free medical care abroad

Edit: November 2017 – Please be aware that you should NEVER pay for your EHIC . You can get an EHIC for free from the NHS. Sites that try and charge you when you’ve lost your EHIC are ripping you off and should not be trusted. They cannot get one any quicker than you can and it’s more likely to be slower. Here’s where to get your free EHIC card.

Edit: January 2017 – I will try and keep this page as up to date as possible – especially with upcoming Brexit where this will likely change or no longer exist. Please feel free to share your own experiences to help others in the comments below.

Travel insurance is one of those things we know we should have, but how many of you can say, hand on heart, that you get it every time you travel? If you can, you’re a much better person than me.

I tend to only get insurance when I go away on a big trip, like to South America last year, or when I know I’m going to be doing something a little risky; like skiing. Otherwise I tend not to bother and take the “We’ll be fine, I don’t want to waste my money” attitude. A pretty bad attitude to have really.

So, on a recent trip to Spain when my boyfriend couldn’t walk and needed medical attention and we didn’t have travel insurance OR his EHIC card on us we didn’t know what to do.

To be completely honest, until that point I didn’t even see what the point of an EHIC card was, let alone how to use it. To me it was just that card you take on school trips that didn’t seem to serve any purpose as everyone recommends you get travel insurance anyway. However, now I know that EHIC cards are very useful indeed.


What is an EHIC Card?

An EHIC, European Health Insurance Card, is a free of charge card which enables UK citizens, who normally live in the UK, to state-provided healthcare in the European Economic Area (EEA) including Switzerland either at a much reduced cost, or free. It was previously known as an E111 card.

If you are moving abroad, for instance on a year abroad, the EHIC will not cover you and you’ll need to sign up to health insurance for that country.

Beware of sites which attempt to charge you for an EHIC. You shouls **NEVER** pay for an EHIC as you can get it for free from the NHS. To get your FREE EHIC see this link.

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What does an EHIC cover you for?

An EHIC covers the costs of treatment for pre-existing medical conditions, accidents and illnesses whilst abroad, or routine maternity care (provided that you didn’t go abroad specifically to give birth).

Treatment covered can vary by country, so it’s best to check here. Treatment for medical conditions are only covered if you attend a public hospital, private healthcare is not covered by the EHIC.

What doesn’t an EHIC cover?

The European Health Card won’t cover things such as mountain rescue in ski resorts which is why, if you’re skiing, or doing any similar activities you’ll still have to get travel insurance (but check it covers adventure sports before buying!).

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There’s also a few grey areas when it comes to what illnesses and accidents an EHIC will cover. Whilst the official NHS website says the EHIC will cover all accidents and illnesses that happen abroad, when we called up with questions on how to use an EHIC whilst in Spain, there seemed to be an emphasis on whether the medical condition that needed treatment was pre-existing, or had happened on holiday. The consensus seems to be that pre-existing medical conditions will be treated no problem, with costs covered, whereas you might have more difficulty in getting your healthcare covered for accidents that happened whilst away.

Furthermore, unlike travel insurance, an EHIC doesn’t cover you for cancelled flights and lost luggage. You’ll need travel insurance to recoup the costs from those.

How do I use an EHIC whilst abroad?

If you’ve remembered to take your card with you, simply turn up at the public hospital nearest to you and present your EHIC. You should not pay any money to the hospital.

Up until last year (2014), you would pay the fees and then claim back the money once home in the UK. This changed recently and you should now not pay anything, the transfer of money will be dealt with between the NHS and the hospital you attended. Many people have been caught out by this and have been unable to claim back the cost of their treatment – don’t be one of them!

Check the country guide above to make sure you know what the hospital in the country you’re visiting can still charge you for. For instance in France you’re likely to still have to pay the cost of an ambulance should you require one unless you can prove that there is no possible way you could make it to the hospital without one.


But what if I forget or lose my EHIC?

This is the situation we found ourselves in in Spain. We both have EHIC cards but they were sitting in a drawer of cupboard somewhere back in London (we didn’t even know which drawer).

The great news is that as long as you’ve applied for an EHIC you’ll be covered from the date of application.

If you’ve forgotten to take your EHIC with you, or have lost your EHIC while abroad, call this number 0044 191 218 1999 and apply for a provisional replacement certificate (PRC) which will cover you for treatment until you get home.

In practice we didn’t even require a PRC. We simply turned up at the hospital (with translated phrases we thought we’d need in hand) and told the reception desk we had an EHIC card but not on us.

She asked for a passport and then gave us a letter saying to send proof of an EHIC card via email within 10 days. Sometimes the doctor might demand further proof, in which case call the number above to get a PRC emailed or faxed to the hospital.

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All in all it was a very easy and quick process that saved us in excess of 200 euros and got my boyfriend walking again! If you haven’t signed up for an EHIC you really should they’re free and can save you loads of money!