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I don’t have my European Health Card on me: am I still covered?

If you hold a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), you can access medical care whilst visiting other countries in the European Economic Area (EEA). But what happens when you forget your card, or it gets lost or stolen? The good news is, you can get a replacement certificate when your EHIC is missing. Read on to learn what you need to do when you don’t have your EHIC, so you can always access the healthcare you need.

What is the EHIC and why do you need one?

The EHIC is proof of eligibility for medical services at state hospitals and surgeries. As a European citizen, you can receive free or subsidised healthcare in any of 31 EEA/European Union nations. This is your right as a resident of any member nation. When you travel from your home country to another European nation, you might need to seek treatment due to injury, illness or an ongoing condition – and this is what the EHIC renewal will cover you for. The EHIC covers treatment for a broad range of health issues, from sudden accidents to maternity problems, which can arise while a person is travelling away from home. Pre-existing conditions may also be covered.

However, you will need to show proof of your residential status in order to get this treatment – otherwise you might be charged the full cost. Your passport is not sufficient, as you could be a native of a nation that is not where you currently reside. Instead, you must apply for and carry your EHIC so you can prove you are a resident of a qualifying EEA nation. The card is free and can be applied for online.

Once you have an EHIC, you can visit any state-funded treatment centre in a qualifying European country and get treated under the same terms and rates as a resident. This can mean free healthcare in many cases. If you do have to pay a charge for treatment, it is possible to get a refund through your EHIC once you return home. You might also qualify for refunds on treatments that are not covered by the EHIC, so long as you also have valid travel insurance.

Loss or theft of an EHIC

As previously mentioned, it is essential that you carry your EHIC with you at all times while you travel in Europe. Every member of your party needs their own card – including any children. If you are the parent or guardian of children under 16, you must ensure they have a valid card. Presenting this card on arrival at a hospital or medical centre is the fastest way to access treatment, and to ensure you don’t pay over the odds for it.

However, there are lots of reasons why an EHIC might be missing. It could simply have been forgotten prior to your trip or left behind at the hotel during an emergency. Your card could have been stolen or lost during travel. As long as you are eligible for an EHIC, you still have options which can help you access healthcare services abroad.

The Provisional Replacement Certificate

A Provisional Replacement Certificate (PRC) is a document that is issued in the interim following the loss or theft of an EHIC. You can call a helpline to request that a PRC be issued. In many circumstances, the certificate can be sent to you at your holiday accommodation, sent to your home nation’s embassy in the country you are staying or issued directly to the healthcare provider. The PRC should be applied for as soon as you realise your EHIC is missing, so you can continue with your trip without worrying about potential healthcare costs.

In some circumstances, a PRC can also be issued to cover the gap between a card expiring and being renewed. As long as the holder is eligible for cover under the terms of the EHIC – that is, so long as they are resident in a qualifying nation – then they should be allowed to receive treatment as though they had their EHIC with them. However, to prevent any issues, always keep your EHIC up to date. You can renew at any point within six months of the expiry date approaching, and each card is valid for five years from the date of issue.

What if the EHIC is missing in an emergency?

If you arrive at a hospital in a foreign European nation with no EHIC or PRC, but you need urgent treatment, then you should expect to be charged for this care. Many hospitals and medical centres will require payment upfront before they can offer anything except basic first aid. The treatment will be charged at the full rate non-EEA citizens would expect to pay.

Once you have been treated and you have returned home, you may well be able to claim back the cost of treatment from your own healthcare provider. The EHIC is essentially an insurance policy, and you are able to make claims for treatment against it. If you can prove that you held a valid card, but this card was absent and so you had to pay for treatment, then you should be covered fully for out of pocket expenses.

A travel insurance policy can back you in the event that your costs are not covered by the EHIC. In an emergency, it is not always possible to be selective about where you receive treatment. It may be that you are taken to a private hospital, where your EHIC is invalid and the full cost of treatment is charged. If this is the case, and the situation was unavoidable, you could be refunded for the cost of care.

Travel insurance can also help with costs not included in the EHIC cover, such as repatriation following major injury or illness, or the cost of prescription medicine and treatments not funded by the state. Every EHIC holder should always take out comprehensive travel cover, as well as holding a valid EHIC, in order to protect themselves against all eventualities.