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Healthcare systems throughout Europe can differ drastically, and in some countries you may not receive the same level of care that you would expect for free from the NHS in the UK. In some states, you may be required to make a patient contribution to cover the cost of any care you receive while travelling. With an EHIC card, some or all of these costs can be waived.
What to know about healthcare when visiting Switzerland
While Switzerland is neither a member of the European Union or the European Economic Area (EEA), it is a member of the European “single market”. To this end, a UK-issued EHIC is valid for use in the country if you require healthcare while on holiday.
If you should find yourself with a serious or life-threatening emergency, you should make your way to the nearest accident and emergency unit (known in Switzerland as ‘notaufnahme’) or the nearest hospital. Most state hospitals have A&E wards which are open 24 hours a day.
If you require an ambulance, you should dial 144 from any phone (including mobile phones). These calls are free. However, in Switzerland, ambulance services will only transport the patient. Anybody who wishes to accompany the patient to the hospital will be required to make their own way there.
In Switzerland, the healthcare system pays 50% of transport costs (up to CHF500 per year). In the case of mountain rescue, a maximum of CHF5,000 is paid per year, with the patient having to cover 50%. Because it costs to pay for an ambulance, patients are advised only to request on in an emergency, or if they are otherwise in an unfit state to travel to the hospital via taxi, car, tram or bus.
When contacting emergency services in Switzerland, it is important to remain calm. You will typically be asked for the following information by the operator:
- Who you are
- Where you are located
- What has happened
- What action you have taken
Other important numbers in Switzerland
As well as knowing how to access emergency treatment, you may also wish to familiarise yourself with the following phone numbers in the event of needing them during your stay in Switzerland:
- 117 – police
- 1414 – air rescue
- 140 – breakdown service
- 162 – latest weather report
- 118 – firefighters
- 163 – road information
- 187 – avalanche report
- 1811 – general enquiries
Healthcare with an EHIC card
In Switzerland, any person who requires urgent medical attention will receive it – however, those who do not possess a valid EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) can expect to be charged in full for any care provided. It is good practice for visitors to Switzerland to also purchase travel insurance prior to travelling and to ensure they have access to funds to cover any required medical treatment. If you receive any treatment in Switzerland, you should remember to keep any paperwork or receipts, as they may be required by (either by you or an insurance company on your behalf) to apply for any refunds you may be entitled to.
At present, an EHIC currently enables visitors to access any necessary state-provided treatment in Switzerland at a reduced rate. In some instances, treatment may be free with an EHIC if you are staying in the country temporarily. Before requesting treatment, be certain to ascertain whether the hospital is state-funded. If you are asked to pay upfront for any health services, it is likely that you are not being treated by a state-run hospital.
The European Health Insurance Card does not cover certain costs, for example:
- Private treatment
- Cost of being transported back to the UK
- Mountain rescue services
- Treatment on cruises (international waters)
You should be wary of any healthcare arrangements that are made by a travel representative or a hotel. Some companies try to reassure visitors that they can claim back whatever they pay out, but this usually refers to private travel insurance and not for eligible treatments under an EHIC.
What if I forget my EHIC?
If you need access to state-operated healthcare but have neglected to bring your EHIC with you, you can still avail of treatment with a Provisional Replacement Certificate, or PRC. Once you have arranged a PRC, you can show it to operatives at the hospital. This will prevent you from being charged the full rate for treatment.
Travelling to Switzerland with a pre-existing health condition
If you already have a medical condition and intend to travel to Switzerland, you should apply for an EHIC and arrange medical travel insurance prior to setting off. You are obliged to tell any insurer about the pre-existing conditions you have, as this allows them to provide you with a policy which gives you the cover you need.
You might also want to consult your GP prior to travel to discuss your existing condition. It is good practice to bring information about your condition and any medications you might be taking when you travel. This means that, in the event of needing treatment, you will be able to provide the Swiss healthcare staff with a better understanding of your condition.
Dentists in Switzerland
Dental treatment in Switzerland is not covered by an EHIC. There are some very rare exceptions – if it is caused by an accident or serious illness, for example. For further information, visit migesplus.ph (please note that content on this site is not in English).
To access treatment in a Swiss hospital, you will need to first be referred by a doctor – with the exception of accidents and emergencies. You should always provide your EHIC upon admission to a hospital. In-patient treatment is covered by an EHIC according to the latest tariffs. However, treatment in semi-private or fully private wards or hospitals is not.
Prescriptions in Switzerland
Most Swiss pharmacies operate an out-of-hours service at night-time and during weekends. To find out where your nearest pharmacy is, you should contact the telephone information service on 1818. The telephone information service offers advice in English, French, German and Italian. Please note that you may have to pay an additional fee if you decide to purchase medicines from an out-of-hours pharmacy.
When picking up a prescription, your pharmacist may ask you if you would like an original medicine or a generic version. It’s important to understand that generic medicines are essentially the same as the original or ‘branded’ version, sold under a different name.
- Generic medicines contain the exact same active ingredients as the original but are marginally cheaper.
- If you purchase generic medicines, you will be required to pay a deductible of 10%. You will have to pay a deductible of 20% on an original medicine if a generic version is readily available.
- Pharmacists in Switzerland can legally replace original medicine with their generic equivalents unless a doctor has specified that the original must be provided.
- When collecting your prescription, always ask the pharmacist for a generic version to keep costs down.
Can I bring my own medicines to Switzerland?
Certain prescribed medicines contain substances which are controlled under UK law (Misuse of Drugs legislation). This means that additional legal controls apply to these drugs. In some instances, you may need a personal licence which allows you to take controlled substances out of the country. Certain stipulations may also apply, pertaining to any information about the medicines that you must carry upon your person and the way in which you transport any controlled medicines (for example, in their original packaging).
When the UK leaves the EU, will my EHIC still apply?
If the United Kingdom decides to leave the EU without any deal, it should not affect the pre-existing agreement between the UK and Switzerland. This is because both countries have reached an agreement which protects the rights of Swiss and UK nationals who have decided to call each other’s country home. This agreement essentially protects all rights (include access to social security and healthcare) of any UK nationals who reside or work in Switzerland for as long as they remain.
The agreement also provides other forms of protection. For example, UK citizens who have previously worked in Switzerland are covered for healthcare if they move and simply want to visit the country after exit day – provided that they are in receipt of a qualifying benefit or state pension.
Circumstances on this agreement are subject to change, and patients are advised to check all the latest updates prior to travelling.
Healthcare for UK nationals working in Switzerland
If you currently work in Switzerland, you will be required by law to purchase basic healthcare insurance. This purchase is mandatory and entitles workers to healthcare under the same terms as Swiss nationals. Mandatory basic healthcare insurance covers the following:
Any services provided by a doctor.
- Hospital costs, provided the hospital you receive treatment in is within the region you reside in. If you receive treatment from a hospital which is outside the region you reside in, any treatment will only be covered up to the amount you would have been reimbursed for if you received treatment in your local hospital.
- Accidents are covered. If you work 8 or more hours a week, your employer must insure you for work-related and non-work related accidents under Swiss Accidents Insurance Law.
- 50% of medical transport/rescue is covered under mandatory basic healthcare insurance, up to CHF500 for transport and CHF5,000 for rescue.
- Insurance also covers emergency treatment outside EU or EFTA countries, up to twice the amount of expected expenditure in Switzerland.
If you work for a UK company and have been posted to do your job in Switzerland, you could be entitled to health cover which is funded by the UK. For more information on eligibility, you may wish to contact HM Revenue and Customs.
Pensioners and healthcare in Switzerland
If you reside in Switzerland and currently receive an exportable benefit, such as a state pension or contribution-based Employment Support Allowance (also known as ESA), you might be entitled to have your healthcare in Switzerland paid for by the UK. To avail of this, you will have to produce an S1 certificate. This right is currently protected under the UK-Swiss citizens’ rights agreement regardless of whether a deal with the EU is established or not in the future. An S1 certificate of entitlement allows you and your dependents to access treatment in Switzerland and can be obtained from the Department of Work & Pensions.
Studying in Switzerland: can I access healthcare?
If you are a UK resident who is currently staying and studying in Switzerland, you will require a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) to access healthcare. Students are advised to take out additional travel insurance while studying abroad, in the event of running into difficulty when it comes to accessing or paying for healthcare.
Before applying for travel insurance, it is good practice to arrange for an EHIC. Most travel insurers won’t issue a policy unless you already have an EHIC, and others will waive any excess if you are a current EHIC holder. Why not use our service to apply for your EHIC today?
Use our EHIC renewal service before travelling to Switzerland
Applying for a new EHIC can be a confusing task. The good news is that our dedicated European Health Insurance Card renewal services make the process as simple as can be. Forget about stressing over bureaucratic form-filling – we’ll ensure all the required information is correct prior to applying for your EHIC on your behalf. This means that you won’t have to worry about potentially getting rejected after making mistakes on your application form.
Instead, our unique and reliable service makes it incredibly easy for your EHIC to be validated. The process can be completed in as little as seven days, providing you with more time to spend packing, researching and making plans for your dream trip to Switzerland, and less time getting stressed over administrative tasks.
Once you receive your EHIC, you can travel safe in the knowledge that your healthcare needs are covered, and that you’ll be able to access state-operated treatments in Switzerland should you require them.