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Don't travel without your European health insurance card

For those summer holidays on the Algarve or winter city breaks to Prague, an European health insurance card ensures that you will receive medical treatment overseas at the same cost as a local. It's the sensible supplement to a travel insurance policy. Applying for a card is simple and free.

Holiday health care

The European health insurance card (or EHIC) replaced the former E111 card in 2006. It is free to residents in the European Economic Area, and provides reduced cost health care to visitors.

The EEA countries include all 28 members of the European Union, plus Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland. The principle of the EHIC card is that travellers receive the same state care available to local citizens at the same cost (or free treatment if that is available).

In some countries, private and public health services run in parallel, sometimes in the same hospitals. Check that you are receiving treatment that is covered by the EHIC card.

The treatment it offers does vary from country to country depending on the state medical system. Those travellers with pre-existing ailments should check the details of the health-care on offer before travelling.

Applying for a card is free and should be done through the official EHIC website (ehic.org.uk), via the phone (0300 330 1350) or by printing off the form from the NHS website. Beware of some advertised sites that offer application or renewal services for a charge.

Note that the EHIC card needs to be renewed periodically. If you have a card tucked away in your wallet, check the expiry date before you head off on holiday.

Stay insured

Although a European health insurance card will give you peace of mind, it should not be regarded as an alternative to travel insurance. It's ideal for visits to the emergency room or minor illnesses, but for daunting expenses like repatriation or air ambulances, most travel insurance policies will offer full cover in Europe for a relatively low premium.

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