Emergency healthcare during travel
It is sensible to think about what you will do if you become ill while you are away. Being prepared can make things easier and less stressful if this happens.
If you have travel insurance for the trip, pack your policy document and helpline number in your hand luggage. If you become unwell, you may need to contact the insurance provider to get their advice or assistance. Read your policy carefully and make sure you understand what to do if you need their help.
You may want to take contact details for close family or friends with you. Check that the details are up to date. In an emergency, someone can contact them if you are not able to.
If you travel abroad, you can keep these contact details with your passport. British Consular officials protect UK citizens in a foreign country. They can contact people for you if needed and can help if you need to return to the UK quickly. You may need to pay a fee for this. Visit gov.uk for more information.
Becoming unwell can mean unexpected costs, especially if you are travelling abroad. Even if you have travel insurance, you may need to pay for some things yourself. Or you may have to pay and then make a claim to get money back.
The next sections give some information about getting healthcare if you are travelling in the UK or abroad. But you should do your own research about the places you are visiting and try to think about how you will manage any costs if you become unwell.
If you are able to claim a refund for healthcare costs, the process for this can be complicated and may depend on:
- your travel insurance policy
- whether you have a Global or European Health Insurance Card
- whether you are travelling in a country that has a reciprocal healthcare agreement with the UK.
To apply for a refund, you are likely to need the original invoices, receipts and documents from your treatment. Remember to keep any paperwork and make copies if necessary.
If you are travelling in the UK, a pharmacist may be able to give you advice about minor illnesses and non-urgent problems. You may be able to get an appointment with a local GP. Or your GP or cancer doctor may be able to give you advice by phone.
Always call 999 for life-threatening emergencies. You can also call:
- 111 in England, Scotland or Wales if you think you need medical help right now
- the GP out-of-hours service in Northern Ireland if you need urgent medical care when GPs are closed – find the contact number for your area at nidirect.gov.uk.
Before you travel, find out how healthcare works in the countries you will visit and make a note of any emergency services phone numbers. You can find information about specific countries at gov.uk.
If you become unwell and need urgent attention during your trip, contact the emergency services or go to the emergency department of the nearest hospital. If you are staying in a hotel or travelling with a travel company, ask if they can get help or call a doctor for you.
If you have time, try to get advice from a doctor or nurse who speaks the same language as you. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office is a government department responsible for protecting British interests around the world. They may be able to help with this.
Using Global and European Health Insurance Cards (GHIC and EHIC)
You can use a GHIC or EHIC in some countries to show you have a right to state-provided healthcare. If you become unwell, you may be able to show it to access the medical treatment that a resident of that country would receive at the same price.
You can find more information about getting and using a GHIC or EHIC at nhs.uk.
The card is free to apply for. You carry it when you travel. What cover you can get depends on the country you are in. The healthcare may not be the same as care in the UK. You may still have to pay part of the cost yourself. Some countries do not accept these cards. You can check how the GHIC and EHIC work in specific countries at gov.uk.
In some countries, you pay the full cost of any healthcare and then use your card to claim a refund. Keep all receipts and any paperwork. You or your insurance company may need them to apply for a refund.
If you do not have your card with you, you can apply for a Provisional Replacement Certificate (PRC) to use instead. Someone else can apply for you if needed. Contact NHS Overseas Healthcare Services to apply.
The cards are not a replacement for travel insurance. They only cover emergency or necessary medical care. And they never pay for repatriation – getting you back home safely. So you should make sure you have travel insurance as well.
Countries with mutual healthcare agreements with the UK
Some countries have a mutual healthcare agreement with the UK. This means they may provide free or reduced-cost healthcare to people from the UK in certain situations. The healthcare may not be the same as care in the UK. You may still have to pay part of the cost yourself.
The agreements often only cover emergency healthcare. They do not usually cover the cost of helping you return to the UK, or routine monitoring of pre-existing medical conditions. For this reason, you still need to get travel insurance.
To claim free or reduced-cost treatment in these countries, you must prove you are a UK resident. This usually involves showing a UK passport.
For an up-to-date list of countries that have a mutual agreement with the UK, visit nhs.uk.
Countries with no healthcare agreements with the UK
In countries not covered by GHIC, EHIC or a mutual agreement, you must pay the full cost of any healthcare. If you are travelling to these countries, it is important to buy travel insurance that covers any healthcare you may need.
The high commission, consulate or embassy of the country you are visiting may be able to give you information on local healthcare services. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has details of where you can find these and British embassies when you are abroad.
Below is a sample of the sources used in our travel and cancer information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
GOV.UK. Guidance: Disability and travel abroad. Updated June 2019. Available from www.gov.uk/government/publications/disabled-travellers/disability-and-travel-abroad [accessed January 2023].
GOV.UK. The Green Book: Immunisation against infectious disease. Updated November 2020. Available from www.gov.uk/government/collections/immunisation-against-infectious-disease-the-green-book [accessed January 2023].
National Travel Health Network and Centre. Travel Health Pro. Available from travelhealthpro.org.uk [accessed January 2023].
Travel and International Health Team, Public Health Scotland. Fit for Travel. Available from fitfortravel.nhs.uk [accessed January 2023].
This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been approved by members of Macmillan’s Centre of Clinical Expertise.
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