European health insurance guide

The EHIC is a reciprocal healthcare agreement giving you access to state run hospitals in the EU as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

You can obtain an EHIC card for free by visiting www.ehic.org.uk and this will entitle you to the same treatment costs that are incurred by residents, so if healthcare is free you won’t have to pay a penny. If you do have to make a contribution towards healthcare, keep your receipts and you may be able to claim some of the money back when you return to the UK.

If you need to make a claim on your travel insurance within countries covered by the EHIC, and have a valid claim insurers are unlikely to deduct the excess where the cost of your claim has been reduced by your using your EHIC.

The EHIC does not replace travel insurance as it will not cover costs such as mountain rescue in ski resorts and flying you back to the UK (repatriation) should the need arise. It also only relates to medical cover and will not protect you in other areas, such as compensation for stolen luggage or money.

What are the costs involved with an EHIC?

The EHIC was introduced in 2006 and was designed to replace the old E111. You can apply for the card for free by filling out a simple online application form. The EHIC is valid for up to five years, and can be renewed for free. The EHIC covers any medical treatment that becomes necessary during your trip, usually because of either illness or an accident.

This is in addition to treatment of any chronic or pre-existing medical condition that is needed during your stay, as well as costs for routine maternity care, as long as you're not going abroad to give birth. Medical treatment through the EHIC is at a reduced cost or free at state hospitals and medical centres within the EU. Most countries in Europe are covered by the EHIC. For a list of countries covered check out the NHS Country Guide.

Travel insurance in Europe

While the EHIC does offer medical care, it may always be worthwhile choosing additional protection in the form of travel insurance.

Benefits you can expect

European travel insurance policies have numerous benefits and can cover you whether you are planning a trip closer to home in the Channel Islands or heading further afield to countries such as Morocco. Below are some of the key benefits you should look for in your policy:

  • Medical expenses
  • Personal liability (if someone is injured or their property is damaged by you or something belonging to you)
  • Personal Accident
  • Personal Effects and Baggage
  • Repatriation (the process that returns you back to your home country)

How do the different levels of cover affect my benefits?

Standard or superior cover (which can be described as silver and gold or in other ways) can give you additional benefits to value cover. This can include catastrophe cover (natural disasters such as floods, earthquake or storms), Hospital Benefit and Scheduled Airline Failure Insurance (if your tour operator is not already covered by ATOL).

Some benefits may exist across all three policies, but in general the more comprehensive the policy you get the higher the payout for each type of benefit is likely to be. Selected benefits across all policies will also incur an excess charge that requires you to contribute a fixed amount towards the costs.

Why should I opt for annual cover over a single trip policy?

A multi-trip policy will allow you to visit your favourite holiday destinations time and time again, including weekend breaks, without having to organise travel insurance each time. As an added bonus you may also get cover for your staycations in the UK, covering you for unexpected events such as falling ill before you go or losing luggage.

I have a pre-existing medical condition. Can I still take out a travel insurance policy?

If you have a pre-existing medical condition, it is important that you declare this at the time of taking up the policy if this is requested by your travel insurer. Although some travel insurance providers will have specialist policies for pre-existing medical conditions that normally come at an increased price compared to standard travel insurance policies, you can also simply buy a policy that excludes cover for the condition(s).

Pregnancy cover

If you are travelling between 28 and 35 (inclusive) weeks pregnant, then any medical and additional expenses incurred due to complications in pregnancy should be paid. However, you may need to ensure that you receive confirmation from your doctor or midwife that you are fit to travel no earlier than five days before you travel. Please check with your travel insurer.

Am I covered for sporting activities?

Cover for a variety of activities should already come as standard with your policy and this can include a number of sports such as canoeing, kayaking, rafting, water skiing, scuba diving and snorkelling. However, these may all be subject to certain conditions.

If you are planning a skiing holiday on the slopes of Val D’Isere in France, you may want to add winter sports cover to your travel insurance policy.

This can give additional cover in the following areas:

  • Winter Sports Equipment
  • Equipment Hire Charges
  • Unused Ski Pass
  • Piste Closure
  • Avalanche Cover
  • Previous Annual Travel Insurance
  • Next Mortgage life insurance
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