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How to get a free GHIC before your next trip to Europe

If you’re wondering what an earth is a GHIC and why you might need one, read on!

GHIC stands for Global Health Insurance Card and it replaces the old European Health Insurance Card or EHIC. Still clueless?

EHIC was one of the perks of the UK belonging to the European Union. It entitled British travellers to free emergency medical care in all 27 countries in the EU.

There was some concern that this perk would be lost at end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December. In fact, the UK Government warned that Britain might no longer be part of the EHIC scheme.

But don’t worry, as part of the new Brexit deal with the EU, British travellers will continue to receive free emergency medical care in the EU – at least for the time being – under a new scheme launched this month.

The new scheme is called, you guessed it, the Global Health Insurance Card – or GHIC.

So is my EHIC still valid or should I apply for a GHIC?

If you already have an EHIC you can still use it to get free medical care in the EU.  You don’t need to apply for a GHIC until your EHIC expires, even if it still has several years left.

When it does expire, you should apply for a free GHIC.


Is GHIC exactly the same as EHIC?

Not quite. In spite of its name, the new ‘global’ scheme is not as extensive as the EHIC. Unlike EHICs, the GHIC doesn’t entitle you to free medical care in Norway, Lichtenstein, Iceland and Switzerland.

Even if you still have an old EHIC, you won’t get free medical care in these four countries any more. But some people living in these countries, including British students and pensioners, might be entitled to a new EHIC. They should apply for a free one here.

Will the free GHIC scheme continue indefinitely?

Spain has indicated that free access to its medical care might only be temporary. In a travel update issued by the tourist office last December, it said access would be ‘until 30 June 2021’ as long as the UK continues to provide free medical care to Spanish visitors.

We have asked the UK Cabinet Office, the Department for Health and Social Security and the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office for clarification, but no government department has been able to confirm whether free medical care in Spain or indeed the rest of the EU will continue after 30 June.

Watch this space.


How can I get a free GHIC?

Like EHICs, the global health insurance card is free from the NHS and you can apply here. Don’t be misled into paying a fee for the EHIC or GHIC on a scam website, they are free.

I’d urge you to apply for a card before you travel. It will prove invaluable if you need emergency treatment. My family and I have received excellent emergency care in France for a skiing injury, in Spain for a bad back and in Italy for a perforated ear drum – all at little or no cost and absolutely hassle free using our EHICs.


Do I still need travel insurance?

Yes, you should always buy travel insurance even if you have an EHIC or GHIC because they don’t cover things like repatriation costs if you’re so sick that you need to be flown home. Also, you’ll need cover for things like lost, stolen or missing baggage and holiday cancellation cover.

However, you should be able to obtain cheaper travel insurance if you have an EHIC or GHIC because the insurer has less risk since you’ll be able to get free emergency medical treatment. Several travel insurance policies advertise lower premiums if you have an EHIC.

At the moment, most standard travel insurance policies won’t cover you to travel since the Government has banned all non-essential overseas trips. Also, the Foreign Office (FCDO) has advised against non-essential travel to many destinations, which automatically invalidates most insurance polices. If you do need to travel during the lockdown, or later to any countries against the FCDO advice, you’ll need a specialist policy from a company like Battleface.


Why do I need a GHIC if I have travel insurance?

Most travel insurance policies include an excess, which is the amount of any claim you have to pay yourself. If you have a GHIC, your treatment might be totally free.

Also, with some travel insurance policies you have to pay for your treatment up front and claim the money back from your insurance company later. With a GHIC, you might not need to pay anything upfront, depending on where you receive treatment. Some doctors or hospitals might charge and you’ll have to claim the money from the NHS later, but overall, having a GHIC should make things simpler when getting emergency treatment in the EU.

When my son knocked himself out and broke his thumb skiing in France, he was given a CT brain scan and his thumb was bandaged up in the local hospital. Without an EHIC (as it was then), we would have had to pay hundreds of euros upfront for his treatment, but with the EHIC we paid only €20. Even better, we didn’t have any forms to fill in because we didn’t need to make a claim on our travel insurance, everything was covered by the NHS.

If you don’t already have an EHIC/GHIC, I’d advise you to apply before your next trip to Europe (whenever that might be!). Don’t apply through one of the scam websites that will charge you a processing fee, apply here.  A GHIC is free!


Linsey McNeill

A journalist and travel writer of 35 years' standing, a once-a-week yogi, terrible skier and out-of-order mum to 2 teens. Previously Editor of, bylines also include The Telegraph, The Times, The Observer, the London Evening Standard, Which? and The South China Morning Post.

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