Your Health Insurance Card and International Travel

It’s important for travellers to understand the UK’s insurance requirements in order to be prepared for potential health and well-being issues while abroad. Historically, the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) was the go-to resource for Brits when travelling in Europe. However, following Brexit, the EHIC was replaced with a new Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC). Although it was enacted in 2021, many Brits are not yet familiar with the new card version. In fact, more than three quarters of travellers don’t understand health insurance cards, according to recent research by the insurance company Direct Line.

With COVID-19 restrictions finally starting to ease, many Brits are looking forward to an overseas holiday. If you’re one of them, it’s vital that you understand the new GHIC. This article explains health insurance card types, what they cover and how to apply.

The GHIC Explained

In January 2021, the GHIC was launched to replace the existing EHIC following the UK’s Brexit deal. The GHIC allows cardholders to receive emergency medical care while travelling to countries in Europe on the same terms as a local resident. As such, if local residents are given free emergency medical care, so will GHIC holders.

Emergency medical care includes:

  • Treatment and trips to the accident and emergency department
  • Treatment for long-term or pre-existing medical conditions
  • Routine medical care for pre-existing conditions that need monitoring
  • Routine maternity care (as long as a traveller is not going abroad to give birth)

The card may also cover oxygen therapy and kidney dialysis, but treatment of this nature usually needs prearranging.

If you’re eligible for the GHIC, it covers you in 27 European Union (EU) countries and Switzerland (only UK nationals, Swiss nationals and EU citizens). It does not cover Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, although more countries might be added in the future.

Existing EHIC Cards

Existing EHIC cards will remain valid until they expire. On expiration, they need to be replaced by the new GHIC in most cases. However, EU, Swiss, Norwegian, Icelandic or Liechtenstein nationals living in the UK before January 2021 will instead be able to apply for a new UK EHIC.

The Application Process

The first step in the application process is to check your eligibility. According to the NHS, you can apply for a GHIC if one of the following is true:

  • You’re legally living in the UK, and you do not have health care cover provided by an EU country or Switzerland.
  • You’re living in the EU or Switzerland with a registered Form S1, E121, E106 or E109 issued by the UK.
  • You’re living in the EU or Switzerland with an A1 document which is issued by the UK.
  • You’re a family member or dependant of an entitled individual already listed.

Applying for a GHIC is a relatively simple process, requiring only a National Insurance number in most cases. Applications can be submitted on the NHS website free of charge.

Despite this, some applicants have been caught by scam websites charging a fee. In fact, 18 per cent of travellers believe they have to pay to replace their EHIC with the newer GHIC, according to Direct Line’s research. To avoid such scams, make sure you apply only through the official NHS website.

Once received, applications are usually processed within two weeks. However, due to current high demand, the usual timeframe may be longer. Therefore, apply for your GHIC as early as possible. Additionally, don’t forget that you’ll need a valid health insurance card for all members of your family, including children.

Finally, make sure you store your card safely on your person (eg in a wallet or purse). This way, you’ll be ready to present the card in the event of an emergency.

Lost Cards

If you forget your card or it’s lost or stolen, you can get a Provisional Replacement Certificate (PRC) to prove your entitlement while abroad. You’ll need to call Overseas Healthcare Services at +44 (0)191 218 199 to obtain a PRC. If you’re too unwell to contact them, someone else can do this for you.


The last two years have seen countless travel disruptions due to the coronavirus pandemic. With restrictions gradually lifting across the globe, many travellers are expected to visit Europe for a well-earned break. However, when planning an overseas trip, it’s vital to take time to make sure your existing EHIC is valid and, if it’s not, apply for a GHIC as soon as possible.

While reassuring, a GHIC does not cover you for everything. For instance, private medical care, repatriation and mountain rescue while skiing are not included. Consequently, adding full comprehensive travel insurance—including medical cover—can offer an additional layer of protection. This way, you can enjoy a worry-free holiday knowing that you’re covered.

For more information, visit the NHS website.


This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. For further information, please consult a medical professional. © 2022 Zywave, Inc. All rights reserved.

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