The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) for European travel
If you carry a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) when you go on holiday to other European countries, you will be able to get state medical treatment if it becomes necessary, at a reduced cost (or even free), in many places.
Countries where it is valid include all European Union (EU) countries as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland. In order to get this state treatment, however, it's vital that you carry your EHIC – but the good news is that the card is free and valid for up to five years, at which point you can simply renew it.
Who's eligible for an EHIC?
Anyone who is ordinarily resident in the UK is eligible for an EHIC, although there are some restrictions relating to your nationality.
Applying for an EHIC
It's free and easy to get an EHIC online at ehic.org.uk. Don't fall into the trap of applying via an unofficial website that charges an unnecessary fee to obtain the card on your behalf! Alternatively, call 0845 606 2030 from within the UK or pick up an application form from a UK Post Office.
Apply well in advance of your holiday – most customers receive their EHIC within 10 working days, but leave longer if you can just to be sure it arrives in time.
You will need your NHS or National Insurance Number when you fill in the form, along with other basic personal details.
What's not covered by an EHIC?
The EHIC offers only state-provided treatment, and this varies from one country to the next. It doesn't cover you if you've visited a country for the purpose of obtaining medical care, or for treatment which can be put off until you return home (e.g. non-urgent dental work).
Do you still need travel insurance?
The short answer is yes. The EHIC is not an alternative to private travel insurance, but is well worth taking with you alongside your travel insurance policy. Although you will receive standard state health care if you need it, the EHIC won't cover you for any private medical healthcare costs, or the costs of medical services such as mountain rescue in ski resorts, repatriation to the UK, or lost or stolen property. All of these things should, however, be covered in a comprehensive travel insurance policy. When you choose a policy, make sure you read all of the the small print and check for any exclusions, making sure the policy meets your expectations in terms of the level of cover, and includes cover for any activities you're planning to embark on during your trip. For example, many standard policies exclude certain 'high risk' outdoor activities – so if you're off snowboarding, make sure you take out an appropriate travel insurance policy.
It's also worth knowing that some insurers now insist that you carry an EHIC.