UK residents are now able to apply for a UK Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC), the government has announced.
Under Britain’s new agreement with the EU, UK residents’ rights to emergency and medically necessary healthcare will continue when travelling in the region.
This includes medically necessary treatment for a pre-existing or chronic condition.
Current European Health Insurance Cards (EHIC) are valid as long as they are in date and people can continue to use these when travelling to the EU.
The public only need to apply for their new GHIC when their current EHIC expires.
Both cards will offer equivalent protection for emergency and medically necessary healthcare needs when in the EU on a temporary stay, which includes holiday, study and business travel.
The new GHIC card is free to obtain from the official GHIC website.
People should apply at least two weeks before they plan to travel to ensure their card arrives on time, the government said.
Minister for health, Edward Argar, said: “Our deal with the EU ensures the right for our citizens to access necessary healthcare on their holidays and travels to countries in the EU will continue.
“The GHIC is a key element of the future relationship with the EU and will provide certainty and security for all UK residents.”
Cover for emergency and medically necessary healthcare is part of a wider healthcare agreement struck with the EU that will see continued cooperation on healthcare for UK residents.
If a UK resident is travelling without a card, they are still entitled to necessary healthcare and should contact the NHS Business Services Authority (NHS BSA) (which covers the whole of the UK), who can arrange for payment should they require treatment when abroad.
EU member state EHICs will continue to be accepted by the NHS.
Commenting on the new system, Rory Boland, Which? travel editor, said: “The launch of the Global Health Insurance Card is good news for consumers after we warned holidaymakers in Europe could face eye-watering medical bills if a reciprocal healthcare agreement was not part of a Brexit deal.
“We have seen and reported a number of unscrupulous copycat websites charging people to apply for free GHICs, so anyone looking to apply must remain vigilant and only use the official NHS website.
“It is important to remember the GHIC covers fewer countries than the EHIC, so travellers should check they can use it before going abroad.
“We’d also advise holidaymakers to still buy travel insurance as soon as they book a holiday, so they are covered for other issues that may arise such as cancellations and lost luggage.”
There is more information on applying for a GHIC card here.