The European Union (EU) has some of the best healthcare systems in the world. In most countries in the EU, most of the population has access to universal healthcare. Healthcare that not only means people get good medical treatment in their own country, but also when they travel to other EU and EEA countries and Switzerland.
Traveling outside their own countries of residence, however, does not mean they immediately have access to free healthcare if they need it. That only applies if they hold a European Health Insurance Card or EHIC.
What is the EHIC? — The way the European Union, the EEA and Switzerland are set up when it comes to medical care, once you have access to it in your own country, you also have access to it in all these other countries as well.
In order to be able to get that medical care, however, you must hold an EHIC. This is the card that is granted to anyone with universal healthcare in the EU, the EEA and in Switzerland. The card allows the holder free government-provided healthcare in 32 countries as long as they present their EHIC when getting medical treatment.
Does the EHIC cover all medical treatment? — While it covers most treatment for accidents, illnesses and even pre-existing conditions, there are a few things an EHIC will not cover.
If you do not want to get treatment at a state-owned hospital or medical facility, the EHIC will not pay for your treatment at a private hospital. It will also not pay for a rescue off a mountain side if you are involved in a skiing accident.
Finally, if you are badly injured or extremely sick and need to be flown home, or taken in an ambulance, the EHIC does not cover that either.
For all of these reasons, this is why all the governments that issue EHICs also recommend you take out additional travel insurance. That should cover you for the things the EHIC does not. It will often also cover you if your belongings are stolen or lost.
How to apply for the European Health Insurance Card? — There are two quick ways to apply for the EHIC, and both require doing so on the Internet.
The first means using an online service that will apply for the card for you, as long as you pay them a small fee. In most cases, however, this is not necessary as the EHIC is easy to apply for, and there is not any charge.
The second way is to use one of the governmental websites that process EHIC applications. Done this way, the application itself takes just a few minutes to complete, and then you can submit it directly online.
Processing usually takes just a few days, and so you should receive your new European Health Insurance Card in time for a trip outside your country of residence. As long as you apply for it in time, of course.