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Got your holiday checklist together? Here’s one free card you shouldn’t forget...

Pól Ó Conghaile

The EHIC is free, and entitles you to public healthcare while travelling in Europe


Heading away on holidays... Photo: Deposit

Heading away on holidays... Photo: Deposit

Heading away on holidays... Photo: Deposit

I knew I was forgetting something. But what?

My passport was in date. My travel insurance was in place. I had my EU Covid Cert and boarding pass. My head appeared to be screwed on.

It was only when I returned from the Canary Islands that I realised. I’d forgotten my EHIC, or European Health Insurance Card — the trusty old piece of plastic formerly known as the E111.

Like so many millions of travel documents around the world, it had expired during the pandemic.

If you’ve forgotten too, the EHIC entitles you to public healthcare for free, or at a reduced cost, in other EU or EEA states. It includes coverage for issues related to chronic or existing illnesses, pregnancy and childbirth.

Travel is ramping back up at a lightening-fast pace, but clearly it’s taking a little longer to recover our match fitness for flights and holidays. Perhaps you’ve made an emergency passport appointment. Maybe you’re the passenger that held up airport security with liquids or an iPad buried in your bag. Did you forget how to pack, make the costly discovery that 10kg carry-on bags are no longer free, or feel jet-lagged after a 90-minute flight?

Well, now you can add the EHIC to your summer holiday checklist.

“Due to Covid, people were not travelling and their cards naturally expired,” a spokesperson for the HSE says. “On occasion, individuals may realise a few days before travelling their cards are out of date… HSE local offices as a consequence are experiencing high demand for EHICs.” 

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The cards last four years, and many families haven’t travelled overseas in three, so it’s worth having a look.

They take up to 10 working days to process, though the HSE says people should apply “as early as possible and ideally at least 30 days in advance of travel in case any unexpected issues arise in their application”.

The good news, in our age of inflation, is that the cards are free.

Their coverage applies to people on holidays, or stays of less than three months overseas (though students can be covered for up to a year).

You can apply or renew online (if you have a medical card, drug payment scheme card, or are renewing without having changed address), by post, or at your local health office.

Depending on your application, you’ll need your ID, PPS number and proof of address. You can find all the details on ehic.ie.

What the card covers can vary depending on your destination. Healthcare systems differ in Europe, and services that are free in Ireland might not be elsewhere. You can check the details by country on a drop-down list on ec.europa.eu.

In Spain, for example, some hospitals and health centres (centros sanitarios) offer both public and private options — you need to specify which you want. The EHIC does not cover private healthcare.

It’s also important to note that the card isn’t an alternative to travel insurance. It won’t cover things like extra accommodation or rescheduled flights if illness or accidents delay your journey. Holidaymakers should have both, especially now that travel insurers include Covid cover on their policies (though of course, read the T&Cs!).

Every family member needs their own EHIC, so this week, I dug out our old cards and braced myself for some bureaucracy. We changed address during lockdown, but I was surprised at how straightforward the renewal was. I took our documents to the local health office, and am told the new cards should be with us within two weeks.

Now, what else am I forgetting?

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