The European Health Insurance Card – typically known simply as EHIC – is a must-have travel document for anyone who is travelling to Europe on holiday.
Being the holder of an EHIC entitles the traveller to either free or substantially reduced medical care in any country that is part of the European Economic Area (EEA), which covers all of the European Union nations, as well as Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein.
The idea behind the EHIC is that holders get cover for medical treatment that is needed to help them get better and stay in a country until the date they return home.
The EHIC is free to apply for and lasts for five years, but many people choose to use a company to apply for their EHIC and child EHIC card. It is possible to apply for an EHIC on behalf of a partner and children under 16 – or even if they are under 19, if they are still in full-time education. Each member of your family needs their own EHIC to be covered. Boarding school teaching staff also have the opportunity to apply for the child EHIC card on behalf of any minors who are in their care.
What the EHIC covers
The EHIC does not cover all types of medical care and anyone travelling to Europe with the specific intention of having treatment will often find the card does not cover them. However, the EHIC can be used to reduce the cost of pre-existing medical conditions, as well as routine maternity care – unless women are heading abroad specifically to give birth in another country.
Anyone who finds themselves in a medical emergency in Europe should call the emergency number 112, which will work in all of the EU/EEA member states.
How to apply for a European Health Insurance Card
Applying for an EHIC is quick and straightforward, but travellers need to provide a number of details in order to be approved to receive the card. Full name, address and date of birth all have to be given as part of the EHIC application process, as well as your National Insurance number. People from England and Wales will be asked to give their NHS number, those from Scotland must provide their CHI number and people from Northern Ireland should offer their Health and Care number. All of these details are used to prove that a person is who they say they are and that they are eligible to be given an EHIC.
The difference between an EHIC and travel insurance
The EHIC is often considered to be a replacement for travel insurance, but this is not the case. There are a number of reasons for this; firstly, that the EHIC does not always cover the full cost of required medical care and treatment, which could still leave unfortunate travellers with a large healthcare bill to take care of. Also, the EHIC does not cover the whole of Europe, so anyone who is travelling around a number of different European countries needs to make sure they have travel insurance that covers them.
Private medical healthcare and other costs, for example flights back to the UK or mountain rescue from ski resorts, are not covered by the EHIC, so travel insurance should also be secured.
The EHIC is simple to apply for and all travellers heading to Europe should ensure their EHIC is up-to-date before they go on holiday.