a GHIC and EHIC?
The new 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 – 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 (once the Brexit transition period had ended and following a Brexit deal), you were also covered with an EHIC in some non-EU countries including Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. This is no longer the case and neither card is valid outside the EU if you're a UK citizen living 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.
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 until the card expires, even if that's years away (cards are valid for five years when issued). See below for how to check your EHIC expiry.
You only need a new 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 the new GHIC.
Many non-UK nationals living in the UK can still apply for an EHIC
If you're an EU, Swiss, Norwegian, Icelandic or Liechtenstein national who was living in the UK before 1 January 2021, then you can still 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 as of 1 January 2021 don't qualify for an EHIC.
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 or 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 which may be excluded under a travel insurance policy that won't be excluded with a GHIC or EHIC.
For example, if you've been drinking you’ll still be treated (that's not an excuse to push it though), and they still work if you have a pre-existing condition (though 'medical tourism' – going abroad to get treatment – is prohibited).
Additionally, some travel insurers will insist you have a GHIC/EHIC.
For this, call the NHS Overseas Healthcare Service on 0044 191 218 1999 (someone else can do this on your behalf if you're unable to), open Monday to Friday from 8am to 6pm UK time – see the NHS website for more information. The NHS says if you require a PRC outside of its opening hours, to advise the hospital/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.
Got an EHIC? Keep using it but check it hasn't expired – over 6m will this year
Valid EHICs can still be used by UK nationals living in the UK to get free or discounted medical treatment in EU countries. Yet according to figures from the Department of Health, 6.4 million EHICs are due to expire in 2021, so ensure yours is valid before you go away – if it's not, you'll normally need to apply for the new GHIC.
Even if you've already got travel insurance, it's valuable extra protection, even if just for visiting the local GP with a query while 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 new GHIC instead) – see how to apply.
Don't have an EHIC or GHIC? Most will need to apply for a free GHIC
You can apply for a free GHIC via the official website – the Government says it's best to do this at least two weeks before you travel to give it time to arrive.
You can't get a GHIC from your doctor, nor can you get one from a post office.
Though you must be over 16 to apply for a GHIC, 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.
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 the full Copycat Sites guide for more.
ALWAYS use the official site, www.nhs.uk/GHIC, 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.
Can you get your money back from a copycat site if you've paid?
Sadly, far too many have been caught out through googling 'EHIC' and end up paying through an unofficial site, and this could start happening to people when googling '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 straight away 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.
Beware unlawful GHIC/EHIC refusals
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.
Of course, the GHIC has only recently launched and with travel restricted also, we haven't had any feedback on it yet. If you have trouble using a GHIC to access medical care, let us know at email@example.com. It's always worth ensuring you've decent travel insurance, just in case.
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 very 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 as evidence as possible.
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 something worth £200, you would only get £150 back as the first £50 is your responsibility. Therefore, factor in the excess to any payouts.
Sadly 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 or the European Commission's SOLVIT system. However, these probably won't get you your money back.
Country-by-country guide – what you're covered for
The GHIC and EHIC are usable in EU member states. Show your card before treatment, and keep any receipts. The European Commission has detailed country-by-country information on what's covered.
In each of the countries which allow you to use your GHIC or EHIC, listed below, it's worth checking that your treatment provider is registered with the state-run health scheme. In some countries, medical care is free, and in some you'll pay but only the same as a local. Here's a list of links to the relevant European Commission pages:
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