Making sure your healthcare is legally covered before jetting off on holiday may not be a top priority, but it could save you some substantial hospital bills if you do fall ill abroad.
No matter which corner of the globe you are travelling to, a good private insurance policy is essential. However, as a UK resident you may also have access to a number of state provided health services overseas. Knowing your rights in your destination country will ensure that you receive the correct care if you are unlucky enough to get sick or have an accident.
If you are travelling to Europe, you can apply online for a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which is free of charge. This entitles you to state provided health services anywhere in the European Economic Area at a reduced cost or often free of charge. The card also covers pre-existing medical conditions as well as any illnesses or injuries that may arise on your trip. Providing you aren’t going on holiday specifically to have your baby, the EHIC card should even cover routine maternity care.
However, the EHIC should not be used as an alternative to private travel insurance, as it won’t cover any additional costs such as mountain rescues in ski resorts or travel back to the UK should you need to come home. Many insurers will insist you have an EHIC before they cover you anyway, and most will waive the excess if you have a card. However, if you go abroad in search of specific medical treatment the EHIC will not cover your expenses. The treatment covered by the card varies from country to country depending on the healthcare system in place there.
The Rest of the World
Many countries outside of the European Economic Area—including Australia, Barbados, New Zealand and Russia— also have reciprocal healthcare agreements with the UK, meaning that state provided treatment is available at a reduced cost (or in some cases free of charge.) These agreements usually only apply to UK nationals living in the UK, and will not include routine treatments for pre-existing health conditions or travel expenses if you need to return home. As medical services in these countries are often far more limited than those provided by the NHS, you should still ensure that you have also arranged a good travel insurance policy before you leave.
A full list of countries in the European Economic Area or with reciprocal healthcare agreements with the UK can be found on the NHS website.