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.
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 s 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, so long as you are referred by your local doctor. In the case of some major or long-term illnesses, 100% of the costs are covered. So, 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 only travelling with an EHIC card.
Hospitals in Europe generally have an excellent level of care and each year the levels of care are measured in the Euro Health Consumer Index or ECHI. This is where you can find more information about the level of care offered in each European country.
In 2017, Holland, Switzerland and Denmark took the top spots in the study, while Cyprus, Romania and Bulgaria were at the bottom of the scale. For comparison, the UK came in at number 15, behind countries such as Slovakia and Portugal.
When people are ill in the UK, most visit their GP rather than go to the hospital. However, you have to be registered in order to visit most clinics. If you have a minor illness or injury then 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 and to call an ambulance. You will usually be taken to the nearest hospital irrespective of whether it is public or private.
What Does European Insurance Cover?
Valid in Europe: Luckily, for us Brits European travel insurance tends to be the cheapest as not only are we covered by the EHIC Card and reciprocal European health agreements, but Europe also tends to have cheaper medical care. Many times, for this reason you can get away with buying cheaper insurance than if you were travelling to the U.S.A or further flung countries.
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 activities 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.
Dangerous activity coverage or exclusion: If you plan to do some skiing in Hakuba, hiking the Komodo Trail or Scuba Diving off the coast of Miyako Island while you’re in Japan, make sure the plan you intend to purchase covers these activities.
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 care as any citizen who lives in the country that we are travelling to.
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 would recommend that in addition to the EHIC Card that you take out travel insurance. Remember that the EHIC card only covers medical costs. It doesn’t have 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 making sure that you ask to go to a public hospital and checking that this is the case, and 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 few drinks in the airport bar but it could save you thousands of pounds if there is an unexpected emergency.
Will my EHIC Card be valid after Brexit?
With Brexit currently expected on 29 March 2019, what is likely to happen to EHIC provision after that date?
Well, the answer at the moment is pretty unclear. The UK and the EU have reached agreement in principle that there should be a transition period between 29 March 2019 and 31 December 2020 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. If the UK leaves the EU with no agreement in place then it is not clear what the status of the EHIC will be.
If you’re planning a trip during the next few years then we recommend getting travel insurance to make sure that you are protected in the case of a no deal.
The best travel Insurance Policies for Travelling in 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 you check 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 aren’t getting ripped off by comparing several travel insurers.
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Insurance Case Study
Although we are entitled to free EU healthcare 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.”
We have learned that hotel staff, taxi drivers and even travel companies have been taking bribes from managers from private hospitals and clinics so that they bring unwitting foreign tourists to them for treatment rather than take them to a state-run hospital.
What's more, these companies and hospitals are employing debt collectors in other EU countries to recover the cost of medical treatment that travellers were unable to pay for at the time.
Although this practice is illegal and the European legal commission is currently taking action against Spain, it is just another reason why holidaymakers should ensure that they take out an insurance policy to protect themselves if they find themselves in an emergency situation - especially if they are planning a trip to Spain or Greece. Better safe than sorry!