Thousands of consumers risk paying over the odds for their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which should be free, as well as for entry to the US under the Visa Waiver Program (known as an ESTA).
The increased charges are due to an explosion in the number of third-party websites, many of which give the impression of being official government sites.
A Google search of the term ‘EHIC’ reveals many sites charging up to £20 to process your EHIC application, which is free on the Department of Health’s own website. These commercial sites often pay to appear high up search listings, making it hard to find the official page.
Do EHIC sites breach Companies Act and unfair trading regulations?
Which? believes two of these sites may be breaching the Companies Act and the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations. While www.nhs-direct.org.uk’s homepage confirms it’s not affiliated with the NHS, we believe many people would conclude that they were visiting a government-run website.
Likewise, we think that www.nhs-ehic-e111.org.uk could mislead consumers into thinking that this site is official, both through its use of ‘NHS’ in the web address, and the EU logo on the homepage. We contacted both sites, but received no answer. We’ve reported both to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), and www.nhs-ehic-e111.org.uk to the European Commission, which is investigating the matter.
- Read our guide to the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) to find out how it works
High fees for ESTA applications
Other websites charge up to US $74 to check ESTA applications, even though the US government’s rate is just US $14. If an application is rejected, the total cost is US $4.
A family of four using www.estaapply.net’s ‘low-cost, thorough and comprehensive ESTA processing and management service’ would pay US $296 rather than US $56 via official routes, a difference of around £150. The US Embassy in London advises people to look for websites that end with ‘.gov’.
- If you’re applying for an EHIC online, always visit www.ehic.org.uk, and check out our EHIC guide to find out what it covers.
- For an ESTA for entry into the US, visit www.esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta.
- European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) – how the EHIC works and tips to get the best out of it
- Travel insurance – check out our Which? Recommended Providers for the best holiday service and cover
- Which? Money Helpline – Which? members can call our money experts for help with financial issues