The EHIC Card – What Is It And How Does It Work?

The European Health Insurance (EHIC) Card, which replaced the old E111 certificate in 2005, gives you access to state-provided medical insurance across the European Union, along with 27 million other people. We’ll be looking at how to get one, the kind of treatment it entitles you to, and – if you’re British – how Brexit is likely to affect you and your EHIC card.

How Do I Apply?

If you’re British and older than 16, you can apply for the card for yourself, your partner and your children. You will need the following information:

• Name and date of birth
• NHS or National Insurance (NI) Number in England and Wales; in Scotland, your Community Health Index (CHI) number; in Northern Ireland, your Health and Care number.

You can apply through the website.

Bear in mind that the card is free, so be careful that you go through the official site; some other sites will try to scam you by charging.

Who Is Entitled To The Card?

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If you live in the UK and are travelling abroad (but not if you are actually going to live abroad), you can apply for an EHIC.

Having a card means you will be treated exactly the same as an inhabitant of the country you’re visiting. This means that in some places, you might need to make a ‘co-payment’ for some of your treatment, but this will vary from country to country and you may be able to claim it back once you return home.

What Does The Card Cover?

EHIC covers pre-existing and chronic conditions that may flare up during your trip, maternity care as long as you’re not travelling specifically in order to give birth in a particular country, and ongoing treatments such as dialysis. However, you might need to arrange some types of treatments in advance – if you’re in the UK, consult the relevant section of the NHS, such as your local renal unit, before you go.

The EHIC won’t cover treatments that are not part of existing state care. It also won’t cover the cost of you being brought back to the UK or, for instance, mountain rescue costs on a skiing trip. However, if you’re injured on-piste, your skiing insurance should cover this, so do check those terms and conditions beforehand.

The card doesn’t cover ‘health tourism,’ so if the main purpose of your trip is to seek treatment abroad, you’ll need to take out the relevant private insurance in your own country first. Do also remember that the scheme isn’t a replacement for travel insurance; it won’t let you claim for lost luggage, for example.

Finally, make it clear to the hospital or doctor that you’re asking for treatment under EHIC – you don’t want to end up in the private system by mistake.

The Independent newspaper warns:

“In the past, some British travellers seeking treatment in Spain and elsewhere have been asked to sign forms that signal their agreement to private care, at a possible cost of thousands of pounds.”

Where Can I Use It?

There are some restrictions depending on your nationality; coverage may not be universal across Europe, so check out any restrictions to non-EU countries such as Denmark, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland. However, the EHIC does apply currently to some countries not in the EU.

The former Yugoslavian republics of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia are outside the EU and the EEA, but the UK has reciprocal health care agreements with these countries, meaning you can use your card there.

If you visit the relatively few European countries which are not covered by state care, such as the Channel Islands or Monaco, the card will not be eligible.

The NHS website gives comprehensive advice regarding coverage here.

The NHS also advise that if you find yourself in an emergency during your visit to Europe, you should dial 112. This number is valid in all EU/EEA member states and is free of charge. You can use it to reach emergency services from any telephone or mobile phone.

How Long Is It Valid?

The current EHIC lasts three to five years. Do ensure that yours is still current! More than five million UK citizens travelled in 2016 with a card that had expired, so if you have one, check the date.

How Will Brexit Affect My EHIC?

The Lords EU committee report in March 2018 stated: “In the absence of an agreement on future relations that covers this topic, the rights to reciprocal healthcare… will cease after Brexit.”

However, at the moment – as with so much about Brexit! – we simply don’t know yet. Both the EU and the UK administrations are talking about keeping the system in place after the deadline of midnight on 29 March 2019, although there is the possibility that that deadline may be extended.

However, even if the access of UK citizens to the scheme is removed with Brexit, all is not lost. Medical Travel Compared say:

“…if the EHIC card does go, tour operators and insurers may have to increase the value and facilities covered by travel insurance in order to help keep British holiday makers interested in European travel.”

ABTA’s director of public affairs Alan Wardle told TTG: “What needs to happen now is for the government to make progress setting out what the future relationship will look like.”

And the Lords committee concluded:

“It is not in the UK’s interest for reciprocal healthcare arrangements to cease.”

What If I Lose My Card?

Simply apply for a new one if you’re in the UK. If you’ve lost it abroad and need treatment, you need to call the Overseas Healthcare Team on +44 191 218 1999 and ask for a Provisional Replacement Certificate (PRC). Once you’re through, you will need your National Insurance number and the email address for the specific department of the hospital or clinic where you are receiving treatment.

“This will give you the same cover as an EHIC until you return home,” say the NHS.

EHIC On Social Media

EHIC has a Facebook page which you can use to check out any Brexit or other updates and is also on Twitter.


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