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What is the EHIC card?

If you’re considering taking a holiday or business trip to the continent, you must remember to get yourself a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) card. So, what is the EHIC card and why do you need one?

What is the EHIC card?

The EHIC is a medical card that can be used throughout the EU and in Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Lichtenstein and entitles the bearer to treatment in state hospitals and medical facilities at the same price as would be paid by residents of the country you’re visiting. Therefore, if treatment is free for nationals, it’s also free for you.

You can use your EHIC for treatment that is required if you become ill or if you are injured as the result of an accident. You can also use it for treatment for a chronic pre-existing condition, such as kidney dialysis. EHICs issued in the UK are valid for five years, after which time you must renew your card via the EHIC website.


The purpose of the EHIC scheme is to allow you to continue your stay in an EU country without the need to go home to receive medical care. However, it cannot be used by those who are visiting a country specifically with the intention of receiving free medical treatment. It does not cover dental care that could wait until you return home or cosmetic treatments.

EHICs generally only cover treatment received in state hospitals. If you decide to attend a private clinic for treatment, you will be expected to pay for it yourself.

How to use an EHIC

To use your EHIC, simply present it before you receive any treatment. Always keep your EHIC with you in case of emergencies. Although you can get a Provisional Replacement Certificate for a misplaced EHIC, it is much easier if you have the card with you.

In some instances, for example in France and certain parts of Spain, you will be expected to pay up-front for your medical treatment or the bill will be sent to your home address. When you return home, you will be able to claim back any expenses you have had through the Department of Work and Pensions. For this reason it’s important to keep any receipts and invoices that you have received for medical care.

Travel insurance – do you still need it?

You shouldn’t regard an EHIC card as a replacement for travel insurance. An EHIC means that any medical treatment you require while you are in Europe will be paid for, but loss of property or a cancelled holiday is not covered. Many holiday insurance providers will waive the cost of medical insurance if you have an EHIC.

The EHIC is an essential document to have with you if you are planning on visiting an EU country. Always carry your card with you, and take out travel insurance too.

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