Travel insurance

What is the GHIC? The UK Global Health Insurance Card explained

21 January 20215 min read

A view of the Kastel Stafilic landmarks and turquoise beach view in Split region of Dalmatia, Croatia

The Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) replaces the EHIC. It offers cover for necessary medical treatment in the European Union, either at a reduced cost or for free. This guide explains where you can use it, what it will cover you for and what to do with your current EHIC.

What is the GHIC?

The GHIC is the successor to the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). Unlike its predecessor, it is not valid in EEA countries or Switzerland and, despite its name, does not entitle you to medical treatment in countries outside of the EU.

The NHS states that the GHIC “gives you the right to access state-provided healthcare during a temporary stay in the European Union”. Effectively, you will be afforded the same care a resident of the host country would receive. This applies to temporary stays only, such as a holiday, study or business travel. It remains free to apply for the card.

Is my EHIC still valid?

Yes, your current UK-issued EHIC will remain valid until its expiry. Then, you should apply for a GHIC. However, on January 1, 2021, the EHIC lost its validity in EEA countries and Switzerland. It now only offers the same EU-only cover as the GHIC.

In some circumstances, such as if you are a frontier worker or student studying in the EU before January 1, 2021, your old EHIC and new UK-issued EHICs will continue to cover you under the old system. Find out more on the NHS website.

Where can I use my GHIC?

The GHIC is valid within anywhere within the EU. It is not valid in Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland. Until a new agreement is settled on, you are still entitled to necessary medical treatment in Norway (show your passport). The UK government has said that it is working towards agreements with Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland.

Countries accepting the Global Health Insurance Card

AustriaEstoniaItaly Portugal
Belgium FinlandLatviaRomania
Czech Republic HungaryThe Netherlands Sweden

The GHIC is not valid in the Channel Islands (including Guernsey, Alderney and Sark), the Isle of Man, Monaco, San Marino and the Vatican.

How do I get a GHIC?

The Global Health Insurance Card is completely free. The only place you need to go to register for a GHIC is the NHS’s official website. You should receive your card within ten days of your application.

Some scam sites claim to provide GHIC for a fee – do not use these sites. Any site asking for payment is not legitimate.

If you are applying from Northern Ireland, from spring 2021, you will have a choice between card with the standard union flag and one with a plain background.

What does the GHIC cover?

The most important thing to know about the GHIC is that it is not an alternative to travel insurance. There are certain things that a GHIC entitles you to, and others that only a comprehensive travel insurance policy will take care of. Remember, other countries may not offer the same level of cover and service as the NHS, and some countries require patients to make a contribution towards the cost of their care. Plus, travel insurance can offer protection for many other aspects of your holiday, such as cancellation or the loss of your possessions.

Ultimately, having both will provide you with the best possible medical cover for a holiday in EU countries.

What the GHIC covers:

  • necessary, state-provided treatment in the event of an accident or a sudden illness
  • treatment for pre-existing or long-term illnesses that may flare up while you’re on holiday
  • routine maternity care
  • oxygen and kidney dialysis

For all of the above instances, you will be covered until your planned return. However, if medical care is the specific reason for your travels, this will not apply: the GHIC is for emergencies only.

What the GHIC does not cover:

  • Repatriation – in some serious cases, you may need to be brought back to the UK for urgent treatment. This also applies if you die overseas and your body needs to be transported home. A comprehensive travel insurance policy should cover this.
  • Additional costs related to your medical situation – in the event of serious illness or injury, you may require additional support. For example, transportation for medical equipment, and flights and accommodation for family. Your travel insurance may cover this, but the GHIC will not.
  • Rescue – some travel insurance policies – for example, those with a winter sports option – will cover an air ambulance or mountain rescue.
  • Delay – some travel insurance policies may allow you to claim for delays and cancellations. The GHIC does not.
  • Theft and loss – a comprehensive travel insurance policy should be able to help if you fall victim to theft, or you lose something valuable while abroad. Once again, the GHIC will not.
  • Cruise holidays – the GHIC is not valid on cruises.

Does the UK have other reciprocal healthcare agreements?

The UK has a number of reciprocal healthcare agreements in place with countries outside of the EU and EEA. These agreements usually work in a similar way to the EHIC, allowing Britons to receive state healthcare from the host country for free or at a reduced rate. The only difference is that you do not need a card – you will probably need to take your passport with you to the hospital or doctor.

The UK has reciprocal agreements with Anguilla, Australia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the British Virgin Islands, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, the Isle of Man, Jersey, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Monserrat, New Zealand, St Helena, Serbia, and the Turks and Caicos Islands.

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