If you are planning a holiday in a country in the European Union (EU), you might be wondering whether your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) will still be valid.
As part of the deal announced on 24 December 2020, the UK and the EU agreed that the cards can still be used until their expiry dates.
After that, the government will issue a new Global Heath Insurance Card (GHIC) which will replace the EHIC for the majority of UK citizens.
What is an EHIC?
The EHIC currently entitles you to state-provided medical treatment if you fall ill or have an accident in any EU country, or in Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, where the scheme also applies. The same applies to EU citizens who are in the UK.
The cards cover pre-existing medical conditions and routine maternity care, as well as emergency care. Individuals with chronic illnesses, for example those who require dialysis, can travel knowing they will receive treatment on the same terms as the citizens of the country they are visiting.
The UK has issued 27 million EHIC cards.
The cards are valid until they expire. They last five years and the expiry date is printed on the front.
You can no longer apply for a new EHIC.
What is a GHIC?
If your EHIC has expired (or is about to), you should apply for its replacement - the new UK GHIC.
It will cover chronic or existing illnesses and routine maternity care as well as emergencies, but treatments such as dialysis or chemotherapy will have to be pre-arranged to ensure they are available at your destination.
The GHIC will not be valid in Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein or Switzerland.
The government website says that the GHIC is not an alternative to travel insurance.
It advises that you should also buy travel insurance which includes health cover as the GHIC - like the EHIC - does not cover any private medical healthcare such as mountain rescue in ski resorts or being flown back to the UK.
How easy is it to get a GHIC?
The easiest was to get one is by using the GHIC online application form. You should apply about two weeks before your EHIC expires, as the new card usually arrives within 10 days, according to the government website.
UK students who are planning to study in an EU country won't be able to use the online application. They'll have to send their application by post, together with a letter from their UK university, in order to apply for a GHIC that's time limited to the length of their course.
You will also have to apply by post if you are not a British or Irish citizen, and must attach your visa or residence permit.
What about the EU citizens living in the UK?
EU nationals (as well as citizens of Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland) who were living in the UK before the end of 2020, will be able to continue using the NHS for their healthcare while resident here.
They are also entitled to apply for a new UK-issued EHIC card. Their new EHIC will be valid in the EU along with Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland.
An estimated 3.7 million EU nationals lived in the UK in 2019, making up 5.6% of the UK population.
What about UK citizens in the EU?
UK state pensioners who were in the EU before the end of 2020, UK students who had started a course in an EU country before then and so-called "frontier workers" (people who work in one state and live in another) will all also be able to apply for a new UK-issued EHIC card.
Their rights are guaranteed by the UK-EU withdrawal agreement, which is written into UK law.
The same agreement guarantees the rights of UK nationals who were resident in the EU before the end of 2020. They will be able to continue using their EU-issued EHIC card when travelling within the EU.
Healthcare deals with non-EU countries
The UK has reciprocal health deals with a few non-EU countries, including Australia and New Zealand, under which visitors can receive urgent treatment at a reduced cost or for free.
In other words, visitors are treated as if they are resident of the country in question.
But unlike the EHIC, the agreements do not cover pre-existing conditions.