The EHIC Card is a simple essential when you’re travelling through Europe. It’s a card that entitles you to receive state-provided medical care in most countries in the European Economic Area (EEA), Switzerland and a few other nations besides.
The EHIC card replaced the old E111 form in 2006 and has been adopted throughout the EEA. There are a few exceptions, but the vast majority of the EEA has signed up to this reciprocal agreement that means you can travel abroad safe in the knowledge that you can access emergency medical or dental care without getting a huge bill.
Who opted out?
The Channel Islands, including Guernsey, Alderney and Sark, have all opted to reject the European Health Insurance Card. With these nations so closely linked to the UK, it might be a shock to find that they do not participate in the EHIC scheme that replaced the E111 countries covered and a number of travellers have simply assumed they are properly covered in these territories. Monaco, San Marino and The Vatican have also opted out.
When a card is issued, it is valid for five years and when you suffer with an accident, illness or injury abroad, or even if you need attention for a pre-existing condition or routine maternity care, you can attend a hospital or doctor and receive basic, state-provided medical care.
Provided you do not visit the country specifically to give birth or to seek better treatment than you would receive at home, then you can rest assured that the European health insurance card is all you need to receive treatment in another country.
Get treated like a local
Of course every country is different and EHIC cards don’t afford you special treatment; that’s the point, it gets you the same treatment as the locals. That means you can end up paying for your treatment, but only if the citizens of that country do and you often get a reduced bill with the EHIC. It used to be the case that you could recover any money paid as a co-payment on your return to the UK, but changes to the regulations in 2014 mean that this is no longer possible.
It’s worth checking, then, on the healthcare system of the nation you are visiting to avoid being struck with a surprise bill, as some countries charge their own citizens a substantial amount for treatment and you’ll be subject to the same rules.
Some nations outside the European Economic Area have signed up for the same reciprocal agreement and, while the EHIC card isn’t an essential part of the arrangement, it will certainly make things simpler for you and help you access emergency medical care.
The EHIC card goes further afield
There is a long list of nations, many with pre-existing diplomatic links to the UK, including: Australia, Anguilla, Barbados, Bosnia & Herzegovina, British Virgin Islands, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Jersey, Macedonia, Montenegro, Montserrat, New Zealand, St Helena, Serbia, Turks and Caicos Islands.
The EHIC card, then, is a simple essential for anybody planning to travel, either on holiday or on a regular basis, as it will inevitably save you a substantial bill if you end up seeking medical attention on foreign soil. Organise one and ensure it is renewed every five years and it will take most of the stress out of travel, as you’ll know in advance that you are free to walk into a local hospital, doctor or dentist and request treatment should the worst happen.
Get insurance too
You should also invest in a proper travel insurance policy. The EHIC card is an invaluable asset, but it does not cover all your costs that will inevitably result from a major illness or injury and you should not consider the EHIC card as a replacement for travel insurance.
While the EHIC cards will cover your basic medical care, providing the country in question treats its own citizens for free, it will not cover additional costs. This can include rescheduling flights, lengthening your stay in the country or, in the worst cases, an expensive repatriation to the UK.
These are all very real possibilities in the event of a serious incident and you should not simply rely on the EHIC card. Get both the card and a proper travel insurance policy and you can sleep easy in your bed, wherever it is in the EEA, or even further afield, as you know you will be properly protected – even if the worst happens.