The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) scheme grants you access to state-provided healthcare in most European countries – 27 to be precise – when on holiday or during a temporary stay in that country. The EHIC card replaced the old E111 certificate, which was discontinued in 2005.
An EHIC card allows you to visit a GP or go to the hospital, if necessary, for free – as long as you’re not specifically travelling for health treatment.
The good news is that the current government has promised the EHIC scheme won’t be a casualty of Britain’s exit from the European Union.
Why do I need an EHIC?
The European Health Insurance Card will cover you in the event that you need treatment for a pre-existing medical condition – such as diabetes. You are also covered if you require routine maternity care, but only if you have not travelled to an EEA country specifically in order to give birth there.
The EHIC will cover you until you return to the UK, and in some cases will mean you pay nothing for any care you receive. However, not all EEA countries have a health system like the NHS, which is free at the point of use. In this case, you may be required to make a contribution towards your treatment, which you can then claim back on your return to the UK.
There are also some parts of the EEA where state-provided health care is not available, and therefore where the EHIC won't provide you with any protection.
But for more detailed information on what the EHIC covers in each participating country, visit the NHS Choices website.
Does my child need an EHIC?
Yes – every member of your family needs their own EHIC. You can also apply for an EHIC on behalf of your partner, provided you have the necessary information.
Under-16s need a parent or guardian to apply for their EHIC. You can also apply for an EHIC on behalf of your son or daughter if he or she is still in full-time education and under the age of 19.
You'll need the full name, date of birth and National Insurance or NHS number of each member of your family, if you are planning to apply for EHICs for everyone.
EHIC and travel insurance
An EHIC card will only cover you for any healthcare that would normally be provided by the state you are visiting. Anything that sits outside their usual provision of healthcare is not covered – so you will need to get travel insurance as normal.
The European health card also doesn’t cover things like rescue and repatriation – for example, if you had a winter sports accident, you would have to cover the cost of air-lifting yourself from the side of a mountain or getting yourself back to the UK if you couldn’t board a commercial flight.
It’s best to think of the EHIC as a useful and valuable safety net when you travel in Europe, but it is vital to recognise that it's not a replacement for travel insurance in either the EU or EEA.
The EHIC card doesn’t offer any other cover or holiday protection that you might get from a travel insurance policy. If your possessions are stolen, or if you lose important items like a passport, this scheme won’t be able to help you. So again, without travel insurance, these quickly become very stressful situations.
Will I have to pay for my EHIC?
The European Health Insurance Card is free. It’s valid for up to five years, but you will need to remember to renew your EHIC card as this isn’t done automatically.
There are some spurious websites asking for payment to apply for an EHIC card on your behalf, and they can look very official, but they have nothing to do with actually issuing your card. Only the NHS can issue European health cards, and they do not ask for payment.
According to NHS Choices, your EHIC should arrive within seven days of your application being received, provided you use one of the official channels.
Can I apply for an EHIC online?
To apply for an EHIC card, you must be ordinarily resident within the UK and must be of British, EEA or Swiss nationality. You are not eligible for an EHIC if you live in the Channel Islands or on the Isle of Man.
While it is quick, easy and completely free to apply for an EHIC online through the official NHS Business Services Authority website, there are a host of scam sites littering the web.
These fraudulent and unofficial websites may charge you for applying for the EHIC on your behalf, or suggesting they are 'reviewing' or 'fast-tracking' your EHIC application, even though in reality there is no way for them to influence or speed up its progress.
Some of these fake EHIC application sites look very convincing and often appear high up on search engine results pages. Some of them even say you can get the EHIC for free via the NHS, but they charge you for applying on your behalf.
Sadly if you are taken in by one, you're unlikely to get your money back so make sure to only use the official EHIC website if you apply for a card online.
How do I apply for my EHIC offline?
You can apply for an EHIC by phoning the official automated service on 0300 3301350, or you can download an application form from the NHS Choices website. Completed EHIC applications should be sent to:
NHS Business Services Authority
152 Pilgrim Street
Newcastle upon Tyne
EHIC in short
- An EHIC card allows you to get healthcare in one of 27 European countries in the EU and EEC – including famously-neutral Switzerland and tiny Lichtenstein.
- It does not include access to healthcare in the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man, Monaco, San Marino and the Vatican.
- You can only receive state healthcare, so be careful not to be classed as a private patient as this could become expensive.
- You may have to pay for treatment but you can claim it back on your return to the UK.
- You should not think of EHIC as a replacement for travel insurance, as it does not cover everything.
- A European health card is free, so be aware of false sites asking for payment or to fast track your application.
- You can apply by phone, post or online (but again be careful of fraudulent sites).
- Each member of your family need their own card, you can apply for them if you have the correct information and they are under 16 years old (19 if a student).