The EHIC: get the facts

The EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) entitles any UK resident to emergency medical treatment when travelling in the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland.

But what precisely does it cover and why can’t businesses rely on the card as a replacement for international health or travel insurance? 

A number of high profile accidents abroad have hit the headlines in recent times, leaving individuals having to fork out thousands of pounds to pay for specially equipped air ambulances to return home.

After making trips abroad without any travel insurance, they wrongly believed they were covered by the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).

The EHIC is NOT is not an alternative to travel insurance but it does, nevertheless, bestow valuable entitlements to those who hold it.

Should your employees become ill or suffer accidents abroad, they will receive the required state medical care for free, or at a reduced cost.

EHIC cover includes routine medical care, renal dialysis, the provision of oxygen, and the health management of symptoms of pre-existing or chronic conditions that occur while they’re abroad.

EHIC however, may not cover them for everything they would ordinarily receive for free under the NHS.

Depending upon which country they’re residing in, they may, for example, have to pay for a privately run ambulance service. This is because EHIC doesn’t cover the costs of private healthcare or services that are not part of the state healthcare system. This can be a major concern in areas where there is no state healthcare provision.

Moreover, as many have found out to their cost, EHIC will not cover the costs of being brought back to the UK.

Employees covered by EHIC will, nevertheless, be treated on the same basis as the residents of the country they’re visiting.

EHICs are free and valid for up to five years – employees only need to be given details on how to apply, either via the NHS Business Services Authority’s (NHSBSA) EHIC website:; by phone by calling 0845 606 2030 (delivery is usually within 10 days); or by completing a printed form available from their local post office and sending it to:

EHIC Applications,

PO Box 1114,

Newcastle upon Tyne,

NE99 2TL

Employees should be advised to present their EHIC before treatment. In some European countries, they will have to pay medical bills upfront but will be reimbursed by applying for a refund using their EHIC. Wherever possible, they should apply for this before they return home.

If you have any further questions about the EHIC, call Willis Towers Watson Health & Benefits on 01606 353260, request a callback or complete our contact form to find out how we can help you.