Before you venture abroad on a European trip, it is important to ensure that you have an appropriate level of medical and health coverage. A European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) is an important tool in this; it will allow you to access healthcare from the state, during your holiday in any other European Economic Area country. The card is also valid in Switzerland.
You can apply for an EHIC card, or renew an existing card, online. Your card will be valid for five years; however, it is very important that you check the date before you depart for your European break, to ensure you are covered for the duration of your trip. This is a trap that many travellers unwittingly fall in to, and find themselves on the receiving end of large hospital bills.
It is possible to renew your EHIC card as much as six months before the date the card is due to expire – but do note that any time that is remaining on your existing card will not be added to any new card you receive. This means that even if you choose to renew early, when there is still time left on an old card, your new card will still only be valid for a total of five years. It is worth keeping this in mind, to choose an appropriate date to renew your card.
It is also worth being aware that you are only entitled to treatment on the same basis that a national of the country you’re visiting would receive treatment. This means that in some European countries, where residents would make a contribution to their health service, you would be expected to pay the same charges that they would. Nevertheless, treatment is still significantly cheaper than you would pay without any coverage.
The EHIC system is not tailored for people travelling abroad specifically to seek treatment, and nor is it designed to cover trips for women who are deliberately travelling to give birth overseas. However, pre-existing medical conditions and maternity care will be covered, providing that the specific purpose of the trip was not to take advantage of another country’s health system.
Following the outcome of the EU referendum in June, no changes have been announced to the EHIC system, and the card continues to be issued in the same manner as it previously has been. The card continues to be valid for five years. The provisional replacement certificate (PRC) system is also still in place – which means that travellers who have applied for an EHIC card, but do not have it with them whilst abroad, can apply for a replacement certificate in an emergency, which will afford them the same rights as any other EHIC holder.