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European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)

You can get an EHIC to give you free or discounted medical treatment in countries within the European Economic Area (EEA), but the scheme may cease on 1 January 2021 - here’s what you need to do now.

Amy Smith
Amy Smith
Updated 14 October 2019  | 4 min read

What is the EHIC?

The European Health Insurance Card entitles you to free, or reduced-rate, medical treatment in all EEA countries. That's the European Union plus Switzerland, Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein.

You don’t get an EHIC automatically - you need to apply for it, which is free to do.

Key points

  • Although it’s free, you don’t get an EHIC automatically - you need to apply for it
  • An EHIC isn't a replacement for travel insurance
  • Each member of a travelling party needs their own EHIC
  • You can get your free EHIC through the NHS website

What does my EHIC cover?

Your EHIC entitles you to state-provided medical treatment if you fall ill or have an accident in any EU country, or in Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, where the scheme also applies.

You can access treatment for pre-existing medical conditions and routine maternity care, as well as emergency care.

Individuals with chronic illnesses - for example those who require dialysis - can travel knowing they will receive treatment on the same terms as the citizens of the country they’re visiting.

When the UK leaves the European Union (EU), your access to healthcare in the EU will probably change, so it’s even more important you get the right travel insurance

Will my EHIC still be valid after Brexit?

The UK is currently in a Brexit transition period with the EU until 31 December 2020, during which your EHIC will remain valid.

When the transition period ends on 1 January 2021, EHICs may become invalid - so it’s more important than ever to make sure you have the right travel insurance for your 2021 holidays.

If you are travelling after 2020, the EHIC may no longer be valid for most UK citizens. After December 2020, the EHIC could work as it does now, but this depends on what is decided.

UK state pensioners living in the EU before the end of 2020 will be able to use their EHIC beyond 2020.

The EHIC will also be valid for the UK students who start a course in the EU before the end of 2020 until their course finishes and for so-called 'frontier workers' - people who work in one state and live in another.

I’m travelling before the end of 2020. How do I get one?

You can apply for an EHIC on the NHS website, which is free to do.

There are websites that'll try to charge you to manage your EHIC application but the process is easy. You shouldn’t need to pay for help.

It could take a week or two for your application to be processed and the card to be posted to you.

Do I also need travel insurance if I have an EHIC card?

Yes - your EHIC card isn’t a replacement for travel insurance

It’s a useful addition but it won't cover you for care in private medical facilities, or repatriation back to the UK if you need it.

Most EU countries don't have healthcare systems like the NHS, so you'll only be able to get private treatment.

Without travel insurance, you'd have to cover those costs for yourself.

You should buy travel insurance with healthcare cover before you go on holiday.

Travel insurance policies are designed to provide cover for many eventualities, including medical expenses, a trip being cut short or cancelled, and loss or theft of possessions.

It’s advisable to take out an insurance policy as soon as possible after booking your trip, to make sure you’re covered in the event of any changes before you depart.

When taking out travel insurance you should also check:

  • the level of healthcare cover it includes
  • the travel disruption cover it includes
  • the terms and conditions

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