By Aimee Johnston on 11 September 2019

Our latest research shows that 1.8 million people have let their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) expire since the last Brexit date (March 2019)*, leaving themselves unprotected if they travel to Europe in the coming months.

A recent survey of Columbus Direct customers found that 74% of people don’t know whether their EHIC is valid, and one in ten haven’t checked theirs within the last 12 months. On top of this, despite government advice being issued, half of holidaymakers (50%) are still confused about whether the EHIC will be valid once Britain leaves the EU.

The EHIC entitles Brits to free or discounted medical care when on holiday in EU countries and government advice4 states it will continue to be valid in the EU until the end of the transition period if we leave with a deal, and until the 31st of October if we leave without a deal.

In the run up to 31st October, our advice to all Brits planning a trip to the EU is to make sure you have an up to date EHIC, as well as travel insurance in place, to make sure you aren’t left without cover – no matter the political situation. Even if you need to renew your EHIC, the process is free and easy to do online on the NHS website here.

It's important to remember that the EHIC does not replace travel insurance. Having both means you'll be covered in almost all situations and will protect you from the costs that the EHIC wouldn’t cover such as flight cancellations or baggage losses. Your EHIC could also be valid beyond 31st October, if the date for Brexit moves.

Handy guide to EHIC

How does the EHIC work?

The EHIC gives you free or discounted medical care in all EU countries. They’re completely free and valid for up to five years. All UK residents are eligible to the same treatment as what the local citizens are entitled to in the country you’re visiting.

Where do I check if my EHIC is valid?

You can check the expiry date in the bottom right hand corner of the card.

How do I apply for an EHIC?

Whether you’re applying for your first EHIC or you’re renewing it, you can apply on the NHS website and it’s free to do. If a website is trying to charge you for the service, find another website. You can fill in the application form online, or download the form, fill it out and send it back in the post or apply over the phone. Note, it takes at least 7 days for your EHIC to arrive so make sure you leave plenty of time to apply before heading off on holiday. You can apply six months before it is due to expire so it’s worth renewing early so you know you’re sorted.

Is it a substitute to travel insurance?

No, while EHICs are useful, they only cover for limited medical issues. The EHIC won’t always cover the full amount of your medical costs. You could also incur charges for an ambulance and if you need to be medically transferred home. Therefore, it is recommended that you buy travel insurance to protect yourself against these costs and as well as all other unexpected events, such as theft, cancelled holidays and travel delays. Remember to always buy your travel insurance policy as soon as you book your holiday, or you risk losing the cost of your holiday – this is an average of over £1,7005 for Brits.

Do I have to carry my EHIC with me at all times?

Yes, keep it on you at all times when on holiday or you may have to pay in full and get refunded later if you do have an accident.

Is my child covered under my EHIC?

No, every member of your family, over 16 years old, needs their own EHIC. If you have children under 16, make sure you include your child as a dependent when applying for your EHIC. This ensures they can receive any treatment they need. 

Will my EHIC be valid after Brexit?

Brexit may affect the validity of the EHIC, but nothing’s likely to happen until we leave the EU. Once we do there are several different scenarios.

  1. If we leave the EU with a deal, you’ll receive the same benefits until the end of the ‘transition period’ – most likely until the end of 2020.
  2. If we leave with no deal, the government is advising that your EHIC will not be valid on the day we leave the EU, but they are working to maintain the same level of cover for all UK residents when travelling to countries in the EU so this could change. In short, at this time, it’s even more important to purchase travel insurance so you’re fully protected.

*The facts...

  1. Freedom of Information (FOI) data request from the NHS Business Services Authority and found 2,589,551 EHICs have expired since March 2019 and 750,573 EHICs have been renewed since March 2019. 2,589,551 – 750,573 = 1,838,978 (8 million)
  2. Survey of Columbus customers. Survey carried out 15th-26th February 2019. Total sample: 2,025.
  3. Survey of Columbus customers. Survey carried out 15th-26th February 2019. Total sample: 2,025.
  4. Government EHIC Brexit guidelines
  5. Survey of Columbus customers who purchased a single trip travel insurance policy within the last 12 months. Survey carried out 4th-16th December 2018. Total sample: 1,386.

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