Around ten years ago I used to work as an overseas officer for my local hospital. This role required me to go and speak with any patient who had been in the UK for less than 12 months. In the majority of cases, the patient was covered under the European Health Insurance Card scheme, however, there were cases when patients required charging for their treatment.
Having always known a free NHS system it was an eye-opening experience to me to see the costs involved in different treatments and it made me not only value the service we receive from our NHS system but realise just how important having some health cover available when travelling within EU was.
What is the European Health Insurance Card?
European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), is a free card that gives you access to medically necessary, state-provided healthcare during a temporary stay in any of the 28 EU countries, Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland, under the same conditions and at the same cost as people insured in that country. This free card can make all the difference for EU travelers falling ill abroad.
Why everyone should have the European Health Insurance Card
Visiting different places within the EU is on many people’s bucket lists, after all, who wouldn’t like to visit Paris, Rome, Budapest or wherever the road takes you. All you want to worry about when you are travelling is about what you are doing next, whether it be sightseeing, relaxing on a beach or exploring the local area. What you don’t want to worry about is how you are going to pay for your emergency healthcare should you or your travelling companions fall ill or have an accident.
For this reason everyone should have the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), just as you would make sure you have your passport with you, make sure you have an EHIC card tucked inside it to ensure that you are covered when travelling within the EU.
What the EHIC will cover:
- Any medical treatment that becomes necessary during your stay because of either illness or an accident.
- The card gives access to reduced-cost or free medical treatment from state healthcare providers
- It allows you to be treated on the same basis as a resident of the country you are visiting i.e. you may have to pay a patient contribution (also known as a co-payment). You may be able to seek reimbursement for this when you are back in the UK if you are not able to do so in the other country (and limited to the equivalent cost on the NHS)
- It includes treatment of a chronic or pre-existing medical condition that becomes necessary during your visit.
- It includes routine maternity care (provided the reason for your visit is not specifically to give birth)
- It includes the provision of oxygen, renal dialysis, and routine medical care
What the EHIC will not cover:
- The EHIC doesn’t replace travel insurance and it is highly recommended that you purchase this whenever you travel
- It will not cover the costs of private healthcare or services that are not part of the state healthcare system
- It will not cover the costs of being brought back to the UK
- Travelling abroad to specifically receive treatment (including going abroad to give birth)
- Card may not be used in some regions, as there may be no state provided healthcare available
How to apply for a EHIC (UK residents)
European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) is free to access (Some services charge to help you apply – these are unnecessary and you don’t need to use them). Visit the official UK Government website HERE to apply for your card today.
You’ll need to provide your:
- full name
- date of birth
- National Insurance or NHS number (England and Wales)
- CHI number (Scotland)
- Health and Care number (Northern Ireland)
Top Tip: Download the EHIC smartphone app from the European Commission’s website so you can easily access the information while you are abroad.