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15 Jan 2021

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What does Brexit mean for expats who still need health cover?
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What does Brexit mean for expats who still need health cover? 


Britain has entered the new year an independent country, having left the European Union.

Holidaymakers have already been warned that travelling to EU countries could now be more expensive, especially given the absence of the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).

But what will this mean for expats? Some have already experienced issues when trying to return to Spain after visiting relatives in the UK for Christmas and the New Year.

Expats will face many changes as a result of Britain leaving the EU, including healthcare

Expats will face many changes as a result of Britain leaving the EU, including healthcare

A small group were told their paperwork was not correct – even though they had already been informed it was satisfactory.

This shows that things are likely to change for expats who up until now may have depended on their EHIC for at least some of their healthcare protection.

The cards gave travellers the right to access state-provided healthcare during a temporary stay in another EU country.

Expats that have become permanent residents may now have access to the same level of healthcare as other residents – although this depends on which country they are now living in. 

What insurance should I get as an expat? 

There are many different insurance options for expats who are living and working overseas.

The cover you get will depend on how much you pay, as well as other factors such as pre-existing medical conditions, the excess you choose and what, if any, medication you take.

Brian Brown of financial comparison service Defaqto said: ‘If they live in the country permanently I would expect expats to receive the same level of healthcare as other local residents without needing insurance, but that may depend on each country’s immigration rules.

‘If the EHIC scheme is no longer available, people who spend long periods in second homes in Europe will need to buy an extended trip travel insurance policy to cover them for the entire time they are away.

‘Alternatively, they might be able to buy an annual policy which allows up to a certain number of days abroad per trip – typically limited to 31, 45, 60 or 90 days at a time.

‘The big issue for these expats is that many of them will be older, and travel insurance premiums can become expensive for them – particularly if they are going to spend long periods abroad.’

The EHIC is being replaced by the Global Health Insurance Card - but details are yet to come

The EHIC is being replaced by the Global Health Insurance Card – but details are yet to come

According to the Government, UK nationals living in the EU before Brexit will keep their rights to healthcare in the EU country they live in, as long as these are covered by the Withdrawal Agreement. 

This includes expats who have their healthcare paid for by the UK, for example through the S1 scheme.

However, your exact healthcare entitlements depend on which EU country you live in. It is important that expats check the Government website to find out more.  

For those who are planning to move to the EU this year, arrangements are still being made between the UK and the EU as to what healthcare will be available. 

Some travel insurers are refusing to cover expats 

Brexit has definitely put a spanner in the works for many expats, with some insurers now not even offering travel cover for UK expats living abroad. 

A spokesperson for Go Compare said: ‘Traditionally, travel insurance would not provide cover for expats as policies cover travel to and from the UK only. 

Moving abroad: Many expats move to the EU when they retire in search of sun, sea and sand

Moving abroad: Many expats move to the EU when they retire in search of sun, sea and sand

‘GoCompare offers travel insurance comparison to UK residents looking for insurance cover for holidays abroad.

‘We don’t offer travel or health insurance comparison for UK expats living in EU countries. Expats worried about the impact of Brexit on their healthcare arrangements should seek specialist advice.

‘For those who spend considerable amounts of time abroad and are looking to cover wider medical treatments and costs accordingly, international health insurance should be a consideration moving forward – particularly for those working or living in Europe following the UK’s departure from the EU.’ 

Unclear when EHIC ‘replacement’ will arrive 

However, if you are a UK State Pensioner with a registered S1, you may still be able to access healthcare under the now-limited EHIC. 

One other option that is likely to be available to expats is the new Global Health Insurance Card, which Britain will issue in place of the EHIC.  

It will allow for state-provided medical treatment if people fall ill or have an accident in the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein.

It will cover chronic or existing illnesses, routine maternity care and emergencies – but specialised treatment, such as dialysis, will require ‘a prior agreement’ to make sure it is available.

As before, there is no provision for taking you home free of charge if you fall seriously ill or suffer a serious accident. Only travel insurance will cover that.

It is also not known when this will be introduced, with current details simply saying it will be available in the future.

Chris King, head of travel insurance at Compare the Market, said: ‘Most Britons will need to apply for a new Global Health Insurance Card to get state healthcare in Europe at a reduced cost, or for free. 

‘It is strongly advised to take out travel insurance before going to Europe or further afield to make sure you are covered for any and all medical treatment you may need, since this can be extremely costly.

‘As well as medical cover, travel insurance can cover lost or damaged luggage and some delays or cancellations.

‘UK nationals moving abroad or already living in Europe on a permanent basis should check their entitlement to medical treatment with their GP and the authority in the country.’

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