With a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) issued by the United Kingdom, you get automatic entitlement to state-provided healthcare in EU countries that is equal to the entitlement of those countries’ citizens. So if you are visiting a country where residents are provided with healthcare free of charge (usually funded by statutory payments deducted from pay packets) then your EHIC card entitles you to free healthcare as needed whilst you are there. Similarly, if medical fees require patients to make a reduced contribution to the cost of their care, the EHIC card will enable you to access care under the same rules. The EHIC is not an equivalent to travel insurance – it only allows access to state-provided healthcare under the same conditions as a citizen and doesn’t cover:
- Private healthcare
- Mountain rescue
- Healthcare on cruises
- Transport back to the UK
It is recommended that you take out travel insurance in addition to obtaining an EHIC to provide maximum coverage for any medical expenses that may be incurred whilst abroad. Furthermore, the EHIC is generally only applicable to residents of EU countries, and the UK is currently in the midst of a process to leave the EU. There are no guarantees that a UK-issued EHIC will still be valid after Brexit, so it’s even more important that you purchase travel insurance if you are planning a trip after 31 October 2019.
Having said that, it is worth noting that the EHIC is definitely valid right up until the moment the UK and the EU part ways. This means that if you are planning a trip to an EU country between now and the end of October, you should apply for an EHIC to experience the benefits that currently come with it. Applying for the card is simple, and if you apply online your EHIC should arrive within 7 days. If you apply by phone, you should receive your card within 10 days, and if you apply by post the delivery of the card should come within 21 days. There is no charge for an EHIC, so be wary of any websites that say you have to pay a fee to apply.
What are the options for applying?
There are 3 main options when it comes to applying for your EHIC:
- Apply online: This process involves filling out an application form online. You will need some details like your NHS number and National Insurance number, but the form is not overly long or convoluted. You should be able to complete the form in under half an hour once you have registered and confirmed your account – it may take a little longer if you need to register any dependents on your record. Once you have submitted the application, barring any complications, you will receive your card within 7 days.
- Apply by phone: There is an automated EHIC application service that can be accessed over the phone. You need only call 0300 330 1350 and follow the instructions to get your application completed this way, but you can expect it to take a little longer to complete the process. Once the application is submitted, a 10-day period applies with regards to when you should receive your card.
- Apply by post: If you prefer, you can download the application form and print it out to fill it out manually. Alternatively, you should be able to obtain an application form from your local post office. Once you have completed the form, you would then have to post it to EHIC Applications, PO Box 1115, Newcastle Upon Tyne, NE99 1SW. When you apply by post, you should expect to receive your card within 21 days.
What is covered by the EHIC?
When you have a valid EHIC, you are covered for the following types of medical care:
- Any care or treatment required during your visit relating to illness or accident.
- Any treatment relating to long-term (chronic) health concerns and pre-existing conditions, such as kidney dialysis.
- Routine care for your pregnancy or childbirth, provided you aren’t going overseas for the express purpose of giving birth.
Remember that the EHIC does not necessarily excuse you from having to pay for medical treatment. It merely means that you will have access to medical treatment that is provided by the state in your destination country. In a nutshell, it means you will be subject to the same rules as citizens in the country you travel to. Many countries expect patients to make a contribution to the cost of their medical care. So even with your EHIC, you may still need to pay some money towards your treatment – research the rules of the country you’re visiting before you travel to be prepared.
You should still take out valid travel insurance for your trip to ensure you have the most comprehensive coverage available. It is never a good idea to take gambles with your health and the health of your loved ones. Put the things in place to ensure you are all covered.
Summary, and some other key timeframes
An EHIC remains an important thing to have when you travel to EU countries at least until the UK leaves the EU. There are 3 ways you can apply for your EHIC, and each one comes with a different wait time until you will receive the card:
- Applying online: <7 days
- Applying by phone: <10 days
- Applying by post: <21 days
Whichever option you take, you should apply well in advance of the date you are travelling to ensure you aren’t hampered by complications in obtaining your card. You should also take out travel insurance in addition to your EHIC to ensure you have the best possible access to healthcare whilst overseas.
The EHIC lasts for 5 years and can be renewed up to 6 months before the expiry date. Renewals are quickest when done online, just like initial applications. If your EHIC is due to expire before the UK leaves the EU on 31 October 2019, you should renew it. It is not yet known what will happen after that date, but all EHICs issued in the UK remain valid for the time being.