Do You Need Travel Insurance for a Holiday in the EU?

A common question which British citizens have when travelling abroad within the European Union is whether or not they need to take out a travel insurance policy. Being a part of the EU, Britain has a reciprocal healthcare agreement with all other countries in the EU. All British citizens are entitled to get a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). Formerly, this was known as an E111. Whether you are getting the card for the first time, or you are simply renewing your existing one, you should not have to pay anything for an EHIC.

Unfortunately, the EHIC is often misunderstood. Contrary to what some people might think, it is NOT meant to be a substitute for a comprehensive health insurance policy. An EHIC is generally only valid for receiving healthcare from state-run hospitals, and furthermore, each country has its own set of rules and regulations. Generally speaking, the EHIC will entitle you to emergency healthcare in all state-operated organizations at the same cost as insured locals pay, but this is usually where its coverage ends. If the country you are in provides free emergency healthcare, then you should be able to as well, provided that you can present your EHIC. The EHIC generally does not cover you for the following:

  • The EHIC is not recognized by the vast majority of private healthcare facilities. It is generally only valid for state-run facilities.

  • It is not valid anywhere outside of the EU, Norway, Iceland or Switzerland.

  • It does not cover you for emergency repatriation, lost or stolen property or treatment for those travelling abroad specifically for medical reasons.

  • It generally does not cover you for non-emergency medical problems.

  • Mountain rescue at ski resorts is not covered.

However, the EHIC does cover you for the following, although the rules can vary significantly depending on the country you are in:

  • It covers you for emergency healthcare required due to an accident or illness in the country you are in, provided that it is necessary to receive treatment during the duration of your stay.

  • Routine maternity care abroad, provided that you are not going abroad specifically to give birth.

  • Routine healthcare for chronic and pre-existing medical conditions which need to be monitored during the time you are away from home.

Generally speaking, you should not rely on the EHIC as an alternative to a comprehensive travel insurance policy. Nonetheless, many travel insurance companies in the UK also require that you have an EHIC before purchasing an insurance policy, and they may waive the excess if you do.

While having a comprehensive travel insurance policy when travelling in countries where the EHIC is not recognized is absolutely essential (and an entry requirement in some cases), this may not necessarily be the case in countries where it is recognized. Nonetheless, it is important to remember that every country has a different health system. You can find out more about the EHIC's validity in specific countries on the official NHS website.

It is also worth noting that state-run medical facilities in some EAA countries may not be up to the standard which you are used to back home. However, a comprehensive insurance policy should cover you for treatment at private clinics, which in most cases, are of a significantly higher standard in terms of quality and range of services and facilities. In some countries, you may even be required to pay the full bill upfront, and claim money back on your EHIC before you get home.

The EHIC is also only intended for those on temporary stays abroad. However, the definition of a temporary stay in a country can also be somewhat vague. If you are living and working in a foreign country, you will typically end up paying the local equivalent to National Insurance in the UK. As is the case in the UK, this is normally deducted at source along with your income tax. For those who are self-employed and living abroad, yet choose to remain legally resident in the UK for tax purposes, an EHIC will usually be just as valid as it is for someone visiting the country for a short stay.