There’s nothing worse than having to unexpectedly fork out a wad of cash on holiday to pay for medical treatment. That’s why anyone planning a trip to Europe should make sure to have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) on them at all times.

Despite the perks of the EHIC, some Brits are still in the dark about how much it can actually help them out. So, in this article, we’ll cover how the European Health Insurance Card can come in handy for people travelling abroad, how to apply for it, and whether Brits will be able to use it after Brexit.

Someone holding two European Health Insurance Cards

What you can expect your European Health Insurance Card to look like

What is the European Health Insurance Card?

Put simply, the EHIC is a medical card which can be used throughout the EU, as well as in Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland. 

The card entitles you to treatment in state hospitals at the same price as the residents of the country you’re visiting. This means, if residents receive free healthcare, so do you!

Will Brits be able to use it after Brexit?

You can apply for – or renew – your European Health Insurance Card until 31 December 2020. From 1 January 2021, however, you won’t be able to use a UK-issued EHIC to access healthcare in Europe. 

EHICs issued by other European countries are not affected. Plus, if you’re on a trip to Europe that starts before 1 January, you’ll be able to keep using your UK-issued EHIC until the trip ends.

There’s no denying it – this is a pain for anyone wanting to travel to Europe during 2021. The UK government is, however, seeking a like-for-like replacement scheme with the EU, but nothing has been signed off yet.

After December 2020, the EHIC will still work for some groups of people from the UK. Students studying in the EU can get a card that is valid only in the country where they are studying, and S1 form holders will also remain eligible for a card. 

If you are living in the EU before the end of 2020, you will also be allowed an EHIC card issued in that country.

Who can apply for a UK-issued EHIC?

As we approach the end of the Brexit transition period (31st of December), the rules on who can apply for an EHIC become more complicated. As it stands, the following people qualify for an EHIC:

1. UK residents

Entitlement to an EHIC is based on insurability under EU law, rather than nationality. So, if you’re a UK resident, you’ll be insured by the UK under EU law – basically, all UK residents should be able to get their hands on a UK-issued EHIC before the 31st December.

You will need to provide the necessary evidence when applying, including proof of residence, your National Insurance number, and some personal details.

2. Family members, on behalf of UK residents

If you’re going abroad with your family, each family member requires an EHIC. If someone in your family is unable to apply for their card, you can do it on their behalf.

If you’re under the age of 16, a parent or guardian will need to apply for you. Boarding school teaching staff can also apply on behalf of any children in their care.

3. Posted workers in Europe

If your employer has requested that you work in another EU country, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein, or Switzerland, both you and your family members can be covered by the EHIC.

There are certain circumstances where you may be entitled to a UK-issued EHIC despite living in another country in the EU, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein or Switzerland. However, you will not be entitled to a UK-issued EHIC if you’re insured by another country in the EU, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein or Switzerland, but live in the UK.

Since everyone’s circumstances are different, not everyone will fall under one of the above categories. We’ve listed a few specific situations where you might need to provide further evidence to be eligible for an EHIC below:

  • Pensioners in a different country to that which pays your state pension
  • Pensioners residing in the UK and in receipt of a pension from another member state
  • Students studying elsewhere in the EEA
  • Students coming to study in the UK
  • Workers posted abroad by their UK employer
  • A person who lives in one country, but works in another
  • A person who lives in more than one country
  • A person who works in more than one country

If you fall under one of the above, the NHS website suggests contacting the enquiry line on 0300 330 1350 to determine your eligibility for an EHIC.

The UK has issued 27 million EHICs.

How to use an EHIC

EHICs are simple to use – all you have to do is present it once you arrive at a GP practice or hospital and you’ll be ready for treatment!

If you’re rushed to a medical centre and don’t have the card with you, it might be tricky to get treated without having to pay – so remember to carry it with you wherever you go.

If you happen to forget your card, fear not – you might be able to get a Provisional Replacement Certificate. This acts as a temporary EHIC, but using one can be a longer process, and might not guarantee free treatment.

Things to remember:

  • The EHIC is not an alternative to travel insurance – it won’t cover any private healthcare, or costs such as a return flight to your home country or lost/stolen property
  • It doesn’t cover your costs if you are travelling specifically for medical treatment
  • It doesn’t guarantee free services, as each country’s healthcare system is different 
  • You can only use the EHIC for state-run medical treatment. If you end up in a private health centre or hospital, you will probably have to pay for the entire bill yourself, unless you’re covered by travel insurance
Happy family visiting doctor

You too can enjoy a great healthcare experience abroad with the help of an EHIC

What does it cover?

  • Treatment of a chronic or pre-existing medical condition that becomes necessary during your visit
  • Routine maternity care – as long as you’re not going abroad specifically to give birth. If the birth happens unexpectedly, you’ll be covered for all medical treatment linked to the birth
  • The provision of oxygen and kidney dialysis, although you’ll have to arrange and pre-book these treatments before you go on holiday
  • Routine medical care for people with pre-existing conditions that need monitoring

What’s not covered?

Each country’s healthcare system is different, and might not cover all the things you usually get from the NHS free of charge. If this is the case, some people usually have to make a contribution – also known as a ‘patient co-payment’.

To avoid costly co-payments, it’s wise to have both an EHIC and a comprehensive travel insurance policy in place before you travel. Some health insurers insist you hold an EHIC, and others will even waive the excess cost if you have one.

You may not be able to use the card in some parts of the EU, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein or Switzerland, as state-provided healthcare might not be available in certain areas. As such, it’s best to do your research on your destination before hopping on the plane.

For anyone planning on taking a relaxing cruise to get away from it all, remember that the EHIC will not cover you on cruises.

How much does it cost?

Good news – the EHIC is completely free! Once you’ve got your card, you’ll need to renew it every five years.

How can you apply for one?

Even better news, the application process is very straight forward. All you need to do is apply for the card through the NHS website. You’ll be asked a series of questions, and will need to register some personal details.

The turn around is usually pretty swift too – once you send your application off, you can expect a response within five working days. If the NHS needs further evidence to support your application, they’ll email you with advice on what to do next.