Guaranteed healthcare across European countries is one of the most important services offered to residents of the area. That’s why Europeans traveling to other nations in the European Economic Area (EEA) and the European Union (EU) as well as Switzerland and the United Kingdom need to keep their European Health Insurance Card at hand and up to date.

The Card is completely free and gives access to healthcare in all EEA/ EU countries plus Switzerland and the UK. This article includes important information for travelers and European residents, including:

  • What the European Health Insurance Card is and how to obtain it
  • Who can apply for a Card
  • What coverage does the Card give its holder
  • The Card’s expiration date and how to renew it.

Where Can I Use the European Insurance Card?

The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) is a personal document that grants access to healthcare services across Europe: Europeans can’t use someone else’s card and can’t give theirs away.

When abroad, the Card’s holder can receive medical attention in all EEA and EU countries as well as Switzerland. The following is a list of countries accepting the European Health Insurance Card:

EU countries:

  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Bulgaria
  • Croatia
  • Cyprus
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • France
  • Greece
  • Germany
  • Hungary
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Latvia
  • Lithuania
  • Luxembourg
  • Malta
  • The Netherlands
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • Romania
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • Spain
  • Sweden

EEA countries:

  • Norway
  • Iceland
  • Liechtenstein.

Other countries:

  • Switzerland
  • The United Kingdom. Although the UK has officially left the EU, all EU laws (including those regarding the EHIC) will apply until the transition period ends. The transition period is expected to run until the 31st of December 2020.

The Card guarantees the same healthcare conditions and services as those enjoyed in one’s country of residency. Europeans can use it in all of the above nations regardless of the reason why they’re traveling abroad (i.e. study, work, business, tourism).

What Is Not Covered by the European Health Insurance Card?

It’s important to notice that the European Health Insurance Card is not a private travel insurance and, therefore, cannot be used as one.

The following is a list of costs and circumstances that cannot be covered by the Card:

  • Private health insurance
  • A return ticket in case of cancelation
  • Body repatriation costs
  • The loss or theft of luggage and other personal belongings
  • Healthcare services and treatments that are not free in the traveler’s own country
  • Costs of treatments when the trip was made specifically for medical purposes.

If the public healthcare system on is traveling to is not free, the Card’s holder will be charged for medical attention and treatment the same way local residents are.

Who Can Apply for a European Health Insurance Card?

In order to obtain the Card, Europeans must meet at least one of the following requirements:

  • Being covered by the national healthcare system of any of the EU or EEA countries or the UK / Switzerland
  • Being a non-EU, EEA, Swiss or British citizen, but being a resident of one of the aforementioned countries and having access to its national healthcare system.

How to Obtain the European Health Insurance Card

Cards are issued by the national health insurance provider. This means that each country has its own system and process to apply for and obtain a Card.

Therefore, it’s necessary that you apply for the card in your country of citizenship or permanent residency.

Usually, participating European countries offer 3 alternatives. The Card can be either applied for online, by phone, or in person. You should contact your national health insurance provider to receive instructions on the steps to follow.

Families should keep in mind that each member must apply for and obtain their own card, both in their home country and while traveling abroad.

How Does the European Health Insurance Card Work?

Should a European citizen or eligible resident find themselves in need of medical attention abroad, they simply need to show the card at the Reception or information desk of any public hospital or medical center of a participating country.

Once the medical or admin staff of the center confirm that all the information on the traveler’s Card is correct and up to date, they will attend and treat them like any other local patient.

It is, therefore, paramount that you remember to bring the Card abroad with you as you travel and keep it with you at all times.

What Is the European Health Insurance Card’s Validity?

Usually, the Card has a validity of 2 years although that’s not always the case. If in doubt, finding the expiration date on one’s card (often, on the back side) is extremely easy.

The validity of the card may depend on several factors, such as:

  • Whether the holder is a foreigner residing in the EU, EEA, UK, or Switzerland
  • Whether they are currently receiving public benefits
  • Whether they are in economic difficulties.

Europeans should notice that the Card’s validity and how long a person is entitled to public health care while abroad in Europe are not related. In general, healthcare coverage while abroad in Europe is guaranteed for 3 months. However, there are exceptions, such as:

  • Students completing official courses and programmes abroad
  • Workers that are being relocated by their employer for extended periods of time.

How to Renew the European Health Insurance Card

Once the Card expires, its holder should take steps to renew it if they want to continue enjoying access to the European public healthcare system.

The process to renew the Card is the same as that to request it for the first time.