In the EU you should have an EHIC (replaced the old E11). You’ll either pay nothing for medical assistance, or at least reduce the level of upfront costs that you have to claim back later. Or you if you don’t have one get the new GHIC.
Showing the card can reduce red tape and can help save time and hassle when trying to claim money back. Some insurance policies expect you to have the EHIC/GHIC and won’t pay for any expenses that the card would have covered. Sometimes the insurer will waive the excess if you have used your card.
The EHIC/GHIC covers required treatment for a pre-existing or chronic medical condition such as asthma or diabetes. Many insurers will not cover this and there are only a few companies/policies that will cover existing conditions.
Why you need travel insurance as well as EHIC/GHIC
You should always take out travel insurance when going abroad. Use a comparison website and check the cover very carefully. You do still need it in addition to the EHIC/GHIC because the EHIC/GHIC is usually only accepted at state-funded hospitals and if you need assistance urgently and can only get to a private clinic, you will not be able to use the EHIC/GHIC. This article on the Gov.uk website provides good reasons why you should always take out holiday insurance regarding health, even more reason than the EHIC does not cover mountain rescue! Where the state-funded treatment is not entirely free, insurers will usually pay the outstanding costs.
The EHIC only covers medical costs so you need your insurance for any extra accommodation costs and repatriation.
If any state funded medical establishment refuse the card it is in breach of European rules. Should your EHIC be refused, try to get proof that you presented it at the time, as this could be key to getting the excess waived by your insurer. If you believe you’ve been incorrectly charged, contact the Department for Work and Pensions which may provide some reimbursement.
The bare minimum cover you need is for cancellation, curtailing of the holiday for a variety of reasons, illness/death at home or abroad, damage to home, called as a witness for court etc. You should also get property cover. You will want to be covered by delayed departure and/or luggage. Although in some circumstances you will want to claim from the airline directly. Always read the small print as to what is covered and what isn’t before purchasing!
Take out your travel insurance at the same time as booking your holiday!
Medical costs abroad
Your credit card accident cover, home insurance, (EHIC) or private health cover is not necessarily adequate. An emergency abroad can be enormously costly! For example if you need to be returned to the UK it could cost you thousands of pounds without sufficient insurance, e.g:
- £35-45,000 – air ambulance from USA’s East coast
- £12-16,000 – air ambulance from the Canary Islands
- £15-20,000 – scheduled flight, stretcher and doctor escort from Australia
(Costs taken from DWP website)
It is usually cheaper to buy travel insurance yourself rather than using the site where you are booking your holiday. (Use one of the many comparison websites). Remember that it is now illegal for any site to automatically add any additional payments which appear as a default option.
Brexit and medical care in the EU
As part of the deal announced on 24 December 2020, the UK and the EU agreed that the cards can still be used until their expiry dates. After that, the government will issue a new Global Heath Insurance Card (GHIC) which will replace the EHIC for the majority of UK citizens. Apply for this on the NHS website.
Claiming for medical cover in the EU
Notify the insurance company as soon as possible of your wish to claim. If you are dissatisfied with the offer or rejection follow the Top 20 tips for effective complaining and outline your reasoning. If you remain dissatisfied contact the Financial Ombudsman.