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What the ‘eck is an EHIC? Eight myths exposed

EHIC cards have been a hot topic in the news this week, but what exactly is one and why would you need it? Here’s a rundown of some of the myths and misconceptions about the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).

1. You don’t need travel insurance if you have an EHIC

Wrong! Travel insurance is a must. Insurance covers on-going treatment, repatriation and non-medical claims, such as lost baggage and flight cancellations. The EHIC only covers you for emergency medical treatment either for free or costing the same as locals pay.

2. You don’t need an EHIC if you have travel insurance

While this is partially true, an EHIC can save you money. Many travel insurers will offer a discount if you have an EHIC. Others may require you to hold one before they will offer you cover.

These cards will ensure you get emergency treatment if you fall ill or are injured. This includes treatment for a medical condition you already have, while insurers may exclude cover for pre-existing conditions.

3. It covers all European countries

Not quite. It is recognised and accepted in all European Economic Area (EEA) countries, which includes all 28 European Union countries, as well as Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein. It’s also accepted in Switzerland.

4. It’s expensive to get an EHIC

No. In fact you can apply for an EHIC for free from the NHS. Avoid websites that charge for a card – often upwards of £20.

5. You have to be 16 before you can have an EHIC

While you must be at least 16 before you can apply for a card, a parent can apply for one for you. Each family member needs their own card.

6. Your EHIC will never expire

British citizens are entitled to an EHIC throughout their life, but they are valid for only five years. You can renew an EHIC up to six months before the expiry date.

7. An EHIC provides free medical care in Europe

Think again. Each country has its own healthcare system, so while you will get the same treatment as a resident, you may have to make a patient contribution. This could be towards prescriptions or hospital stays. You can find out more on a specific country’s restrictions at the NHS healthcare abroad website.

Since 1 July 2014 you haven’t been able to get back any payment you make for medical care (although you can claim on your travel insurance).

8. You must have your card with you when you travel

There is no need to keep your card with you when you are travelling in a country that recognises EHIC. But it is a good idea to keep it on you to show medics if you are suddenly taken ill or have an accident or injury.

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