Travel Insurance Europe: What to Know Before you Buy

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European flag with medical suitcase

Right on our doorstep, Europe is the holiday destination of choice for many British travellers. With so many different countries to choose from and such a vibrant mix of cultures, it would be impossible to not find something to love among our 27 neighbours. Getting insured for your trip to Europe is also a breeze as long as you keep in mind some simple tips.

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Using travel insurance in Europe

For British Citizens the healthcare system in Europe will be familiar as it is very similar to our own NHS in the U.K. Most countries in the EU offer high quality care and nearly all have a universal healthcare system.

Although it’s called Europe’s “Free Health Care”, in actual fact it isn’t completely free in all countries. Its aim is to simply minimise the cost for citizens and spread the risk.

For example, in some countries such as France, you must pay for part of your care. When you see a doctor or have medical treatment a percentage of the cost – usually about 70% of doctors' fees and 80% of hospital costs – will be reimbursed for most people through the French healthcare system. In the case of some major or long-term illnesses, 100% of the costs are covered.

You should make sure you research the medical care in the country where you will be on holiday as you may be expected to pay all or some of the costs, especially if you are only travelling with an EHIC card.

Travel Insurance Europe

Hospitals in Europe generally have an excellent level of care. Each year the levels of care are measured in the Euro Health Consumer Index or EHIC. This is where you can find more information about the level of care offered in each European country.

In 2018, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Norway took the top spots in the study, while Hungary, Romania and Albania were at the bottom of the scale. For comparison, the UK came in at number 16, behind countries such as Estonia and Portugal.

If you have a minor illness or injury when abroad in Europe, you can head to a local pharmacy where they will be able to give you advice and maybe treatment. Many medicines which are only available on prescription in the UK can be bought over the counter in other European pharmacies.

If you are seriously ill then you should head to the local hospital or call 112 for emergency assistance. You will usually be taken to the nearest hospital irrespective of whether it is public or private.

Many travel insurance policies stipulate that they won’t cover the costs of a private clinic or hospital. If you or your loved one is hurt, but not in a life-threatening situation, call your travel insurer for guidance. They usually offer a 24-hour hotline for medical assistance.

Insurance Case Study: private hospital care not covered

Although we are entitled to subsidised healthcare in the EU, there have been increasing reports, especially in Spain and Greece, of the EHIC being rejected by hospitals or of patients being deliberately taken to private hospitals in order to get money for treatments.

According to the BBC, Student Nathan Cleal, 22, was threatened with legal action after staying in hospital while on holiday. After being punched, he went to a clinic in Mallorca to be assessed and was then taken to hospital. However, after two days of treatment, the Southampton student was forced to pay out for his treatment despite having an EHIC card.

“They weren’t interested in seeing my EU health card and I was charged £3,000. When I got home there wasn’t a bill from the hospital but a letter threatening me with legal action for not paying. I’ve started reluctantly paying the bill every month until I finish university.”

There have been news reports that hotel staff, taxi drivers and even travel companies have been taking bribes from managers of private hospitals and clinics so that they bring unwitting foreign tourists to them for treatment rather than take them to a state-run hospital.

Although this practice is illegal, be sure to check your policy as most insurers will not compensate you (or your loved ones) for any medical treatment undergone in a private clinic or hospital.Better safe than sorry!

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What does European insurance cover?

Valid in Europe: Luckily for us Brits, European travel insurance tends to be the cheapest type of travel insurance as not only are we covered by the EHIC Card and reciprocal European health agreements, but Europe also tends to have cheaper medical care. For this reason you will ofen find insurance policies are much cheaper than if you were travelling to the U.S.A or countries further afield.

Evacuation and full medical coverage: The main reason for having medical insurance for a European trip is to supplement your EHIC card and make sure that you aren’t left out of pocket should the worst happen. It’s also useful to note the level of cover for evacuation as repatriation won’t be covered by your EHIC card.

Lost, stolen or damaged gear or luggage: Europe is generally very safe, although pickpocketing is much more common in many European capitals than it is in the UK. If you are pickpocketed or robbed in a foreign country, you must make sure that you file a police report in order to make a claim.

Dangerous activity coverage or exclusion: The range of sports and activities on offer in Europe is endless. Remember that if you are going on a skiing holiday in the mountains, trekking, golfing or scuba diving you will most likely need special coverage for sports.


The EHIC Card - Do I really need travel insurance for a trip in the European Union?

One of the benefits of being in the EU is that we have a reciprocal agreement with the other EU countries. That means that we are entitled to the same level of emergency treatment and care for pre-existing conditions as any citizen who lives in the country that we are travelling to (remember, that’s not always free).

However, in order to get access to that care you must apply for an EHIC Card (European Health Insurance Card) before you leave. You can find out how to apply for an EHIC Card in our guide to the EHIC Card.

We recommend that in addition to the EHIC Card you take out travel insurance. Remember that the EHIC card only covers medical costs. It doesn’t include any cover for baggage, travel disruption or cancellation. Importantly, it also doesn’t cover repatriation so if you die or become very ill overseas your family would have to cover repatriation costs, which can run into thousands of pounds.

There have also been various cases of holidaymakers being refused treatment in hospitals or being taken deliberately to private hospitals (where the EHIC isn’t valid), particularly in Spain and Greece.

Firstly, we would recommend that you always ask to go to a public hospital and check that your card will be accepted, before undertaking any treatment. Secondly, assuming the medical problem is not severe enough to stop you considering your rights, be careful what you sign, particularly if you don't understand it. Finally, having travel insurance means that you will be protected in most eventualities.

The only way that you can be completely covered is by taking out a travel insurance policy. It may only cost as much as a drink in the airport bar but it could save you thousands of pounds if there is an unexpected emergency.

The EHIC card is valid in all European Economic Area (EEA) countries, including Switzerland. The following countries/states do not accept the card: Andorra, Monaco, San Marino, Cape Verde Islands, Channel Islands- (including Guernsey / Alderney / Sark), The Vatican, The Isle of Man.

Will my EHIC Card be valid after Brexit?

With Brexit currently expected on 31 October 2019 (commencing 23:00 GMT), what is likely to happen to EHIC provision after that date?

Well, the answer at the moment is pretty unclear. If the UK leaves the EU without a withdrawal agreement, the EHIC card will not be valid for British citizens. The British government is recommending that any travellers going to Europe after the 31st October purchase adequate travel insurance.

map of Europe

If the UK and the EU have reached an agreement, there should be a transition period to allow more time for negotiations on the future UK-EU relationship. During that period of time EU law will continue to apply in the UK. That would mean that citizens would have exactly the same rights and guarantees as before - so, you'll still be able to use your card. However, this transition period will only apply if the UK and the EU manage to come to an agreement.

Whether you’re planning a trip before or after 31 October we would always recommend getting travel insurance to make sure that you are protected for all eventualities.

Comparison of travel insurance policies for Europe

Firstly, we would recommend thinking about what type of holiday you will be on in Europe. Not only is each country completely different, there is also an endless combination of activities that you can do. We can’t stress enough that you should check the list of activities that you are planning to do on your trip and make sure that you are covered.

Secondly, think about the level of coverage that is necessary, especially with luggage as this is one of the most common claims on European trips. The levels of coverage, especially for valuables, varies widely from insurer to insurer so make sure that you're getting the best deal by comparing travel insurance providers.

Price comparison of travel insurance for Europe

We have compared prices across a random selection of travel insurance policies to give you an indication of what’s on the market. There are literally hundreds of travel insurance policies for Europe. With so much choice you can be sure that there’s one for you.

We ran some quotes for a 35-year-old female travelling to Spain, Europe (correct as of October 2019). We did not declare any pre-existing medical conditions or request any optional extras.

Provider Cost for single trip policy Cost for annual policy Standard benefit limits
Insure and Go (Light Economy Policy) £5.49 £12.49 Medical care: £15 million
Baggage: £750
Cancellation: £1,000
ASDA Money (Economy Plus Policy) £6.12 £16.99 Medical care: £1o million
Baggage: £850
Cancellation: £1,500
Virgin Money (Economy Policy) £6.14 £11.74 Medical care: £15 million
Baggage: £1,250
Cancellation: £1,500
Cover for You (Emerald Policy) £7.25 £18.25 Medical care: £15 million
Baggage: £1,250
Cancellation: £1,500
Coverwise (Bronze Policy) £7.33 £8.45 Medical care: £20 million
Baggage: £1,500
Cancellation: £1,500
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While price is important, we guide you to never choose on price alone. Always consider the benefits that are most important to you (e.g. medical expenses).

Travel insurance policies can be full of jargon you may not understand. That’s why we created this jargon-busting glossary to help you master the most common terms.

Travelling in Europe: good to know

No matter what type of holiday you have planned, some basic preparation is always wise. Here are some important factors to consider when planning a trip in Europe:

 Drinking Water - most countries in Europe have tap water that is safe to drink. Whether you are likely to get it free in a restaurant is another story!

However, here are some countries where you should not drink the tap water:

  • Albania
  • Belarus
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina (it is only safe in Sarajevo)
  • Bulgaria (safe in main cities and towns but check rural areas first)
  • Greece (most main cities are fine but the islands usually are not)
  • Hungary (safe in Budapest but best to be safe elsewhere)
  • Montenegro
  • Romania (all major cities are fine but check outside of these)
  • Serbia (except for all major cities)
  • Spain (some coastal areas, particularly the South)
  • Ukraine
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 Vaccinations - generally speaking, European countries are low risk for contracting diseases and air-borne illnesses. Some countries do have varying rules for entering the country and you need to check if there are any warnings ahead of travelling. The UK government recommends visiting for information before you travel to any country. It provides excellent information surrounding potential health risks and travel advice relating to your wellbeing.
 Visa - at the moment there is no requirement for British citizens to get a visa for any other European country. You simply have to show your British passport at customs. After Brexit (31 October) this may change, depending if a deal is agreed or not. It is likely that it will be a simple visa waiver process through the new ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorisation System). However, until Brexit discussions are finalised it is impossible for anyone to confirm.
 Emergency Services - there is one emergency number to phone if you’re in Europe and that is 112. National emergency numbers are in use still but this is the only one you need to remember. The system will allow you to call and get through even if you don’t have credit on your SIM or even a SIM card in your phone! You have to have some reception on your phone though so your call can find its way through.

Data and information correct as of October 2019.

All material on this page and the website is for information purposes only and does not constitute any form of financial advice. is not responsible for any consequences that might arise from your use of the information provided.

The services and products mentioned on this website may only represent a small selection of the options available to you. Selectra encourages you to carry out your own research and seek advice if necessary before making any decisions. We may receive commission from selected partner providers on sales of some products and/or services mentioned within this website. Our website is free to use, and the commission we receive does not affect our opinion or the information we provide.