Travellers who rely on the Ehic for free healthcare in Europe could be left unprotected by a no-deal Brexit.
While Prime Minister Boris Johnston advocates for his recently agreed deal, other members of Parliament are calling for an extension. As the 31 October grows closer, it’s still possible the UK could exit the EU without a deal – in which case, your Ehic may cease to be valid overnight.
The Ehic, which operates across the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein, allows visitors to access emergency healthcare at the same cost as local residents, often paying nothing at all. British people benefit from around £150m of treatment every year through the scheme, according to the BBC.
Though the UK government has said it wants the Ehic scheme to continue in a no-deal scenario, only three EU countries – Ireland, Portugal and Spain – have agreed to a similar arrangement so far.
Read on to find out what this means for you, and the best ways to get covered if your Ehic is no longer valid.
Will Ehics work after a no-deal Brexit?
The NHS website says Ehics ‘may not be valid if there’s a no-deal Brexit’. Whether you’ll be able to access free or low-cost treatment will depend on arrangements with individual countries, which may mean you need to pay in full for any treatment, the NHS warns.
At the moment, the only countries with an arrangement in place are Ireland, Portugal and Spain.
- Spain has said it will continue to uphold the Ehic scheme as it is.
- Ireland and Portugal will allow UK citizens to get free healthcare if they show their passports. But there’s no guarantee how long these arrangements will last.
- Other EU countries have not agreed to an extension, meaning you may need to pay full price.
Your Ehic cards will still be valid in every EU country up until Brexit happens, or if your treatment starts before Brexit day.
Keep in mind this only applies to Ehics issued by the UK. If you qualify for an Ehic issued by another EU country, you’ll be able to use it as normal.
- Find out more: The Ehic explained
How to get EU healthcare after Brexit
In the event that a no-deal Brexit invalidates your Ehic, you may need to pay the same cost as other visitors for emergency medical treatment in Europe, which could run into the thousands.
However, you may have some options for funding this treatment.
If you’re travelling to an EU country on holiday, you should take out travel insurance to protect you against unexpected medical costs, just as you would if you were travelling elsewhere.
It’s advisable to do this even if your Ehic does still work, since insurance covers more than just basic healthcare.
The Ehic wouldn’t, for example, pay for emergency rescue or for medically assisted transport back to the UK, whereas an insurance policy may cover these costs.
Travel insurance may also protect you against other bills associated with an emergency abroad, like hotels for the people you’re travelling with or cancellation of the rest of your trip. And if you lose valuable items or experience other unexpected problems, you may be able to claim.
Inclusions within travel insurance vary, so always check the terms and conditions of your policy to make sure you have enough cover.
As a minimum, we recommend your travel insurance includes:
- Emergency medical cover: £2m for Europe and $5m worldwide
- Cancellation, curtailment and missed departure cover: £3,000
- Personal belongings and money: £1,500
- Personal liability cover: £1m
It’s possible the cost of travel insurance will go up if there’s a no-deal Brexit, because insurers factor in discounted healthcare when calculating premiums.
If you’re shopping around for a new policy, Which? has combined real customer feedback with expert analysis to determine the best and worst travel insurance for your money.
UK government support
For the first six months after Brexit, the government has said it will help pay for medical treatment.
This could be arranged in a number of ways, but to organise it, you’ll need to give the NHS Business Services Authority’s Overseas Healthcare Services your healthcare provider’s details. You can call the Business Services Authority on 0191 218 1999.
- Find out more: how to find cheap travel insurance
Is it still worth getting an Ehic?
The Ehic remains valid up until the UK leaves the EU, which might be 31 October, but may also be delayed. And if the government secures a deal with the EU ahead of Brexit, it’s likely that extending the Ehic throughout Europe will form part of it.
So, if you’re planning to travel to Europe in coming months, it may be worth applying for an Ehic (or renewing your existing card) just in case.
Applying for the Ehic is free, and you can do it online via the NHS.
Just beware of scammer sites, which mimic the official application but try to charge you a fee.
Other tips for travelling after Brexit
Aside from healthcare, a no-deal Brexit could impact on your holiday in other ways.
- Make sure your passport is valid. To travel to Europe in a no-deal scenario, you’re likely to need a passport issued within the past 10 years with at least six months’ validity remaining. You can find out more in our story on renewing your passport before Brexit.
- Apply for an international driver’s licence, as your British driver’s licence may not be valid if the EU leaves without an agreement. You may also need a green card to drive your own car in Europe.
We’ve also compiled a number of other top post-Brexit travel tips to help you navigate the complex legal waters. You can find out more in our guide to travel after Brexit.