Abroad? Sick? Make sure you have your EHIC…
The only thing which is worse than being ill, is being ill abroad. Being bed bound on your own in a foreign country makes you want to just teleport yourself immediately home, to a world of duvet days, 24 hour parental care patrol, and Netflix. Unfortunately, if you’re too ill, too far, or too broke to just get a last minute flight home (which comes second to teleportation), odds are you’ll have to see a doctor while abroad. We all know how daunting this is; frantically googling local doctors who can speak English and the sheer worry of how much it would cost to see a doctor, let alone treatment. Now, what would save your bacon (in Europe at least), is to make sure you take your EHIC card abroad with you. You may be asking yourself, what is EHIC exactly and how do I get one?
To put it simply, the EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) entitles you to state-provided healthcare either at a lower price or even for free in some cases. This card is like gold dust to have while abroad, as this is pretty much your golden ticket to seeing a doctor if you get sick or injured in Europe. However, it is strongly recommended to take out additional travel insurance, as the EHIC doesn’t cover everything, if you need to fly home earlier or if something is lost or stolen.
How do I get an EHIC card?
Well, as long as you are from the UK, over the age of 16, you have a national insurance number, and you give your date of birth, you can get one! The easiest way to apply (for free) is to do so online on the NHS website. Make sure you do not pay for an EHIC card online, as many people have been stung by scam websites claiming it costs money to order an EHIC, when it shouldn’t cost a penny!
It’s majorly important to check your EHIC card is actually valid in the country you are in, but in general it is valid in any European Economic Area (EEA) as well as other countries that have reciprocal healthcare agreements with the UK, such as Switzerland or Russia. To be safe and savvy, do get reading on these NHS website links, and there you will find really helpful Country-by-Country guides for EEA countries and non-EEA countries. It’s also really important you read up on your destination’s healthcare system, as every country varies with its own rules and regulations. Therefore it is possible that what is normally free on the NHS back home, may not be actually free in the country you’re in.
The EHIC is valid for 5 years, and it can be renewed up to 6 months before its expiry date. It really is so important you check the validity of your card. I got caught out when I was living in Dublin one summer. Very randomly, I woke up one morning with an eye about 5 times bigger than it should have been. I laughed, then cried, and reluctantly went out in public to find a local doctor at 8am on a Monday morning. It turned out I somehow gained a sty plus conjunctivitis overnight, which explained my cyclops state. Everything was going smoothly until the doctor pointed out my EHIC card had expired by about 2 years. I had to pay €100 on the spot, all because I didn’t check it before I moved out there. €100 lighter, with a large pair of sunglasses and box of antibiotics, I vowed to myself I would not let that happen again!
So the moral of the story is: don’t go abroad with an expired EHIC card. It can be renewed for free online, given that the details from your original card are entered. If you lose your EHIC card, (even if you lose it due to a very drunk night out abroad), or if it gets stolen, you can apply for a Provisional Replacement Certificate (PRC) by calling 0044 191 219 1999, and that will cover your back the same as your actual EHIC card would, during your time away.
And lastly, it is strongly recommended by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s TravelAware campaign, to take simple yet essential measures before going abroad, so that you can be as healthy and happy as possible when you are out there. Medical insurance, such as the EHIC card, together with additional travel insurance, gives you the safety net you need when you’re away from home.