Ruth Emery
By Ruth Emery
Finance Journalist
Updated 15 April 2024
|Read time: 5 mins

A guide to GHICs

Some of you may already have one, ready to take abroad on your next European trip, while others may never have heard of it. A GHIC stands for Global Health Insurance Card. It’s a free card that you can apply for that covers certain medical costs when you’re on holiday in Europe. 

If this sounds familiar, you’re probably thinking of the old European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which is being phased out following Brexit. We explore what a GHIC card is, and whether EHIC cards are still valid.

What does a GHIC card cover?

Despite the word “global” being in the name, a GHIC can only be used in the European Union and Switzerland.

It entitles people to the same medical treatment as a local citizen at public hospitals and GPs. This means if the people living in that country get free treatment, then you will too. But if they pay, you pay the same rate. The card can be extremely useful in emergencies, potentially covering trips to A&E, treatment for pre-existing conditions, and even routine maternity care.

Bear in mind that a GHIC may not cover all costs (it depends on which country you are in), and it definitely won’t cover private medical treatment or repatriation if you need to be flown back to the UK. It also won’t cover you if you're going abroad specifically to get treatment, or to give birth.

How do I apply for one?

You can apply for a GHIC via the NHS website. You can’t get a GHIC from your doctor or a hospital, nor at the Post Office. Beware of copycat sites that charge a fee, which may pop up in search results if you Google GHIC. The bottom line is to apply via the official NHS site to get your free card. You’ll need your National Insurance number to apply.

It can take several weeks to receive a GHIC, so make sure you leave enough time before your holiday. 

Every family member needs their own card. You can add a spouse, civil partner and/or children to your own application, and they’ll each receive a separate GHIC.

Who can get a GHIC?

The GHIC is available to UK residents - not just British nationals - unless you have healthcare coverage provided by an EU country or Switzerland. There are also certain circumstances where you may be entitled to a GHIC despite living in the EU or Switzerland.

Family members and dependents of people entitled to an EHIC can also apply.

Are EHIC cards still valid?

If you’re wondering whether EHIC cards are still valid, the answer is yes - although do check the expiry date. If the card has expired, you’ll need to apply for a GHIC to replace it. You can apply for a new card up to six months before your current one expires.

If you have a valid in-date EHIC, you can continue using it until it expires. 

Essentially, you only need a GHIC if your EHIC has expired or you're applying for the first time.

Is it possible to apply for a new EHIC?

Most people applying for a new healthcare card will have to get a GHIC. However, many non-UK nationals living in the UK can still apply for an EHIC. You have to have moved to the UK before January 2021 to be eligible.

What’s the difference between an EHIC and GHIC?

The main difference is that EHICs are being phased out, and the vast majority of people living in the UK will now receive a GHIC when they apply for a card.

The GHIC is also valid in fewer countries, as the EHIC used to be valid in Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway (as well as all EU countries and Switzerland). However, this is no longer the case, and both the GHIC and the EHIC are only valid outside the EU in Switzerland if you're a UK citizen living in the UK.

I’ve got a GHIC or EHIC already. Do I also need travel insurance?

While a GHIC can give valuable protection, it is no substitute for travel insurance. Firstly, a GHIC (or EHIC) only covers access to state-run hospitals. These may be more limited than what you’re accustomed to on the NHS. In an emergency, you could be taken to a private hospital.

You may also have to pay towards your treatment, whereas insurance should pick up the bill for this.

And of course, GHICs and EHICs are healthcare cards. They do not cover the other areas that a travel insurance policy does, like flight delays, cancellation, baggage loss, stolen passports and repatriation.

Do I need a GHIC if I have travel insurance?

The best holiday plan of action is to have both. Some travel insurers may actually insist you have a GHIC or EHIC. 

There are also certain scenarios that may be covered by a GHIC or EHIC, but excluded under your travel insurance policy. For example, if you’ve had a few too many glasses of wine and you then hurt yourself and need medical attention, this may not be covered by your travel insurance – but you would be able to use your healthcare card to get some or all of the costs waived. Pre-existing conditions should also be covered by a GHIC or EHIC, in contrast to an insurance policy.

What happens if my GHIC doesn’t arrive on time, or I forget to take it on holiday?

If your GHIC doesn’t arrive before you travel, or you simply forget to pack it, don’t worry. If you need treatment while you’re away, you can apply for a Provisional Replacement Certificate (PRC), which gives you the same cover as a GHIC.

Give the NHS Overseas Healthcare Services a ring on +44 191 218 1999 (Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm). You’ll need to have your National Insurance number, the name of the treatment facility and the email address of the department providing your treatment.

Are you ready for your next trip away?

Tick off an item from your holiday checklist and buy currency without commission fees  - pop to a Bureau de Change in our John Lewis & Partners shops, order online or click and collect.

Recommended guides

Here we explain the answer to “how much money can I take abroad?” as well as rules around bringing cash into the UK.

You need to report and cancel a lost passport as soon as possible to prevent any fraudulent activity.

If you’re thinking of using a bank card abroad, make sure you check what fees you could be charged.

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