What is a European Health Insurance Card?

Millions of people risk huge medical bills by travelling abroad without any form of medical insurance.

It’s easy to take medical treatment for granted as the NHS means we don’t have to pay to visit a doctor here in the UK. However, set foot abroad and it’s totally different because in most countries individuals have to pay to see a doctor.

This is why travel insurance is so important as it covers medical costs, but if you’re travelling in Europe you also need a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).

What is a EHIC?

EHICs replaced the old E111 cards in 2006. An EHIC gives UK travellers access to the same state-provided medical treatment that local residents receive in other EU or EEA countries.

State medical provision varies and many countries expect individuals to pay for treatment. Even with an EHIC you may have to do the same although you can then claim the cost back.

Bob Atkinson, moneysupermarket.com’s travel insurance expert, said: “Cover provided by EHICs varies considerably from country to country so it’s worth finding out what you would be eligible for before travelling to your destination.” “Anyone travelling outside Europe has only travel insurance to rely on. Having an EHIC is no benefit whatsoever in countries beyond the EU or EEA.”

Is an EHIC an alternative to travel insurance?

 No, an EHIC shouldn’t be viewed as an alternative to travel insurance because it only entitles you to basic medical treatment and doesn’t cover private medical healthcare costs such as mountain rescue and repatriation costs, which can run into thousands of pounds.

And while treatment for things such as maternity care and chronic pre-existing conditions that flare up when you’re abroad will be covered, accidents and extensive treatment may not be.

Travel insurance is therefore still essential. Not only does it give you the peace of mind that you have comprehensive medical cover and won’t run the risk of facing a hefty hospital bill if something unexpected does happen, but it also covers for other things such as theft or loss of personal belongings and cancellation.

So many people gamble and travel without insurance but given you can get comprehensive cover for as little as £10 for a family of four travelling to Spain for a week or £30 for two weeks in the US it really isn’t a risk worth taking.You can compare prices and find the best policy for your needs here.

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Do I need an EHIC if I have travel insurance?

 If you are travelling to Europe you should have an EHIC card. Many insurance companies will insist upon it and may turn down a claim for medical treatment costs if you don’t have one.

The reason is that the EHIC entitles you to a certain amount of treatment so it costs the insurer more if you don’t have one of these medical cards. 

 EHIC cards are available free and you can apply for one at www.ehic.org.uk or by calling 0845 606 2030.

Is my EHIC valid forever?

No, EHICs are only valid for five years. Given they were introduced in 2006 millions of people carry cards which are soon to expire. If you’re travelling to Europe this summer make sure you check your EHIC is still valid, and if you don’t have a card apply for one now.

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