Travelling between countries in the European Economic Area (EEA)? Make sure you have your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). This card proves your entitlement to medical treatment in any of 31 qualifying nations, including European Union members, EEA nations and Switzerland. As a resident of one of these countries, you can access medical treatment as you travel under the same terms as another resident of the country you are visiting.
With your EHIC, you can get emergency and routine care for all manner of conditions, including injury and illness. That treatment could be free of charge in many cases, or vastly subsidised in others. Without a valid EHIC, you could face high medical bills. Therefore, it is essential to apply for and carry your card at all times.
Cost of applying for an EHIC
It is completely free to apply for an EHIC. You can even apply online in many cases. There is no charge for issue or delivery, and your card should apply within seven working days. Renewal of a card, which should be done every five years, is also free of charge. The only exception is when you need to call and change details on an existing EHIC. This often requires a telephone call to a national service, and there may be a charge for this from some mobiles.
It is also free to request a Provisional Replacement Certificate (PRC). This is a document which proves your entitlement to an EHIC, in the event that a card is lost or damaged. The PRC can be issued by the appropriate embassy or national authority when treatment is needed overseas. In many cases, it can be supplied directly to the healthcare provider. It is important not to rely on the PRC, however. Always carry your EHIC if possible.
Not only is the EHIC free, but it could even save you money! Everyone likes to bring home souvenirs from their holidays, but you don’t want your vacation memento to be a hefty medical bill. Treatment in private hospitals can cost a huge amount of money. Plan ahead with a valid EHIC.
Who needs an EHIC?
Every traveller in your group needs an EHIC. This includes infants and children. You are responsible for applying for and maintaining the EHIC of any person under 16 in your care. Teachers travelling with boarding school students, and adults caring for other dependent adults, can also apply for EHIC certification on behalf of those in the travelling party.
It is recommended for family groups to apply for cards at the same time, including applying for a partner’s card, as they can be linked together. To apply, each person must supply their name, date of birth, and a valid national insurance or social security number.
The EHIC is issued by the authority for your country of residence, not your country of origin. This is why a passport cannot act as a substitute for an EHIC. A UK citizen living and working permanently in Spain must apply for their EHIC in Spain, for example. If they visit the UK, they must present their EHIC to qualify for treatment.
Costs associated with EHIC healthcare
When you show your EHIC at a healthcare facility, you may well be entitled to free treatment. Healthcare providers such as the UK’s National Health Service, for example, offer most routine and emergency care free of charge. Anyone attending from another European country with a valid EHIC is entitled to the same free treatment. The same is true of many EEA and EU nations.
However, not all state-funded healthcare is free of charge. Many nations offer treatment at vastly subsidised rates, but charges do still apply. In these cases, you will be expected to pay upfront for treatment. You may be able to reclaim part or all of the cost of your treatment through the EHIC scheme, when you arrive back home.
Even when healthcare is generally free, there may be costs associated. Prescription charges may apply, for example. The patient would be expected to cover these charges at the point of treatment, and could later seek reimbursement either through their EHIC provider, or via their travel insurance policy.
When the EHIC doesn’t cover you
If your treatment takes place in a private hospital, as opposed to a state-funded facility, then the EHIC does not cover the cost. In this case, you will be expected to pay for your treatment. The EHIC is not valid when you travel expressly for medical purposes – such as to give birth, or to access treatment not available in your home nation. It can only cover you for routine care that is needed while you are away (such as issuing prescription medicine, or necessary dialysis), or for emergency treatment during a period of illness or injury.
In the event that you need repatriation (being flown or transported home following serious injury or illness), the EHIC cannot cover you. It also cannot compensate you for missed flights or extended stays that are due to illness. For this, you should turn to your travel insurance provider.
Travel insurance and the EHIC
Often, you cannot apply for travel insurance for European travel unless you have a valid EHIC. The insurance provider will want you to take steps to keep your treatment costs down. Private care can be very expensive. If you do have a valid health insurance card, you might find that your premiums are reduced. If you don’t make a claim against your policy, then you could find yourself saving money by having an EHIC!
It is very important to have travel insurance as well as your EHIC. Unlike the free health care card, you need to pay for insurance cover (unless it is included with your travel package). However, it carries many more benefits than an EHIC alone. Your travel insurance can reimburse losses that result from your injury or illness. It can also cover unexpected costs such as private care, transport to and from the hospital, or longer hotel stays.