The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) allows you to access state-provided healthcare in all European Economic Area (EEA) countries and Switzerland at a reduced cost or sometimes free of charge.

Everyone who is resident in the UK should have one and carry it with them when travelling abroad. Remember to check your EHIC is still valid before you travel.

Applying for the card is free and it’s valid for up to five years, The (EHIC) is NOT an alternative to travel insurance. It will not cover any private medical healthcare or the cost of things such as mountain rescue in ski resorts, repatriation to the UK or lost or stolen property.

Presenting the EHIC entitles you to treatment that may become necessary during your trip, but doesn’t allow you to go abroad specifically to receive medical care. However, maternity care, renal dialysis and managing the symptoms of pre-existing or chronic conditions that arise while abroad are all covered by the EHIC.

Your EHIC will allow you access to the same state-provided healthcare as a resident of the country you are visiting. However, many countries expect the patient to pay towards their treatment, and even with an EHIC, you might be expected to do the same. You may be able to seek reimbursement for this cost when you are back in the UK if you are not able to do so in the other country.

For these reasons and others, it is important to have both an EHIC and a valid private travel insurance policy. Some insurers now insist you hold an EHIC and some will waive the excess if you have one.

There are several ways to apply for a free EHIC but the quickest way is to apply online through the Department of Health’s official website. Your card will normally arrive within seven days. You can also apply by phone on 0845 606 2030 or by post using an application form available from some post offices.

What does the EHIC cover?

  • It 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.
  • It includes treatment of a chronic or pre-existing medical condition that becomes necessary during your visit.
  • It includes routine maternity care, (not solely illness or accident) provided the reason for your visit is not specifically to give birth. However, it does cover the cost of all medical treatment, for mother and baby, which is linked to the birth where that occurs unexpectedly.
  • It includes the provision of oxygen, renal dialysis and routine medical care.

What won’t the EHIC cover me for?

  • The EHIC is not a substitute or replacement for private travel insurance. You should always take out an appropriate private policy in addition to carrying your EHIC.
  • 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.
  • It will not allow you to go abroad to specifically receive treatment (including going abroad to give birth).