Whether you are travelling overseas for business or pleasure, you may be eligible to receive medical care for a reduced cost or even completely free of charge, thanks to the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) system.
Essentially, the EHIC card covers medical treatment, including for pre-existing medical conditions and routine maternity care – as long as you haven’t travelled somewhere for the specific purpose of giving birth. And it’s intended to cover you for medical treatment until you travel back to the UK. If you are actually moving abroad permanently, or planning on having medical treatment overseas, different rules may apply.
The EHIC card won’t cost you anything, and it means you have access to state-provided healthcare in all nations based in the European Economic Area (EEA) as well as Switzerland. Switzerland is different in that it doesn’t belong to the EU, nor is it a member of the European Economic Area. However, it does belong to the single market, and that means Swiss nationals enjoy the same entitlements as other EEA citizens, so your EHIC card is valued there as well.
What is the European Economic Area?
The EEA is a free trade zone between the nations of the EU as well as Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein. It means they can be part of the European Union’s single market. And the same rules about health care access in the area also apply to Switzerland.
Countries that are in the EU
The EU nations, where you are able to use your European Health Insurance Card, are:
- Republic of Cyprus
- Czech Republic
- France – including Guadalupe and Martinique
- Greece – including all the Greek islands
- Portugal – including Madeira
- Spain – including the Canary and Balearic Islands
You should be aware that, while the following places are in Europe, they will not accept the European Health Insurance Card, so you will need to be sure you have proper travel insurance in place before you leave home to avoid very expensive medical bills.
- The Isle of Man
- The Channel Islands, including Guernsey, Sark and Alderney
- Vatican City
- San Marino
Check before you go
It’s also worth remembering that every country in the EEA will have its own guidance on how healthcare can be accessed under the EHIC system, and how refunds can be claimed. That means you need to check what arrangements are in place in the country you are going to before you travel. Also, remember that an EHIC card is not a replacement for travel insurance, so ensure you purchase a policy before you leave the UK.
In an emergency
Wherever you are in the EU or EEA, you can dial the European emergency number 112 free of charge from any landline or mobile phone and reach emergency services.