If you plan to travel in Europe and don’t possess an Ehic, then it’s well worth applying for one. The free (don’t be duped into paying for one) European Health Insurance Card is valid in any EEA member state as well as Switzerland, covering reciprocal healthcare in these countries.
While not a substitute for travel insurance, it will cover state-provided healthcare that is deemed “medically necessary until the card holder returns home”, which also includes treatments for pre-existing medical conditions and routine maternity care.

What it covers
Necessary medical treatment in state-provided healthcare facilities, from doctors’ surgeries to hospital and accident and emergency services. Essentially, the card allows the country that is providing the treatment to recoup the cost from the NHS, and vice versa. The cost will either be reduced or free based on the NHS equivalent.

The way in which this works is different for each country, so check the NHS’s country-specific guides at bit.ly/EhicGuide. In any emergency abroad, dial 112 and ask to be taken to a public hospital or facility.

In some cases you will be asked to pay for treatment upfront, in which case you should retain receipts and documentation and instigate a claim, preferably before you return home. If you are unsure, then ask whether you are being treated in a state-provided or private facility – the onus is on the traveller to avoid being presented with a private, non-refundable healthcare bill, particularly since in some countries, hospitals offer both state-provided and private healthcare side-by-side.

What it doesn’t cover
If the reason for your visit abroad is specifically to seek treatment or give birth. Ehic is also not valid in the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man, Monaco, San Marino and The Vatican. Ehic won’t cover repatriation if specialist care is needed at home, nor mountain rescue, so make sure you also have adequate travel insurance that does cover such eventualities.

As in the UK, prescription charges usually apply and again, these cannot be recouped with Ehic. Dentistry is usually not covered by public healthcare systems abroad so you are likely to have to pay for any emergency treatment.

Check whether the healthcare you are receiving abroad is state-provided or private (photo: AFP/Getty Images)
Check whether the healthcare you are receiving abroad is state-provided or private (photo: AFP/Getty Images)

How to apply
Any legal resident of the UK is entitled to apply via the official government website. You’ll need your NHS or National Insurance number; cards are valid for five years and can be renewed up to six months before they expire (though you will lose remaining time on your existing card).

If you find yourself on a website that levies a charge for your application, then this is a third-party, non-official channel. Avoid.
To replace a lost or stolen card, call 0300 330 1350 and if it is lost or stolen abroad, apply for a Provisional Replacement Certificate (PRC) which gives you the same cover, by calling +44 (0)191 218 1999.

Is it valid anywhere else?
No. However, the UK has reciprocal healthcare agreements with a number of countries outside the EEA, including Australia, Gibraltar, Jersey, the Isle of Man, Montenegro, New Zealand and several Caribbean nations.
See bit.ly/nonEEAhealthcare for a full list.

What will happen to Ehic after Brexit?
Previously, Brexit Secretary David Davis has said that both sides have agreed that existing Ehic arrangements should be protected. However, since it’s unclear whether Britain will remain in the EEA single market, the validity of Ehic for Britons from 29 March 2019 is no less dubious.

Jeremy Hunt has been urged to safeguard the scheme, particularly by medical charities on behalf of kidney dialysis patients who would face exorbitant treatment costs should they decide to holiday in Europe. Standard travel insurance policies do not cover treatment for pre-existing conditions.

Read more

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