Now that the UK is no longer part of Europe, what has changed regarding access to healthcare in the EU? Can you still use your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)? What is the new GHIC? Do you need international private medical insurance? What are the rules for Britons applying for social security in countries in Europe? This article answers common questions you may ask yourself regarding access to healthcare in Europe after Brexit.

Can I still access healthcare in Europe as a visitor after Brexit?

Traditionally, EU citizens planning a holiday or a short stay in any of the 27 EU countries of the European Union, as well as Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein, can access the state healthcare of the country they are visiting, using their European health insurance card (EHIC).

Now that the UK is no longer a member of the EU, the EHIC will no longer be issued to British residents (except a few categories of people – see below).

People who were issued an EHIC before the 1st January 2021 will be able to use their EHIC until its expiry date.

The new Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC)

The EHIC may no longer be available to UK residents but the good news is that they will still be able to access healthcare in European countries with a different card.

Under the terms of the EU–UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, the UK and EU agreed that reciprocal healthcare provision would continue. This means that the EHIC will be replaced by a UK Global Health Insurance Card, that gives you access to healthcare if you are travelling to an EU country, within the same conditions as the EHIC.

However, there’s a difference between the EHIC and the GHIC: The GHIC is not valid in as many countries as the EHIC. British residents won’t be able to use their GHIC in Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein or Switzerland, as was possible with the EHIC.

For Norway, you can use your UK passport to get medically necessary healthcare during your temporary stay (for example emergency treatment, or to treat a pre-existing condition).

You can apply for a GHIC on the NHS website.

Some categories of people can still get a new UK-issued EHIC

Some categories of people can get a new UK-issued EHIC which is valid for visits to the European Union, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland. People who can apply for the new card include:

  • EU, Norwegian, Icelandic, Liechtenstein or Swiss national, that have been living in the UK since before 1 January 2021
  • Some British State Pensioners who live in the EU and their families
  • Frontier workers and their families
  • UK students studying in the EU

What does the GHIC cover?

The GHIC, like the EHIC, only covers emergency or necessary medical care during your temporary stay in one of the 27 countries of the European Union.

“Necessary healthcare means healthcare which becomes medically necessary during your stay, and you cannot reasonably wait until you’re back in the UK to get it”, explains the NHS website.

This includes things like:

  • emergency treatment and visits to A&E
  • treatment for a long-term or pre-existing medical condition
  • routine medical care for pre-existing conditions that need monitoring
  • routine maternity care, as long as you’re not going abroad to give birth
  • oxygen and kidney dialysis

You can only access public healthcare and with the same level of cover as a resident in the country you’re visiting. This means that you can get healthcare at a reduced cost or for free.

What doesn’t the GHIC cover?

Like the EHIC, the GHIC might not be sufficient to cover all costs related to the medical problems that you may encounter abroad. For example, the GHIC doesn’t cover repatriation to your home country.

The GHIC only covers you for unforeseen treatment: if the purpose of your trip is to seek treatment, this would count as planned treatment and the card would not be valid.

The GHIC doesn’t guarantee free health services. You are only guaranteed the same level of access to treatment as the nationals of your host country.

In summary, the GHIC is not an alternative to travel insurance and the NHS website advises that you should also buy travel insurance which includes health cover as “the GHIC does not cover any private medical healthcare such as mountain rescue in ski resorts or being flown back to the UK”.

“If you’re travelling to Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein, you should get appropriate travel insurance with healthcare cover before you travel. Make sure it covers any pre-existing conditions that were previously covered by your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)”, explains the UK government website.

Can British expatriates still access healthcare in their country of residence after Brexit?

The EHIC and GHIC are for UK residents travelling to Europe for a short stay. If you are permanently moving to a European country, these cards are not valid and other rules apply regarding access to healthcare in your new country of residence.

If you became a resident in an EU country before Brexit

If, as a British national, you were legally resident in an EU country before 1 January 2021, your rights will be protected by the Withdrawal Agreement.

You will continue to have the same rights to work, study and access public services, including healthcare, and benefits as before the UK left the EU.

If you became a resident in an EU country after 1 January 2021

The automatic right to live and work in the EU has now ceased. If you are looking to move and work in an EU country, you will need to apply in accordance with that country’s existing immigration rules.

Regarding healthcare, in general, if you become a permanent resident in a European country, you will benefit from the same healthcare rights as the local nationals. Check our European country guides for more information on accessing each country’s healthcare system. For those wanting coverage of their private health costs, a private health insurance will be the way forward.

Expat Assure can help you to find the international medical cover best suited to your needs. Feel free to contact us directly or fill in a form online to request your insurance comparison.

You may also be interested in:

European Health Insurance Card: the pros and cons

8 reasons why you need expat insurance


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