A lot can happen in three short years. If you’ve not travelled since before the pandemic, then prepare yourself, because a lot has changed.
Post Brexit, a number of the benefits that we took for granted as part of being in the European Union have gone. For the average tourist, most of these changes will be minor grumbles. However, as we saw with the Port of Dover queues over the weekend, trying to squish thousands of people through a limited number of border control desks poses considerable logistical problems with our hard European border.
But let’s save the impact of Brexit for a heated debate in the pub, shall we?! There are other things you’ll need to consider if you’re heading out to Europe this Summer. Like your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).
Why EHICs are still valid and why they are so important?
You may still be in possession of an EHIC. This is the European Health Insurance Card. The EHIC allowed UK travellers to get limited cover for health issues when visiting countries in the EU (and a few other countries like Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein).
I never went on holiday without my EHIC card. Aside from being free (always a good thing) the card meant you could qualify for a range of hospital treatments in the EU in most non-private facilities. What precisely the card covered you for varied from country to country though as a (very) general rule, you qualified for some state healthcare free or at a reduced cost. It’s important to note that the EHIC card was never intended as a replacement for a travel insurance policy. That’s absolutely invaluable if you are going on holiday – as costs for many treatments can be astronomical. Just think what you might be looking at if you break your leg on a ski run, from the cost of medical treatment to repatriation… However, an EHIC card meant that minor treatments could go ahead sometimes without the need to make an insurance claim. Plus you could easily prove you were entitled to treatment if you had your card with you.
Now we’ve left the EU, the EHIC card will eventually cease to exist. Check the expiry date on the card – yours will be valid until that date. It’s all rather complicated, but if you renewed your EHIC before the end of 2020 the British Government negotiated an agreement where the card would still be valid. However, if you’re travelling to Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein, it isn’t.
If you’ve got an E111 card, you need to clean out your drawers more! This predecessor to the EHIC is long gone.
What if my EHIC card has expired?
The good news is there is be a replacement, the GHIC card. The GHIC (Global Health Insurance Card). This operates in a similar way to the EHIC – but there are a number of variations depending on the country. Find out more here
Don’t be fooled by that ‘Global’ in the title though. There’s not much information about non-EU countries on the Government guidance and you’d have to be bonkers to go to somewhere like America without a fully comprehensive insurance policy, even in the USA signs up to the scheme.
How do I apply for a GHIC?
A GHIC card is free and relatively easy to apply for. The current timescales for delivery are around 20 days, so not quite the 10 weeks that the Passport Office is citing. Nethertheless, get your application in today if your old card is due to expire. If the EHIC has less than six months on it, you can put an application in now. There is a warning on the website that delays may occur due to ‘exceptional demand’.
Here’s how to get started. You’ll need your National Insurance number to apply.
Each member of the family needs to have their own card, though you need to be over 16 to apply personally. You can pop applications for younger children as dependants when applying, though you’ll get a card for each person (so take them all). Your GHIC will last for five years, so stick a diary reminder in for a few months before the renewal date on the card.
A lot of readers have contacted me to say that their new GHIC hasn’t arrived on time and they are about to go on holiday. If your EHIC is still valid and the country you are going to accepts it, then you should be fine. But once again – and I cannot emphasise this enough – you must take out travel insurance regardless, as even the best EHIC/GHIC cover is not nearly enough to pay for many medical emergencies or treatment.
Beware the scammers
Depressingly, where there’s a chance to make a quick buck, there are scammers. Some websites are outright fakes, designed just to pinch your details. However, others are ‘legitimate’ businesses – meaning only that they aren’t breaking any specific laws – that masquerade as the official site for processing GHIC applications. But they charge a fee instead.
Remember, these businesses will charge you a fee for something that’s free. If you look at the wording on the sites, they are actually charging you for ‘proofreading the application’ or ‘reminding you of your renewal date’. If you are asked to enter in bank details, you know you are not on the right website.
Fake websites also operate in areas like passport or driving licence applications and for things like US visas.
I’m going to get on my soapbox here once again and question why on earth this is allowed to happen. Massive businesses like Google often allow these businesses to climb up the online search rankings or in the past have allowed them to pay for advertisements that make them look like the real deal. These fake firms are immoral and manipulative. But they are being enabled by the big tech firms who despite numerous warnings have not cracked down on them. It’s time they were forced to do so. But for now, be wary.
Travel insurance policies have been through considerable upheaval in recent years as the industry attempted to adapt to mass claims for holidays that could not be taken, Covid restrictions and the post-pandemic travel rules. As a consequence, a standard travel policy might have changed a great deal since you last bought one so you familiarise yourself with the policy.
Yes, travel insurance documents are long and complicated, but it’s really important you read the key facts documents so you know exactly what you’re covered for and what excess limits/claim requirements are. Don’t forget to take the documents with you if you travel – and keep the emergency claim number and your policy number on your phone or email so you can locate it quickly if you need it. I’d photo the details too so you have them to hand.
MoneySavingExpert has a comprehensive guide to the best policies around at the moment here
If you are buying a policy, don’t forget to ensure that it starts from the moment of purchase. A lot can go wrong in the run up to the holiday so if you can’t travel for any reasons, you’ll need to at least have a sporting chance of getting your money back through a claim. And while some insurance is better than no insurance, beware policies bought at the airport as they tend to have significant limitations in comparison to comprehensive ones.
Featured in Times Money Mentor – Martyn James