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A European Health Insurance Card: What Is It Good For?

A European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) is a free and simple way to avoid potentially huge hospital bills abroad, and yet a surprising amount of Brits don’t have one and don’t really know what it’s for. An EHIC can be invaluable in making sure you don't incur large bills for healthcare if you need it while on holiday, so every Brit should carry one while abroad in the EU.

What is the EHIC?

The EHIC is a card that allows you to get medical treatment in countries throughout the EU, plus in Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

What does the EHIC entitle me to?

The EHIC entitles you to treatment in state hospitals at the same price as residents of that country. Note that the EHIC does not necessarily mean you get free treatment – if the country has free national healthcare, like the UK, then your treatment will also be free but if not, you will have to pay. The benefit the EHIC offers is protection from having to pay the much higher fees that a non-resident of that country would usually be charged.

How do I get an EHIC?

It’s easy to get an EHIC – you can apply on the NHS website in a matter of minutes. All you need is your full name, address, date of birth, and your National Insurance/NHS number (England & Wales), CHI number (Scotland) or Health and Care number (Northern Ireland).

The EHIC is free, so don’t get taken in by any sites asking for payment.

Who can have an EHIC?

Any resident of the UK can get an EHIC; you don’t need to be a British citizen. The only caveat to this is if you are insured by another EEA country – in this case you will have to be issued an EHIC by that country.

Be aware that an EHIC only covers the holder; you cannot use your card to cover another person’s treatment. Every member of your travel party will need their own card, but you can apply for one on someone else’s behalf. Travellers under the age of 16 will need a parent or guardian to apply for a card on their behalf.

Do I have to pay for an EHIC?

No, the EHIC is completely free! All you have to do is submit an application online.

How do I use the EHIC?

It’s easy to use your EHIC – all you have to do is present it before you have treatment and it should be taken into account when your bill is written up.

Where is the EHIC valid?

EHICs are valid in all EU countries, plus Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

Does the EHIC expire?

The EHIC has to be renewed every five years, so keep an eye on that expiry date! You can renew an EHIC up to six months before its expiry date, but unlike your passport the time left on the old card will not be carried over to the new one.

If I have an EHIC, do I need travel insurance?

You should absolutely still get travel insurance, even if you have an EHIC. Your EHIC will ensure you have access to state-provided healthcare for the same price as a resident, but does not guarantee your treatment will be free, whereas travel insurance will usually allow you to claim back the costs of any essential medical treatment. If you get the right policy your travel insurance will also cover more complicated things like private healthcare, rescue from a ski resort or special transport back to the UK – your EHIC will not.

Let’s not forget non-medical emergencies – you still need travel insurance to claim back for any other holiday mishaps like lost luggage, flight delays or theft.

Got more questions about the European Health Insurance Card? Ask them in the comments and we’ll try our best to answer them!