Find out how a European Health Insurance Card (Ehic) and Global Health Insurance Card (Ghic) works and how to get one.

What is an Ehic?

An Ehic is a free medical card – which can be used throughout the EU – that entitles you to treatment in state hospitals at the same price as the residents of the country you are visiting. So if they get free treatment, you get free treatment.

Ehics are no longer being issued or renewed in the UK, except to a few groups:

  • an EU, EEA or Swiss national living in the UK by 31 December 2020
  • a UK national living in the EU by 31 December 2020 and the UK pays for your healthcare (for example because you have an S1 form)
  • a UK student on a placement or studying in the EU by 31 December 2020
  • someone who meets other criteria under the Withdrawal Agreement

If you received an Ehic on or after 1 January 2021, it will also work in Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland.

The card is free and has to be renewed every five years. You can order a card via the EHIC website.

What is a Ghic?

A Global Health Insurance Card (Ghic) is a free medical card that gives you access to ‘necessary healthcare’ in EU countries, at the same price as citizens of that country.

So if they get free treatment, you get free treatment.

Necessary healthcare includes healthcare that can’t wait for you to return to the UK – such as emergency treatment, routine medical care for pre-existing conditions, routine maternity care (unless you’re going to a country to give birth) and oxygen and kidney dialysis.

You can apply for a Ghic if you are resident in the UK:

Beware rip-off Ghic application sites

The Ghic, like the Ehic, is free. But we’ve found several websites charging you money to apply for one.

There is no advantage to applying for a Ghic or Ehic through these firms; a company cannot fast track your application.

How do I use an Ehic or Ghic?

Ehics and Ghics are simple to use. All you have to do is present your Ehic or Ghic before you have treatment and you shouldn’t have any problems.

Remember to keep it on you at all times – if you are rushed to a medical centre and don’t have it with you, it can be more difficult to get treatment.

The important thing to remember is that you can only use the Ehic or Ghic for state-run medical treatment.

If you end up in a private health centre or hospital, then you will probably have to foot the entire bill yourself, unless you’re covered for this by travel insurance.

What if I don’t have my card with me?

You might be able to get a Provisional Replacement Certificate, a temporary Ehic or Ghic replacement, if you don’t have your card with you, but it’s much easier to present your Ehic or Ghic on arrival.

If you need a Provisional Replacement Certificate, see the NHS guide for guidance on what to do.

I have an Ehic or Ghic – do I need travel insurance?

Yes. Many travellers assume that having an Ehic or Ghic means that they don’t need travel insurance, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.

While, somewhat confusingly, Ehic and Ghic have insurance in their names, both only help you meet the cost of state-provided medical treatment.

So they won’t pay costs for:

  • Any medical treatment at a private hospital or clinic
  • Repatriation to the UK
  • Rescue, for example from a ski accident, or if you fall ill on a cruise
  • Cancelling or cutting short your holiday
  • Your luggage going missing or being stolen
  • State-provided healthcare in non EU countries such as the USA and Australia (although the government has suggested the Ghic scheme may be expanded)
  • And more…

We therefore strongly advise getting travel insurance for foreign trips of any length.

Find out more: Best and worst travel insurance

Will I be covered by Ehic or Ghic if I have a pre-existing medical condition?

Both the Ehic and Ghic cover treatment of a chronic or pre-existing condition if the symptoms flare up during your holiday and a visit to a healthcare professional becomes necessary.

It also covers routine medical care for people with pre-existing conditions that need monitoring.

However, the Ehic does not provide cover if you are going abroad specifically to have treatment. Nor does it guarantee the kind of specialist treatment you might receive at home.

Travellers with pre-existing medical conditions may find travel insurance difficult or very expensive to obtain.

The government’s Money Advice Service has put together a directory of specialist insurers that may be able to help.

Could my Ehic or Ghic be refused?

There have been problems in some countries where state-registered medical staff have refused to accept Ehics, perhaps claiming that they don’t recognise the card or don’t have the technology to accept it.

This is a breach of European rules and seems especially prevalent in regions of Spain, such as Catalonia. Most medical facilities in Spain, often called ‘centros sanitarios’, are private, but even in some state hospitals, staff appear to be rejecting the Ehic if they know you already have travel insurance.

If your Ehic is refused in a state-run clinic, try to get proof that you presented it at the time, as this could be key to getting the excess waived by your insurer. And, if for some reason you think you’ve been incorrectly charged, you may still be entitled to reimbursement from the NHS.

What if I’m made to pay upfront?

Even if the state-provided care is free, you may still have to pay upfront and claim the money back once you return home.

In France, for example, you may have to pay upfront for certain services, although for others, a bill may be sent to your home address.

For  advice on getting refunded by the NHS, contact the Overseas Healthcare Service on 0191 218 1999.

Keep all receipts in case you need to make a claim from your travel insurance provider