Read our guide to discover why you can't rely on the GHIC scheme for medical emergencies and why Travel Insurance for Europe is essential!
Each country in Europe has different healthcare systems. Many rely on the GHIC scheme to cover medical emergencies but not all countries in Europe are a part of the scheme and not all treatments are covered by the scheme. So do you need Travel Insurance when travelling to Europe?
The simple answer: yes you do.
Travelling uninsured becomes an especially unattractive proposition when you compare the relatively low cost of travel insurance with the potentially high price of medical claims.
This guide will reveal the true importance of travel insurance for Europe…
For all trips abroad an estimated 24% of British people head off with no travel insurance.
This is despite figures from the FCO’s British Behaviour Abroad report hammering home why cover is so vital:
Of course most of us will enjoy memorable, incident-free holidays. But the statistics don’t lie… and slips, falls, food poisoning and crime can impact thousands of British holidays every year. The distress this causes is compounded for those who have no insurance.
The majority of us (78%) admit that we could not afford a £10,000 hospital bill for ourselves or a loved one, and almost half of us (48 %) don’t even realise that we could be liable to pay all our medical bills abroad without adequate insurance. Other common misconceptions include a belief that the UK government will pay directly for any treatment abroad.
The reality is that the GHIC card will cover you for basic, short term, state health care. But there are exclusions and the FCO and Association of British Insurers stress that it is NOT an alternative to health insurance.
The GHIC will not cover services such as private health care, the cost of mountain rescue in ski resorts or lost and stolen property. It is also invalid on cruises.
Repatriation flights to bring sick or injured people home are eye-wateringly expensive. An air ambulance from Majorca to Britain, for example, can cost as much as £25,000. GHIC will not cover that. The right insurance policy will.
Other typical costs include:
The most important thing with travel insurance is that it will give you peace of mind.
Consider these benefits for your travel insurance for Europe:
We love France it is home to various terrains that are adored by those that enjoy exploring.
If you are venturing into France’s mountains to hike or ski, make sure your insurance still covers you for these activities. Including medical costs, mountain rescue, helicopter evacuation and repatriation flights home. In Savoie and Haute-Savoie departments, also check you’re covered for transfer to Switzerland for treatment.
France has an excellent state health care system, but there are charges, and uninsured travellers could be in for a shock if they need a doctor or dentist. You would need to pay them directly, and can claim back around 70% of the standard cost of treatment using your EHIC.
The Emergency phone number in France is 112. Other emergency numbers are 15 (medical), 17 (police) or 18 (fire).
More than 12 million of us visit Spain every year, so it’s hardly surprising that it also claims the record for the highest number of Brits being hospitalised – 675 in 2013/14 – and consular assistance cases (5,283).
To make sure you end up at the appropriate hospital, remember to call the emergency medical assistance team of your travel insurance as soon as possible.
Italy welcomes 3 million of us every year and overall crime is low. But petty crime, including bag snatches and pick-pocketing, is a problem in cities such as Rome, particularly around Termini station. Be vigilant on trains to and from airports, and when driving around the larger cities. If you are unlucky and any of your property is stolen, check your travel insurance for how you need to make a claim. Some policies will require you to have filed a police report, for example.
If you need to call the emergency services, the numbers are: 112 (police), 118 (ambulance) or 115 (fire).
As always but more so than some of the countries on this list, there’s is no guarantee that all emergency services and doctors will speak English. Take a note of useful Italian phrases for emergencies and doctors appointments and make sure your travel insurance includes a language translator – as is the case with AllClear.
3 million Brits visit Greece every year, with many of us heading to popular resorts on the islands.
The number of migrants and refugees arriving on Greek islands, including Lesvos, Kos and Samos, has declined and, according to the FCO, there are no reports of any specific risks to Brits visiting these islands.
In Athens, demonstrations around major squares are frequent, in particular Syntagma Square. You might want to consider getting travel insurance that covers civil unrest.
Crash helmets are mandatory on scooters, mopeds and motorbikes and failure to wear one could invalidate your travel insurance.
Greek roads can also be dangerous. In 2016 there were 812 road deaths (7.5 per 100,000 of population). The UK average was 2.8 deaths per 100,000 of population.
The Greek emergency services number is 112.
Typically around 2.3 million British tourists visit Portugal each year.
State-provided healthcare in Portugal is generally free of charge but can require a patient contribution, even with your EHIC, so another reminder of the importance of travel insurance.
Also, remember that in rural areas or islands, you may have to travel some distance to find a state healthcare provider. In such situations, this is when the emergency telephone number of your travel insurance can be extremely beneficial. They will be able to arrange treatment at the nearest hospital for which you are covered.
If you need to call the local emergency services, call 112, and the person taking your call should be able to speak to you in English.
If you are trying to find the nearest state health centre it is known in Portuguese as ‘centro de saúde.’
Crime is low with pickpocketing, handbag snatches and theft from cars and holiday properties the main problem in tourist areas.
Deaths by drowning occur every year on Portuguese beaches and in swimming pools, so take note of the maritime police’s warning flags.
Ireland is a home from home for many of the 2.5 million annual British visitors.
This helps explain why the UK and Irish authorities have an agreement for UK residents not to need their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) to access healthcare services – if they’re on a temporary stay.
Instead, you can simply show proof that you are ordinarily a resident in the UK, such as by providing a driving licence or passport.
However, don’t forget travel insurance can still be useful to claim for cancellation, curtailment or repatriation of your trip.
In the event of an emergency, dial 999 or 112
If you are a victim of the crime Irish police, The Garda Síochána, may call in The Irish Tourist Assistance Service (ITAS) to provide advice and support. They can even arrange accommodation and transport in an emergency.
The terrorism risk is again flagged up by the FCO for the estimated two million annual British visitors. Yet in general crime levels are similar to the UK.
Take a note of these useful German phrases for emergencies and once again consider travel insurance with a language translator.
If you need to contact the emergency services, call 112.
There are strict regulations about how much and what kind of medications can be imported into Germany. You can view the German customs page for more information.
Mother nature is a bigger threat than crime to the 316,000 British visitors to Iceland each year.
The island is volcanically and seismically active. And in 2017 a yellow warning was issued for Öræfajökull, the volcanic glacier in southeast Iceland, indicating higher than normal levels of volcanic activity.
So, you might want to make sure you’re covered for natural disasters! Often this isn’t included as standard on travel insurance.
Call 112 for the emergency services, download the 112 Iceland app, and leave your travel plans with the Safe Travel website.
Although some of the above warnings and statistics may read a little scary… travelling to Europe needn’t be a concern. As a specialist Medical Insurance provider, AllClear can cover you on any European trip that you wish to take.
Written by: Lydia Crispin | Travel Insurance ExpertLast Updated: 1 March 2022
 Based on Trustpilot reviews of all companies in the Travel Insurance Company category that have over 30,000 reviews as of January 2023.
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