WITH Brexit coming up on January 31, Brits might be wondering how their travels to Europe could be affected.
One of the things that was due to change under a No Deal scenario was the validity of the European Health Insurance Card or EHIC.
Fortunately, the UK government is said to be on track to getting the Withdrawal Agreement ratified before the Brexit deadline.
Once that happens, the UK will enter into a transition period until December 31, 2020.
And it’s great news for worried Brits – during the transition period, most things will stay as they are, including the validity of the EHIC.
Here’s what you need to know:
What are European Health Insurance Cards?
The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) gives Brits free or discounted medical treatment at state-run hospitals and GPs in any EU country, as well as in Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.
Depending on the country, the healthcare offered to Brits may differ – the NHS has offered detailed advice for each EU country.
Card holders are entitled to the same treatment (at the same cost) that local citizens are entitled to – so if they pay, you’ll have to pay – and if they get healthcare for free, so will you.
You can apply for a card online for free and some travel insurance policies will require you to have the card with you when travelling to Europe.
Can I use my EHIC after Brexit?
After the UK enters the transition period, triggered when the Withdrawal Agreement is ratified, the EHIC will remain valid.
In fact, it will continue to cover Brits until the end of December if the deal is secured by January 31.
It said: “If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, your EHIC might not be valid anymore. Buy travel insurance that comes with healthcare cover before you travel.”
That is still true but a No Deal scenario is now much less likely.
It’s not clear what will happen after December 31 though – the UK government will be using the transition period to negotiate new deals for 2021 onwards.
If the EHIC is no longer valid, Brits needing medical help will have to pay themselves or make sure they have the right travel insurance before they travel.
Brits were warned of the high costs of emergency medical treatment and getting back to the UK if they aren’t insured.
All insurance should cover emergency treatment costs, hospital fees or returning Brits home if you have an accident.
And Brits should make sure they check the small print in any cover they already have, it warns.
How can you renew or get an EHIC card?
In the meantime, you can apply for a new card six months before your existing one runs out.
Renewal applications can be made online via the EHIC website.
It’s free to apply for but some unofficial websites will charge a fee for processing your application.
Be careful when looking up the EHIC on Google as many of these websites pay the search engine to appear at the top, meaning some people end up paying for the free service.
Some travel insurers will waive excess fees on your policy if you have an EHIC, and some will require you to have it on you to make sure you are fully insured.
Don’t fall for dodgy EHIC websites
Watch out for unofficial websites that try and catch people out by charging £20 or more to process an EHIC application.
Applying for an EHIC is completely free, as is the card, so the entire process shouldn’t cost you a penny.
The websites might look official, but you should only apply using the official government website www.ehic.org.uk – and you can also find out more information on the NHS EHIC page.
Is an EHIC card free? Where can I get one?
EHICs are completely free and you can apply for one free-of-charge on the official government EHIC website.
They are valid for up to five years, and all UK residents are eligible – although residents of the Channel Islands and Isle of Man are not.
Can I use an EHIC rather than buy travel insurance?
The EHIC shouldn’t be used as an alternative to travel insurance, as it doesn’t cover any private medical healthcare or costs, such as mountain rescue in ski resorts, being flown back to the UK, or lost or stolen property.
It is also not valid on cruises.
ABI spokesperson Sarah Cordey told Sun Online Travel: “Deal or No Deal Brexit, it remains vital to have travel insurance.
“Emergency oversees medical treatment can already mean eye-watering bills, and any loss of the European Health Insurance Card could push costs up even more.
“This will make travel insurance even more important to have than it already is, so make sure you shop around to get the cover that suits your needs and personal circumstances, including any pre-existing medical conditions.”
Travel insurance has a much wider level of cover than the EHIC, for example, EHIC doesn’t always mean free treatment, while travel insurance usually does.
It’s important to have both an EHIC and travel insurance in place before you travel, as some insurers now insist you hold an EHIC, and many will waive the excess if you have one.
Some travel insurers are adding Brexit clauses in case of any disruption which may take place, while others refuse to offer protection.