Are you British and planning a vacation in an EU country? If that's the case, you may be wondering if your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) will still be valid. And the truth is yes, you're in luck, as the UK and the EU agreed, as part of the agreement announced on December 24, 2020, that the cards can continue to be used until their expiration date.

However, this does not mean that the problem ends there. After the expiration date, you will have to receive one of the new Health Insurance Cards (GHIC) to be issued by the British government, which will replace the EHIC for most British citizens.

We will resolve, below, some of the doubts that may arise regarding this Brexit front.

See also: Brexit: 10 key issues in the EU-UK deal 

What is an EHIC?

Currently, the EHIC entitles the holder to receive state-provided health treatment in the event of illness or accident in any EU country, as well as in Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. The agreement also worked for EU citizens who are in the UK.

Cases of sudden illness or accidents are not the only cases covered by the EHIC. These cards also cover pre-existing medical conditions and routine maternity care, as well as chronic illnesses that require care, such as those requiring dialysis. In this way, EHIC holders can travel knowing that they will receive treatment under the same conditions as citizens of the country they are visiting.

Until Brexit, the UK had issued 27 million EHIC cards. And those cards will be valid until they expire. Their duration is five years, and the expiration date is printed on the front.

Beyond that point, here is the big change resulting from Brexit with respect to this issue: British citizens will no longer be able to apply for their EHIC.

What is a GHIC?

When your EHIC has expired (or is about to), any UK citizen will be able to apply for its replacement: the new UK GHIC. This card 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.

Finally, the UK government website states that the GHIC should not be an alternative to travel insurance. The GHIC, it is stated, must be accompanied by travel insurance that includes medical coverage, as it does not cover any private care, such as ski resort rescues or travel back to the UK.

Is it easy to get a GHIC?

Yes. And the easiest way to do this is through the GHIC online application form. It should be applied for about two weeks before the EHIC expires. The GHIC usually arrives within 10 days, according to the government website.

UK students planning to study in an EU country will not be able to use the online application. They will therefore have to send their application by post, along with a letter from their UK university, in order to apply for an EHIC which is limited in time to the duration of their course.

Anyone who is not a British or Irish citizen will also need to apply for the GHIC by mail, enclosing their visa or residence permit.

What about EU citizens living in the UK?

Además, tendrán derecho a solicitar una nueva tarjeta EHIC emitida por el Reino Unido. Ésta será válida en la UE, amén de en Noruega, Islandia, Liechtenstein y Suiza. In addition, they will be entitled to apply for a new EHIC card issued by the UK. This will be valid in the EU, as well as in Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland.

What about UK citizens in the EU?

UK pensioners who were in the EU before the end of 2020, UK students who had started a course in an EU country before that date and so-called "frontier workers" (people working in one state and living in another) will also be able to apply for a new UK-issued EHIC card.

The rights of all of them will be guaranteed by the withdrawal agreement between the UK and the EU, incorporated 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 to use their EU-issued EHIC card when traveling within the EU.

Health care agreements with non-EU countries

The UK has reciprocal health agreements with some non-EU states, including Australia and New Zealand. Under these agreements, visitors can receive urgent treatment at a reduced cost, or even free of charge.

However, unlike the EHIC, these agreements do not cover pre-existing medical conditions.

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