/ Travel & Leisure

Don’t rely on EHIC when travelling in Europe

Map of Europe

If you’re heading off on a continental break, the European Health Insurance Card can be a handy addition to your wallet. But rely on this alone and you could end up in financial pain.

I own a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) and take it with me whenever I travel around Europe, just in case of any unforeseen emergencies.

Luckily, I haven’t needed any urgent medical help while away. But if I did, there’s still a distinct possibility that I’d have to shell out for at least some of the costs. And in an extreme case, without travel insurance, I could have to stump up thousands of pounds.

EHIC vs travel insurance

There are several reasons why it’s important to take out travel insurance as well:

  • The EHIC is usually only accepted at state-funded hospitals. So if I needed assistance urgently and could only get to a private clinic, the EHIC wouldn’t be of any use. It doesn’t cover mountain rescue either.
  • The EHIC doesn’t always entitle us to get all state-provided medical treatment free of charge. It does entitle us to the same medical care as a local resident of the country we’re in, but this may not be as comprehensive as the NHS. Where state-funded treatment isn’t entirely free, insurers will usually pay outstanding costs.
  • The EHIC won’t cover extra accommodation costs and pricey repatriation to the UK. Insurance will cover repatriation, along with other essentials like cancellation cover.

Newlywed Carrie-Anne Dudbridge found out about this last point the hard way. She had to raise £16,000 in donations to pay for a flight home after breaking her back on a honeymoon in Corfu this summer. It was reported that the couple didn’t take out travel insurance because they wrongly assumed they were covered under the EHIC scheme.

Is it worth getting an EHIC?

Well, yes. For a start, it’s free of charge and applying for one is straightforward.

As long as your medical attention is state-funded, you may not then have to pay for anything, or at least reduce the level of the upfront costs that you’ll have to claim back later. It should minimise red tape and save time and hassle.

Also, many insurers will waive the excess (usually £50-100) on claims for medical treatment if you’ve shown your EHIC, and some policies state they won’t pay out on claims for expenses that could have been free if an EHIC had been used.

So have you used an EHIC? We’ve heard from dozens of Which? members who have used the card, and more than half said they benefited from having it. But several who had been in Spain complained that their EHIC wasn’t accepted by medical staff. Most of the clinics in Spanish tourist resorts are private, but even in state hospitals staff sometimes refuse the cards.

The authorities should do more to ensure that we can use the EHIC in the places where we’re entitled to medical benefits. Until then, it’s wise to take the belt and braces approach of organising both an EHIC and travel insurance for trips in Europe.

James Cesar-Gordon says:
8 April 2015

The EHIC card is a waste of time. If you are European and visiting the UK, just go to a hospital A&E – they will treat any condition for free. Don’t go to a GP surgery. For UK citizens going to Europe, the key is travel insurance. You cannot easily identify a State medical facility, especially if you are in urgent need of treatment, and will end up with a bill to pay, which you can either claim back from your travel insurance or they will pay directly, depending on the circumstances and policy.
EHIC is dead in the water.

Chris says:
15 May 2015

No pharmacy in Italy seems to have heard of the EHIC! So seems useless!

Gosia says:
8 June 2015

My husband suffered terrible ulcers in his mouth and throat during our holiday in Switzerland. We went to a local GP and they didnt cause any problems. They did not want to see his EHIC, examined him and prescribed medications. We claimed back in the UK from NHS without any problems.

John Chmielewski says:
25 June 2015

My 8 year old son developed an ear infection whilst on holiday in France last month (May) and we took him to Perpignan Hospital childrens A&E where after presenting his EHIC card and waiting for a while he was checked by a doctor who confirmed he had an ear infection and that we should keep him out of the swimming pool and take him to see his GP when we got home unless it got any worse. No medication prescribed. No payment asked for at the time but now a month later I have just received a bill from the hospital for over 67 Euros. Do I pay it or ignore it ? Any advice would be great. Thanks.

Ozripper says:
24 July 2015


My 13 yr old son got a cut on his face. 500 Euro’s later and it was sorted. EHIC was no use at all. I have been subsequently told that clinics ignore EHIC because it means that they have to chase up the money themselves. It is far easier to get money up front off the client, so they don’t have to do any work themselves.
Absolute joke. Now I have the hassle of trying to claim back the money on my travel insurance.

Sue says:
4 August 2015

I have a relative who has been in a state run hospital in spain for 10weeks on an ehic card.
Surely she won’t get all this treatment free of charge?

Rob A says:
11 August 2015

There seem to be a lot of adverse comments about the ehic card so I thought I would speak up in praise of it. While on holiday in France I had a heart problem. I went to the local A&E and presented my ehic card at reception. The reception asked if we were public or private, to which I replied public, and they took a copy of the ehic card. I was immediately seen by a doctor, was admitted to hospital for five days and in fact had a stent fitted. I was not asked to pay anything at the hospital… the invoice arrived about a month later. The only thing I had to pay for was a daily charge of €18, which by the way covered a private room in intensive care, plus another €18 towards my treatment.
My advice to people is to do some homework before travelling. The ehic website give details of what to expect in each country and explains that for France the state pays 80% of the cost of treatment, but for heart and cancer treatment, pays 100%. But you still have to pay the hospital daily rate.
So in most cases you need extra insurance to cover the 20% not covered by the state.
The ehic card worked for me.

leona weston says:
17 August 2015

Thankyou for this posting, similarly my husband is now in hospital in Perigeaux, just having had a heart attack, helicopter ride and 2 stents fitted; my French is fairly basic and knew that the cost to us would likely be 20% with the EH1C card. THE INSURANCE COMPANY NATWEST has been totally unhelpful and has said it will refuse cover for our flights which I rebooked after the consultant said it was ok to return 4 days after the op. The insurance company said this was against aviation guidelines but indeed is not against NICE advise. We will see what happens, the care in France has been exemplary I must add.
I am glad I will not be presented with a huge bill before we return to ENGLAND to sort it all out. Certainly dealing with the insurance has not helped my husbands recovery and the stress it has put us under.
can anyone advise on a good insurance company as we will be flying to italy in 3 weeks!

Deirdre Viana says:
21 August 2015

Hi just returned from a holiday in Germany unfortunately my son caught an ear infection from the local swimming pool took him to see a German GP showed his EPIC card and Passport but the receptionist said that the UK government never pay so we were charged 22 euros and then 18 for the ear drops at the chemist. 2 days later he was still no better in fact the ear pain was worse had to take him to see another doctor this time 35 euros and 40 for the medicines a total of 120 not impressed with the EPIC card as neither of the doctors would take it.

brynmor thomas says:
21 September 2015

my wife fell on first night of holiday in Ibiza ,she broke her foot had treatment in the hospital after showing card,that was in june we never paid anything at the time and thought it was covered with the card.but this morning 21st of june we received thro the post a bill for 370 euros.so what is the point in having a European health card.

Victoria says:
30 September 2015

As you are allowed to stay in Spain for 180 days (6 months) without returning to uk, is the EHIC card valid for the 180 days? I was told it is only valid for 3 months.

Needless to say the above is listed on several scam warning websites. And a gmail account? Honestly?

Jeannie says:
23 January 2016

HELLO, we will be spending two weeks in Benidorm soon and two weeks in Cala Millor – Majorca in April. Could anyone advise (as a precaution) Doctos/Clinics/Hospitals in both these places who will in fact take our EHIC cards without any problems…should anything untoward arise.
Jeannie – January 2016

Jhon says:
27 August 2016


E Rodes says:
21 December 2016

A quick search on the NHS page dedicated to the EHIC gave me all the information I needed, I am not sure what people complaining on this page were expecting, for each and every country they visit to have the exact same procedures as the UK?

The EHIC page explained clearly that you could only seek treatment with state registered practitioners, and linked to the Assurance Maladie (french NHS) website were I was able to find such state registered practitioner for my particular ailment (herniated disc). Of course, some language skills were required but if you travel abroad without insurance and no knowledge of the language you can hardly blame anyone else for your troubles.

The EHIC page also states clearly that in France you WILL in most cases be charged for treatments (and be reimbursed later), and explained how medication is always charged upfront in pharmacies and similarly reimbursed later.

So here’s the page, make sure you do your research before you leave: http://www.nhs.uk/NHSEngland/Healthcareabroad/countryguide/Pages/EEAcountries.aspx