The European Health Insurance Card – what’s that all about, then?

Plane on susnset sky
  • | by Kristian Dando

If something happens to you while holidaying in the UK, you can rely on the trusty old NHS to dose you up or put you back together again.

But for better or worse, our Health Service is a fairly unique institution, so what happens if you need medical attention whilst in the European Union?

Lots of regular British travellers will take a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) with them wherever they go - unless, that is, they're from the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man, where residents aren't eligible. This will entitle them to the same level of state medical care provided to eligible nationals of whichever country they're in.

This means that the treatment may be provided for free or at a reduced cost in all European Economic Area (EEA) countries, including Switzerland. The EEA includes all 27 members of the European Union (EU) plus Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein. But, the provision of state care varies from country to country and doesn’t mean you can expect to be treated as you would if you visited your local friendly NHS doctor or hospital.

In France, for instance, a patient may be expected to stump up for a consultation with a doctor but will have up to 70 per cent of the cost reimbursed later. The patient may also be expected to contribute to the cost of staying in a hospital overnight. But in a poll of over 2,000 people we conducted, nearly a fifth (18 per cent) of believed that the EHIC would give them same level of care as they’d get from the NHS back home, when this quite simply isn’t the case.

Then there’s the whole tricky issue of repatriation – or, simply, getting you back to Blighty if you’re seriously injured…or worse. It can cost a small fortune – transporting somebody back from Austria with a broken leg can cost £5,000, according to the Association of British Insurers – and the bad news is that the EHIC doesn’t have it covered.

But nine per cent of the people we surveyed believe that carrying a EHIC will get you back home without any cost incurred. Jeremy Cryer, head of travel insurance at, pondered: "The name ‘European Health Insurance Card' suggests that it provides a greater level of medical cover than it actually does. It’s a useful thing to carry with you on holiday in Europe but it's no substitute for having proper travel insurance.”