By Mark Hooson
The European Health Insurance Card, or EHIC for short, is the same size as a credit card or driving licence photo card, and proves your entitlement to medical treatment in other countries that participate in the EHIC scheme.
EHICs replaced E111 forms in 2005.
Will I have to pay for my EHIC?
No. If you apply for the EHIC by phone, post or via the official website, you will not have to pay for it.
An EHIC is valid for up to five years and will then need to be renewed.
Why do I need an EHIC?
When you travel with an EHIC within the European Economic Area (EEA), you can expect to receive the same level of state-provided health care as a citizen of whichever country you're visiting. The EEA includes the countries of the European Union (EU), plus Iceland, Switzerland, Norway and Liechtenstein.
The European Health Insurance Card will cover you in the event that you need treatment for a pre-existing medical condition, and if you require routine maternity care (provided that you have not travelled to an EEA country specifically in order to give birth there).
The EHIC will cover you until you return to the UK, and in some cases will mean you pay nothing for the care you receive.
However not all EEA countries have a health system like the NHS, which is free at the point of use. You may be required to make a contribution towards your treatment.
There are also some parts of the EEA where state-provided health care is not available, and therefore where the EHIC won't provide you with any protection.
For detailed information on what the EHIC covers in each participating country, visit the NHS Choices website.
How do I apply for my EHIC?
To apply for an EHIC you must be ordinarily resident within the UK, and must be of British, EEA or Swiss nationality. You are not eligible for an EHIC if you live in the Channel Islands or on the Isle of Man.
You can apply for an EHIC by phoning the official automated service on 0300 3301350, or you can download an application form from the NHS Choices website. Completed EHIC applications should be sent to:
NHS Business Services Authority
European Health Insurance Card
152 Pilgrim Street
Newcastle Upon Tyne
Can I apply for an EHIC online?
Yes - but take care.
While it is quick, easy and completely free to apply for an EHIC online through the official NHS Business Services Authority website, there are a host of scam sites littering the web.
These unofficial websites may charge you for 'reviewing' or 'fast-tracking' your EHIC application, even though in reality there is no way for them to influence or speed up its progress.
Some fake EHIC application sites look very convincing and appear high up on search engine results pages - but sadly if you are taken in by one, you're unlikely to get your money back.
Only use the official EHIC website if you choose to apply for your card online.
According to NHS Choices, your EHIC should arrive within seven days of your application being received, provided you use one of the official channels.
Does my child need an EHIC?
Yes - every member of your family needs their own EHIC.
Under-16s need a parent or guardian to apply for their EHIC, and you can apply for an EHIC on behalf of your son or daughter if he or she is still in full-time education and under the age of 19.
You can also apply for an EHIC on behalf of your partner, provided you have the necessary information.
You'll need the full name, date of birth and National Insurance or NHS number of each member of your family if you are planning to apply for EHICs for everyone.
If I have an EHIC, do I still need travel insurance?
While an EHIC provides a useful safety net when you travel within the EEA, it is vital to be aware that it's no substitute for travel insurance.
The EHIC won't cover you for any health care that would not normally be provided by the state you are visiting. Nor will it cover rescue and repatriation; if you had a skiing accident, for example, the EHIC would not cover the cost of air-lifting you from the side of a mountain or getting you back to the UK if you were badly injured and unable to board a commercial flight.
It's also worth remembering that the EHIC won't provide you with any protection if you are the victim of crime while on holiday, if you lose important items that have to be replaced or if you have to cut your trip short due to an emergency at home.
Applying for an EHIC alongside buying a good value travel insurance policy is the best way to ensure you have all the cover you might need while away from home.