It has been estimated that over half of Britons don’t possess a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) while 5.4 million are due to expire in 2019. It still isn’t clear how Brexit will affect Britons’ access to the card. In this article we examine:
- What the European Health Insurance Card is
- If you need a European Health Insurance Card
- How to renew your EHIC
What is a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)?
An EHIC entitles you to medical care in all 28 European member states as well as countries like Switzerland and Norway – whether you’re visiting the country on holiday, on business or are working there. However, you aren’t covered for medical tourism i.e. when you visit another country for the sole purpose of treating a pre-existing condition. The card is completely free and is valid for 5 years.
Although we’re used to receiving free medical treatment on the NHS, this isn’t necessarily the case in other European countries. However, any money you pay for treatment would be the same as a citizen of that country would pay if they were in your situation. This means that in some countries, you may have to pay a patient contribution towards your healthcare – whether that’s for a hospital stay or prescriptions. Although the Department of Health used to reimburse these additional costs, since July 2014 you have to pay them by yourself (or claim from your travel insurer).
Do I need a European Health Insurance Card?
If you’re planning to visit another European country, then it’s advisable that you apply for an EHIC. However, it should be remembered that this card is no substitute for good travel insurance. Although you’ll have access to medical treatment in an emergency, it doesn’t cover all associated costs. For example, if you needed to be repatriated to the UK in an air ambulance, without travel insurance, you’d have to pay for it yourself. It is also a medical card and doesn’t cover you for any loss, theft, or damage to personal possessions.
Each member of the family should have their own EHIC. In case of minors, the parents apply on their behalf and then cards are issued for each family member. You should make sure that you always carry the card with you or you could be refused medical treatment and/or be expected to pay.
How do I renew my EHIC?
You can apply for a new EHIC up to 6 months before it expires. You should always make sure that you use the authentic gov.uk site. There have been cases of people typing ‘EHIC’ into a search engine and being directed to a copycat/ assistance site who apply on their behalf. Unfortunately, they have then been charged, on average, £20 for a card which is completely free.
Applications can be made online and usually take 7-10 days to reach you, so you should apply in plenty of time before you intend to travel. You can also make a telephone application, by calling 0300 330 1350. Alternatively, you could download the form and send it by post although postal applications might take longer.