EHIC has been set up to be a simple system which isn’t difficult to access. That doesn’t mean though that you can just pitch up at a doctor in Italy or Germany and be treated, no questions asked. You will be asked to prove that you are entitled to be treated under EHIC and will need documents to do so.

The first thing you’re going to need is your EHIC card. If you’ve left it at home, lost it or had it stolen, then speak to the overseas healthcare team at the NHS and ask for a Provisional Replacement Certificate to cover treatment until you get a new EHIC. You may also be asked to supply a passport or something else which proves your nationality. EHIC doesn’t have a photograph on it, so hospitals and doctors are within their rights to confirm your identity.


Are prescription charges covered by EHIC?

This isn’t as straightforward a question as it might first appear. Think about the situation in the UK; some groups of people are eligible for free prescriptions, whereas others pay. Whether you pay in the UK sometimes depends on your income, but other groups such as children or pregnant women may be exempt from paying too.

Other countries which are part of the EHIC system have similarly diverse systems. Each one has their own rules about prescription charges, so always ask about cost when the doctor prescribes you something, or you are directed to the pharmacist. In tourist areas, medical professionals will be used to dealing with foreign visitors and will be used to explaining their system. In other areas, there might not be the same level of understanding about differing systems. If you are charged for prescriptions then make sure you’re clear about what you’re paying for, but you won’t be able to claim back any of the charges when you return to the UK.


What is a Provisional Replacement Certificate?

Hopefully, you’ll never need a provisional replacement certificate (PRC), but if you are in the situation of needing one, it’s important to know how it works. If you’ve lost your EHIC or have forgotten to bring it with you when you travel, and then at a later date need to access state healthcare, then a provisional replacement certificate can be issued.

You can get a PRC by calling the NHS overseas healthcare team in the UK, and tell them where you are being treated. The NHS will then issue your PRC directly to the doctor or hospital concerned. They will then treat you under standard EHIC rules just as they would with any other EHIC holder. PRC is a “one use only” certificate and once you’re home in the UK you should organise a replacement for a lost EHIC, or remember to pack your existing card next time you travel.


I don’t have a British passport – can I get EHIC?

EHIC is an agreement between 32 different countries and entitlement to EHIC is not solely based on your nationality. If you are termed “habitually resident” in the UK, then you can apply to the NHS for a British EHIC. Habitually resident means that you are living permanently in the UK and don’t have homes or a job somewhere else or are working here or entitled to claim benefits here. If you’re in the UK as a student, or have been sent to the UK to work on a temporary basis, then you may not pass the “habitually resident” test to qualify for a UK EHIC so take time to phone the helpline for advice if your status is not straightforward.

If you don’t qualify for an EHIC from the UK as you are a student or termed to be resident elsewhere, you might qualify got EHIC from your home country if it’s part of the EHIC system too.


Is there a family EHIC card?

No, the EHIC system is all based around individual cover, so each member of the family will need to apply for their own EHIC cards. This is unlike many travel insurance policies, which are generally set up to cover all members of the family travelling together. Doctors and hospitals overseas won’t treat a child on a parent’s EHIC card, for example. If you’re planning a holiday or other overseas trip with children, make sure you pack their EHIC cards along with your own or start the application process for new cards if a child has been born since your last holiday.

Children can’t apply for their own EHICs, so a parent or other adult with responsibility for them will have to do so on their behalf. Children can however use their EHIC when travelling alone, and may be asked to take their EHIC with them when travelling overseas with the school or other group.


How do I change the details on my EHIC?

EHIC cover is valid for five years from the date of issue, and over the time of its validity it’s quite possible that things might change. You might move house, get married and change your name, or have another child who needs an EHIC of their own. If you’ve applied for your EHIC online, making these changes is quite straightforward.

Most websites will give you a log on ID and password when you apply for your EHIC card. Keep a note of this and if your circumstances change in the future, you simply log back in and update your details. A new card with the updated details will be sent out in the post, and you can throw the old one away. If you didn’t apply online in the first place, then you’ll have to call the NHS helpline who will advise of the best method for updating details.


What isn’t included in EHIC cover?

EHIC is a state healthcare system which is designed to give travellers from across 32 European countries access to hospitals and doctors in each other’s countries. EHIC is a valuable addition to any travel insurance policy but doesn’t cover everything when it comes to healthcare.

The main exclusion from EHIC is private treatment, whether in a private hospital, private room in a state hospital or with a private GP. There’s not always a clear distinction between private and state overseas, so make sure you’re clear about the sort of medical care you’re getting. Cosmetic procedures and optional surgery and procedures are not included under EHIC either.

State healthcare varies from country to country, and things which are included in state healthcare in the UK might not be included in other countries. Always check what’s included when a doctor is recommending tests or other procedures, or when you’re offered the chance to get quicker treatment or have a nicer room.


When do I renew my EHIC?

When issued, EHIC is valid for five years. Your EHIC’s expiry date will be clearly printed on your card. If you’ve applied for EHIC cover for all members of the family at the same time, everyone’s cards will expire at the same time. If you’ve applied for cards as children have been born then cards may all expire at different times so make sure you keep on top of when everyone’s cards run out.

You don’t have to wait until your EHIC has expired to apply for a new one. In fact, it’s best to apply for a renewal before your EHIC runs out so you’re not without cover. You can apply to renew your EHIC when your old one has six months or less to run. Your new EHIC will have a validity of five years from the original expiry date, not the date of your renewal.


Will EHIC cover a pre-existing condition?

Yes, one of the main benefits of EHIC is that the system will cover any pre-existing or chronic conditions. Unlike travel insurance where policy holders will be charged extra to cover a declared medical problem, or have their condition excluded completely, EHIC will cover every eventuality.

Of course, if you have a chronic or serious medical condition you’ll want to take advice from your own GP or specialist before travelling overseas. It’s sensible to do some homework on the medical system wherever you’re travelling, especially if you need regular care such as dialysis or oxygen canisters. The nearest state hospitals providing specialist care might be quite some distance away. Remember also that you won’t be covered under EHIC for other expenses such as getting you back to the UK if your condition suddenly worsens, and other costs such as prescriptions which might be free on the NHS may have to be paid for in other countries.


Do I need a separate EHIC for each country I’m visiting?

EHIC covers 32 different countries throughout Europe, and you apply for your card in whichever country you have your residence, where you pay tax and where you work. Once you have your EHIC card, you can then access state healthcare in any of the other countries in the scheme. You don’t need a separate card for each country, although it’s always sensible to have comprehensive travel insurance to cover what EHIC doesn’t.

If you’re on a European holiday travelling through several different countries by car or train, pack your EHIC as you’ll be able to use it if you need to. The only exception to this is a cruise holiday as people who are living on board a ship are not entitled to EHIC cover. If their cruise finishes with a week or even a single night in a hotel, then their EHIC is valid for that portion of the holiday only.