British Travellers Retain Free Healthcare In Europe

Following months of uncertainty about what travelling abroad after Brexit would look like, the UK has finally left the EU and holidaymakers and Spanish homeowners have been left with the answers they were waiting for! One of these uncertainties was around healthcare for tourists: and the news is good.

The new Brexit agreement will allow travellers to continue using their existing EHIC cards until they expire, giving them access to emergency medical treatment for as long as the card is valid. Once your EHIC card has expired, you can apply for a GHIC card (UK Global Health Insurance Card). These cards will be gradually introduced throughout 2021, and will operate in a very similar way to the existing EHIC card. It will allow users to access healthcare whenever they travel abroad.

Applying for a GHIC Card

If you don’t already have an EHIC card, or if your EHIC card has recently expired (or is due to expire imminently) then you can apply for a GHIC card on the NHS website. However, as the existing EHIC is valid for five years from the day that it’s issued, and they can be used until they expire, it’s likely that you won’t need to apply for your GHIC card right now.

Just like the EHIC card, the GHIC card remains free: if you are asked to pay for your GHIC application, then you aren’t using the official NHS website for your application, and it could well be a scam.

How the GHIC Card Differs From the EHIC Card

The main way in which the GHIC card differs from the EHIC card is that it will only be valid for countries within the European Union. Whilst the EHIC card is valid when travelling to the Schengen countries which include Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein or Switzerland, the GHIC card does not.

Whilst it is very good news that the GHIC card has been introduced, it is worth noting that the full details of the new reciprocal healthcare arrangements have yet to be confirmed. We don’t yet know, for example, whether individuals with preexisting conditions will be covered for those conditions. For this reason, it remains important that when you are travelling in the EU you secure private holiday insurance to ensure that you are fully protected from every eventuality: this was always the case before the UK left the European Union, and is considered best practice wherever you travel.

If you are travellling abroad and need long term care, such as cancer treatment, during your stay then the current Brexit agreement states that travellers in need of specialised treatment in the EU must pre-arrange this directly with their healthcare provider. It is thought that this agreement will continue with the GHIC in place.

In Need of Treatment Now?

If you are currently on holiday in the EU and don’t have an EHIC or GHIC card in place, you can still receive emergency healthcare treatment if you need it. For treatment abroad, you are required to apply for a provisional replacement certificate (PRC) as soon as possible. This certificate provides confirmation by the NHS that you are entitled to health care in the country that you are in.

To get one, you, need to call NHS Overseas Healthcare Services on +44 191 218 1999 during working hours (Monday to Friday, 8am-6pm). If you are unable to do this for yourself, a friend or family member can call and secure this on your behalf. In order to secure this certificate, you will need to have your National Insurance number and the name of the hospital or medical facility that is currently treating you. The certificate will then be emailed or faxed directly to the clinicians, meaning that you won’t be liable for the cost of your eligible care.

Where Can I Use the GHIC Card?

Although the new GHIC card has been called a ‘Global’ card, it is important to note that it will not provide reciprocal healthcare coverage for travellers in every country worldwide. At present, the card will be valid for travel within both the EU and in countries where the UK already has reciprocal healthcare agreements in place. These include countries such as Australia and New Zealand, but won’t include countries such as America, where the UK has never had a reciprocal healthcare agreement in place.

Overall, it is good news for British tourists travelling in Spain, and the rest of Europe. It was feared that Brexit would make the end of reciprocal healthcare for British travellers, but the introduction of the GHIC card has abated those fears. Whilst we still don’t have all the details about this card, or how it will work, what we know so far is very positive. The GHIC card will look very similar to the EHIC card, and it is likely that it will have very similar benefits. As with so many elements of the Brexit agreement process, we still have to wait and see exactly what the final details of this reciprocal healthcare agreement will be.

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