What does Brexit mean for expatriates in Europe and their healthcare?

As the new British PM, Theresa May, settles in to No 10 what can British expats in Europe, and European expats in the UK, expect when the UK leaves the EU? And in particular what is likely to happen to their healthcare.

Of course, it’s difficult to know until exit negotiations between UK and the EU get underway, but what is clear is that it will be more important than ever to ensure that you have health cover in place. There will be no overnight changes and once the UK has invoked article 50 there is a two-year time frame to negotiate the exit.

In this article we outline what changes might be afoot.

Can you stay or will you have to go?

It is almost impossible to imagine that expats from the UK in Europe, or EU citizens living in the UK, will be repatriated. Despite the concerns, Europeans would not be forced to give up homes and jobs to return home. This would be economically damaging and extremely difficult to implement. Expats would also have rights to stay in their chosen country of residence in the EU under the Vienna Convention of 1969. This may not apply, however, to people who move around within Europe in the future.

What is likely is the introduction of visas or points system for EU nationals wanting to live in the UK and a visa system for UK nationals moving to Europe. The general opinion is that the UK would have the same status as Norway and Switzerland and become part of the European Economic Area (EEA), which means very little will change for expats, including their ability to access healthcare.

Will healthcare rights be removed altogether?

Currently, EU citizens have the right to live, work and receive healthcare in another EU country. The UK government has signalled that ‘everything is up for negotiation’ meaning there is a risk these rights will be lost. However, as long as people are allowed to stay where they are, the reality is that their entitlements are not likely to change either.

Will the EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) card still be valid?

Contrary to popular belief, the EHIC card is only valid for temporary stays in Europe. The EHIC Card gives EU citizens access to state-provided healthcare during a temporary stay in another European Economic Area (EEA) country. The EHIC covers necessary treatment until an individual returns home and provides care free or at a reduced dependent on how health care is supplied in the resident country. Whether the card remains in place for UK citizens, or is replaced by a different scheme, is to be seen.

Economic Ups and Downs

Of course, during times of uncertainty, currencies will fluctuate and this could mean less money in people’s pocket and the cost of living going up and down. Expatriates are often very susceptible to currency changes, especially if they have property or bank accounts, or drawn an income from their home country. There is very little that can be done to avoid changes in currency values but certainly anyone being paid in Sterling recently might have felt the effect of the value of their currency reducing. The best way around this is to get smart about ways to convert currency, look out for who is offering the best rates and keep an eye on the currency markets.

How much life will change now that Brexit seems likely is unknown. Expatriates who are uncertain about their position when it comes to healthcare are certainly able to mitigate any risks by taking out an international health insurance programme. Not only will this provide access to the best private medical care available but it will put minds at risk from the Brexit fall-out.

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