/ Travel & Leisure

Update: Don’t pay for your European health card – it’s free!

Did you know you can get free or low-cost medical treatment in Europe – just by picking up a free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). Sound simple? It is as long as you avoid copycat websites.

Updated: 19 July 2017

An unofficial website for the NHS European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) has been ordered to immediately clarify its charges for using the free service. This follows 84 complaints that it was misleading consumers.

The ehicdirect.org.uk website created the misleading impression it was the official NHS website for applications for the free EHIC card, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has ruled.

The ASA received 84 complaints, 83 from members of the public and one from the NHS Business Services Authority, that EHIC Direct misleadingly implied it was the official website for submitting EHIC application forms.

It said the advert suggested it was the official platform for accepting EHIC application forms and all disclaimers were in small print and required scrolling down, concluding it was likely to mislead consumers.

This ruling could now set a precedent for all other copycat websites.

Original Convo: 13 July 2015

Our latest research has found that one in five UK adults who’ve holidayed in Europe in the last five years isn’t aware that EHIC cards are free of charge to UK citizens.

The trouble is, if you’re not aware that it’s free, you might well go looking online for ‘EHIC’ and there you will find copycat websites that try to trick you into using their services – and paying for the privilege.

Why pay for something that’s free?

In fact, we found that nearly one in 16 UK adults who’ve holidayed in Europe in the last five years has paid for their EHIC card.

Getting it for free really is simple. All you need is your address and either your NHS number or your National Insurance number. It’s so super simple that even I managed to complete it in a mere matter of minutes before sitting down to write this.

Actually – I was sitting down when I applied for my EHIC as well – but you know what I mean.

Those who have forked out for the card could have paid as much as £35 per card. That’s £35 for something that’s free through the NHS and gov.uk.

The copycat websites argue that they make it clear they are not official websites, and that the charges levied are for an extra level of service.

OK. But my question is this: what extra level of service could possibly warrant an extra £35 charge for a FREE European Health Insurance Card?

Copycat websites

Copycat websites charge a fee to process or renew official documents, such as passports or visas, or when making applications online, which you could do yourself for free or much more cheaply.

It’s not necessarily against the law for a company to offer a service similar to an official body, but the website must make it clear that it’s not official or affiliated with the government to ensure consumers are not misled.

These morally dubious search engine tactics have also been used to get money out of unsuspecting members of the public in the past – looking for other services, such as passport applications, driving licence renewals and tax returns online.

The team behind an alleged passport copycat website were arrested by police a few weeks ago.

Always remember, whether applying or renewing an EHIC card, passport or driving licence online, there are copycat websites out there looking to con more cash from you.

You can just go to gov.uk/ehic  to get a card free of charge.

Did you know that the card was free of charge? How well publicised did you find it?


You say in the second paragraph that the EHIC is free to “UK citizens”. This is incorrect. It is not based on citizenship, but on residency. For example, a UK citizen resident in the US is not entitled to one, but a National Insurance-paying US citizen resident in the UK is entitled to one. You mean “UK residents”, not “UK citizens”.

Showing a US 10$ bill in the illustration doesn’t help with understanding a European health insurance card.

Ooops. Clearly someone here needs their eyes testing……thanks John. Corrected now.

I don’t understand why people visit obviously commercial web sites for obtaining an EHIC or other public sector services like passports. Unlike other countries’ top level domains, the UK’s .uk top level domain is divided into several sub-domains, e.g. .co.uk for private sector companies, .org.uk for non-commercial organisations, .nhs.uk for the NHS and .gov.uk for other public sector. The UK domain name system thereby makes it immediately obvious whether a web site is commercial or public sector. Therefore why do people visit the copycat web sites which are on obviously commercial .co.uk or .com domains? These rogue traders are simply cashing in on many people’s blatant stupidity. Caveat emptor.

I understand the EHIC card does not entitle you to free healthcare in Europe, and not necessarily low cost. You are entitled only to healthcare on the same terms as the residents of the country you are in when you need treatment. France, apparently, requires you to contribute 20% towards the cost of hospital treatment. So insurance is still advisable.

I would add Driving Test to the list of things you can arrange for nothing rather than using a parasitic agency.

Responding to NFH, I think the reason why so many people go to commercial websites is that there is a general belief that doing anything directly with the government is time-consuming, inefficient and prone to error, and that paying money to an unofficial agency will cut through the red tape and get a better result faster. In fact, the GOV.UK websites are extremely easy to use and work very well. [I have tried to keep the letters HMRC out of my head while writing this but most of their problems are at Key Stage 1 – “answering the telephone”.]

It all boils down to that too many people have more money than sense in a lot of things.

I’m sure I’ve suggested this in the past but surely someone should get smart phone/tablet/ other device retailers to include a fact sheet on how to use and search the internet safely.

First line being use gov.uk to search for government related things like EHIC, driving licence, tax credits, passports.

How many times can you tell people. And will they take notice! I came out of a supermarket and told someone going in that only two checkouts were open and the queue was already ten deep at each. They smirked stupidly and went in! It’s getting to the point where the only way they’ll learn is to get stung repeatedly!

I am one of the idiots who fell for ‘ehic. direct.org’ .I’ve been out of the country a long time and thought this was probably a new development set up in my absence. Considering how much one pays for passport renewal this is not a totally absurd assumption.

What I want to know is can I do anything to either get a refund or get them prosecuted for not drawing one’s attention to their true identity before one completes the form? I have been advised by the police to notify my bank and change my debit card. Is this really necessary and has anyone else taken action and, if so, with what results?

Oh no! I’m sorry to hear that pushpen! If you’ve been affected by one of these websites, first of all, you can complete the Trading Standards questionnaire to share your experience.

I’d also visit our really useful guide about getting your money back after falling into a scam.

Some time ago now (my EHIC expires in 2018, it does not say when issued) I fell for a copycat site which did not tell me I would be paying for the Card at the end of the Transaction. When it came up £25 to pay, I was surprised as I thought it was free, but mildly panicked, I did. This was before I had heard about copycat sites.

David L says:
19 July 2015

Add US VISA waiver ESTA to the list. I knew what I was looking for but it took 4 sites before I identified the true US Embassy site where the cost is $14.

Julie Pretorius says:
22 July 2015

Urgent: Excuse me, please can someone help or point in right direction? We are trying to trace a travel insurance policy and this is the closest forum I could find. My cousin’s son fell off a cliff in Ibiza almost two weeks ago. He has an EHIC card. However, his injuries were so severe he was transferred to a private hospital. He has been put into an induced coma and had surgery to his brain to relief the pressure plus undergone surgery on Monday to place two pins in his neck vertebrae. The family are so distraught as we cannot locate his travel insurance. He travelled to Bali in April and traced holiday insurance for one trip £73.90 through the post office, so we think he must have taken out travel insurance with someone for this trip. Does anyone know how we could trace this. As I said, my cousin’s son is in an induced coma and phone is blocked so we cannot check this or have any access. It was only by luck that my cousin went through bank account to trace the post office insurance purchased in April. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thank you so much for reading.

Mark C says:
7 March 2017

I am kicking myself after falling for the same scam – so easily done when you’re in a hurry and faced with a page covered in text. We’re all used to scanning the screen very quickly and reading the important bits – but the disclaimers on the EHICDirect.org.uk site (the one I fell for) are way out of the usual eyelines and there is no mention of the fee to be paid until AFTER you have entered all your personal details – at which point the following statement appears:
“In January 2016 the NHS changed the way that applications are processed. There is now a registration process in place when making an application”
and the fee is revealed, implying (but cunningly, not directly stating) that it’s an NHS-imposed charge. Nowhere in the online form is it suggested that you are paying for a “checking service”, as claimed elsewhere on the website. Still feel like an idiot for falling for it though.

The clue to a dodgy website, of course, is that it does not have .GOV.UK in its url [uniform resource locator].