Little-known card that gets you free or discounted medical care on holiday - how to apply

Pregnant woman wearing a baggy jumper has her blood pressure taken by doctor
-Credit: (Image: Getty)

If you are going abroad soon, there is a card you can get which allows you to benefit from free or discounted medical care in EU countries.

The UK Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) allows people going abroad to get necessary state healthcare in the European Economic Area (EEA), and some other countries, on the same basis as a resident of that country. This will either be free, or it might require a payment equivalent to that which a local resident would pay.

According to the NHS, the UK GHIC has replaced the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). If you have a EHIC, don't panic. They say that you can still use it until the expiry date on the card.

Once it expires however, you'll need to apply for a UK GHIC to replace it. You can apply for a new card up to nine months before your current card expires.

The latest UK GHIC is free to apply for and lasts for up to five years. So how can you get one before you go on the plane? Here is what you need to know.

How do I apply for a GHIC?

plane in sky
The card is free to apply for -Credit:Getty

You can apply for a card through the NHS website here. The health service cautions that you need to stay clear of unofficial websites as some may charge you a fee to apply.

Who can apply for a GHIC?

You can apply for a UK GHIC if you're a resident of the UK. In addition to this, you can also add family to your application when you apply.

When applying, you will need to provide your:

  • full name

  • address

  • date of birth

  • National Insurance number

  • Health and Care number (if you're from Northern Ireland)

If I have a GHIC, do I need travel insurance?

Woman’s hands holding passports & boarding passes of her family while waiting at the check-in counter in the airport.
Before going to the airport, get a card -Credit:Getty

The NHS warns that the UK GHIC does not substitute for travel insurance. It is recommended to obtain private travel and medical insurance throughout your trip.

What does my card cover?

The NHS says: "You can use your card to get state healthcare that cannot reasonably wait until you come back to the UK (sometimes called 'medically necessary healthcare')."

This includes things like:

  • emergency treatment and visits to A&E

  • treatment or routine medical care for long-term or pre-existing medical conditions

  • routine maternity care, as long as you're not going abroad to give birth

For instance, if you require kidney dialysis or chemotherapy, it's essential to pre-arrange these treatments since their availability is not always guaranteed. They caution: "Whether treatment is medically necessary is decided by the healthcare provider in the country you're visiting."

They add: "Not all state healthcare is free outside of the UK. You may have to pay for treatment that you would get for free on the NHS, if a local resident would be expected to pay in the country you're visiting. Before travelling, you should check the state-provided healthcare services in the country you're visiting and any potential charges you may face."

What does my card not cover?

Pregnant woman wearing a baggy jumper has her blood pressure taken by doctor
Get your travel insurance as well as the card -Credit:Getty

The UK GHIC (or UK EHIC) does not replace travel and medical insurance or cover services like:

  • being flown back to the UK (medical repatriation)

  • treatment in a private medical facility

  • ski or mountain rescue

Where can I use my card?

You can use a UK GHIC when you're visiting:

You can use a UK GHIC in Switzerland if you're one of the following:

  • a British national

  • a Swiss national

  • an EU citizen

  • a refugee

  • a stateless person

  • a family member of someone who holds one of the above nationalities or statuses

To find out where else you can use it and your eligibility, visit the NHS website here.