A simples guide

European health insurance card

If you’re planning to travel in Europe any time soon you’ll want to know about the European Health Insurance Card, also known as EHIC. The EHIC is completely free to get hold of one and offers free or discounted health care in over 28 countries around Europe.


Almost half of people in the UK already have one. But millions will expire in April 2016. So if you have one already, check that yours is still current; they’re valid for up to 5 years.


How does the European Health Insurance Card work?

If you’ve got an EHIC card, you’re entitled to free or discounted medical treatment at state-run hospitals and GPs in any European Union country, plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. You might remember the old E111 form? The EHIC replaced it in 2005. That means if you find yourself in Europe with an EHIC card, you’re entitled to the same treatment as the locals are.

That’s reassuring to know and extremely useful in emergencies. While all UK residents are eligible, residents of the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man aren’t. It’s worth noting too that some (but not all) overseas territories are included. For example, Azores and Madeira are included as territories of Portugal.

European health
EHIC card

Where can a European Health Insurance Card be used?

Using you EHIC is super simple. All you need to do is present your card before you have any treatment. Just remember to keep it on you at all times in case you need it for any reason. While it is possible to get a Provisional Replacement Certificate, explaining to medical staff in broken Spanish how you left your EHIC on the dresser in your hotel room won’t get you your treatment nearly as quickly as just showing them your EHIC card. So make sure you keep in in your wallet when you’re out and about. 

Tips for your EHIC: 

Check the date on yours. EHIC cards need to be renewed every five years. So check that yours is still in date before setting off anywhere. The expiry date is in the bottom right corner of your card. You can apply for a new card up to six months before your old one is due to run out, and it’s worth doing so in advance so you don’t get caught out.

Kids need their own cards. If you’re going away with your kids, remember they need EHIC cards too. You need to be over 16 to apply but you can ask for one on behalf of a child when you apply for yours. Just include them in your application and they’ll get their own card.

Watch out for phony websites. If you Google ‘EHIC’, you’ll find lots of sites offering to ‘forward’ or ‘review’ you card, and charging £20 to process your application. Other sites might offer a ‘fast-track application’. Don’t be fooled, there’s no such thing and the EHIC card is free to apply for.

So where can I get an EHIC card?

The best place to get your EHIC is via the official site, www.ehic.org.uk

Or you can give the NHS a buzz on 0300 330 1350 if you don't want to go online.

It's worth knowing that you can’t get an EHIC from your doctor. And you can’t get one from the Post Office either. 

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So do I need an EHIC and travel insurance too?

Yep, you do. It’s made a bit confusing by EHIC having insurance in the name, but a European Health Insurance Card only covers the cost of medical treatment in state-run hospitals, if you’re taken to a private hospital in an emergency you’ll have to pay for your treatment. Travel insurance covers everything else.

As well as covering your medical bills, travel insurance covers you if you need to cancel your holiday or have to fly back if you’re taken ill, or for example you get your new camera swiped. It’s worth having both, plus some insurers will waive the excess on a medical claim if you have an EHIC.

On top of that, travel insurance gives you wider medical treatment cover than EHIC cards. EHIC doesn’t always mean free treatment, but where it doesn’t, your travel insurance may cover it. Even with an EHIC you still may have to pay quite a bit in some state hospitals in some countries.

All in all, having an EHIC card really is a no brainer. It’s free and could save you money. Make sure you’ve got your travel insurance in place too (why not start a quote now?) and you’re good to go!