Travellers at risk over EHIC confusion

European map with stethescope
The EHIC card is useful, but shouldn't be mistaken as a substitute for travel insurance
"An EHIC is essential to carry with you on holiday in Europe but it’s no substitute for having proper travel insurance" Jeremy Cryer
  • | by Kristian Dando

The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) entitles UK travellers to emergency health care in European Economic Area (EEA) countries and Switzerland, making it a worthwhile and valuable item for many holidaymakers.

However, new research from has revealed that a lot of travellers overestimate the benefits of the card, with just under half (47%) of those surveyed thinking that the EHIC entitles them to free medical care in Europe.

Some even believe that the EHIC - previously known at the E111 - entitles them to free medical care anywhere in the world.

This means that some holidaymakers think that they don’t need travel insurance – which could end up being an expensive and dangerous error.

Take the cost of repatriation, which the EHIC offers no assitance for. This can cost thousands of pounds, but 9% of travellers surveyed by believe that the EHIC will get them home by air ambulance for free.

There are also reports that the EHIC is being refused in hospitals in Spain and Greece – particularly sobering when considering the cost of one night in a ward of a private Spanish hospital is around £800, treatment for a broken ankle in Tenerife would cost £7,000 and the cost of treating one holidaymaker who suffered multiple injuries after being hit by a car in Greece was around £21,000. These were all real claims paid out under travel insurance policies - without such cover, the injured traveller would have had to pick up the bill.

Leaving medical expenses aside, an EHIC will not offer any cover for valuables which are lost or stolen.

Jeremy Cryer, head of travel insurance at, commented: “An EHIC is essential to carry with you on holiday in Europe but it’s no substitute for having proper travel insurance. Having one might mean that you don’t have to claim on your travel insurance and pay an excess and some insurers will even waive the policy excess for medical claims where you’ve used your EHIC but where it doesn’t cover the full cost of your treatment.

“Having an EHIC may help you to access free or, more likely, discounted emergency medical services whilst abroad, but it’s not a guarantee that you won’t have to pay anything, and it certainly won’t be any help if you need medical repatriation to the UK, the costs of which can run into thousands of pounds.”