The European Health Insurance Card or EHIC, gives you access to free or discounted healthcare in all 28 countries in the European Union, and a few others.
All UK residents are eligible for the card. They’re free and valid for five years. Our looming exit from the EU will likely end the programme and restrict access to healthcare in Europe. But with the terms of Brexit still uncertain, it’s not yet clear when—or even if—that will happen. It’s still worth getting a card or renewing your old one if you’re headed off to Europe.
What is the European Health Insurance Card?
The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) entitles the holder to free or discounted state-provided healthcare in European countries.
It gives you the same access to the health service that locals receive. If healthcare is free at the point of access for them, as it is on the NHS, you’ll also access it free. If residents pay, you’ll also pay, but at the same rates. The EHIC is essentially a reciprocal agreement with European countries: their residents also get access to treatment on the NHS while in the UK.
An EHIC covers you for access to state-run GPs and hospitals, and is particularly useful in emergencies encountered while travelling. It’s not valid for any treatment you’ve gone abroad specifically to receive, including childbirth (health tourism).
All residents of the United Kingdom are eligible for an EHIC, regardless of their nationality. You’ll be able to apply if you’re an ‘ordinarily resident’ in the UK. Residents of the Channel Islands and the Isle of Mann aren’t eligible.
The card is free to obtain. It’s valid for five years after issue and can be renewed.
Where are EHICs valid?
The EHIC is valid in all 28 countries of the European Union, although some of their overseas territories, including some popular holiday destinations, aren’t covered.
Additionally, EHICs are also valid in Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland.
How do I get an EHIC?
There are several ways to apply for an EHIC:
- On the EHIC website
- Via phone, on 0300 330 1350
- Via post: print an application form from the NHS website and post it to: NHS Business Services Authority, European Health Insurance Card, EHIC Applications, Bridge House, 152 Pilgrim Street, Newcastle Upon Tyne, NE1 6SN
You can’t get an EHIC from your GPs office or from a post office.
Generally, it takes seven to ten days for your EHIC to arrive and longer if you’ve made a postal application.
Children need their own EHICs, but anyone under the age of 16 will need a parent or guardian to apply for them. You can also submit applications on behalf of your partner.
You’ll need the following information for each person you’re applying for:
- full name
- date of birth
- National Insurance (NI) number or NHS number (CHI number in Scotland or Health and Care Number in Northern Ireland)
People who are UK residents but aren’t EEA or Swiss nationals will need to supply additional information to demonstrate they’re eligible. They’ll need to complete an EHIC application form and post it along with a copy of their visa or UK residence permit and post it to the address above.
Some copycat websites attempt to scam travellers by offering to ‘review,’ ‘forward,’ or ‘fast track’ EHIC applications for a fee. You should never have to pay for an EHIC and should always use the official EHIC website
How do I renew my European Health Insurance Card?
All EHICs are valid for five years. The expiry date is printed on the bottom right of the card. Be sure to check when yours expires before embarking on your trip. You don’t want to be caught out with an expired card.
Luckily, renewing EHICs is easy. You can renew an EHIC up to six months before the expiry date, although any remaining time on the card will not be added to your new card.
Is an EHIC a replacement for travel insurance?
In short, no. You should still arrange travel insurance before you go on holiday, it offers a wider range of cover, including medical cover, than an EHIC does.
Here’s why you’ll need travel insurance, in addition to an EHIC:
- State hospitals may not be available. an EHIC only guarantees you free or discounted treatment in the state healthcare system. State hospitals and GPs aren’t widespread in all European countries. And in an emergency, you might be taken to a private hospital, where you’ll face the full burden of the cost of your treatment. Some private health insurance policies may cover you for treatment abroad, but most won’t. Travel insurance can cover those costs.
- EHIC doesn’t necessarily mean free treatment. An EHIC entitles you to the same care at the same rates as locals in state hospitals. But in many European countries, residents are expected to make a substantial contribution to their care. Travel insurance can cover this amount, and if you use an EHIC, you’ll generally be spared paying the excess.
- Other travel eventualities aren’t covered. Not all travel disasters are health-related. Travel insurance provides you with coverage for other mishaps, from lost baggage to cancellations or theft.
How will Brexit impact access to healthcare in Europe?
With the UK’s exit from the European Union, Brits may lose access to the EHIC programme and to the free or subsidised healthcare it guarantees. But with the terms and even the date of our exit still unclear, it’s not yet certain when, or even if, our EHIC entitlement will end.
Here are two likely scenarios:
- If we leave the EU with a deal, your EHIC will still be valid, and you’ll still be able to get state-provided healthcare until the end of the transition period, likely to be the end of 2020.
- If we leave the EU without a deal, your card may cease being active on the day we exit—currently set for 31 October 2019.