health insuranceThe European Health Insurance Card, known as EHIC, adds a valuable extra layer of protection for holidaymakers who may need medical treatment while on their travels in Europe.

Replacing the old E111 forms, an EHIC lets a traveller get state healthcare at a reduced cost or sometimes for free. The card is also useful in covering treatment of pre-existing medical conditions and for routine maternity care when you visit a country in the European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland.

However, it is integral to remember the presentation of a EHIC does not automatically make treatment free. It simply means the traveller is treated the same way as a citizen of that country; if citizens have to pay for state medical care then you will have to pay too. An EHIC does not cover private medical care.

As a result, it is worth combining a EHIC with traditional travel insurance to ensure that you are safe when going abroad to countries in Europe.

Who can apply for an EHIC?

There are only a handful of stipulations regarding who can and can’t apply for an EHIC.

Any person who is ‘ordinarily resident in the UK’ and is of British, other EU/EEA or Swiss nationality, is eligible for an EHIC. However if your nationality falls outside of these boundaries, you’ll have to be able to provide evidence that you are ordinarily resident in the UK in the form of a visa, a letter from the Home Office, a letter from an employer or an approve A1, S1, E101, E106 or E109 form.

If eligible, you can apply for a personal EHIC, one for a partner or one for any dependant children under 19 in full-time education. You’ll have to provide an NHS or National Insurance number as well as the first name, surname and date of birth of the person you are applying for.

Does it replace travel insurance?

Make no mistake, the EHIC is not a replacement for travel insurance. The latter has a much wider level of cover compared to EHIC, which is purely medical. An EHIC doesn’t always mean free treatment either as some state hospitals charge citizens of that country for medical care. If they have to pay then so will you.

With an EHIC alone, you are also relying on a state hospital being nearby. In the UK, emergency treatment tends to be on the NHS but this is not always the case when it comes to other countries. If there is not a state hospital nearby, you may be taken to a private hospital which lies inside travel insurance’s remit but outside of the EHIC’s coverage.

Travel insurance also covers a number of other incidents including flight cancellations and delays, repatriation, baggage loss, theft and more depending on the type of coverage you take; the EHIC is medical only. Even the NHS recommends acquiring valid travel insurance as the EHIC does not cover ‘mountain rescue in ski resorts, being flown back to the UK or stolen property’.

The EHIC is a very useful – and most importantly, totally free – type of cover when it comes to medical care. It is not designed as a standalone safeguard in the event of a medical incident but, when combined with valid travel insurance, it is a very helpful tool for covering your healthcare abroad in a state hospital.