By law, the NHS ceases to have responsibility for the medical care of patients when they leave the UK.
People traveling within Europe are advised to carry an authorised European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) at all times and this gives entitlement to reduced cost (and sometimes free) medical treatment. Patients should be advised to check specific entitlements prior to travel.
There are 2 types of cover available.
You can apply for either:
a UK Global Health Insurance Card (UK GHIC)
a UK European Health Insurance Card (UK EHIC), if you have rights under the Withdrawal Agreement
A UK GHIC and new UK EHIC are free of charge. Beware of unofficial websites, they may charge you a fee to apply.
If you have an existing EHIC
If you have an existing EHIC, it will remain valid until the expiry date on the card.
You can apply for a new card up to 6 months before your current card expires.
How to use your card
You can use your card to access medically necessary state-provided healthcare when you're visiting an EU country or Switzerland.
Medically necessary healthcare means healthcare that cannot reasonably wait until you come back to the UK. Whether treatment is necessary is decided by the healthcare provider in the country you're visiting.
Medically necessary healthcare includes things like:
- 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 going abroad to give birth
- oxygen therapy and kidney dialysis
You'll need to pre-arrange some treatments with the relevant healthcare provider in the country you're visiting - for example, kidney dialysis or chemotherapy.
Check the Foreign Office country guides on GOV.UK for information on how to access treatment in the country you're visiting
Not all state healthcare is free within the EU and Switzerland and so you may have to pay for services that you would get for free on the NHS.
Where you can use your card
You can use a UK GHIC or existing EHIC while visiting:
an EU country
- Switzerland (only UK nationals, Swiss nationals and EU citizens)
- A UK GHIC may become valid in more countries in the future. Check this page before you travel.
You can only use a UK GHIC in Switzerland if you're a UK national, a Swiss national, a citizen of an EU Member State, a refugee, a stateless person, or a family member, dependant or survivor of someone who holds one of these nationalities or statuses.
You may be asked for proof of your nationality or your status when using your UK GHIC in Switzerland.
You can use a new UK EHIC (identifiable by a Union flag hologram in the top-right corner) while visiting:
- an EU country
The EU countries are:
Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden.
For patients who will be out of the country for less than 3 months, it is reasonable to provide sufficient medicines for an existing condition (i.e. asthma, diabetes)
For patients leaving the country for more than 3 months, they should be advised to register with a local doctor for their continuing medical needs. It is reasonable for GPs to provide sufficient medication to give patients time to do this.
GPs are not required by their Terms of Service to provide prescriptions for the treatment of a condition that is not present and may arise while the patient is abroad. Persons who have left the UK, or who are intending to leave the UK, for more than 3 months are not normally allowed to continue to be registered with a practice.
The NHS accepts responsibility for supplying ongoing medication for temporary periods abroad of up to 3 months. If a person is going to be abroad for more than three months then all that the patient is entitled to at NHS expense is a sufficient supply of his/her regular medication in order to get to their destination, where they should then find an alternative supply of that medication.
If you're planning to visit or move to another country please see the NHS advice HERE