If you're traveling to Europe this summer and you forget this essential holiday item, you'll be in big trouble!
Imagine this. You’re having a wonderful time on holiday, somewhere in Europe. Suddenly disaster strikes. You hurt yourself, badly, and need to go to hospital – where you’re charged hundreds and hundreds of pounds for the treatment you receive.
But you’re OK. You’ve got travel insurance. No need to worry about the cost of it all. Right?
There was one crucial thing you forgot to pack. Something much more important than sunscreen, teabags and all the other things you actually remembered: an EHIC.
What’s an EHIC? It stands for European Health Insurance Card, and entitles the citizens of the European Union to access public sector healthcare (e.g. a doctor, a pharmacy or a hospital) for free, as if you were a national of the country you are visiting. So as well as the emergency care you need, you will get hospital treatment for things most travel insurance policies won’t cover you for – such as maternity care or managing the symptoms of a pre-existing or chronic condition that arises while you’re abroad.
It’s free to get, but it’s not a replacement for travel insurance as it won’t cover you for cancellation, baggage cover and, most importantly, air ambulance back to the UK, which can cost £15 a minute and lead to huge bills.
Plus, even with an EHIC, you may find you are forced to pay for the treatment upfront and then go through the painful process of trying to get a refund while you are in the country, or even worse, after returning home. Problems with the card’s reimbursement process have been reported in Spain, Slovakia, Denmark, Hungary, Austria, Slovenia, Liechtenstein, Germany and Bulgaria, with the European Commission currently investigating why this is happening.
So, the fact is, you still need travel insurance. But don’t assume you can take out a decent policy and not bother with the card. This week, it’s emerged that increasing numbers of travel insurers are refusing to offer travellers any cover if they travel to Europe without a valid EHIC.
This means that, if you take out a travel insurance policy and fail to read the small print, and that small print states you must have an EHIC, you could later find that any claim you make on the policy is rejected.
Worst of all, even if you have an EHIC, you may find it’s expired. It’s only valid for five years and then you have to renew it.
On the positive side, some insurers will now agree to waive the excess (typically £50 to £100) on claims where you do have a valid EHIC which you have used to get free treatment.
That's why, here at lovemoney.com, we are warning travellers who plan to go to Europe this summer to apply for the EHIC today - before it's too late.
Here’s everything you need to know about EHIC when travelling in Europe.
Which countries does the EHIC cover?
Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden. It doesn’t cover the Channel Islands.
How can I get one?
The EHIC is free to get and can be kept with your passport. To get one, you need a national insurance number or NHS number. You can apply for one online via http://www.ehic.org.uk
– be careful to apply using that address as there are scam sites out there. Alternatively, apply over the phone by calling 0845 606 2030 (or if you hate 0845 numbers, like I do, call the cheaper alternative 0191 212 7500) or pick up a form from the Post Office. Parents, remember each child must have their own card. The process takes less than five minutes and the card will be sent to you by post.
How do I use it to get treatment?
Simply hand it over to the doctor, hospital or pharmacist when you need treatment. If they claim not to accept it, stand your ground and use consular services if necessary. You may need to pay upfront and then claim it back. Try to get a refund before you go home, but if this is not practical, call the NHS Overseas Healthcare team on 0191 218 1999 to get a form for a refund.