If you’re not quite sure what the EHIC system is all about, then you’re not alone. Most of us have a vague idea that EHIC is something about getting medical treatment when you’re on holiday elsewhere in Europe, but aren’t too clear on the specifics. One of the main confusion points is over whether EHIC gives UK travelers free healthcare overseas or not, and in fact there is no one answer to this.

EHIC has been designed to allow people from any of the countries of the EEA to travel freely, knowing that with the EHIC they can access state healthcare in any country on the same basis as local people. Here in the UK we don’t pay to see our GP or when we’re referred to hospital for an X-ray, so people from other countries in the EEA don’t pay when they’re in the UK and need healthcare either. However, in other countries, locals are charged small amounts, known as patient contributions or co-payments, when they see their GP, are admitted to hospital or have diagnostic tests. As EHIC gives you the same rights as local people, you’ll have to make these payments too, and won’t be refunded by the NHS once you return home.

The concept of co-payments or contributions might seem alien to us here in the UK, but in many cases the sums of money involved are small. If you’re asked to make payments when accessing healthcare in Europe make sure you’re clear about why you’re being asked to pay and the sums involved. Private healthcare is not covered under EHIC and charges for being admitted into private hospitals can be very high. You may be covered for private treatment with a separate travel insurance policy, but EHIC can never be used outside the state system.