Travelling to Europe? Don’t confuse EHICs with travel insurance – you need both

20 June 2017

Holidaymakers have been warned by to check their travel insurance cover, and to ensure they are not over-reliant on their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).

A survey carried out by the price comparison site found that most British EHIC holders overestimated the usefulness of their card when it comes to medical expenses abroad - 69% believed it would provide free emergency medical care anywhere in Europe, and 6% thought it would cover them worldwide.

But the reality is the EHIC gives you the right to access state-provided healthcare during a temporary stay in another European Economic Area (EEA) country or Switzerland. This means you pay what the locals pay – which could mean reduced costs or even free treatment.

In France, for example, the cardholder seeking a medical consultation would still be liable for the costs upfront, of which only 70% would later be reimbursed.

It is therefore essential to have sufficient travel insurance to complement the EHIC. It’s not a substitute for a travel insurance policy.

The EHIC will not cover any private medical healthcare or costs, such as mountain rescue in ski resorts, or lost or stolen property. It is also not valid on cruises.

Plus, in circumstances where you are unwell and need to be repatriated, the EHIC will not cover this cost anywhere in Europe. So without appropriate cover you could find yourself stuck in a foreign hospital or facing a huge bill. Repatriation without sufficient travel insurance can cost thousands of pounds. In one instance a British holidaymaker was flown home from the Canary Islands by jet air ambulance for a cost of nearly £23,000.

No change to EHIC following EU referendum

Research carried out by GoCompare before the EU referendum found that 23% of British travellers surveyed were worried Brexit would result in a loss of coverage from the EHIC.

However, at the time of writing, there is no change. The NHS EHIC website states:  

“Following the results of the EU referendum, no changes have been announced to the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) service. The NHS Business Services Authority is continuing to provide the EHIC service as usual, and you can apply for and use your card as before.”

Negotiations over Brexit begin this week ahead of March 2019 when the UK is due to leave the EU. The outcome of these negotiations will determine British citizens’ right to use the EHIC once the UK has left the Union. It is worth remembering, however, that non-EU countries such as Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein all benefit from the EHIC without EU membership, and the UK already has reciprocal healthcare deals with countries such as Australia, Israel and Russia. 

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