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What your E111 will do for you in the European Economic Area

The Department of Health publishes a booklet called Health Advice for Travellers (free by calling 0800 555 777), which includes an application for form E111.

Get the completed form stamped at a post office and you'll be entitled to a range of medical benefits when on holiday abroad. But, as this survey of countries in northern Europe shows, the benefits are often hard to get and none of them covers everything

Austria: E111 not required. British citizens get their full entitlement just by showing their passports. But "a small daily charge will be made for each of the first 28 days in hospital".

If you decide (or are obliged by circumstances) to go private, you may be entitled to a refund up to the amount that would have been payable to you in a public hospital.

Belgium: 75 per cent of the cost of treatment and prescribed medicines - but you have to pay for it first. Ambulance charges are not refundable.

Denmark: E111 not required. You should get free treatment, and reduced- rate prescribed medicines at pharmacies, just by showing a British passport. If you have to pay, then the local council should give you a receipt.

Finland: E111 not required. In hospitals, you pay 125 FIM (about pounds 12) a day for in-patient treatment, 100 FIM for out-patients. You'll be entitled to treatment either free or at a nominal rate, and for half the cost of prescribed medicines exceeding about pounds 5.

France: Life for the E111-holder is complicated. As an in-patient, you will be issued by the hospital with a certificate, an attestation. Then the hospital sends a notice of admission (avis d'admission) to the local sickness insurance office, which should pay 75 per cent of the charges direct to the hospital. You have to pay the remaining quarter, together with a daily hospital charge (forfait journalier) of FF70 (about pounds 7).

For doctors and dentists, first make sure that your chosen practitioner works within the French health system - the term is conventionne. You have to pay in full for everything first, but after treatment, ask for a statement of the treatment given, called a feuille de soins.

Prescribed medicines have a detachable label called a vignette which you tear off and stick on the feuille. You sign and date the form, send it to the nearest sickness insurance office, and around two months later you should get a refund, for 70 per cent of doctors' or dentists' fees and between one-third and two-thirds of the cost of prescribed medicines.

Germany: several insurance companies administer the health service. Present your E111 to one of these, providing that you're physically able to do so, and the local office is open. To minimise bureaucracy, the best advice is to be too ill to contact one of them before you are admitted to hospital. Give the E111 to the hospital, and they should deal with the bureaucracy for you. You'll have to pay DM17 (pounds 6) a day in the former West Germany and DM14 (pounds 5) in the old DDR for the first fortnight of your stay in hospital.

For less intensive treatment, the insurance company will give you an Abrechnunsschein for doctors (Erfassungsschein for dentists), plus a list of practitioners contracted to the insurance company. If you can't get the form in advance, go to a contracted-in doctor and present your E111. If the doctor doesn't get paid within 10 days, he or she can send you a bill.