Last update on March 21, 2019

The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) allows citizens from the EU/EEA and Switzerland to access healthcare when travelling within the EU. What are the procedures for EHIC application and EHIC renewal?

The European Health Insurance Card – or EHIC – is a vital card for European citizens and residents travelling within any member country of the European Union (EU). After your EHIC application is complete, you can take your EHIC to any public doctor or hospital in an EU member country and receive healthcare for free or at a reduced-cost.

Since 2004, the EHIC has simplified the procedures for European citizens receiving medical assistance during travel in another member state by offering a form of health insurance cover. In essence, your European health card allows you to receive healthcare at the same cost and on the same conditions as a local resident in that country.

There are some restrictions to what healthcare you can claim using your EHIC, however, which typically void coverage of treatments that are non-urgent. Therefore, it’s important to understand the conditions of your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) before you travel, and make sure you start the EHIC application or EHIC renewal process with adequate time before you travel. In most cases, the local health provider or insurer in your country of residence will be the first point of contact.

This guide explains what you need to know about the EU health card, including EHIC conditions, what the European medical card covers, the EHIC application process and EHIC renewal.

This guide to the EHIC explains:

Who can apply for a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)?

If you are a European citizen travelling within the European Union (EU), European Economic Area (EEA – ie. the EU plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) or Switzerland, for private or professional reasons, you are eligible for a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).

European Health Insurance Card: EHIC

Having an EHIC allows you to get state medical treatment on the same basis as residents of the country you’re visiting. You typically pay upfront and then can reclaim some or all of the costs. What you pay for, how much you pay and what is reimbursable varies depending on the country’s healthcare policy. Each family member needs their own European health card.

EHIC, which is issued free of charge, it is not an alternative to travel insurance as EHIC does not cover private healthcare or being flown home after injury or illness. In some cases, though, insurers may require you to have an EHIC before they will offer you cover.

European Health Insurance Card for non-EU citizens

Non-EU citizens who are legally resident in an EU state and covered by social security are also covered by EHIC in some countries; you need to check with the local health authorities in your host country if they offer a European health insurance card for non-EU citizens.

To be eligible for European health insurance for non-EU citizens, you must legally reside in an EU state (ie. have a residence permit) and pay or be by covered by social security. However, you cannot use your EHIC for treatment in Denmark, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Croatians cannot use EHIC in Switzerland.

British citizens after UK exit vote and EHIC

As the European Health Insurance Card is a vital health resource when travelling in the EU, British citizens may ask what will happen to their European health card if the UK leaves the Eurozone? Although the final outcome will not be set until the exit terms are negiotiated, in the scenario that the UK remains a member of the EEA, British citizens would be able to keep accessing the EHIC scheme, continuing the existing arrangement.

How does the European Health Insurance Card work?

European Health Insurance Card: EHIC application

When travelling to another EU/EEA member state or Switzerland, you will need to take your European Health Insurance Card with you.

At any time that you need to see a state doctor, have state medical treatment or are prescribed medication within the EU, EEA or Switzerland, you must show your EHIC to the staff at the hospital, doctor’s surgery or pharmacy to be able to reclaim costs later. In some countries you can use your European health card with private doctors but you need to check the situation with your EHIC authority and doctor beforehand to make sure.

You should also ask for a receipt or certificate any time you use your European health card. In some countries state healthcare is totally free, and you will pay nothing. Otherwise, you will usually be asked to pay for the treatment or prescription at the time and you reclaim some or all of the cost afterwards – either while you are still abroad or on your return – from the health/social services authority in your home country.

In some countries, you will be asked to pay a patient contribution (co-payment), which is not usually reimbursable. For example, if a health scheme in another country only covers 70 percent of healthcare costs, you will have to pay 30 percent out of your pocket using your EU health card. Read more about claiming a reimbursement.

What does the EHIC cover – and not cover?

Your European Health Insurance Card only relates to necessary care or ‘unplanned care‘ – such as breaking a leg, a tooth falling out, or catching a virus – or ongoing care for a serious medical condition, for example, diabetes. Planned treatments are typically not covered, so check with your insurer before any treatment.

European Health Insurance Card: EHIC renewal

Your European health card does not cover rescue and repatriation, private healthcare (usually), or healthcare costs for planned treatment, where someone decides to go to another member state to have treatment for a condition. Such treatment will only be covered with the agreement of the person’s insuring institution or national social security administration.

The EHIC is intended to make access easier and to obtain reimbursements more quickly. It does not store nor carry information about personal health status, condition or treatments.

Additional coverage with private health insurance

The EHIC doesn’t cover 100% of the costs in all EU countries or the costs of private healthcare, so you may want to look at private health insurance if you want to cover all risks. There are many big international health insurance companies which offer different coverage packages for expats, including:

EHIC application

Every member state is responsible for the distribution of the EHIC to its own citizens. In some countries the European Health Insurance Card is issued automatically with the national health card; in others you have to apply for it. To be eligible you should be paying into (employees) or covered by (dependent family members) the state social security system.

The period of validity of the card is a decision for each issuing member state to make.

Click to find the EHIC application process in your country.

EHIC renewal

Your European Health Insurance Card is typically valid for five years, after which you can get a free EHIC card. You can begin the EHIC renewal process six months before the expiry date, however, any leftover time will not be added to your new European health card.

EHIC card renewal is a typically easy process. EU/EEA/Swiss citizens can sometimes handle the EHIC renewal process completely online if no details have change (for example, in the UK), although the EHIC card renewal process changes from country to country. Find the EHIC rewenal process in your country and who to contact.

The EHIC card renewal process is completely free, so be aware of unofficial websites charging you to download the EHIC renewal form or complete the renew European health insurance card process.

Click here to go to the top of our guide ‘EHIC: European Health Insurance Card’.