The EHIC – European Health Insurance Card – is a vital travel document for any tourists from the UK who are visiting Europe on holiday.
The card entitles the holder to free or reduced medical care and treatment in many European countries – those that are a part of the European Economic Area, which includes all European Union nations, as well as Switzerland.
While the EHIC itself is free and a must for anyone planning to visit Europe, it should never be considered a replacement for travel insurance. Instead, the EHIC should be thought of as an accompaniment to travel insurance.
Remember: each member of the family needs to have their own EHIC too. It is possible to apply for an EHIC on behalf of your partner and child, as long as they are either under the age of 16, or under 19 and still in full-time education.
An EHIC lasts for five years and you should always get in touch if you need to update the address or any personal details on your file or any family member’s file. Changing personal details does not usually mean a new card has to be issued. Renewing your EHIC is also a very simple process – you can renew as soon as your card is within six months of expiring.
What is covered by the EHIC?
The EHIC essentially entitles you to the same level of treatment you would receive as a resident of the country you are visiting, but it does not necessarily provide everything that the NHS does.
Routine maternity care is also covered by the EHIC, although this is not the case if pregnant women are travelling to another country with the specific intention of giving birth. Indeed, anyone travelling to have medical care may find that this means their EHIC cannot be used to reduce the cost.
Each European country has their own rules and regulations regarding what the EHIC covers, with some nations charging a fee that is known as a co-payment, which can sometimes be reclaimed on your return to the UK.
It is also important to note that private medical care and treatment is never covered by the EHIC. For example, if a traveller had an accident on a skiing holiday, the EHIC would not cover the cost of their mountain rescue from a ski resort or pay for the price of their flight back home. As repatriation can cost tens of thousands of pounds alone, without the extra cost of medical treatment and care, travel insurance is still a must.
As the EHIC does not always guarantee free medical care in all European countries, travel insurance should always be purchased as an accompaniment to the card. EHIC will not cover stolen or lost luggage or the many other things that can go wrong on a holiday, such as delays or cancellations to flights.
The only way to be fully protected while heading to the continent is to get an EHIC, as well as the appropriate type of travel insurance.