In the UK, we’re very lucky to have the NHS, which provides us with free healthcare at the point of need. In many other countries around the world, healthcare, particularly emergency healthcare, is extortionately expensive, costing tens of thousands of pounds. If you’re going abroad to Europe, you probably know how important it is to have travel insurance, which will help pay for these emergency costs. What you may not be so aware of is the EHIC, the European Health Card, which is important to have as well as European travel insurance.
An EHIC, which used to be called an E111 form, or European Health Card, is a plastic card which you can use within the EU. Everyone travelling needs their own European health card, including children under the age of 18. The card allows you to obtain state health care treatment at the same price as the local residents. If they pay a nominal amount, so do you. If it’s free for them, it’s free for you. This is what’s called a “reciprocal agreement”, and is why European visitors to the UK are entitled NHS treatment.
Of course, there are some rules which you’ll need to be aware of when you have your European health card, and we’d still wholeheartedly recommend that you take out separate travel or health insurance as well. Let’s take look at them in more detail.
What will my European Health Card cover me for?
Your European health card covers any sort of medical treatment required by you as a result of an accident or illness while you’re in Europe. This does cover any sort of treatment for conditions which you already have. A pre-existing condition is defined as any disease or illness which you’ve taken advice for, had symptoms of, or received treatment for. Your European health card also covers maternity care, as long as you don’t intend to give birth abroad. Of course, if the baby does decide to make an unexpected appearance, your European health card will ensure that any treatment for your baby or the mother will be covered.
While an EHIC is a great way to get treatment for minor ailments and injuries, as it stops you claiming on your travel insurance and paying an excess, you should be aware that each country does have its own healthcare system, which may not be similar to the NHS system that you’re used to. What they provide could be very different to what you’re hoping for. Some of the poorer EU countries may not be anything like the conditions you’re used to at home.
Does that mean my healthcare in Europe is free?
Not necessarily. As we already mentioned, your European health card entitles you to the same sort of care which local people would receive. If they don’t usually pay, you won’t pay.
Be aware of something called “co-payment”. This means that you will be asked to pay some money towards your treatment before you leave the clinic or hospital you attend. Waving your European health card when asked for a co-payment doesn’t mean that they’ll always waive the fee. If they insist you contribute towards your treatment, you should be able to claim the money back when you get back to the UK if you can’t claim it back while you’re abroad.
Does a European Health Card mean I don’t need travel insurance?
No. You should always purchase travel insurance if you’re going on holiday. Think of it as a partner for your European Health Card, and not something your EHIC replaces. In fact, some insurers will refund your excess if you have to pay for medical costs if you can prove that you had a European Health Card.
Remember that your EHIC only covers you for state treatment as well. If you end up in a private healthcare facility, your European Health Insurance Card will not help you at all. That’s where your travel insurance would step in and pay the bill.
You’ll still need travel insurance if:
- You end up in a private hospital, should a state hospital not be available in the area you travel to
- You need a mountain rescue service to get you to safety
- You need to be flown or transported home after your accident or illness
- You or your family need to stay on in your hotel or accommodation while you’re abroad due to illness
- Your accommodation is cancelled or lost because you’re in hospital
- An injury or illness which happens before you travel means you can’t go on holiday
- You’re a victim of a crime such as mugging, hijacking or theft on holiday
- Your luggage is lost
Is my European Health Card valid forever?
No, your European Health Card only has a lifespan of up to five years, after which you’ll need to renew your European Health Card. We also offer a European Health Card renewal service, to make things really easy for you.