If you want to get free or reduced cost medical care while you’re travelling in Europe, you’ll need to get an EHIC or European Health Insurance card. How does it work?
Using your EHIC or European Health Insurance Card
If you’re travelling within Europe (any of the European Union countries plus Norway, Iceland, Lichtenstein and Switzerland), you can get free medical treatment – or pay the rate charged by the state – if you have an EHIC or European Health Insurance Card. It doesn’t just cover you for emergency treatment. But for anything that would normally be available to a citizen of that country.
SAVVY TIP: It’s free to get an EHIC. And it means you get access to state provided medical treatment, so you can carry on with your holiday or return.
Using your EHIC after Brexit
Your EHIC will still work after the end of March 2019, when we will leave the EU. The UK and EU agreed a transitional phase which will last until the end of December 2020. Your EHIC will work until then. The UK government has said that the EHIC will work after that date, but it’s unclear whether that’s definitely been agreed. However, if you’re going on holiday to Europe it’s definitely worth applying for. It’s free to do and you’ll be covered until the end of 2020 and could get EHIC cover after that.
Applying for an EHIC
You can apply for an EHIC at NHS Choices website where it’s free of charge or you can ring the automated EHIC application line on 0300 3301350. You have to be aged 16 or over to apply in your own name. If you want an EHIC for your child, you should list them as a dependant when you apply. Applications are normally processed within a few working days.
SAVVY TIP: If you live abroad and you receive the state pension, you’re a posted worker, or you’re the family member of someone living in the UK you have to apply by calling the Overseas Healthcare Team on +44 191 218 1999. If you are not a UK or EEA (European Economic Area) national, you have to download the application form and apply by post.
All you need is your NHS or National Insurance number (in Scotland, anyone registered with a GP practice has a CHI number and in Northern Ireland it’s a Care Number). If you’re not a UK or EEA citizen, you’ll need to send evidence that you live in the UK.
SAVVY TIP: Be aware that there are several other websites that look similar to the official EHIC site, but which charge a fee. This fee could be between £10 and £30 for checking your application. Don’t use these as the application form is straightforward.
Using your EHIC
You should take your EHIC with you when you go on holiday, but you don’t need to produce it to be covered. You’re covered from when you apply, if you apply online or by phone. If you lose your EHIC while you’re abroad, you can apply for a provisional replacement certificate, but you’ll need your National Insurance or NHS number (or equivalent).
SAVVY TIP: Your EHIC does not cover you for the cost of private treatment. Some travel insurance policies don’t cover it either – so always check whether it’s a private ambulance or hospital.
If you need treatment while you’re on holiday
If you need hospital treatment, you should go to accident and emergency department and if you need an ambulance, you should call 112. This is the standard emergency number, no matter whereabouts in Europe you are. Always show your EHIC as soon as you can, if you have it, otherwise you may be charged for extra treatment.
SAVVY TIP: Bear in mind that if you ring for an ambulance and your condition doesn’t really justify it, you may be charged the cost of the ambulance. For example, in France a doctor has to confirm you need an ambulance.
Using your EHIC in Europe
If you need to get medical treatment while you’re on holiday in Europe, how you do this will depend on where you are. Here’s a guide to how the system works in some of the more popular EU destinations:
Getting treatment in France
Doctors: In France you can go directly to a specialist, if you need to, without going to a GP first. GPs can either charge the official social security rate (called Secteur 1) for their time or the social security rate and a private premium on top (Secteur 2). You have to pay for treatment upfront and then you’re refunded a percentage of the cost of state-funded treatment, but you have to apply for this in France.
SAVVY TIP: You can find a doctor near you on the Assurance Maladi website. All the text is in French and you’ll need the postcode of where you’re staying to find a doctor. There’s another website called Annuaire Sante which also lists hospitals and doctors.
Hospital: In hospital you are likely to have to pay a 20% of the cost of treatment, although you may also be charged a daily hospital rate on top.
Prescriptions: The NHS website says that you have to pay the chemist for prescriptions, but that you may be able to claim a refund of between 15% and 100% of the cost of the prescription. This is something you do in France and isn’t part of the co-payment scheme.
SAVVY TIP: You can find out about using your EHIC in France on the Cleiss website (it’s written in English).
Getting treatment in Italy
If you’re in Italy for more than three months, you have to register with the national health service (SSN).
Doctors: Italy has one of the highest numbers of doctors per head of population, but not all doctors speak English. The British Embassy may be able to give you a list of English speaking doctors.
Hospitals: Visit your local Guardia Medica or SSN hospital. Larger cities and resorts have tourist medical centres (Guardia Medica Turistica).
Prescriptions: Some prescriptions, which are considered life-saving, are free of charge. In many cases you’ll have to pay something towards the cost of your prescription, and you may have to pay the full cost.
Getting treatment in Spain
In Spain state-funded healthcare is generally free of charge, however it may not be in some of the smaller islands and you may have to travel some distance to find free healthcare. Dental treatment is not free unless it’s an emergency.
SAVVY TIP: Over the last couple of years there have been complaints that some Spanish hospitals are turning away people who have EHICs, or are not accepting them. If you do have a problem, you should contact your nearest British Embassy.
Hospitals and health centres: State funded and private healthcare may be available in the same building. You must state what type of healthcare you’d like. State funded healthcare is called ‘assistancia sanitaria publica’ and private healthcare is ‘privado’.
Prescriptions: Prescription charges are non-refundable and if you’re of working age you’ll normally have to pay around 50% of the total cost. If you are a pensioner, you’ll have to pay 10%.
SAVVY TIP: Be aware that you cannot claim back money you are charged for treatment while you’re on holiday in an EU country (called ‘co payments’) once you return to the UK.
There’s a website called Healthcare in Spain, which has lots of useful information on your rights and accessing medical treatment while you’re in Spain. It’s produced by the Department of Health.
Emergency treatment arrangements outside Europe
There are some countries outside the EU that will give you the same treatment as you’d get on the NHS (or similar treatment) if you can show your UK passport.
The Channels Islands aren’t part of the UK or the European Union. However, there is an arrangement in Jersey for holidaymakers to get similar treatment that’s provided by the NHS, although you’ll have to pay for dental treatment and prescribed medicines. Guernsey doesn’t have an arrangement like this and EHICs aren’t valid, so you’ll need full travel insurance.
If you’re travelling to Australia, you can get free treatment at public hospitals if you can show:
- Your NHS card
- Your driving licence and a temporary entry permit (to show you’re resident in the UK)
Not all types of treatment are covered. You will have to pay for:
- Treatment at most doctors’ surgeries
- Prescribed medicines
- Ambulance travel
- Dental treatment
What to do: If you need treatment, you should enrol at a local Medicare office, which you can do before or after you’ve been treated. You may have to pay for some treatment costs and get a refund (or partial refund) from Medicare, so it’s better if you can start the claims process while you’re still in Australia.
SAVVY TIP: There’s more information on the website called Healthcare for visitors to Australia.
If you have your UK passport with you, you’re entitled to the following free of charge:
- Dental treatment for people aged under 16
- Public hospital inpatient treatment.
You will need to pay for the following:
- Outpatient hospital treatment
- Chronic hospital inpatient treatment
- Treatment at a doctor’s surgery
- Prescribed medicines and
- Dental treatment.
SAVVY TIP: Ask the hospital or doctor if a refund is possible. If not, claim at the local health office.
Countries where there’s no healthcare arrangement with the UK
Reciprocal healthcare arrangements with the following countries were terminated in 2016:
There’s more information about free and cut price medical treatment at the NHS run-site called Cover your healthcare abroad.
You can download a guide to using your EHIC, which has been produced by the Department of Health and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
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