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European Health Insurance Cards and Traveling

  • Published: 2011-07-04 : Author:
  • Synopsis: European Health Insurance Cards (EHIC) are only valid for five years and therefore have to be renewed once they have expired.

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Holidaying Brits Risk Hefty Medical Bills by Traveling Without an EHIC - Benefits of the EHIC Unknown to Half of Holidaymakers, Says

More than half of Brits (58 per cent) are unaware of the benefits of having the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) when taking their summer holidays in Europe, according to research by

Britain's number one price comparison site found a third of Brits (33 per cent) incorrectly think the E111 will cover them for free or reduced cost medical treatment in the EU and EEA countries; despite the E111 being replaced in January 2006 by EHICs. A further four per cent believe their passport can be used, while three per cent believe an NHS patient card will cover them.

European Health Insurance Cards are only valid for five years and therefore have to be renewed once they've expired.

Anyone who applied for their card in 2006 or earlier will need to renew their card now as they are already out of date, or due to expire soon. There could be around 6 million cards that need to be renewed already this year. Ensure you check your card is in-date before your think about traveling and if you find it has expired you need to leave yourself enough time to renew it. EHICs entitle UK citizens to the same state-provided medical treatment as a local resident receives in other EU or EEA countries, yet only 42 per cent of Brits are familiar with it.

An EHIC card is free and available through the NHS Choices website.

Bob Atkinson, travel insurance expert at said: "Brits hitting Europe this summer without an EHIC could end up facing a hefty bill if they need medical care while they're on vacation. Medical treatment in the EU and EEAs varies from country to country as well as being very different to NHS provided care in the UK. An EHIC is your 'pass' to get free or reduced cost medical treatment in any EU or EEA country. Holidaymakers will suffer unexpected financial pain if they don't ensure they have the right documents and produce them when seeking treatment.

"It's encouraging to see that EHIC awareness is starting to improve - in 2009 our research showed only 35 per cent of Brits[2] understood an EHIC would help them with medical costs if needed. But our findings show there is clearly still a long way to go to get the message across."

The research also found a clear generational divide amongst holidaymakers; almost a quarter (23 per cent) of under 35s incorrectly think the E111 will give them free or reduced cost medial treatment compared to well over a third (39 per cent) of over 55s.

Bob Atkinson continued: "Like the E111 before it, the EHIC only offers relatively low level access to medical treatment. Holidaymakers shouldn't view it as a replacement for travel insurance, and travelers should also be aware that any non-essential care or treatment can cost extra. The cost for many serious accidents, extensive treatment and the need for air ambulance repatriation will not be covered by the EHIC and the costs for this can run into tens of thousands of pounds.

"As well as offering much more comprehensive medical treatment cover, travel insurance offers holidaymakers the peace of mind that they are covered for lost or stolen possessions, holiday cancellations, personal liability and a range of other costly possibilities. Therefore holidaymakers should lessen the risk of having to pay expensive medical bills by having both an EHIC and a valid private travel insurance policy that covers Europe. Cover provided by EHICs varies considerably from country to country so it's worth finding out what you would be eligible for prior to traveling to your destination.

"Anyone traveling outside of Europe has only travel insurance to rely on. Having an EHIC is of no benefit what so ever in countries beyond the EU and EEA. Travel insurance can be purchased for around £10 for a family of four traveling to Spain for a week or if traveling further afield, cover for a family of four for two weeks in the US will cost from as little as £30. For such a small outlay the amount of cover you can get from a policy is huge. I urge everyone traveling on holiday to take out adequate travel insurance, it really is worth investing in protection for you and your family just in case the worst should happen." recommends at least the following level of travel insurance cover:

2m for medical expenses

£1m personal liability

£3000 cancellation - or enough to cover the total cost of your holiday

£1500 baggage

£250 for cash

Policy excesses under £100

Cover for scheduled airline failure and end supplier failure as desirable

Delay cover (e.g. £20/hour for first 12 hours).

Brits can usually get a free EHIC within seven days if they apply at or on 0845 606 2030.

Filling out a form at the post office adds two weeks to the process.

The EHIC is valid for up to five years in all European Economic Area (EEA) countries and Switzerland, but does not include the Channel Islands so holidaymakers heading there would need travel insurance in place.

Holidaymakers should also keep an eye on the expiration date.

[1] Research undertaken by Opinium Research based on an online poll of 2030 British adults, 25th to 27th May 2011.

[2] Research undertaken by Opinium Research based on an online poll of 2,004 British adults in August 2009.

European Economic Area (EEA) countries are EU members plus Iceland and Switzerland.

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