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Why you still need an EHIC post-Brexit

Written by: Emma Lunn
1.8 million people have let their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) expire since March 2019, leaving themselves unprotected if they travel to Europe in the coming months.

Travel insurer Columbus Direct calculated the figure after making a Freedom of Information (FOI) data request to the NHS Business Services Authority.

It found that 2,589,551 EHICs have expired since March 2019 but only 750,573 have been renewed, meaning 1,838,978 people have let their card expire without ordering a new one.

A recent survey of Columbus Direct customers found that 74 per cent of people don’t know whether their EHIC is valid, and one in 10 haven’t checked theirs within the past 12 months. On top of this, despite government advice being issued, half of holidaymakers (50 per cent) are still confused about whether the EHIC will be valid once Britain leaves the EU.

What is an EHIC?

The EHIC entitles Brits to free or discounted medical care when on holiday in EU countries. Government advice states it will continue to be valid in the EU until the end of the transition period if we leave with a deal, and until the 31 October if we leave without a deal.

EHICs are valid for five years – you can check the expiry date in the bottom right hand corner of the card.

Stuart Lloyd, travel insurance expert at Columbus Direct, said: “Political uncertainty has understandably left consumers confused about what protection they’ll have when travelling to the EU in the coming months. The confusion will continue until we have clarity around the UK’s exit from the EU.

“To protect yourself, make sure you have a comprehensive travel insurance policy in place, as well as an up-to-date EHIC. Having both means you will be covered in almost all situations and will protect you from the costs that the EHIC wouldn’t cover such as flight cancellations or baggage losses. And, renewing your EHIC is free, so giving yourself a safety net on top of insurance is a no-brainer. Your EHIC could well be valid beyond 31 October given the current political situation.”

How to get an EHIC

You can apply for or renew an EHIC on the NHS website. Be wary of websites charging a fee for an EHIC as it’s free direct from the NHS. You can fill in the application form online, or download the form, fill it out and send it back in the post or apply over the phone. It will then take about seven days for your EHIC to arrive.

Everyone aged over 16-year-old needs their own EHIC. If you have children under 16, you can include your child as a dependent when applying for your EHIC.

Will my EHIC be valid after Brexit?

Brexit may affect the validity of the EHIC, but nothing’s likely to happen until we leave the EU. Once we do there are several different scenarios.

If we leave the EU with a deal, you’ll receive the same benefits until the end of the ‘transition period’ – probably the end of 2020.

If the UK leaves without a deal, the government has advised that EHICs will not be valid on the day we leave the EU, but it is working to maintain the same level of cover for all UK residents when travelling to countries in the EU – so this could change.

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