/ 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

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

Ros Cliffe Duffell says:
29 August 2012

Last week I had an emergency dash to a GP in the Tarn, who immediately despatched me to an eye specialist in Albi. I had 3 consultations. I presented my EHIC when asked to pay – no one showed the least interest. I now have to go through the reclaiming proces, no idea whether or not I’ll succeed. So what is the point of the EHIC?

Carole Whiddon says:
17 October 2013

My husband was suffering with breathlessness whilst on holiday in Sorrento, Italy and we went to the local hospital and within one hour they had diagnosed that he had pneumonia. He was then transferred to a hospital about 7 miles away in Vico Equense. The medical attention he was given here was first class and we were not charged for the seven days he was in hospital as we produced our EH1C card. We also had travel insurance which has paid for our extended stay at our hotel until we were able to fly home. Since returning home my husband has had to see a cardiologist who was very impressed with the medical report from the hospital and stated that it was very thorough.

ANNE says:
7 January 2014

I had a cancerous tumour removed in june13 and i am on tablets as it not terminal thinking of a holiday in lanzarote
I have my own insuraance but not for my cancer at the moment
I also have a ehic card as well ami I covered under ehis if I need to attend
a state hospitalfor the above? And would my exisiting insurer fly me back
even if I wass treated under ehic

I’ve yet to find any doctor in Europe who’s accepted an EHIC card. I’ve now had 2 skiing accidents (France & Austria) needing a doctor’s visit, and my wife needed to see a doctor in France while we were on holiday. If you show the EHIC (E111) card, the doctors just say they’re private and ignore it – all they want is your credit card.
Do European’s visiting a doctor in the UK encounter the same?

Anna S says:
15 January 2014

European’s visiting doc’s in the UK isn’t questioned at all, we pay for everyone with our taxes. I visit Greece most years but we took our son for the first time a couple of years ago. He came down with a rash, which we later found out was prickly heat and chicken pots. Obviously as he was under 12 months, we took him to the Doc’s as recommended. We showed our E111 card to the pharmacist and he pointed us up stairs. We saw the doctor and at the end of the 2 minutes talk, she presented us with a bill, so I showed her my card and she just said they don’t accept those and that we should have seen the doctor a the end of the corridor. How frustrating. It cost us 150 euro’s. We tried to claim it back but no answer to any of our e-mails to any official office….typical.

Graham Durbin says:
28 March 2014

Just back from Mallorca. Wife badly cut head and face in a fall – 11 stitches needed. Was directed to local medical/health centre in Son Servera. They were superb, both on the day and on the following 5 days when they changed the dressings. EHIC card readily accepted, so no charge at all. I guess this is how it’s supposed to work.

Angela says:
8 April 2014

Hi, isit possible to buy repriation insurance only ?My mother has COPD and some insurers will not cover her. I’ve had two quotes from specialist insurers of £180 and £360 for a five day trip to Majorca. She won’t hear of it and insists her E111 will be sufficient. Help!

Hi Angela, and others who’ve emailed about this particular question recently. I’ve been liaising with our Travel Insurance experts today, and as far as we’re aware, there’s no repatriation only cover. It is something that is included in travel insurance as standard.

We’d also not suggest that travellers go abroad with their EHIC alone. This is because an EHIC only covers medical problems and would not cover cancellation before the holiday due to illness or lost baggage.

We’d recommend that you speak to a broker or the following insurers if you’re still struggling, too:


– HolidaySafe
– Columbus Direct
– Insure and Go

It might be easier to phone rather than trying to buy online with this particular condition.

Moira Jones says:
24 April 2014

I had to go to the hospital in Torrevieja in Sept/Oct 2013 about a problem with my eye. I couldn’t have been treated better if I’d paid to be seen. Three Consultants saw me and several Pictures taken of my eye [it was a condition I’d been under the hospital here for]
They took details of my EHC and I had no problems at all.
I do know that many Brits are going to Spain specifically for the excellent health care there s Spain may be suffering from lack of funds from these people.

How do these cards work? Seriously, I’ve travelled all over Europe with it, but when I finally needed it, in Switzerland, they had NO idea what it was, said they would give it a shot and if not they would send me the bill. Well a month or two later the bills arrived (three in total, it took a while to sort out the issues that one American doctor and one British doctor had previously misdiagnosed and mistreated as infection) and a fairly hefty bill it is too, totals around 500 CHF I believe.

I’m now left with a huge bill in my name, and not the slightest idea of how to claim any of it back. What exactly is the point of these cards when there is NO information on how to use them at all?

Any help appreciated.

Clive Rackham says:
20 November 2014

I had a Heart attack in France at the beginning of September and my wife presented my EHIC card for the first time ever.
I had fantastic, life saving treatment and cannot thank the Hospital enough. On return, whilst trying to claim for the room charge and prescriptions I was shocked to hear the EHIC representative that it now only dovered 80% of the bill due to changes on the 1st July 2014.( previously it covered the copayment element as well. They could not say why the change was made or how the 30,500,000 EHIC card holders in the UK were informed.
Since then I have tried in vain to solicited the information from the DWP. The only response so far is totally evasive, gives no reason for the change, and won’t say how card holders were informed, if at all.
Meanwhile I have been told by the EHIC representative to expect a bill from the hospital in a few months for 20% of a heart attack and the fitment of an implantable defibrillator. Heaven knows what that could cost.
Had I known in advance I would have covered the shortfall with insurance.
How can the government get away with this appalling treatment of UK citizens?

We have recently returned from spain on a stay & cruise holiday where my husband fell ill with his left arm totally numb he thought he had had a stroke, on the holiday it stated in our hotel doctor free of charge he sent us to hospital to get my husband sorted out but the guy who was on the reception at the hospital asked me for my debit card & took the excess of £150 out although I showed him our EHIC cards I am trying to claim this back but to no avail they want to see my husbands medical records which is going to cost an arm & a leg, is it worth the wait & finance for this claim, our medical insurance was with flexicover & signa plus capita is asking as well for details whoever they are

Out of the blue I succumbed to a chest infection while on a week’s holiday in S France last August. My son looked on line and drove me to a hospital in Narbonne, where I was treated superbly. We handed in my EHIC card as soon as we arrived and the receptionist and nurses all smiled and nodded and implied this was acceptable, so I assumed it was a state-funded hospital. Later I had to collect some antibiotics from a nearby pharmacy but this time there was a shrug when I showed my card; as I was feeling unwell and to save hassle I paid up. I assumed that was that and didn’t bother my insurance company. But 5 months later, as far as I could understand the official French, I received a request for a payment of 60.04€. I called the DWP who said I should pay and await any receipts, then ask them for a reclamation form. They couldn’t suggest how I should pay except by eurocheque, which I don’t have, or ask my bank. The paperwork didn’t include an option to pay by card so in the end, after asking around and wanting to avoid extortionate bank fees, I sent 60€ in cash by registered post. Two weeks later I have received a further/repeat request for payment (I don’t understand it to be a receipt) and as before they suggest I go to their paydesk (but I’m back in Royaume Unis!) or pay by cheque. And I’m not going to send any more money until I am reimbursed the 60€ I’ve already paid am I?. What a mess and how poor the information provided at either end. Apparently I should have affixed some “stickers” from the medication boxes to a form (which I still have) but unwittingly I jettisoned the 3 boxes as being too bulky for my hand baggage. A friend has asked me back to France this summer, and I’m dreading it! If I have a problem, I shall certainly try to pay over there.

My experience of healthcare in Greece and France is that they don’t know what an EHIC is. Or they pretend they don’t? You do become suspicious or paranoid after a while. I think we definitely have a problem there.

Paula Ross says:
22 February 2015

During the nineties, I lived in Spain for almost ten years. Unfortunately, during the time I was there, I had some rather nasty health problems that required long term treatment at several different Spanish state run hospitals. I have to say,I was truly impressed with the treatment I received which was absolutely first class and in no way inferior to any private hospital or clinic.
Reading through the reports on this site, treatment in Spain and proper use of the EHIC seems to work, whilst attempted use in Greece and particularly France seems futile.
I realise that the EHIC is issued along with information that tells us that it will ONLY provide treatment at a STATE hospital, clinic or doctors surgery, equal to the entitlement of any local resident. We are not told what the entitlements of local residents may be, for obvious reasons. After all, those entitlements change from country to country throughout Europe and vary according to the circumstances of the individual and what they contribute
By contrast, here in UK it seems that the whole world can visit our country and have access to medical treatment without charge (despite warning notices in all out state hospitals to the contrary.)
Under EEC regulations, this supposed reciprocal agreement for health care throughout Europe is sheer nonsense. Like a lot of things, any advantage is not afforded to UK citizens and as previously commented on this site, ‘How does our government get away with this?’

Mark Hollingworth says:
24 March 2015

Hi we moved to Greece 9 months ago (I am a war pensioner) and after an MRI scan last week I need urgent surgery on a herniated disc. All the surgeons seem to be private so we are having to find money to pay for the surgery as our EHIC does not cover this. We don’t have the money and cannot return to the UK as I have been advised not to travel.

We know others in a similar situation who have had various operations all free of charge, hip replacements etc. yet we seem to be having to pay. Confused!

Dave wallace says:
25 March 2015

If you’ve moved to Greece (as opposed to travelling) then I assume the EHIC card will not give free access to health care.
If you move abroad within the EU I believe you should request an S1 form see http://www.nhs.uk/NHSEngland/Healthcareabroad/movingabroad/Pages/Introduction.aspx which will enable you to register for the health care in that country with the same rights as a resident of that country.
Contact the International Pension centre if you’re a UK pensioner or HMRC if you’re not.