Prior to 1st June 2004, British citizens who travelled to Europe were advised to take an E111 with them. The E111 card was used as proof that the holder was entitled to receive medical treatment for free, or for the same price that would be paid by a resident of the country where treatment was received. Some European countries offer their residents free health care, while others charge a small fixed fee, but non-residents are charged the full price of their care. The old E111 form was used to prevent the holder from being charged the full price of their treatment, saving the holder a great deal of money.
From 1st June 2004, though, the E111 was gradually phased out and was replaced by the EHIC (European Health Insurance Card). Since 1st January 2006, only the EHIC can be used to prove that the holder is entitled to free or cheap medical treatment in any of the countries in the European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland. The EHIC also replaced the E128 (for students or people working abroad) and E110 (for lorry drivers).
The EHIC does just the same job as the old E111 form. You must take it with you when you travel to an EEA country – it could be just as important as your passport. If you need medical treatment while in an EEA country or Switzerland, simply producing your passport to show that you are a British citizen will not entitle you to discounted or free medical treatment: only your EHIC card will do so. Without your EHIC you will be charged the full cost of your medical care (which could be tens of thousands of pounds, depending on what treatment you need) and you probably will not be able to claim this cost back against your travel insurance.
Your travel insurance will pay for private medical treatment, but if you are taken to a state-run hospital then your travel insurance will not usually pay for any treatment – it will almost certainly not pay for your treatment if you could have received that treatment for free or for far less if you had produced your EHIC card.
Taking along your old E111 card or form will not help you, as this is no longer a recognised legal document and is not proof of your entitlement to receive cheaper medical care.
If you are applying for an EHIC for the first time, you need to know that you have to apply for EHIC cards for each member of your family who will be travelling. If you have dependent children aged under 16 you can apply on their behalf, but they will each receive their own cards.
EHIC cards are valid for five years. You can apply to renew yours up to six months before the expiry date. The expiry date is printed on your card to act as a reminder, and you also have a PIN on the card: the PIN can be used to renew your EHIC online quickly and easily. If you have a valid EHIC and are currently abroad without it but need it, then you can contact an overseas healthcare agent who can send proof that you have a valid EHIC at home (even though you don’t have it with you); if you have travelled without a valid EHIC then it is not too late to apply, as your EHIC will be backdated to the date of application.
To apply online for your EHIC card you can use our service, which will carefully check your application form before it is submitted and can assist you if English is not your first language.