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Guide to the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)

Find out what the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) does and doesn't cover, where you can get one, and why it can be invaluable to carry as well as travel insurance.

Key points

  • An EHIC is a must-have for UK residents travelling in the European Economic Area
  • Serves as a complement to travel insurance, not a replacement
  • Each member of a travelling party needs their own EHIC
  • Don't pay for an EHIC - they're free through the NHS website

What is an EHIC?

The EHIC is a must-have for UK residents travelling in Europe as it covers you for emergency health care in that region.

The card - which replaced the old E111 in 2006 - entitles the bearer to treatment 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.

The EHIC is not accepted in Turkey as the country is not a member of the EU or the EEA.

Who can get an EHIC?

Most UK residents are eligible for an EHIC, but residents of the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man are not.

Parents and guardians can apply for those aged under 16, and each member of a travel party must have their own EHIC.

How do I get an EHIC and what does it cost?European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)

Travellers aged over 16 can apply for an EHIC for free on the NHS website.

Some websites will try to charge to manage your EHIC application, but the process is quite straightforward and there should be no need to pay for a card.

The NHS has also created a handy EHIC app which includes a guide on how to use the card, emergency telephone numbers, covered treatments and costs, and details of how to claim a reimbursement.

It's likely to take a week or two for an application to be processed and a card posted to you, so get yourself organised in good time before travelling.

A card will be valid for five years, then you will have to apply for a renewal - again this is likely to take one-to-two weeks to process.

Is an EHIC an alternative to travel insurance?

An EHIC is an essential card to carry with you on holiday in Europe, but it's no substitute for having proper travel insurance.

Did you know...?

  • Using an EHIC could save you from paying an excess on a travel insurance medical claim

Research from Gocompare.com indicated that there's much confusion amongst UK holidaymakers over what a so-called European health card does and does not cover, and that this could have disturbing health and/or financial implications.[1]

Is an EHIC holder entitled to free medical care?

An EHIC does not automatically entitle you to free medical care, despite the fact that 54% of people in our survey thought that it would in Europe.

An EHIC entitles the bearer to the same level of state medical care provided to eligible nationals of the EEA country they're in.

The provision of state care varies from country to country, so this does not mean you can expect to be treated as you would if you visited your UK doctor or hospital.

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
Jeremy Cryer, Gocompare.com

While the NHS pays the full cost of medical treatment, few EEA countries do this.

In France, for example, a patient may be expected to pay for a consultation with a doctor, but will have up to 70% of the cost reimbursed later.

The patient may also be expected to contribute to the cost of staying in a hospital overnight.

What's more, in the event of an emergency there's no guarantee that an ambulance will take you to a state hospital for treatment, and many of the smaller hospitals and clinics found in holiday resorts are privately run.

If you attend a privately run clinic or hospital your EHIC may not be of any benefit at all.

And remember that an EHIC does not offer any health cover outside the EEA - despite the fact that 9% of our survey believed that it would get them free medical cover anywhere in the world.Stethoscope

Medical repatriation

An EHIC does not cover the cost of medical repatriation from any destination and the government does not pay for British holidaymakers to be flown home following accidents.

This may come as quite a shock to the 9% of people in our survey who said that an EHIC would entitle them to a free flight home from Europe by air ambulance if they fell seriously ill.

Tourists who need medical treatment and repatriation risk incurring huge bills if they don't have adequate insurance.

Without such cover individuals or their families have to find the money to pay for services such as flights home and possible medical supervision during the transport.

An EHIC can save you paying a medical claim excess

A less-well-known benefit of the EHIC is that it could save you from paying an excess on a travel insurance medical claim.

An EHIC certainly won't be any help if you need medical repatriation to the UK, the costs of which can run into thousands of pounds
Jeremy Cryer

On 30 June, 2014, Gocompare.com analysed 532 single-trip travel insurance policies listed on the matrix of independent financial researcher Defaqto, and found that 489 of them (92%) would usually charge an excess on medical claims.

However, if the claim was for medical care when an EHIC had been correctly used in a participating country, 442 of the 489 excess-charging policies (90%) would waive the charge.

The figures were similar for annual multi-trip policies, with 91% (501 out of 549) charging an excess for medical claims, but 88% (441 of 501) of those waiving the excess when an EHIC was correctly used.

Complement your travel insurance with an EHIC

"Getting an EHIC can be a vital part of your travel preparations," said Gocompare.com's Jeremy Cryer.

"Having one might mean that you don't have to claim on your insurance and pay an excess.

"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.Suitcases

"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.

"It's also important to consider that an EHIC won't cover you for incidents such as losing your bags or having your passport stolen, which are typically covered by insurance.

"By using an EHIC as an alternative to insurance, you won't be protected in circumstances like these and risk being seriously out of pocket should something go wrong on your holiday.

"Our advice to holidaymakers is to always arrange suitable insurance to ensure you're covered for medical treatment and repatriation if necessary - £1m of medical cover should be adequate for most situations but some policies offer £5m or more as standard.

"For minor ailments and accidents, and so long as you go to a state-run hospital or healthcare centre, an EHIC could save you having to pay out too much, or anything, for treatment.

"Look at it as complementing your own travel insurance rather than replacing it or you might bring back a hefty medical bill as a souvenir."

By Sean Davies