What cover does the EHIC really offer – and are cards still valid?

Esther Shaw / 18 July 2016 ( 30 March 2019 )

We look at what is – and isn’t – covered by the EHIC, and the effects of Brexit.

What cover does the EHIC really offer – and are cards still valid?

Travellers have long enjoyed the benefits offered by the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), but may now be worried about the future of these valuable pieces of plastic in the wake of the Brexit vote.

The good news is, as yet, no changes have been announced. In fact, nothing is set to change until the Article 50 negotiations to separate the UK from the EU are concluded.

All of this means that for now at least, it’s service as usual, and the EHIC will continue to apply.

Confusion is still rife

While the EHIC has been dubbed a must-have piece of kit when travelling in Europe, there is still a lot of confusion surrounding exactly what cover is offered by one of these cards, with many people continuing to over-estimate the benefits.

Here we take a look at what is – and isn’t – covered by the EHIC.

What does the EHIC do?

The key benefit of the card is to reduce the cost of emergency medical expenses.

Under a reciprocal agreement, you are entitled to the same level of state medical treatment provided to eligible nationals of the country you are travelling in. That treatment may be provided for free, or at a reduced cost.

What does the EHIC not do?

However, there is no guarantee that an EHIC will offer free emergency medical treatment, as the provision of state care varies from one country to the next.

The card will also not get you home by air ambulance, and will not cover you for holiday cancellation costs, airlines failure, or lost or stolen property.

Where can the card be used?

The EHIC can be used in the European Economic Area (EEA); this is different from the European Union (EU). This means the card can be used in Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, even though these three are not members of the EU.

The card will also be accepted in Switzerland even though the country is neither a member of the EU or the EEA. However, the EHIC is not accepted in Turkey.

Comprehensive travel insurance is still essential

As a holidaymaker, it is important to understand that an EHIC is not a substitute for travel insurance, as in each country, the care that you will receive for free (or at a reduced cost) will not be the same as the care you would get here in the UK under the NHS.

For that reason a comprehensive policy is still essential, as it will not only cover medical costs, but will also plug the other gaps in cover.

Applying for an EHIC card

When applying for a card, make sure you do so through an official site (nhs.uk). If not, you could find that an unofficial site charges you a fee of up to £35 for a service that you can get for free.

And don’t forget that the card needs to be renewed after five years.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.