Booking a holiday abroad is often a complex process and COVID-19 travel restrictions have only made things more complicated. But with the welcome news that no countries remain on the red list for travel to and from the UK, the prospect of booking a winter sun break is extremely tempting. To ensure things run smoothly before and during your trip, it’s important to utilise all support available.

One key change made to foreign travel following Brexit is the gradual phasing out of the European Health Insurance Card. While you can still use an existing EHIC, you can no longer apply for a new one unless you have rights under the Withdrawal Agreement. This includes UK nationals who were living in the EU by 31 December 2020 where the UK pays for your healthcare (for example because you have an S1 form).

The EHIC’s replacement – the Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) – has very similar benefits to its predecessor. It’s free, it lasts for five years and it allows cardholders access to cheaper medical care in EU member state countries. This includes entitlement to access treatment using state-run hospitals and doctors for the same price that a local resident would pay, even if their treatment would be free.

How to apply for a GHIC

Those age 16 or over can apply for their card using the official Government website. A parent or guardian can also apply on behalf of younger children. Cards will usually arrive within 10 days of application although we would advise leaving a clear two weeks between application and travel to be safe. The official website also has comprehensive details of where and how you can use your card.

Make sure to only use this route to apply, as there are many unofficial websites that charge a fee to complete the application on your behalf. If you still have a valid EHIC, you can continue to use this until the expiry date.

How to use the GHIC

You can use your card to access medically necessary state-provided healthcare when you’re visiting an EU country. This is defined as healthcare that cannot reasonably wait until you return to the UK, a decision that is ultimately made by the healthcare provider in the country you’re visiting.

It covers a wide range of circumstances and conditions, including visits to A&E, treatment for a long-term or pre-existing medical condition, or routine maternity care (as long as you didn’t go abroad to give birth).  It does not cover healthcare that you have specifically travelled abroad to receive.

Certain countries may expect individuals to pay their medical bills upfront and claim a refund afterwards. Make sure to retain all receipts and paperwork to ensure a smooth process.

What’s the difference between the EHIC and the GHIC?

While both cards are broadly the same – offering cardholders access to free or discounted healthcare on the same terms as a local – there is one key difference. Cover offered by the new GHIC does not extend to countries within the European Economic Area (EEA) but outside the EU – namely Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland. You can still access “medically necessary” treatment in Norway by showing a UK passport.

Do I still need travel insurance?

The short answer is yes. While the GHIC is a great way to access free or discounted medical care in EU countries, the benefits of travel insurance are very different. The GHIC will only cover emergency and essential healthcare costs and will never cover the cost of repatriation. As the GHIC also only covers the cost of state-provided healthcare and not private medical costs, travel insurance fills the gap where more comprehensive cover may be needed.

Travel insurance will usually offer cover for medical costs of at least £1 million. It also offers protection against other unforeseen but not uncommon travel hazards. This might include loss of luggage or theft, having to cancel a trip due to unforeseen circumstances or personal liability. It will also protect you financially against more specific potential healthcare needs such as mountain rescue when skiing.

Some insurers may offer a discount to GHIC cardholders while others may require that you hold one before taking cover out.

It’s also worth considering that not every country provides state healthcare entirely free of charge, even with your GHIC. In such circumstances, you will be asked to pay a percentage towards the cost of treatment just as a local resident would be – and will not be able to claim a refund on these contributions. This is another key consideration that should be made when weighing up the value of travel insurance.

For further guidance on the benefits of travel insurance and how to choose the best policy for you and your family or your business, contact our specialist team today.

Disclaimer: The information contained within this communication does not constitute financial advice and is provided for general information purposes only. No warranty, whether express or implied is given in relation to such information. Vintage Health or any of its associated representatives shall not be liable for any technical, editorial, typographical or other errors or omissions within the content of this communication.