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You may be entitled to free healthcare in some countries when you're travelling abroad.
If you’re travelling within the European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland and have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), you are entitled to free or reduced-cost emergency medical treatment. The EHIC has replaced the E111 form, which can no longer be used.
Each person travelling needs to carry an EHIC, including children. To get cards for children, you should list them as dependents when you apply for your own card. The government recommends that you also buy travel insurance|. The EHIC is not a replacement for travel insurance.
Each country’s healthcare system is different, so your EHIC may not cover everything that would be free on the NHS, and the level of care may be different from what you’d expect in the UK.
You can apply to get a European Health Insurance Card:
You’ll need to give the name, date of birth and national insurance or NHS number for each person you’re applying for, so it can help to have this information ready. It should take 7-10 days for your card to arrive if you apply online or by phone, or about 21 days if you apply by post. It may take longer for the card to get to you during peak holiday times, when many people are likely to be applying.
The EHIC is free and renewals are also free. You should avoid any websites that charge to apply for or renew an EHIC on your behalf. Your EHIC is only valid for five years before it needs to be renewed. It’s a good idea to make sure yours hasn’t expired before you travel.
You can apply for the EHIC if you are ‘ordinarily resident’ in the UK. This essentially means that you must be legally living in, and settled in, the UK. If you usually live in the UK, but are not a national of the UK, another EEA country or Switzerland, you will need to apply by post. You will need to include proof that you are ordinarily resident in the UK.
When your card arrives, store it somewhere safe and secure. Keep it with your passport while you’re travelling.
Detailed information about the EHIC is available on the Department of Health website|.
The EHIC is valid in the following countries:
Some countries outside the EU have mutual healthcare agreements with the UK. These countries will provide free or reduced-cost emergency medical treatment to people from the UK. You’ll be treated in the same way as a resident of that country, although this may differ from what you’d expect from the NHS. Because the agreements do not cover every situation, you will still need to get travel insurance. For more information visit the NHS website|.
The following countries have mutual healthcare agreements with the UK:
You‘ll need to prove you are a UK resident in order to claim free or reduced-cost treatment in these countries. Usually this just involves showing a UK passport (see the NHS website| for more information).
In countries that aren’t covered by the EHIC and where there is no mutual agreement with the UK (including the USA, South America, Africa, most of Asia and Turkey), you’ll have to pay the full cost of any healthcare. Taking out comprehensive travel insurance is particularly important if you’re travelling to these countries.
The high commission, consulate or embassy of the country you’re visiting should be able to give you information on the healthcare services available. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office website| has details of where you can find these and British embassies when you’re abroad.
You may need to pay for treatment upfront while you’re abroad and then reclaim this money. The process for getting a refund will vary depending on your situation. You’re likely to need the original invoices and documents from your treatment to make a claim.
If you’re covered by travel insurance|, your insurance provider will guide you through this process. If you have planned treatment abroad in advance|, you may need to seek reimbursement from your local health commissioner when you return to the UK.
If you have an EHIC and are travelling in a country where it’s valid, you should try to claim any refunds before you return home. There’s information about how to do this in different countries on the NHS website|. This website also has information about reclaiming costs in all countries that have mutual health agreements with the UK. To make a claim on your EHIC once you return to the UK, contact the Overseas Healthcare Team on 019 1218 1999.
If you become ill while staying in a hotel, ask the receptionist to call a doctor. If you need urgent attention, contact the emergency services or visit the Accident and Emergency department of the nearest hospital. If you have time, try to seek help and advice from a doctor or nurse who speaks English - the Foreign and Commonwealth Office may be able to help.
Keep the names and addresses of friends and relatives with your passport so that British Consular officials can contact them if their help is needed. If you need to return to the UK quickly, you should also contact British Consular officials|. They can usually arrange this for you, but you may need to pay the costs.
If a course of medication you’re taking is due to end when you’ll be abroad, speak to your GP before you travel. They may be able to increase your prescription if necessary. If you’re already abroad and run out of supplies, you may be able to register with a local doctor, or buy medicines from a pharmacist. The British embassy or high commission in the country you’re visiting will be able to advise you.
The Hospice Information Service| can give you information about hospice and palliative care services abroad.
The Blue Badge Scheme allows people with severe walking difficulties or sight impairments to park closer to their destination. It’s recognised in other EU countries, although the concessions it provides vary from country to country - details are on the Department for Transport’s website|.
If you use a Blue Badge and are travelling to Europe by car or intend to hire a car while you’re away, it could be worth taking your Blue Badge with you.
Content last reviewed: 1 November 2011
Next planned review: 2013
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