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What is an EHIC card?

The European Health Insurance Card

A European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) allows travellers to European Union countries to obtain free or reduced charge healthcare during a temporary stay such as a holiday. The card provides the user with healthcare at state-run facilities, such as hospitals, with medical care at the same price as nationals of that country pay. This means that, if citizens of the country being visited receive free healthcare, so will visitors in possession of the EHIC. If residents are required to pay a contribution to the cost of care, so will EHIC holders. The EHIC will also cover the treatment of pre-existing conditions whilst the holder is in the country.

The EHIC replaces the old E11 form which existed until 2005 and is valid for 5 years from issue. If the UK’s status within Europe changes, it may be the case that the EHIC will no longer be valid, so travellers should be aware that they will need to make alternative health insurance arrangements in this eventuality.

Applying for the European Health Insurance Card

Applications for an EHIC can be made online. The official EHIC online application form should be used as other providers may charge for this service. As the UK’s healthcare system is based on a person’s residency and not on their national insurance contributions, EHICs are issued on the same basis. That means that if the applicant is resident in the UK, they are eligible for an EHIC. Anyone over the age of 16 can apply for an EHIC and they may also apply for partners and dependent children. Anyone under the age of 16 applying for a card will need a parent or guardian to be the main applicant. The official EHIC application process can be used to renew an EHIC up to six months before its expiry date, but cannot be used to replace a lost or stolen card.

The first step to applying for the card is to register with a name, email address and password. Applicants will then be sent an email link in order to activate their account. Once the account has been activated and the login process has gone through, the application form can be completed online. There is no cost to applying for or being issued with an EHIC.

Coverage of the European Health Insurance Card

The EHIC gives the holder access to free or reduced cost healthcare in all the countries which are members of the European Union, as well as Norway, Switzerland, Iceland, and Lichtenstein. Travellers should also be aware that there are several areas where the EHIC is not accepted. These include the Channel Islands – Jersey, Guernsey, Sark, Alderney, Jethou, Brecqhou, Chausey, Lihou and Herm. Other areas where the card is not accepted include the principality of Monaco, the Principality on the Cote d’Azur, Vatican City and San Marino.

There are also a number of countries outside the European Union which have reciprocal arrangements for healthcare with the UK and an EHIC will be of great help in proving your eligibility for healthcare in these countries. The countries are Turks and Caicos Islands, Serbia, St Helena, New Zealand, Montserrat, Montenegro, Macedonia, Gibraltar, The Falkland Islands, The British Virgin Islands, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Barbados, Anguilla and Australia. The card will not, in itself, entitle you to healthcare in these countries, but it will help to smooth the bureaucratic process somewhat.

Travellers also need to be aware that the EHIC will provide treatment for pre-existing medical conditions. However, if patients travel to a country specifically to receive a particular treatment, this will not be covered. So-called ‘health tourism’ must be privately funded by the individual themselves.

How to use a European Health Insurance Card

The EHIC should be taken with travellers when they leave the UK. If medical care is needed in the country being visited, the card can be presented, along with a passport, at the time of treatment. Healthcare should then be provided on the same basis as for citizens of that country, either free of charge or at a reduced cost. Those visitors holding an EHIC should keep it with them at all times. In this way, if emergency care is needed, there will be no delay in treatment and no concerns over payment.

When visiting European Union countries, travellers should make themselves aware of the state healthcare system for the place they are staying. Most EU countries have both a state and private healthcare system in place and visitors should be aware that, in the event of their receiving treatment at a private facility or hospital, they will be required to pay the cost in its entirety. If travellers have additional private insurance, however, they may have access to private healthcare in the country they are visiting.

It is therefore very important that visitors to the country are able to identify state-run hospitals and other medical facilities. They should also be aware of the emergency contact procedures for the country – the number to dial for an ambulance in particular.

There have been instances of the EHIC being refused, especially in some regions of Spain. If this happens, patients should try to obtain proof that the EHIC was presented at the clinic or hospital. It is possible that in some countries, patients will be charged at the time of treatment, even with the EHIC. In this case, patients will need to apply for reimbursement from the local authority where the treatment was received or to apply the Department for Work and Pensions for a refund.

The EHIC gives travellers to European Countries a useful safety net for health care whilst abroad. It is important to apply for one well before leaving the UK and to be aware of how it can be used in the country to be visited. It is recommended that, in addition to the EHIC, tourists consider additional travel health insurance. Not all potential expenses can be covered by the EHIC and the services available to holders will vary between countries.