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Why the EHIC doesn’t replace travel insurance

Patient with a broken armIf you’ve ever been tempted to risk a trip without travel insurance, think twice.

The recent high-profile case of Carrie Dudbridge, who was on honeymoon in Corfu when she broke her back this summer and faced a £20,000 bill to get home, highlights why an European Health Insurance Card isn’t enough.

In the Dudbridges’ case they admit not buying travel insurance believing they were covered by the EHIC. But while this free card does entitle you to emergency medical treatment abroad, that’s about the limit of its cover and it’s no substitute for a comprehensive travel policy.   

While EHIC cover extends across the EU, plus Switzerland, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, what an EHIC won’t cover, and here’s the big and costly one; is repatriation back to the UK. So if you have an accident and need the services of an air ambulance to fly you home you can end up with a bill for tens of thousands of pounds, even for a relatively short haul flight across Europe. 

The EHIC is definitely worth having, and can in some cases, save you forking out the excess on your travel policy if you need medical treatment, it’s never going to offer the full benefits of comprehensive travel insurance which may include things like additional accommodation costs if you need to delay your flight home. 

Check policy limits

Rather than buying stand alone policies every time you travel, if you go abroad more than once a year, it’s usually worth getting an annual policy. Plus there’s the added bonus that you’ve then got cancellation cover for UK holidays too, say if you become ill and need to cancel a pre-booked weekend away.  When comparing policies don’t just go for the cheapest price tag; compare the level of cover. When it comes to medical insurance the Association of British Insurers recommend a policy with between £2-£5 million medical cover for the EU and up to £10 million for the USA.

Cut costs the safe way

If you’re looking to save money, one way to do this is to cut back on any duplicate cover, for example valuables like cameras may be covered ‘away from home’ on your household policy, so you won’t necessarily need to pay for this level of cover on your travel insurance policy too.

Extra activity cover

And if you think you’re likely to be tempted by ‘daredevil’ adventure sports while you’re away check your policy before you travel. What’s covered as ‘standard’ varies between insurers; some cover activities including horse riding, quad biking and white water rafting as standard, but will likely not cover jet skiing or paragliding, for example. And don’t think you can arrange a quick ‘top up’ on the day; in most cases you’ll need to pay for any additional cover before you travel.

Scheduled airline failure cover

Another thing to think about is scheduled airline failure cover. If your airline goes bust and you’ve booked a package deal or paid by credit card (providing the cost is between £100 - £30,000) you should be able to get your money back, but paying via other means or booking flights direct may mean you’ve no comeback unless you have this additional cover on your travel policy. See how using a credit card gives extra consumer protection and take a look at our travel insurance guide for FAQs, medical considerations and cover available.


Sue Hayward

Carl Chambers

Sue Hayward is a personal finance broadcaster, journalist and author. Sue talks and writes on money matters including chatting on BBC Radio & TV as well as contributing to magazines, websites and newspapers. Sue's also written two books; the latest of which is 'How To Get The Best Deal'.

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