Expat Focus International Healthcare Update January 2021
Health matters are still on everyone’s minds at the start of 2021. The UK has again been plunged into a tight lockdown across England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, and travel arrangements, along with many other aspects of everyday life, have been severely affected. The end of the Brexit transition period has also had an impact on healthcare for British citizens living abroad, mainly with regard to the EHIC.
EHIC and GHIC
Now that the UK has officially left Europe, the EHIC is no longer valid for British expats across the EU – although, if you currently possess an EHIC, you may use it up until its expiry date. However, all is not lost, as in mid-January the British government announced the arrival of a Global Health Insurance Card to replace the vanished EHIC. What will this new card entitle you to, how can you apply for it, and how extensive is its cover?
The new GHIC will, under the deal with Europe, allow you to access some healthcare while you are in the EU, whether you are travelling for pleasure (when you’re allowed!) or for business. It will permit you to access emergency treatment, as well as treatment for some pre-existing conditions. The following list of treatment is covered by the GHIC:
- 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 actually going to the EU in order to give birth
- oxygen and kidney dialysis
The government advises that you will need to pre-arrange some treatments – for example, if you require kidney dialysis or chemotherapy – with the relevant healthcare provider in the country you are visiting.
You can apply for your card on the NHS website.
Note that you do not need to apply for your new card until your existing EHIC expires. As mentioned above, your existing EHIC will be valid until its expiry date. After that, you’ll need a new card. Official guidance says that you can get a provisional replacement certificate (PRC) if you need treatment abroad and do not have your card with you. The UK government also states that the GHIC is free, so be wary of websites that offer you the card at a price.
Check the guidelines carefully – if you’re covered by national insurance in the UK, then regardless of your nationality, you should be eligible for the GHIC.
Your family members will also need their own cards, and you can apply for these via the same website. If you’re a student who is going to study in the EU, you will need some documentation from your educational institution in order to receive your card.
Private providers will not be covered by the GCIC, so if you do need to seek treatment in the EU, make sure that you access state-run provision. You may not be able to retrieve your costs if you end up in the private system.
Although GHIC stands for Global Health Insurance Card, it only applies to the EU. Therefore, don’t try to use it outside of Europe, unless its terms are broadened. It also will not cover you in Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein or Switzerland.
Some private insurance companies will require you to have a GHIC. Note that – as with the EHIC – the card is intended primarily for emergency treatment and should not be used as an alternative to travel insurance. You should still make sure that you have a comprehensive travel insurance policy if you are going to be visiting Europe. Additionally, remember that in some countries you will still need to pay some costs upfront and then claim them back.
Note that you can purchase travel insurance that applies to a number of non-consecutive days in any given period (such as 31, 45, 60 or 90 days). It’s also worth bearing in mind that the cost of travel insurance for visiting the EU is likely to rise.
Covid-19 and travel
Although most countries have now started vaccination rollouts, which in some cases are well underway, Covid-19 is still with us. Many nations are undergoing lockdowns and restrictions that are as stringent as those seen back in the spring of 2020. The emergence of highly infectious new strains is counterbalancing the vaccination effort.
If you are a British expat abroad, you should be aware that pre-departure testing is currently required for all inbound passengers to England, and previous travel corridors have been suspended. A 10-day isolation period is required for most people coming into the country. On top of this, the British government now says that passengers arriving by ship, plane or train must take a test up to three days before they depart, and must provide evidence of a negative result before they travel. If you test positive, you should not travel.
The government also stipulates that the test must be of a diagnostic standard, such as a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. In some cases, LAMP and lateral flow tests may be accepted. Carriers will be able to deny boarding to passengers. This applies to all but a very small number of exempted people (such as some international hauliers and children under the age of 11). If you are in the UK or a returning British expat, UK government advice is that you should remain at home if at all possible.
If you need further guidance, then we strongly recommend that you keep an eye on the government website.
If you do need to travel, then remember that you will need travel insurance that covers Covid-19 as comprehensively as possible. Some providers are now offering a range of products. Bear in mind that, if you are a British expat living abroad, some insurers will no longer cover you – a result of Brexit rather than Covid-19. Make sure you check with your provider as to their Covid-19 regs and any changes resulting from Brexit.