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Over half of Brits overestimate Ehic cover: are you protected?

UK holidaymakers risk being under-insured

The majority of British holidaymakers overestimate the benefits of a European Health Insurance Card (Ehic), according to new research.

An Ehic is a free medical card, which can be used throughout the EU and in Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. It entitles you to treatment in state hospitals at the same price as residents of the country you’re visiting.

Ehics have to be renewed every five years and can be ordered through the NHS website.

Here, we take a look at some of the common myths associated with an Ehic and explain how you ensure you have the right travel insurance for your trip.


1) An Ehic can get you emergency care outside of Europe

This is an important myth to get out of the way.

As the name suggests, an Ehic will only get you medical care within European countries.

Around 4% of UK holidaymakers, however, thought that an Ehic entitles you to emergency medical treatment anywhere in the world, according to data from GoCompare.com.

If you have a medical emergency in a non-European country, you will not be entitled to healthcare services using your Ehic.

It’s really important to ensure that you take out travel insurance and get the right level of cover, as medical expenses can run into the hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Here are some examples of travel insurance claims that were paid out in 2017:

  • £768,000 for medical costs treating a traveller who suffered a stroke in the USA (including £60,000 for an air ambulance back to the UK)
  • £136,000 for treating complications following an insect bite in Chile (including paying for a nurse to escort the traveller home)
  • £74,000 for treating a brain haemorrhage in Cuba.

2) An Ehic can be used anywhere in Europe

While an Ehic card is useful in all 27 EU member states, plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, some popular holiday destinations won’t accept it.

Places such as Turkey, Monaco, San Marino and Vatican City do not take Ehics.

It’s vital to make sure that your Ehic will be accepted in the country you travel to, and ensure you have a suitable travel insurance policy to protect you over your holiday.

Again, emergency medical treatment can be very costly, and in 2017 a claim of £125,000 was paid out for surgery following a jet-ski accident in Turkey.

3) An Ehic gets you free medical care

A common misconception about Ehics is that they get you free emergency medical treatment anywhere in Europe – some 60% of British holidaymakers consider this to be the case.

Your Ehic only entitles you to the same level of treatment in state hospitals as at the same price as nationals.

This means that if you’re visiting a country where healthcare and treatment is paid for, you will need to pay too.

Not all EU countries require that medical treatments have to be paid for in full, though.

In France, for example, a patient may be expected to pay for a consultation up front but will have up to 70% of the cost reimbursed later.

4) Ehics will expire after Brexit

Almost one in five Brits believe that Ehic cards will expire next year, following Brexit.

In truth, it is still unknown what will happen to the Ehic scheme once the UK leaves the EU.

The government claims that an arrangement will continue, and a recent Brexit White Paper suggests that the UK is likely to have a reciprocal healthcare agreement with some European countries.

Nothing has been finalised yet as a Brexit deal is yet to be reached.

For the time being, however, you can still apply for an Ehic card and use it on your travels.

  • Find more: worldwide travel insurance reviews

5) Ehics will cover the cost of an air ambulance

Almost one in ten people believe that an Ehic entities them to an air ambulance flight home if they are seriously ill or injured. But this is far from the case.

You’ll need to have a suitable insurance policy or an alternative means of footing the bill for an air ambulance back to the UK.

These costs can be exceptionally high and flying a seriously ill British holidaymaker back from Mallorca, for example, could cost as much as £25,000.

6) You don’t need travel insurance if you have an Ehic card

Ehics are for medical purposes only which means that it will only meet the cost of treatments you might need.

Travel insurance, however, can cover a variety of medical expenses, as well as the cost of cancelling your holiday if you need to return home early and covering you if baggage is lost or stolen.

Some insurers will also waive the excess you have to pay on medical expenses in participating European countries if you have an Ehic.

What should travel insurance cover?

The type of travel insurance policy you’ll need will vary depending on your personal circumstances, as well as your travel plans.

As a minimum, Which? would suggest finding a policy that offers:

Emergency medical cover £2m (Europe) £5m (worldwide)
Cancellation, curtailment and missed departure cover £3,000
Personal belongings and money cover £1,000
Personal liability cover £1m

Be sure to read the terms and conditions of a policy before taking it out, and get in touch with providers if anything is unclear in the wording.

Check out our travel insurance guides for help on finding the best travel insurance policy and watch the short video below for tips on how to find cheap travel insurance.

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