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Can you travel to Europe without an EHIC card?

Anyone who lives in the UK and is thinking of travelling to Europe will probably have heard of an EHIC card. Standing for ‘European Health Insurance Card’, it enables you to access discounted or free medical care in eligible EU countries. Once you have applied for and been granted your EHIC card, it is valid for 5 years. Once this period is up, you will need to renew it to make it valid to use for another 5 years.

For many UK residents, it can all seem a little confusing still and the major question many have is simple – can you travel to Europe without an EHIC card?

Is it possible to travel to Europe without one?

Although this may seem a complex issue, the answer is quite simply ‘Yes’. Holding a valid EHIC card is not a pre-requisite for travel to Europe from the UK. Not having a valid EHIC will not, therefore, prevent you from travelling to Europe. So, if you do not have an EHIC card and are due to go on your holidays to Europe, then there is no need to worry. You will still be able to head off without one in your luggage.

Why apply for an EHIC?

Of course, the next question many have is completely understandable. If you can travel to Europe without a valid card, why bother applying for one at all? Why not save yourself the time and simply jet off on your holidays without one in your wallet?

The truth is that although having a valid EHIC is not legally required to travel, it is highly advised and makes perfect sense. No-one ever thinks they will fall ill or need medical treatment when abroad but it happens to many Brits each year. Whether backpacking around Europe or enjoying a family holiday, disaster can strike at any time. With a valid EHIC card in place for each member of your party, you are all covered against the cost of care. While it may only get you discounted treatment rather than totally free care, having a valid EHIC could save you lots of money.

Compared to not bothering and having to find the full cost of any treatment yourself, it is a real no-brainer. This is especially true if the treatment you or a family member may need is complex or expensive.

Combine with insurance for best results

Another very common confusion around the EHIC card is whether you need to take out separate insurance when you travel as well. In many ways, this comparison can help you understand EHIC better as the principle behind whether you actually need either is the same. As per how your EHIC works, insurance when travelling is not legally required within Europe – it is just a good idea.

However, it is important to be clear about the differences between the two. While EHIC relates solely to helping you access discounted or free medical care in the EU countries involved, insurance covers you against everything else. So, if your flight is cancelled or your luggage goes missing, it is your insurance that will be of use. EHIC can only help in cases where you need care for an illness or injury. With this in mind, it makes perfect sense to apply for a valid EHIC and also take out insurance. Although neither are legally required to explore Europe, it will give you maximum protection.

What happens if I do not have a valid EHIC card when in Europe?

Quite simply, if you and your party are lucky and do not get ill or injured then nothing will happen. You will just go about enjoying your stay in Europe and then return home with fond memories at the end of it. However, this is leaving your fate entirely to chance and you without any backup if needed.

If you or a member of your family does need medical care when in an EU country and you do not have a valid EHIC to show, you will have to pay the full cost of treatment. This could be a significant amount and be a nasty surprise for your trip. As an EHIC is 100% free and straightforward to apply for, it is not worth taking that risk.

Will Brexit have any effect on needing an EHIC to visit Europe?

As a UK resident thinking of travelling to Europe, this is another question that could be on your mind. Will Brexit require you to hold a valid card when going to Europe in the future? At the moment, nobody can say for sure what the final arrangements will be when the UK leaves the EU. For now, until after the current Brexit deadline of 31st October 2019, the arrangements around EHIC are the same as above. You do not legally need one to visit Europe but it is highly advised to do so.

How do you apply for an EHIC card?

If you are thinking of getting an EHIC card for your next European jaunt, then there are a number of ways to go about it. They are:

Apply online via official EHIC website – this sees you complete an online application via the official EHIC website. Once you have created an account and completed the application, the valid EHIC card should be with you in about in 7 working days.

Apply for a card via the telephone – you can also call the official EHIC helpline to apply for a card. This takes a little longer than online although the new card should be with you in around 10 working days.

Complete a postal application – after visiting the EHIC website to print an application form, you would then need to complete it and post back to them at the address on the form. After being processed, your EHIC card will be sent out to you in the post which takes up to 21 working days usually.

Holding a valid EHIC card makes sense

Although you do not legally need a valid EHIC card to travel in Europe, most people agree it is worth having one. Not only does it give you financial protection from the potential cost of medical treatment when abroad, but it also gives you total peace of mind to enjoy your holiday. Just make sure that each member of your party has their own EHIC card to use. For anyone under 16, you can apply for them as their parent or legal guardian.