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'I renewed my EHIC – then dodged a bill for £1,000s weeks later when I broke my ankle'

A MoneySaver who renewed her European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) after reading a reminder in the MSE weekly email has told how she ended up fracturing her ankle in four places just a few weeks later, on a cruise holiday to Norway. Having a valid EHIC meant she was able to avoid being billed for her two-week stay in hospital – here's her full story and how to make sure you're protected.

Jayne Featherstone from Manchester (pictured right) is a frequent user – and was prompted to renew her EHIC after reading about our reminder in the 10 April weekly email.

Shortly after renewing, she set off with her mum on a cruise to the Norwegian fjords. But days into the holiday, disaster struck when Jayne slipped and fractured her ankle in a freak accident.

Her subsequent two-week stay in a hospital in Stavanger in the south-west of the country would have cost a hefty sum. But as she was covered by her EHIC, Jayne was entitled to the same treatment as a Norwegian national – and so didn't have to pay a penny.

The EHIC is free and gets free or discounted medical care in all 28 EU countries, plus others – including Norway. So if you're going to Europe this summer, make sure you have one and that it's not out of date.

See our Free EHIC card for full help and how to check yours is still valid.

'Without the EHIC I wouldn't have been able to pay for the treatment'

Retired teacher Jayne told us that after her fall on 5 May, she initially received some treatment on board the cruise ship. This cost over £1,000, which she plans to reclaim from her travel insurer as it was private treatment which wasn't covered by the EHIC.

But the EHIC proved its value when the ship docked in Stavanger a day later, and Jayne had to spend two weeks in hospital – a stay which could have cost £1,000s without her EHIC.

If she hadn't had an EHIC, it's possible Jayne's medical care could still have been covered by her travel insurance. But it's likely she would have faced a nervous wait and a lot of admin to get the cash back – none of which was necessary as she had her EHIC to hand.

Jayne told us: "I initially wondered if I needed an EHIC, given Norway is not in the EU, but now I'm very grateful I applied when I did. I have no idea how much the treatment would have cost me – the tablets, the medication, the hospital stay and the treatment. But it would have been £1,000s, I've absolutely no doubt.

"When I arrived the hospital staff were very, very keen for the card. They asked multiple times for it and I struggled to find it at first, but I knew I'd packed it. Overall the healthcare once I showed the card couldn't have been better. They fed me for free and on most days fed my mum who was staying in a hotel too."

Jayne's ankle will take eight weeks to heal, so she is currently resting at home. But she says her ordeal has already prompted a friend of hers to check her EHIC – and her friend found out her card was out-of-date.

How does the EHIC work?

The free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) entitles the holder to free or discounted medical treatment at state-run hospitals and GP surgeries in any European Union country, plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

EHIC-holders are entitled to the same treatment that local citizens are entitled to. This doesn't mean treatment is always free (though in Norway, inpatient hospital treatment usually is) – it depends on what type of healthcare system the country you're visiting has.

The card itself is completely free and valid for up to five years. All UK residents are eligible – residents of the Channel Islands and Isle of Man aren't.

What happens to the EHIC after Brexit depends on how we leave the EU. If we leave with a deal, you'll continue to get state-provided healthcare in the EU if you have a free EHIC card, at least until the end of a transition period – likely the end of 2020. If we leave with no deal, it's less clear – see our 25 Brexit need-to-knows for full info.

It's worth remembering as well that the EHIC should never be seen as a substitute for travel insurance. State hospitals might not be available, which may cost you money – Jayne for example had to pay for the treatment she received on her cruise ship, and will claim this back from her insurer.

If you fall ill overseas and don't have an EHIC, it's worth noting you may still be able to apply for emergency documentation which allows you to access medical care – but it can be a tricky process, and the last thing you'd want while in hospital. See our Provisional replacement certificates MSE News story for more info.

How do I get an EHIC (or check the one I have is valid)?

To register for an EHIC, you can:

  • Apply on the official EHIC website.
  • Call 0300 330 1350.
  • Print the application form from the NHS website, fill it in and post it to: NHS Business Services Authority, European Health Insurance Card, EHIC Applications, Bridge House, 152 Pilgrim Street, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 6SN.

You can't get an EHIC from your doctor, and whatever you do, DON'T just Google 'free EHIC' – you could end up on an copycat site that charges.

If you already have an EHIC, it's important to make sure it's still in date, as millions expire each year. Check the expiry date on the bottom right of the card – for full help, see How to check your EHIC's valid. You can renew your EHIC on the NHS website.

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