The European Health Insurance Card, or EHIC, is a small addition to the wallet or purse that is absolutely essential for European travellers from participating countries. The EHIC allows citizens of the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland to gain access to the state provided health care schemes in all other participating countries at a reduced rate, or even free of charge. While it is not a replacement for travel insurance, the EHIC holder is covered for emergency health care, as well as any pre-existing conditions such as diabetes. Europe is an extremely diverse place, which is a major part of its charm, but it is worth remembering that health care varies greatly from country to country. As such, it is important that you always check ahead to see what you are entitled to in your countries of choice, especially if you have any ongoing medical needs.
While Iceland is not a member of the EU, it is a member of the EEA, so is a participating EHIC state. The Icelandic health care system is universal, is mostly funded by public tax money, and is split into hospitals, institutions and clinics. Iceland is approximately 40,000 square miles in area, and has only two hospitals. This may sound crazy, but when you consider that the population of Iceland is just 329,000 and much of the island is inhabitable, it begins to make more sense. These hospitals are known to be very efficient, manned by highly trained medical staff, and carry all of the latest equipment. There are also around a dozen or more health ‘institutions’ in Iceland, which are essentially a cross between a GP’s clinic and a small hospital, and can cope with most health care needs. At the bottom of the health care ladder are the clinics, which are community based centres, much the same as GP surgeries in the UK.
Although the Icelandic health care system is generally known to be good, it is worth bearing in mind that it may take a little longer to reach specialist care than in some other European countries. It is also worth bearing in mind that a recent poll found that Iceland has the highest life expectancy in all of Europe, so they must be doing something right!
All of these public health care facilities are available to EHIC holders, although there may be a charge applicable for some services. The emergency services number in Iceland is 112. If you need medical assistance, call this number and request an ambulance. You will find that many people speak English in Iceland, especially those in jobs relating to the public. However, it is a good idea to carry a phrase book with you that has some useful medical vocabulary in it, so that you can effectively communicate your issue with any medical professionals.
Don’t go to Iceland without a valid European Health Insurance Card. It is well known that Iceland can be a fairly expensive place for tourists; don’t add expensive medical bills to your list of worries.