Have you been lucky enough to make it abroad for a holiday in 2014 yet?

Sadly I haven’t – in fact it’s been over a year since I’ve seen the inside of an aeroplane. Or perhaps more importantly, felt grains of sand under my feet on a sunny beach.

Being a bit of a worrier, I used to feel slightly apprehensive before getting on a plane at the start of a summer holiday. I guess though you can get used to anything, though – and these days being on a plane is, for me, more or less about as scary/ or exciting as being on a bus. Except of course that you can’t stare out the window in hopes of seeing interesting buildings (well you can if you like, but they’ll be very, very tiny!).

So with no worries about the (extremely unlikely) plane crash scenario – but there are a couple of scenarios that do cross my mind now and then. You know, stuff like what if I fall ill or bang my head off the side of the pool. That kind of stuff.

Luckily, unless you’re off on holiday somewhere pretty remote, the chances are that you’ll be able to get medical attention should the need arise.  However, it’s crucial that you make the right preparations before setting off.

The first thing to do – if you’re a UK national and going on holiday within the European Economic Area – is apply for an EHIC. (European Health Insurance Card). Despite its name, this handy credit card sized piece of laminated cardboard doesn’t actually offer insurance as such. What it does do is entitle you to emergency treatment under the same terms as a national of the country you’re visiting. So of you were in (say, France) you’d get seen for whatever it is you need seen for. There are some caveats here, though – the most important ones being:

  •  if nationals of the country you’re in are charged towards their treatment under their health system, you will be too. And not every health systems operate like the NHS (in fact, the differences can be striking). There could also be charges for drugs, dressings and whatnot.
  •  it stands to reason that if you’re eligible for the same treatment standard as the local populace, then your treatment is in that location. Just as the NHS wouldn’t pay for you to be flown to Spain for treatment, an overseas health authority has no dealings in medical repatriation. Getting home under your own financial steam in these situations can be stingingly expensive, as the sporadic stories that appear in the newspapers attest.

So it’s crucial to have an EHIC, and also important to know that the card has necessary limitations. Also: double check your holiday location before you go. Despite the Channel Islands’ proximity to (and cultural similarities with) the UK and France, it’s an area where your EHIC isn’t valid.

There’s an excellent country by country EHIC guide to Europe on NHS Choices  here, with added information on emergency numbers and recent rule changes regarding claims. Keep an eye on the news, too, as in the past people have apparently had difficulties accessing medical treatment  in Spain using an EHIC (as this article points out). In terms of costs per country for EHIC holders, consumer experts Which? have a clear and useful table of what you can expect to pay.

Oh, and by the way – if you get health cover make sure you read the small print. When I was last abroad I bought medium level cover (it was inexpensive) only to find out that what I’d bought wouldn’t have been valid as at that point I wasn’t registered with a doctor!

One last thing – the EHIC is completely free, so steer well clear of websites that ask for some kind of fee. There isn’t one.

Happy summer holidays!



Ian McCartney

Hi, I'm blogging here to share my thoughts on health and wellbeing. My aim is to look beyond the hype of the headlines and hopefully talk some health sense. My main interests are nutrition, fitness and mental health - and how they are all closely linked to each other

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