60 second guide to the European Health Insurance CardWhy you should ensure you have an EHIC

05 July 2011

Emergency medical care EHIC

An EHIC entitles you to free or discounted medical treatment in Europe

If you’re planning a holiday in Europe this summer, it’s crucial to get a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) before you jet off. The EHIC is free and easy to apply for, but it could provide invaluable help with medical costs should you fall ill while travelling within one of the countries it covers.

Which? Money experts have put together this 60 second guide to explain how to get your EHIC, what protection it provides and where you’d be able to use it in an emergency.

1. The EHIC has replaced E111 forms

The European Health Insurance Card was introduced in 2005 to replace the E111 form.

If you have an old E111 form, it’s important to be aware this is no longer valid – and if you’re planning a trip to Europe you should apply for an EHIC as soon as possible. This can easily be done online, and at no cost, via the official EHIC website. Avoid any website that will charge you for an EHIC, as these could be scam sites and you can get the same service for free.

It’s also worth noting that your EHIC will last for a maximum of five years, so keep an eye on when yours is due to expire if you already have one.

According to estimates, almost 15 million cards are expected to go out of date before the end of 2011 – and if you travel with an invalid EHIC, you won’t be able to use it should the need arise.

2. Your EHIC entitles you to state-provided healthcare abroad

An EHIC entitles the bearer to healthcare in participating countries, with treatment delivered on the same basis (and at the same cost) as for citizens of that state.

In other words, if you fell ill while on holiday in France you would be able to access the same medical treatment as any French person.

It’s important to note that this may mean you aren’t entitled to the same level of treatment as you would get on the NHS, and you might also have to pay for a proportion of whatever healthcare you require in a participating country. In France, for example, you may have to pay up-front for certain services.

Should this situation arise, you should be able to claim back the money you have spent either through the local authority where you had treatment or through the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) upon your return to the UK.

3. An EHIC is no substitute for travel insurance

While it’s important to have an EHIC, the card will not provide cover for every medical emergency or expense that might arise while you’re on holiday.

It won’t cover:

  • Treatment at private clinics. If you are unwell or hurt and can’t get to a state-funded hospital, the EHIC alone will be of little use.
  • 100% of the cost of all state-provided medical treatment. Where the state-funded treatment you may need is not entirely free, your travel insurer will usually pay any outstanding costs so you don’t have to foot the bill.
  • Accommodation and repatriation to the UK. If you have to stay abroad while you recover from an illness, or need to be brought back to the UK in an air ambulance, the EHIC will provide no financial help. A good travel insurance policy will cover the cost of staying abroad for longer or repatriation to the UK – but if you don’t have a policy, you could be left with a bill of up to £25,000.

Moreover, it’s worth remembering that travel insurance will cover you for a whole host of other problems that might affect your holiday, from cancellation or curtailment of your trip to lost luggage. Visit the Which? Travel insurance review and advice guide for help with finding a good quality policy at the right price.

4. Different EHIC entitlements apply in different countries

Because healthcare provision across Europe isn’t consistent, your EHIC will entitle you to different things in different countries.

It’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with what you’ll be entitled to claim using your EHIC before you head off on holiday. You can find a guide to how they work in each participating state on the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) pages of the Which? website.

5. Be clear on how to make an EHIC claim

Using your EHIC may not always be straightforward. In some countries, you may have to be assertive in order to use it – but don’t be put off.

If you struggle to make your voice heard and need to claim back money at a later stage because your EHIC was rejected, you should be able to do so. Remember: it’s against European rules to refuse to accept the card.

Always ensure you present your EHIC immediately upon arrival at a hospital or treatment centre – don’t leave it until you are already being looked after. Not only will this make using it less problematic in an immediate sense; this will also help ensure you don’t run into problems when claiming on your travel insurance – particularly if your insurer promises to waive your excess when you use an EHIC.

For more detailed information on the European Health Insurance Card, read the Which? online guide.

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