Before You Travel… the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)

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Before a holiday, there are generally a number of things you need to arrange. Once flights, transfers, accommodation and rental cars are all in place, people generally know to book travel insurance to cover cancellation and healthcare cost. Surprisingly though, many UK travellers are failing to take advantage of the free European Health Insurance Card, or EHIC.

Who can get a card?

The EHIC is available to UK citizens over the age of 16. However, if you travel as a family, children should carry their own cards. If you include one or more children as dependants on your application, they’ll be issued with separate cards.

Note that Residents of the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man aren’t eligible for an EHIC.

What are cardholders entitled to?

The EHIC entitles holders to free or reduced-cost medical care in state-run hospitals in all EU countries, as well as in Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. Valid for five years, the card entitles you to same healthcare that local citizens can expect to receive. It’s important to note that the card doesn’t guarantee free treatment. If locals get free treatment, so do you – but if they pay, you do also.  In some countries, you may have to pay for treatment upfront and claim the costs back later.

As well as covering you for emergency care while you’re abroad, the card covers you for treatment of pre-existing medical conditions and for routine maternity care, provided you didn’t intentionally go abroad to give birth.

The terms of the card state that you must have the card on your person to be covered, so when you’re abroad always take it out and about with you.

Is EHIC the same as free travel insurance?

The card is not a substitute for travel insurance. It gives you medical cover only at state-run hospitals, which you might not have convenient access to in all European countries. Also, the EHIC doesn’t provide any cover for delays, cancellations, repatriation, loss or theft, which is typically included in travel insurance.

Some travel insurers now insist that you have an EHIC. Certain insurers may also waive the excess if you have one.

How to get a card

Provided you’re resident in the UK, you can apply for an EHIC in one of three ways:

  • apply online, using the NHS’s EHIC web site
  • phone an automated service on 0300 3301350 to request an application
  • download an application form in PDF format from the NHS and return it to the NHS Business Services Authority for processing

In your application, you’ll need to specify your full name, date of birth and National Insurance or NHS number. Note that temporary National Insurance numbers, which start with the prefix “TN”, aren’t accepted.

Unless you apply online, you should return your completed application form to the following address:

NHS Business Services Authority
European Health Insurance Card
EHIC applications
Bridge House
152 Pilgrim Street
Newcastle Upon Tyne
NE1 6SN

Typically you’ll receive a card within about seven days if you apply using the official process.

Warning about scams

Be aware that there have been some online scams targeting EHIC applicants, with official-looking web sites offering “reviewing” or “services” for a fee. The card is free and the application process is straightforward, so don’t be fooled. The Department of Health is working to crack down on these scams.