Rose | Edited by Martin
Updated March 2018
The EHIC, or European Health Insurance Card, is free and gets free or discounted medical care in all 28 EU countries, plus others. Over half of people in the UK don't have one, almost 5.4m expire this year and an MSE investigation's just found almost 3m cards actually ran out in 2017 - so check yours now.
This guide tells you how the EHIC works, how to check yours is valid and crucially how to get or renew one for free. DON'T GOOGLE or you'll end up at imposter sites that charge or pretend they fast track.
The EHIC is an agreement between countries in the EU and European Economic Area. Brexit may affect this in future, but nothing's likely to happen until we actually leave the EU. For now, you can carry on using the scheme as normal.
In this guide...
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 GPs in any European Union country, plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. It replaced the old E111 form in 2005.
If you're in Europe and you've got an EHIC, you'll be entitled to the same treatment that local citizens are entitled to – extremely useful in emergencies. It's 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.
It's also worth noting it covers some (not all) overseas territories too – for example, Portugal's cover includes the Azores and Madeira. We've included these in the country-by-country listings.
Does an EHIC make treatment free?
No. You get treated the same way as a citizen of that country. If they get free medical treatment then you do too – if they pay, you pay the same rates. As this is a reciprocal agreement across Europe, it also means EU citizens can use the NHS in the same way.
It's also worth noting that the EHIC doesn't cover you if you're going abroad specifically to get treatment – see the NHS website for more info.
Martin's quick tale:
My own EHIC was a godsend at an Italian friend's wedding. I was due to make a speech and lost my voice, so I nipped to the local GP at no cost.
Is it a substitute for travel insurance?
No. While very useful, it's only about medical cover. EHIC only gives you access to state-run hospitals which, depending on where you travel to, can be few or far between, and more limited.
The EHIC gives valuable protection but it should never be seen as a substitute for travel insurance.
Travel insurance has a much wider level of cover than the EHIC. For example:
EHIC doesn't always mean free treatment - where it doesn't, travel insurance usually covers it. Even in a state hospital using EHIC, you may still have to pay a substantial amount in some countries. Travel insurance should cover this, though using an EHIC may mean you won't need to pay the excess.
State hospitals might not be available. While in the UK emergency treatment tends to be on the NHS, don't assume this type of coverage will always be available. You may be taken to a private hospital.
Cancellation, delay, repatriation, baggage loss and theft aren't covered. The EHIC is purely a medical policy, while travel insurance covers many other areas. It's possible to cover a year's holidays for less than £20. See Cheap Travel Insurance for more information.
Do I need an EHIC if I have travel insurance?
In short, yes. There are many things which may be excluded under a travel insurance policy that won't be excluded with an EHIC.
For example, if you've been drinking you’ll still be treated (that's not an excuse to push it), and it still works if you have a pre-existing condition (though 'medical tourism' – going abroad to get treatment – is prohibited).
Check and ensure your EHIC is valid
Everybody who is travelling in Europe needs an EHIC - but almost three million people let their EHICs expire last year, and another 5.4 million are due to expire in 2018, so ensure yours is valid before you go away. 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.
There are a few important facts to note:
Check the date on yours.
The expiry date is on the bottom right. If it's already expired, or is about to, renew it now (see How to apply).
As you can apply for a new card up to six months before the current one ends, it's worth doing this in advance so you don't forget.
Kids must have their own cards.
Though you must be over 16 to apply, every family member requires a card. To apply on behalf of a child, just include them as a dependant in the relevant section of the application and you'll each receive a separate EHIC.
Keep the card with you at all times.
You could be asked to pay up front if you haven’t got it on you, so don't leave it behind at the hotel if you’re out and about. Take it to the beach if you have to.
If you find yourself without your EHIC in an emergency, you may be able to get a Provisional Replacement Certificate faxed to where you're being treated to prove your entitlement. For this, call the NHS Overseas Healthcare Team on 0044 191 218 1999. See the NHS website for more information.
However, as this is only for emergencies, the Department of Health still states you should always carry your card with you to be covered.
You may need to pay and claim later.
Though the EHIC allows you instant free treatment in some countries, in others you'll need to pay a proportion of your costs, known as patient contributions.
Rule changes, which came into force in July 2014, mean you can no longer be reimbursed for these contributions, but you could still be able to claim for payments made before this date. See NHS website for more information.
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.
You can get an EHIC the following ways:
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, nor can you get one from a post office.
If you've lost your card, or it's been stolen, call 0300 330 1350, or from abroad call 0044 191 218 1999.
If you've any questions about the application process, there's also now an official EHIC Facebook page where you can get help from the NHS's EHIC team.
Beware shyster EHIC websites
Watch out for websites demanding a fee for the EHIC. Search on the internet for "EHIC" and you’ll 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 you’ll find a tick box asking for cash.
These copycat websites also try to trick people into overpaying for driving licences, passports and others – see the full Shyster Sites guide for more.
ALWAYS use the official site, www.ehic.org.uk, to get yours for free. A Department of Health spokesperson says:
These websites are not endorsed by the Department of Health. The Government is working with the Advertising Standards Authority, Trading Standards and search engines such as Google, to raise awareness and ensure enforcement action is taken where appropriate.
Can you get your money back from a shyster site if you've paid?
Sadly, far too many are caught out through Googling "EHIC" and end up paying through an unofficial site. If this has happened to you, it's unlikely you'll be able to get your money back. However, it's worth contacting the site straight away and asking for a full refund, just in case.
This won't always work, but it's worth a shot – one MoneySaver who paid for his EHIC via an unofficial website found its terms allowed refunds within 30 days, so used this to get his money back (see the Paid-for EHIC applicants could get refund MSE news story). This won't be in all sites' terms, but if it's happened to you, do give it a go and let us know how you get on in the Free EHIC discussion.
The OFT tells us while it isn't unlawful to charge for a reviewing and forwarding service, tricking consumers into spending on unwanted services is. If you're concerned about an unofficial EHIC website, contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 03454 04 05 06. See the National Trading Standards website for more info.
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.
Which countries have been affected?
In 2013, the European Commission confirmed that EHICs had been refused in some tourist areas of Spain.
At the time, hospitals were reportedly insisting people be treated privately, which costs money. In some cases individuals were asked to sign a 'medical consent form' which was actually a consent form for private treatment.
This case has now been closed, after the Spanish authorities issued extra guidance, reiterating that Spanish public health services shouldn't ask for additional insurance if EU citizens present an EHIC.
The UK's Department of Health said it had seen reports of similar EHIC refusal problems in Greece, though there were fewer complaints than from visitors to Spain.
Be careful what you sign
The European Commission's told us that if your EHIC's refused for public healthcare, it's likely to be a breach of EU law. To ensure you don't get caught out, ALWAYS check you're being treated under the public (rather than private) healthcare system when you show your EHIC.
Be very careful what you sign, particularly if you don't understand it, and be prepared to go elsewhere if you're refused public treatment. If it's a medical emergency and this means you're forced to pay for private treatment, gather as much as evidence as possible.
Will I get medical costs refunded if my EHIC's refused?
If you've got travel insurance, then you may be in luck. Assuming the condition you have is covered by insurance, you should be able to claim.
However, most policies have an excess, which means you're responsible for the first part of any claim. Say the excess is £50 – if you claimed for something worth £200, you would only get £150 back as the first £50 is your responsibility. Therefore, factor in the excess to any payouts.
Sadly if you don't have insurance, or you're not covered for the condition, it's highly unlikely you'll be reimbursed. You can report the problem to the local British Embassy or the European Commission's SOLVIT system. However, these probably won't get you your money back.
If it's happened to you, please let us know how you get on in the Free EHIC discussion.
Country-by-country EHIC guide
The EHIC's usable in the EU's 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 what's covered in each.
Free app gives country-by-country emergency EHIC info on holiday
Once it's downloaded, it keeps the info on your phone, so you can access it offline for nowt. Hopefully you won't need it, but it could be handy in a holiday emergency.
How it works
To use it, select the country you're visiting and it shows you its emergency services number, contact details for that country's EHIC healthcare system, plus key info on what to expect if you're being treated, how much it costs, and how to apply for reimbursement.
Download it before you go to avoid data charges abroad – it's about 13MB in total. Feedback is mixed across mobile devices, so if you try it, please do let us know how you get on.
Only get the official app via the links above though – we've come across another free EHIC app before that linked you to a site which charged, so keep your wits about you.
In each of the countries which allow you to use your EHIC, listed below, it's worth checking that your treatment provider is registered with the state-run health scheme. Here's a quick summary:
Treatment's free if the doctor's contracted with one of Austria's regional health insurance offices. Any costs for private healthcare, including private doctors is non-refundable so check beforehand. There is also a non-refundable daily charge for the first 28 days of a hospital stay, and a charge for prescriptions. See NHS Austria healthcare info.
You'll have to pay for healthcare, but you may be able to claim back up to 80% of the charge out there - remember to get a receipt from the doctor or dentist. You'll also have to pay a fixed daily fee for hospital stays, plus medicine costs. The EHIC only covers you for emergency treatment. See NHS Belgium healthcare info.
Before making an appointment, check whether the doctor is registered with the National Health Insurance Fund. There's a small charge to see a doctor or a dentist which is non-refundable. See NHS Bulgaria healthcare info.
Make sure the healthcare provider's covered by the CHIF (Croatian Health Insurance Fund). All Croatians have to pay a healthcare contribution, and you'll have to make a co-payment even with your EHIC. This contribution is typically HRK10 (£1.20) per doctor's visit or prescription, and is non-refundable. There's also a hospital charge of HRK100 (£12) per day, up to a maximum of HRK2000 (£240) per hospital stay. See NHS Croatia healthcare info.
Treatment is available from doctors in state healthcare centres, and it'll cost €3 (about £2.50) for each visit to a GP, or €6 (about £5) if you need to see a specialist. There is also a €0.50 (45p) prescription charge.The NHS warns that the EHIC cards are not valid in some northern parts of Cyprus. See NHS Cyprus healthcare info.
Treatments given by a doctor or dentist should be free of charge, but there's a standard consultation charge of 30 koruna (£1) that everyone needs to pay. You'll also be charged a fee if you go to the hospital or if you're given a prescription. Make sure the doctor's registered with the CMU, otherwise you're basically a private patient and you won't be covered. See NHS Czech Republic healthcare info.
Doctor consultations are covered, but you'll need to make an appointment first. Check whether the doctor's registered with the Danish public health service. Hospital treatment is also free. You'll need to contribute to dentist treatment, as everyone in Denmark has to pay for a private dentist when they're over 18. You'll also need to pay for your own prescription medicines. See NHS Denmark healthcare info.
Visiting a GP is free, but you'll need to pay up to €5 (£4.50) for any medical treatment, including home visits. There is also a non-refundable fee of up to €2.50 per day for up to 10 days in hospital (this is waived for children, pregnant women and anyone in intensive care). You'll need to pay for dentist treatment if you're over 19, and there's also a standard prescription fee - plus you may need to pay a percentage of the medicine costs. See NHS Estonia healthcare info.
Visit a municipal health centre for assessment – under-18s get free treatment. Some medical services are free, though health centres may charge for others, as this varies by area and some are based on contributions. Doctors can charge between €20.90 (about £18) for regular visits and €28.70 (about £25) for on-call visits, while dentists charge €10.20 (£9) for a basic visit and a fixed scale of charges for extra treatments. You'll also be charged daily hospital fees, and you'll need to pay for any prescription medicines upfront - although you can get this reimbursed. . See NHS Finland healthcare info.
Make sure the doctor or dentist is registered with France's state healthcare provider before making an appointment. You need to pay the practitioner directly but should be able to claim back approximately 70% of the treatment fees while in France, as long as you have a signed statement of the treatment given. You'll also be charged daily hospital fees. Make sure you keep your recipts and any paperwork. See NHS France healthcare info.
The UK's Department of Health confirms France's EHIC cover also includes the territories of Guadeloupe, Martinique, Guyane (French Guiana) and Reunion, so you're covered there too.
Check the doctor provides treatment under the state scheme. There's a standard charge for nearly all services, including a daily charge of €10 (£9) a day for hospital stays. You'll have to pay 10% of prescription costs, between €5-€10 (£4.50-£5). The EHIC only covers ambulance trips in emergencies or if a doctor says it is necessary. See NHS Germany healthcare info
See an EOPYY (Greek National Organisation for Healthcare Services Provision) doctor or dentist to get reduced-price or free treatment, or you can now also use the free National Primary Healthcare Network scheme. Hospital treatment is free but if you need medicine there's a 25% patient charge (can vary). See NHS Greece healthcare info.
Warning: Some people have had problems with EHICs being refused in Greece, so ensure you read EHIC refusal help before you go.
You'll need to go to surgeries contracted with the OEP (National Health Insurance Fund). Doctors' consultations and hospital treatments are free. You'll have to make a non-refundable co-payment for prescriptions. See NHS Hungary healthcare info.
Make sure you're covered under the Icelandic public healthcare system when you see a doctor. There's a fixed payment contribution for each doctor's appointment and treatment, even with an EHIC. Generally, there's no charge for hospital inpatient treatment, but there's a 5,400 krónur (£40) charge for outpatient treatment. See NHS Iceland healthcare info.
Contact the Primary Care Reimbursement Services (PCRS) scheme, which will arrange a public health service doctor or dentist, and make it clear that you wish to be treated for free under the EU's social security arrangements. There's a charge for prescription medicines of €2.50 per item. See NHS Ireland healthcare info.
Make sure the doctor's registered with the Italian national health service, the SSN, and treatment should usually be free or low cost. Most dentists operate privately, but you can find state-provided care at SSN-operated hospitals and ASL-managed health centres. You may be charged part of the fee for a dentist or hospital visit. See NHS Italy healthcare info.
Charges apply to see a doctor, although in most cases it's under €10. Pregnant women receiving treatment to do with their pregnancy won't be charged. Under-18s also avoid the fees. Dental services are not covered by the Latvian NHS. See NHS Latvia healthcare info.
To use the healthcare system, you'll need to pay the standard 67 francs charge (around £50 but it's half-price for pensioners and free for under-20s) for a month's health insurance. You'll also be charged a fee for hospital treatment (reduced for pensioners and children). There are no state-run dentists so you'll have to pay the full amount if you need treatment.See NHS Liechtenstein healthcare info.
Visit a doctor who works with one of the Territorial Health Insurance Patient Fund and present your EHIC card to get free treatment. You'll have to pay part of your medicine costs. Private healthcare fees are non-refundable. See NHS Lithuania healthcare info.
You'll need to pay for treatment but you can claim some of it back from the CNS, the National Health Fund. Fees vary and you might not be reimbursed for the full amount because some healthcare requires a patient contribution. Hospital stays are funded by the CNS but you may have to pay some charges and claim them back. You'll have to pay a non-refundable daily hospital fee of €20.93 for inpatient care, as well as a contribution to any non-emergency ambulance use. See NHS Luxembourg healthcare info.
Go to public health centres to see a doctor. Medication prescribed in inpatient treatment, or for three days after discharge, is free. Medication prescribed after this incurs a full, non-refundable charge. State-provided emergency dental treatment is free, though isn't widely available as most dentists have private practices. See NHS Malta healthcare.
Healthcare providers in the Netherlands are all private entities, but you can use your EHIC when using a provider covered by the government-contracted health insurance company, Zilveren Kruis Health. Even with the EHIC you may have to pay for treatment in advance or make patient contributions, unless it's an emergency - then you'll be covered under EHIC regardless of the provider. See NHS Netherlands healthcare info.
Make sure you visit a municipal health centre. You'll have to pay a fee but take your EHIC with you or you could face paying the full bill. Hospital inpatient treatment is free, although there are charges for some speicalist treatments. You'll have to pay for most prescribed medicines.You will also usually have to pay for dental treatment in full – children up to 18 get free treatment and those aged 19 and 20 are entitled to have 75% of the fee covered. See NHS Norway healthcare info.
Make sure you see a doctor or a dentist that has a contract with the Polish National Health Fund (NFZ). Dentists can offer both private and NFZ treatment, which may not be available every day – make sure you check. Hospital stays are also free but you may have to pay for prescriptions. See NHS Poland healthcare info.
You will have to pay a fee towards treatment but make sure you ask to be treated under the Portuguese health service – if you're asked to pay upfront, it's likely you've ended up in private care. See NHS Portugal healthcare info.
The UK's Department of Health confirms Portugal's EHIC cover also includes the Azores and Madeira.
Check the doctor, dentist, hospital or pharmacist is working with the Casa Nationala de Asiguarari de Sanatate (CNAS). There's normally no charge for a medical consultation, though you'll be charged part of the cost for any tests. There are also non-refundable charges for prescription medicines. See NHS Romania healthcare info.
Make sure the doctor or dentist is covered by the Slovakian health insurance system, though do note some practices cover private and state care. You'll need to pay a contribution if you see a doctor though it's usually less then €5. Emergency dental treatment is free. See NHS Slovakia healthcare info.
Make sure you're treated with a provider thats covered by the ZZZS, the Slovenian healthcare service. You can get free treatment in an emergency but you may have to pay towards some other health services. There may also be some extra costs for prescriptions. See NHS Slovenia healthcare info.
State healthcare is free, but check they accept your EHIC first as some hospitals and health centres also offer private healthcare. See NHS Spain healthcare info.
Warning: Some people have had problems with EHICs being refused in Spain, so ensure you read EHIC refusal help before you go.
The UK Department of Health confirms Spain's EHIC cover also includes the Balearic Islands, Canary Islands, Ceuta and Melilla.
Make sure you see a doctor working under the public insurance scheme, but you will still be expected to pay part of the costs which could vary depending on which part of the country you are in. It's usually between 100-300 krona (£9-£27). You'll also have to pay daily hospital charges of between SEK 150 and SEK 350 (£13-£30) and prescription charges. Dental care is free for under 20s and subsidised after that. See NHS Sweden healthcare info.
Daily hospital charges apply, and you will need to pay part of the costs of ambulances (including air ambulances). Dental treatment is not covered unless it is caused by a serious illness or accident. See NHS Switzerland healthcare info
The European Commission tells us that in some countries, public and private healthcare happen in separate hospitals, but in others, hospitals may provide both.
In a few countries, the state sometimes contributes to private as well as public healthcare costs. In some cases, even treatment at a private hospital may be partly reimbursable under an EHIC, if this is what the locals get - but do check.