The EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) is one of the most important travel documents to carry when going on holiday to Europe. The card entitles holders to free or reduced medical treatment and care in most European nations. All countries that are a part of the European Economic Area – which is the European Union plus nations such as Switzerland – have joined the EHIC scheme.
Essentially, the EHIC entitles holders to the same level of medical care they would receive if they were a resident in the country they are visiting. The EHIC also covers pre-existing medical conditions, as well as routine maternity care as long as women are not travelling solely to give birth.
An EHIC lasts for five years and it is a simple process to renew. You can renew your EHIC as soon as it is within six months of expiring.
EHIC for children and family members
An EHIC is only valid for individuals, so you need to make sure every member of your family has their own card before you get ready to travel. Individuals can apply for the card on behalf of their partner and their children if they are under the age of 16, or under 19 if they remain in full-time education. An EHIC application for a child is an easy and quick process.
When you come to renew an EHIC for your family, you will want to make sure that each member of the family remains linked throughout the EHIC process. This means that you should enter all the details of each member of the family, even if your child’s European Health Insurance Card is not due for renewal.
It is important to keep personal details up-to-date on your EHIC or it may no longer be valid. For example, if you move house, remember to change the address that is registered on your EHIC, although this will not usually result in a new card having to be issued. Remember that you will need to update the address of your child’s EHIC too.
European Health Insurance Cards and travel insurance
Although the EHIC is a very important travel document in its own right, it should never be treated as an alternative to a travel insurance policy. In fact, it is much better to see the EHIC and travel insurance as complementary.
The EHIC does not cover everything that a comprehensive travel insurance policy would, for example, delays or cancellations to flights, as well as lost or stolen items of luggage. As an EHIC is only used for medical care and treatment, it cannot take the place of travel insurance on its own.
It also needs to be kept in mind that an EHIC does not cover everything that the NHS does. No private medical treatment or care is covered by an EU health card either, so if you or a member of your family had an accident during a skiing holiday, for example, the card would not cover mountain rescue. The EHIC is also not used to cover the cost of repatriation, which can run into tens of thousands of pounds in some circumstances.
It is therefore recommended that as well as getting an EHIC for yourself and for every member of your family, you buy a comprehensive travel insurance policy before you travel. For more information on obtaining an EHIC, please visit our frequently asked questions page.