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 you rely on the card as a replacement for international health or travel insurance? Willis Towers Watson Health & Benefits director Steve Langan explains.

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 you become ill or suffer accidents abroad, you 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 abroad.

EHIC however, may not cover you for everything you would ordinarily receive for free under the NHS. Depending upon which country you’re residing in, you 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.

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

EHICs are free and valid for up to five years – you only need 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 your local post office and sending it to:

EHIC Applications, PO Box 1114, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE99 2TL

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