Find out what an EHIC is and why you should remember to pack it on your next holiday in Europe
Millions of UK tourists travel to Europe each year. Even though some of our most loved locations are only a hop, skip and a jump away, you still need to ensure you're protected.
Whether you're travelling to the vineyards of Tuscany or the graffiti streets of Berlin, it's important to arrange travel insurance cover before your trip.
And when headed to Europe, you need to make sure you've packed your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).
What is the EHIC?
The EHIC is required in the event that you need medical treatment or assistance when on a trip in Europe. It serves as proof that you are a UK resident eligible for treatment in a European facility which is in a reciprocal health agreement with the UK.
The EHIC was first introduced in 2004, replacing the old E111 system for tourists. It is a free card for residents in the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland.
Owning an EHIC means that you are able to receive medical treatment when you are abroad in one of these European countries. The plastic card is white and blue in appearance and displays the country name in the top right hand corner. It shows your full name, date of birth, an expiry date and three unique identification numbers.
Why do I need an EHIC?
Owning an EHIC card validates your eligibility for treatment in an approved medical facility.
The card acts as a secure and efficient way to inform foreign medical professionals about your identity and medical history. It also reduces the cost of medical expenses or makes them free of charge, depending on the country and the facility for which you receive medical treatment.
Do I still need travel insurance?
Yes. Having the EHIC is not a replacement for travel insurance – you still need to purchase a policy and ensure that you are covered in the event of emergency and non-emergency medical treatment, and for other incidents such as theft of belongings or cancellations.
The EHIC works as a faster ticket to effective and safe treatment and reduces or omits the cost of treatment. If you require medical treatment when travelling on the continent, whether for a new or pre-existing medical condition, it is strongly advised that you seek out a facility that accepts the EHIC and that is in agreement with the UK. If you do not seek treatment from one of these facilities, you will have to pay excess on medical costs abroad.
How do I get an EHIC?
If you are registered with an NHS medical practice in the UK, you are likely to have been sent one of these cards automatically in the post. If you have misplaced your EHIC or are not sure if you have one, you can apply for an EHIC online through the NHS website. It only takes seven days until your card arrives in the post.
The EHIC is free, so you should avoid any websites that request payment for the EHIC.
EHICs require renewal every five years and you must have at least six months validity on the card before you travel to Europe. New EHICs are usually sent out automatically provided you remain registered with an NHS medical practice. It is important to notify your medical practice if you change address.
Can I use the EHIC for private medical treatment at home or abroad?
No. You cannot use the EHIC for private medical treatment in the UK or abroad and you are not permitted to use the EHIC for any planned medical treatment abroad, such as giving birth. Also, you're not permitted to use the card if you are relocating to work or study in the EEA or Switzerland.
Where is an EHIC valid?
The EHIC is valid in medical facilities located in the following countries: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK.
The EHIC gives you peace of mind in the event that you require emergency or non-emergency medical treatment. If you are a UK resident and are planning a trip, make sure you have a valid EHIC with six months' validity as well as comprehensive travel insurance policy.