With the French last year attempting to prevent early retirees from receiving free medical care in France and some Spanish provinces now considering a similar plan, the healthcare rights for those moving abroad but staying within Europe just got more complicated.

As a rule of thumb we would always recommend any would-be expats look into the option of getting health insurance no matter where in the world they’re moving to, but now, if new EU proposals become ratified, by 2010 it could be the case that we are all entitled to free healthcare throughout the European Union.

Plans are in place to allow anyone from an EU member state to seek medical care and treatment in another EU member state and be reimbursed either by their home medical insurer or, in the case of British citizens who rely on a free National Health Service funded by the government, the government will be responsible for reimbursement.

An estimated 4% of EU citizens are already making use of the freedom of movement benefits of the European Union for medical reasons.  Last year according to Eurobarometer, this 4% received medical care in another member state.  This included a number of Britons so fed up with massive waiting lists in the UK that they went abroad and sought the treatment they needed.  They have subsequently had a battle on their hands to get the NHS to pay up, but their cases have been supported by the European Court of Justice which paves the way for Britain having to sign up to the new EU proposals.

Whilst the proposals for EU wide healthcare benefits for all citizens are still only in draft form and have to be accepted by all governments within the EU, experts expect the plans to become law and actionable by 2010.  For those would-be expats thinking about retiring to Spain, Italy, Portugal, the South of France or Cyprus perhaps, it bodes well.  However, in the meantime we would still recommend expats look into the health care specifics of a given nation to determine whether they are better off protecting the medical needs of their family with insurances.