Travel insurance at affordable premiums

Do I need travel insurance if I have an EHIC?

In order to answer that question, in the first instance, it may be helpful to review just what is the European Health Insurance Card and what it does.

What it is and what it does

The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) is issued free of charge and usually has a period of validity lasting five years. Some FAQs about the EHIC are also answered here.

What it does is give you access to any publicly provided medical care that may become necessary during your visit to any European country – effectively, access to those medical health services as though you were a resident of that country. Under these rules, you may qualify for entirely free medical treatment or be asked for a contribution to your care (just as a resident may need to do).

An EHIC may also give you access to treatment for pre-existing medical conditions (which your travel insurance might not do) and also the provision of routine maternity care – provided that you have not travelled abroad with the express purpose of seeking such treatment.

The countries in which you may use your EHIC are all 28 members of the European Union, but also Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Norway and Iceland.

In the UK, an EHIC is issued free on application by using the National Health Service online form .

Do you still need travel insurance if you have an EHIC?

Given the access to free or reduced price medical facilities offered throughout the European Economic Area (EAA) and Switzerland, it is clearly sensible to carry an EHIC. Many travel insurers may insist on your having one.

But that is by no means to say that an EHIC is any substitute for separate travel insurance in addition.

For example, the EHIC does not offer any provision at all for:

  • any private medical treatment you may require;
  • arrangements that may need to be made following a medical emergency – such as mountain rescue whilst you are engaged in winter sports, or medical evacuation from a ship if you are on a cruise;
  • the costs of a friend or relative accompanying you during any hospital stay or convalescence;
  • repatriation back to the UK;
  • the additional cost of re-booking travel arrangements which may have been lost; or of course
  • the loss, damage or theft of any baggage or personal possessions.

In those parts of the EEA where publicly-funded health facilities are simply not available, it is not possible to use your EHIC.

If you are travelling beyond the EEA or Switzerland, of course, your EHIC has no currency at all.

The future

In the referendum on the 23rd of June 2016, of course, the UK voted to leave the European Union.

The decision may put a question mark over the UK’s participation in the benefits of the EHIC. It is important to stress, however, that the present arrangements remain in place – and are likely to do so throughout any period during which the UK’s exit is processed. In other words, an EHIC remains an important protection for at least the next two years or so.

If the current system comes to an end at any time in the future, of course, adequate travel insurance may be more important than ever.