Don't make this mistake if you're heading to Europe

15 March 2010

With Easter drawing near, now could be a good time to dig out that old European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) you might have chucked in a drawer, and make sure it's still up to date.

The EHIC entitles Britons to the same state-provided healthcare as locals across the EU, as well as in Switzerland, Iceland, Norway and Lichtenstein.

It offers travellers access to reduced-cost medical treatment.  Unless you carry a valid card, you're liable to be charged for any immediate, necessary medical treatment - meaning the cost of an accident on holiday could spiral out of control and may end up costing thousands of pounds.

However, it's important to note that this may not cover all of the services you would expect within the UK and you may have to make a contribution towards the care you receive or cover expenses such as food.

The EHIC is also not valid for people who are moving abroad to live – unless you're going for less than a year to work for a UK company or are self-employed within the UK.

If you haven't got an EHIC, you can obtain one free-of-charge from the Department of Health's website (, by phone on 0845 6062030, or by filling out an application form at your local post office.

The process takes seven to 21 days and the card is valid for up to five years.

You can also apply for an EHIC for your spouse or partner and any dependants up to the age of 16 (or 19 if they are in full-time education) at the same time as applying for your own card. You must be over 16 to apply as a main applicant.

If you lose or have your card stolen you will need to apply for a replacement. If it happens when you're abroad, you should contact the EHIC enquiries line (0044 191 212 750) to obtain an EHIC Provisional Replacement Certificate.

The EHIC is not an alternative to travel insurance. It will not cover any private medical healthcare or the cost of such things as mountain rescue in ski resorts, or lost or stolen property. Because of this, it's important to have a valid travel insurance policy too.

However, don't think an EHIC is useless if you've already taken out travel insurance; many insurers insist you've got one, while others will waive any potential excess if you have the card.

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