The European Health Insurance Card is a document that allows EU citizens access to medical treatment in 31 EU and EEA countries, either for free or at a reduced cost, during a temporary stay – as long as the medical treatment isn’t the specific reason for your travels.
It replaced the E111 card that was discontinued in 2005.
As Brexit stands, the EHIC card will only work for UK citizens up until we leave the EU – which is currently expected to be no later than 31 January 2020.
If you are concerned about whether your EHIC card will work after the UK leaves the EU, be aware that a standard travel insurance policy will cover you for any medical costs included in your policy.
Why is it worth getting a European health insurance card?
An EHIC as it will cover you if you need medical treatment for:
- a pre-existing condition that flares up while you’re abroad, or that requires monitoring and attention – for example, diabetes
- routine maternity care
- a sudden illness or accident
However, this cover will only be given if you haven’t travelled specifically to receive treatment from the country you’re in.
The EHIC covers EU citizens until they return to their own country, and in some cases will mean they pay nothing for any care they receive. However, not all EEA countries have a health system that is free at the point of use. In this case, EHIC holders might have to make a contribution towards their treatment, which they can then claim back when they return home.
There are also some parts of the EEA where state-provided health care may not be available, and therefore the EHIC won't provide any protection. The EHIC also won’t be accepted in the following European destinations:
- The Channel Islands
- The Isle of Man
- San Marino
- The Vatican
For more detailed information on what the EHIC covers in each participating country, visit the NHS Choices website.
Does my child need a European health insurance card?
Every member of your family needs their own EHIC – including your children. Under-16s need a parent or guardian to apply for their EHIC, while you can also apply for an EHIC on behalf of your child if they are still in full-time education and under the age of 19. UK citizens would need their full name, date of birth, and NHS or National Insurance number.
If you have the necessary information, you can also apply on behalf of your partner.
Do I need travel insurance if I have a European health insurance card?
Currently the EHIC is only set to work for UK citizens until the UK leaves the EU. That means travel insurance is even more important if you are planning to take a European holiday after that date.
In any case, the EHIC only helps you with the cost of medical treatment – it doesn’t provide cover for a number of things that travel insurance does, such as:
- Theft and loss: if you lose your luggage, phone, or passport or are the victim of theft, your travel insurance may be able to help
- Delay: you may be able to claim for cancellations or delays
- Other costs: if you are seriously injured or ill on holiday, your coverage may include further transportation for medical treatment, as well as flights, visits from family members and extra accommodation
- Rescue: travel insurance will usually cover mountain rescue or an air ambulance if you get injured/stuck while on a winter sports holiday, provided you include the winter sports option
- Repatriation: travel insurance also covers the cost of bringing you back to the UK if you require urgent treatment (or your body if you pass away while overseas)
How do I apply for a European health insurance card?
You can still apply for an EHIC online through the official NHS Business Services Authority website. You can also apply offline by either calling the official automated service on 0300 330 1350, or downloading an application form from the NHS website.
Once they’ve received your application, you should receive your EHIC within 7 days.
If you apply online, you should be careful about how you do it because there are a number of scam websites that will try to accept payment from you in order to apply for an EHIC on your behalf.
Applying for an EHIC is free, provided you go through the official channels, and any website that asks for payment in return for ‘reviewing’ or ‘fast-tracking’ your application cannot actually influence this at all.
Some of these fake EHIC application sites look very convincing and often appear high up on search engine results pages. Some of them even say you can get the EHIC for free via the NHS, but they charge you for applying on your behalf.
Sadly if you are taken in by one, you're unlikely to get your money back so make sure to only use the official EHIC website if you apply for a card online.
How to renew a European health insurance card
An EHIC card is valid for five years, but EU citizens can renew up to six months before the expiry date. As with applying, renewing European health insurance cards is free.Any time left on an EHIC doesn’t roll over once you renew.
If you’re renewing your family’s EHICs
If you need to renew an EHIC for members of your family, you’ll have to enter the details of everyone in your family – even those whose cards haven’t expired/aren’t within six months of expiry. This makes sure that your family’s details all remain linked together.
During the application, you should receive a message telling you only that only the cards eligible for renewal will be renewed, while the others won’t be.
If you need to change any of your, or your family’s, personal details, you’ll need your personal identification number (PIN), which is found on the same line as your date of birth on the EHIC. It’s a useful number to have at hand as it helps the EHIC team find you on the system. If you need to change details and you don’t have your PIN, you may not be able to renew your EHIC online, so you’ll have to call 0300 330 1350 to do so.
How to renew if you’re living abroad
Until the UK leaves the EU, if you’re living abroad, you can renew a European health insurance card by contacting the Overseas Healthcare Team. But remember, you’re only eligible if you live abroad and you are:
- Receiving a UK State Pension
- Receiving exportable UK benefits
- Are a posted or frontier worker
- Live in the EEA and are a family member of someone working in the UK
Visit the official NHS website for the European Health Insurance Card for details on how to renew if you’re living abroad.
Prepared for going abroad
If you’re travelling to one of the EU and EEA countries, having an EHIC could prove invaluable should you need emergency medical treatment. However the EHIC is more of a safety net than a substitute for travel insurance, and for UK citizens, an EHIC card will not work past 31 January, 2020. It’s advisable to take out a good travel insurance policy to ensure you’re covered for anything that might go wrong on your trip.