Could you be the victim of these travel health disasters and rip offs?

Sarah Coles
Holiday health disasters and costs
Holiday health disasters and costs

Holidaymakers may think they're saving themselves an awful lot of trouble and expense by getting hold of an EHIC before they set off. However, unless they know what they're doing, the card can also be the source of some seriously expensive misunderstandings.

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The EHIC is a godsend for thousands of travellers to the EU. One in ten UK adults who have been abroad in the last five years used a European Health Insurance Card in order to get medical treatment while traveling in Europe. Whether they needed life-saving treatment, or they made an ill-advised decision about where it was advisable to walk barefoot, the EHIC got them the treatment they needed. It's why that piece of plastic should be one of the first things in the suitcase - even before your flip flops.

However, it's essential we understand what the EHIC actually does - or it could land us in expensive trouble. There are four very common, and ruinously expensive mistakes.

1. 'It will cover me for any holiday overseas'

The card covers all 27 members of the EU - plus Iceland, Norway and Lichtenstein - and nowhere else. Unfortunately, a survey by GoCompare Travel found that 6% of people thought it covered the whole world.

2. 'It will provide free care'

The study also found that 69% of people thought it would entitle them to free emergency care.

The card is designed to prove that you are entitled to the same treatment as any resident of the European country you are visiting - at the same cost. Crucially, that doesn't necessarily mean you get all your treatment for free. In fact the level of free care varies from country to country. So for example, in France a patient may be expected to pay for a consultation with a doctor but will have up to 70% of the cost reimbursed later. The patient may also be expected to contribute to the cost of staying in a hospital overnight.

The coverage is limited too, so despite the fact that 7% of people think it would mean they are flown home in an air ambulance if needs be, this is not the case at all. You would need to be well enough to fly, or pay tens of thousands of pounds to cover it yourself - unless you have travel insurance.

These two things combined mean that while an EHIC is essential, it's no substitute for a decent travel insurance policy, which will cover you for any medical issues on holiday, plus issues like repatriation and lost luggage.

Amanda Bathroy, insurance editor at GoCompare Travel commented: "Having an EHIC may mean that you don't have to claim on your travel insurance for minor injuries in some circumstances, and some insurers will waive the policy excess for medical claims where you've used your EHIC but where it doesn't cover the full cost of your treatment. But holidaymakers should always arrange suitable travel insurance to ensure they're covered for all emergency medical treatment and medical repatriation if necessary. An EHIC complements your travel insurance but it certainly doesn't replace it."

3. 'I should do a Google search to get one'
This is a reasonable approach, but you should take real care where you end up. Unfortunately there are several online companies charging anything from £14.99 to £35.00 to help you apply for a free EHIC. You really don't need to pay for an application service. It's a very straightforward, 10 minute application on the official government website.

4. 'I can't get one now we have Brexited'
Actually we haven't Brexited at all - we've just had a vote - so nothing will happen regarding your EHIC until April 2019. Even after Brexit there's no guarantee we will lose the EHIC, because it's part of the European Economic Area rather than the EU, so it depends on the kind of deal that is struck. It means you shouldn't make any assumptions, and check before you travel whether you can be covered by an EHIC.