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Travel insurance

Spending a few pounds on travel insurance could save you thousands if you have an injury or illness.

Healthcare is free at the point of delivery in the UK but don't assume it's the same abroad. You will often have to pay part, if not all, of your medical bills. And if it's serious, the costs could easily spiral.

By taking out travel insurance and getting a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) you can avoid massive doctors' bills, delays in treatment and undue stress in the event of a medical emergency.

The EHIC replaces the now obsolete E111 form. It entitles UK residents to free or reduced-cost medical treatment in European Economic Area countries and Switzerland. The card is free.

If you're pregnant you should also fill out an E112 form, which can be obtained through the Department of Health.

The card would have made things a lot easier for Alex Cooper, who fractured his leg on the last day of a skiing holiday.

Even though he had travel insurance, the ambulance crew wouldn't drive him to the nearest clinic until he had paid for the ambulance ride. “I was lying on a stretcher, waiting for someone to come to me with the debit card reader,” he says.

He was X-rayed at a small clinic, then taken to a nearby hospital.

“I was lying there, drugged up to the eyeballs, and the hospital wanted to make sure they would get their money,” says Alex. “I had to organise endless faxes and copies of documents between my insurance company, the hospital and my wife in England. 

“Having to get involved in administration and paperwork when I was in pain, in traction and drugged up was very upsetting and irritating. I think if I’d had the EHIC things would have been a lot easier.”

'Bad things happen'

EHIC countries:

Austria, Belgium, Cyprus (but not Northern Cyprus), the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Bulgaria and Romania

Always take out separate travel insurance, even if you're visiting a country where your EHIC is valid. Each country’s healthcare system varies so your EHIC may not cover all costs, or you may be expected to pay for your treatment and then claim a refund using your EHIC.

Insurance will cover other medical costs that the EHIC will not, such as paying for your return journey if illness delays you, or covering your personal contributions towards treatment. You will also normally receive cover for non-medical emergencies, such as replacing possessions or a lost passport. 

Your insurance policy will vary by destination and insurer, but cover generally starts at just a few pounds, and could save tens of thousands.

You might not be fully covered if you are doing any hazardous sports, like climbing or skiing. Check whether your policy covers these. 

With an EHIC and some insurance you can avoid a bad situation getting a lot worse, says Alex.

“Anyone who thinks they’ll be fine without them is mad,” he says. “Bad things can happen to anyone on holiday.

"If you don’t have the correct paperwork, you’re asking for everything you get. And you'll probably get it in a language you don’t understand.”

Last reviewed: 26/05/2008

Next review due: 26/05/2010


ChrisMilton said on 19 April 2010

A note of caution re our Germany experience.

When we visited a standard GP, they did not have the knowledge, familiarity or relevant paperwork to deal with the EHIC, it being a rare event for a practice.

Similarly with the recommended German Hospital, they did not have their registration software set up to accept EHOC info, it had to be done manually.

We have been invoiced and have to pay the Doctors and Hospital bills ourselves, obtain receipts and then try to claim back later.

I'm a confident person and have the advantage of
someone who has a foot in both UK and DE culture languages - and I found it stressful enough. My sympathy is with those less fortunate than I who will have a greater struggle with language and local paperwork.

So in addition to getting the EHIC, also prepare for time (lots of it) and money just in case you should require medical treatment.

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Anonymous said on 28 August 2008

I have visited this web site because I have lost my EHICard. The site recognises that I have been issued with one and instead of asking me why I am applying again it refuses me and gives me a number to phone. Why cannot the site accomodate applications on line for a replacement?

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anthony said on 23 August 2008

my niece is in spain living for 9 months and has been seriuously mauled by a dog, can she be returned to the uk for treatment.?

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lynne said on 10 May 2008

if u visit turkey for six months would u be able to have nhs on your return to england

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Make sure you get your travel jabs

Link to Fit for Travel website

Find out which jabs you need for your destination.

Going abroad?

If you're travelling to an EEA country, make sure you have a valid European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)

Treatment abroad

Thinking of going abroad for dental or medical treatment? Find out about the risks to make an informed decision.