What's the Global Health Insurance Card, and how does it differ to the EHIC?

Nick Trend
·4-min read
Travellers should still get insurance - Getty
Travellers should still get insurance - Getty

The Government has now formally launched the Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) – the scheme replacing the old EHIC arrangements, which gave British citizens access to free or low-cost medical treatment in EU countries. Full details have yet to be announced, but we now know enough to make a broad comparison between the two schemes. Here are the key questions answered.

Why is it important?

The huge benefit of the old EHIC and the new GHIC is that people who find it hard to get full insurance cover because they have pre-existing medical conditions can travel knowing that, if they need emergency treatment, they can use the local public health system without facing a huge bill. The official description puts it: “Your GHIC entitles you to free or reduced cost state-provided healthcare where treatment becomes medically necessary during a temporary visit to the European Union (EU).” Note that in some countries, state healthcare systems charge their citizens for treatment. It is usually only a small amount, but you will have to pay it and will not be able to claim the money back.

What are the key differences?

The key difference in cover which has emerged so far is that neither the EHIC nor the new GHIC now provide cover in four countries that used to offer reciprocal arrangements for British travellers: Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, which are in the EEA, but not the EU. Healthcare in Norway and Switzerland in particular can be very expensive, so it’s vital to make sure you are properly insured when you travel there.

Do I still need insurance?

As the Government regularly points out, neither the EHIC nor the GHIC offers you anything like the same protections that travel insurance does. To cover the potential costs of emergency repatriation, private medical treatment, cancelling your holiday, third party liable, lost luggage and so on, you need a fully comprehensive travel insurance policy.

What if I need urgent treatment in the EU and I don’t have an EHIC or a GHIC?

During office hours you can call the Overseas Healthcare Services (0191 218 1999) which can issue a Provisional Replacement Certificate (PRC) to prove your entitlement to cover under the GHIC arrangements. 

Who is entitled to a GHIC?

Entitlement is not based on your nationality, but on your residency status in the UK. All those ordinarily resident in this country will be entitled to one and will need to provide evidence to that effect when applying. Some British citizens – students studying in an EU country, and some pensioners resident abroad – should check their entitlements here, or through the NHS Overseas Healthcare Services team on 0191 218 1999. Note that 

you are not entitled to a GHIC if you're insured by an EU country (or Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein or Switzerland) and live in the UK - check with the relevant authority in the country concerned, and request an EHIC from them instead.

How should I apply for the GHIC?

If you still have a valid EHIC, then it will remain valid in most countries (see below) until its expiry date. But you can order a new GHIC up to six months before the expiry of an existing card. You can also order one for your partner and any dependent children. Online applications should be made via the Government site, which links directly to the relevant page on the NHS website. Note that, as the Government says, because GHIC is a new service, it is initially processing applications through the existing EHIC portal. So you may find references to EHIC during your application. There is also a phone number (0300 330 1350) or you could print off the online application form and apply by post. Applications usually take between 7-10 days to process, but longer for postal applications. 

Anything I should watch for?

Absolutely. The GHIC card is issued free of charge, so do not be duped by third-party websites which offer to provide you with one for a fee. These used to plague the old EHIC system and have now sprung up again almost instantly with the introduction of the new card. So use only the official websites and no others. If you are asked to pay, you are on the wrong site.

What about cover in other countries?

The global adjective applied to the new card refers to the reciprocal healthcare arrangements which the UK already has in place for urgent treatment with 16 other countries outside the EU, notably the Balkan countries and Australia and New Zealand. Full details are in the travel advice sections for each country on the FCDO website.