/ 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.


my wife and I are off to Lanzarote at the end of January and we both have EHIC’s and we also both have a travel insurance provided through our bank.
my wife has a pre excisting medical condition atrial fibrillation which they have excluded but this seems as thopugh it may be covered by her card.
we are going to Play De Los Pocillos
any comments would be appreciated


Audrey Peet says:
21 March 2011

My husband and I travelled from France to the UK in February, and my husband required medical attention.
We visited two surgeries armed with our EHIC card but doctors in both refused to even give us a consultation. However, the local Walk in Medical Centre were willing to see us. Thank goodness my husband wasn’t suffering from heart problems! We reported all this to Newcastle and asked why issue with useless cards – they replied we should have been seen but it was up to the local Trusts.
Are the Trusts above the law? So where can we actually use the card? Thank you


Hi Audrey,

Certainly, Trusts shouldn’t be above the law. Your EHIC allows you access to the same state-provided healthcare as a French resident, so they shouldn’t refuse you treatment at a state-run surgery. But even if you show an EHIC there, you would usually be expected to pay, and then claim it back.

James Cesar-Gordon says:
8 April 2015

Trusts ARE above the law because there is no-one to monitor what they do. On an individual basis, there is no chance to influence their decisions regarding the acceptance of EHIC cards..

Alexander says:
24 May 2011

Recently visited Spain. My wife needed emergency treatment but our EHIC was out of date.
We had to pay for her treatment and recieved receipts for our costs. We had problems finding how to get a claim form.
If anyone has this problem phone the Overseas Healthcare Team on 0191 218 1999 where you will be sent an application form for your cost.

Brigitte Arnold says:
2 February 2012

I had to have dental treatment when in Germany last year, handed in my EIHC and nobody
in the surgery knew what to do with it.
I couldn’t tell them either.
What is the correct procedure (at least in Germany)?


Dave Wallace says:
8 June 2012

I don’t believe the statement on this site ‘the EHIC covers necessary treatment for a pre-existing or chronic medical condition’ is completely true. My wife has cancer, for which she received chemotherapy treatment in Oxford (our main residence) for 3 months. We decided to continue chemo in SW France (where we have a house in which we spend several months a year) and were told the EHIC would not cover pre existing conditions like cancer and we had to get an S2 form which covers specific treatment for a specific period. The bureaucracy of this process has been difficult, both at UK and french end. In France the local CPAM (social security) office, to which we take receipts for re imbursement, designates some things as ‘EHIC’ and re imburse us and some things as ‘S2’ and we go that route.

Anna says:
12 July 2012


I have just returned from Greece where my 22 month old son suffered terrible with his skin and we ended up needing to access the local doctor/GP for advice and a prescription. This cost us 50 euro for the consultation and a further 13 euros for the prescription. The GP didn’t accept my son’s health card and acted as if she didn’t know what it was but by this time, as she had already written the prescription she insisted we pay 50 euro to her. Well, he is better now and the treatment did work but I’m not sure how I go about getting this money back, and who I need to claim through. Can anyone help? thank you Anna