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European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)

Even before you consider packing your suitcase and cancelling the papers, if you're planning to travel abroad, you need to think about health insurance, travel vaccinations and if you need a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).

European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)

The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) allows you to access state-provided healthcare in all European Economic Area countries, and in Switzerland, at a reduced cost or sometimes free of any charge.

The future of the EHIC card for people from the UK after the Brexit vote is still to be decided. It will remain valid until at least up to the point that Britain leaves the EU and alternative arrangements could be put in place after that.

Your EHIC will allow you access to the same state-provided healthcare as a resident of the country you are visiting. However, many countries expect the patient to pay towards their treatment so even with an EHIC you might be expected to do the same. Some state-run hospitals in Europe, for example, have ambulance services that are privately operated, meaning you would be liable to pay for your ambulance journey.

Often you will be offered the choice between private and state-provided care. To avoid unnecessary private medical bills, always seek out state-provided medical care, and whenever possible present your EHIC before treatment.

The EHIC is not an alternative to travel insurance. It will not cover the cost of things such as stolen property or repatriation to the UK. It is, therefore, recommended that you have both an EHIC and a valid private travel insurance policy.

Applying for the card is free and it's valid for up to five years.

EHIC refusal

The consumer group Which? Says there have been reports of EHIC cards being refused in some parts of Europe, including Spain, in breach of EU rules. It advises travellers who have their EHIC refused to try to get proof that it was presented to avoid insurance excess charges. People unfairly charged after EHIC refusal may be able to claim money back from the Department for Work and Pensions.

Returning home

If you think during your trip you might have been exposed to an illness, or you were more than moderately "unwell" during your trip, or you feel unwell after returning home, you should seek medical advice.

It may well be nothing, but what may be a minor illness for a healthy local population with natural resistance can be devastating to someone with limited resistance.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on February 24, 2017

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