The EHIC, or European Health Insurance Card, is free and gets free or discounted medical care in all 28 EU countries, plus others. But over half of people in the UK don't have one, and around 5.2m are due to expire in 2015, so check yours urgently.
This guide tells you which countries it's valid in, which may illegally reject it, and the level of cover it gives. And crucially to get or renew one DONíT GOOGLE or youíll end up at imposter sites that charge or pretend they fast track when EHICs are free (see how to get it free).
In this guide...
What is the EHIC?
The free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) entitles the holder to free or discounted medical treatment at state-run hospitals and GPs in any European Union country, plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland.
Who needs an EHIC?
Everybody who is travelling in Europe needs an EHIC. It replaced the old E111 form in 2005. Even if you've already got travel insurance, it's valuable extra protection, even if just for visiting the local GP with a query while away.
Is it a substitute for travel insurance?
No. While very useful, itís only about medical cover. It only gives you access to state-run hospitals which, depending on where you travel to, can be few or far between, and more limited.
Country-by-country EHIC guide
The EHIC's usable in the EUís 28 member states, plus a few others. Show your card before treatment, and keep any receipts. The NHS England site also has detailed country-by-country information on whatís covered in each.
How do I get a free EHIC?
There are several ways to register for a card. Generally, it'll take about seven to 10 days for it to come through (longer for posted applications), though it's worth applying early so you get your EHIC in good time for your holiday.
Beware shyster EHIC websites
Watch out for websites demanding a fee for the EHIC. Search on the internet for "EHIC" and youíll find sites that describe themselves as "reviewing" or "forwarding" services, charging £20 or more to process your application. They often look official, but scroll to the bottom and youíll find a tick box asking for cash.
Beware unlawful EHIC refusals
Worryingly, we've heard reports of holidaymakers having their EHICs refused for public healthcare in some countries. This has only affected a very small minority of travellers, and you should always take an EHIC nevertheless. But it's worth ensuring you've decent travel insurance too, just in case.