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Holidaymakers warned not to rely on European Health Insurance Cards

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British holidaymakers could be risking big medical bills because of confusion over European Health Insurance Cards (EHIC).

Nearly half of British holidaymakers believe the EHIC gives them free emergency medical care anywhere in Europe and nearly 1 in 10 believes cardholders get free medical repatriation, according to a new report from

Worringly, 18% of adult British holidaymakers have never heard of a European Health Insurance Card  and 6% of holidaymakers believe having an EHIC makes travel insurance unnecessary. These people risk being landed with big holiday medical bills should they have an illness or accident abroad.

A further 6% believes they can get free medical care anywhere in the world.

Jeremy Cryer, head of travel insurance at, said: “An EHIC is an essential card to carry with you on holiday in Europe but it’s no substitute for having proper travel insurance.

“Having one might mean that you don’t have to claim on your travel insurance and pay an excess and some insurers will even 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.

“Having an EHIC may help you to access free or, more likely, discounted emergency medical services whilst abroad but it’s not a guarantee that you won’t have to pay anything, and it certainly won’t be any help if you need medical repatriation to the UK, the costs of which can run into thousands of pounds.

“It’s also important to consider that an EHIC won’t cover you for incidents such as losing your bags or having your passport stolen, which are typically covered by travel insurance. By using an EHIC as an alternative to travel insurance, you won’t be protected in circumstances like these and risk being seriously out of pocket should something go wrong on your holiday.”

Holidaymakers are being advised to always arrange suitable travel insurance to ensure adequate covere for medical treatment and repatriation if necessary.

£1m of medical cover should be adequate for most situations but some policies offer £5m or more as standard.

The cost for medical treatment abroad can be eye-wateringly high and if the treatment isn’t covered by an EHIC the financial impact can be huge. Here are some real life examples:

 One night in a ward of a private Spanish hospital – £800

 Treatment for a broken ankle in Tenerife – £7,000

 Treatment for multiple injuries after being hit by a car in Greece – £21,000

An EHIC entitles the bearer to the same level of state medical care provided to eligible nationals of the country they’re in. This means that the treatment may be provided for free or at a reduced cost in all European Economic Area (EEA) countries including Switzerland.

However, the provision of state care varies from country to country and does not mean British travellers can expect to be treated as they would if they visited their UK doctor or hospital.

The report also points out that in the event of an emergency, there is no guarantee that an ambulance will take you to a state hospital for treatment and many of the smaller hospitals and clinics found in holiday resorts are privately run. If you go or are taken to a privately run clinic or hospital your EHIC may not be of any benefit at all.

Travellers aged over 16 can apply for an EHIC for free at Some websites charge as much as £14.99 to manage the EHIC application but the process is straightforward and there should be no need to pay for an EHIC.

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