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Thursday, 3 September 2009

Travel health and the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)

With a little forward planning you can protect your health when travelling and avoid unexpected medical bills. Find out how to apply for or renew a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which entitles you to free or reduced cost treatment in the European Economic Area and Switzerland.


It can be both difficult and expensive to get health treatment in some countries. A European Health Insurance Card or EHIC can help you cover the cost of any state-provided treatment that becomes necessary while you are visiting countries in the European Economic Area.

There are also things you can do before you go abroad to protect you and your family's health. For example, you should check the health risks in the country you plan to visit and make sure you have had any vaccinations you need before you go.

The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)

Your EHIC is valid throughout the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland (the EEA consists of the European Union member states plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway).

The card enables you to access reduced cost, sometimes free, state-provided healthcare that becomes necessary during your trip because of either illness or an accident. It also covers you for pre-existing conditions. You can find full details of cover and who is eligible on the NHS Choices website.

How do I get an EHIC?

The quickest way is to apply online. Your card will normally arrive within seven days. You can also apply by phone on 0845 606 2030 or by post using an application form available from some post offices.

You can apply just for yourself or on behalf of your partner and any of your children who are under 19 and in full-time education. If you are under 16 your parent or guardian will have to apply for you. Boarding school teaching staff can also apply on behalf of any children in their care.

For each person you are applying for you will have to provide their:

  • full name 
  • date of birth
  • National Insurance or NHS number (CHI in Scotland or Health and Care number in Northern Ireland)

Most people can apply online or by phone, but you will need to apply by post if you:

  • are not a national of the UK, EEA or Switzerland
  • are studying abroad
  • are already working abroad but are UK employed or self-employed

Remember to check the expiry date on your EHIC before you start travelling

How and when should I renew my EHIC?

EHICs are valid for five years. However, cards were initially issued with three-year expiry dates, and these will expire this year.

You should apply for a new one before the expiry date - you can apply up to six months before your old card expires. The easiest way to apply is online or by phone on 0845 606 2030.

You can also apply by post using the form from some local post offices. But please note that postal applications take longer.

How do I replace a lost or stolen EHIC?

If you need to replace a lost or stolen EHIC call 0845 606 2030.

If the EHIC is lost or stolen while you are abroad, you can apply for a Provisional Replacement Certificate (PRC), which will give you the same cover as an EHIC while you are abroad. To get a PRC call (+0044) 191 218 1999 (lines are open Monday to Friday 8.00 am to 5.00 pm). We recommend you store this number and take it with you when you travel abroad.

To get a PRC you will need to supply the following information:

  • name
  • address
  • date of birth
  • and National Insurance or NHS number (CHI number in Scotland or Health and Care number in Northern Ireland)

Protecting your health when you travel

A little preparation can make a big difference:
  • buy adequate and appropriate travel insurance
  • check the NHS Choices website for information about healthcare in the country you are going to and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) website for the latest medical advice for travellers
  • find out what vaccinations you need at least six weeks before you travel - your GP's surgery will be able to tell you
  • take enough supplies of any medication that you have been prescribed and carry a copy of the prescription with you
  • carry any medical letters about your health condition to help doctors and nurses abroad if you are taken ill
  • if you are travelling within the EEA or Switzerland, apply online, by phone or use the application pack available at some post offices to get your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)

Travelling with children

Contact your GP, practice nurse or travel clinic for up-to-date information on any immunisations your child may need.

Additional links

Health advice

Visit NHS Choices for health information - including travel health advice - and local services in England

Time to renew your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)?

EHICs issued in 2005 and early 2006 will soon need to be renewed. Don't risk travelling in Europe without a valid card.

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