Travel light by all means, but don't forget insurance

With some countries refusing to honour EU health agreements, cover is now more important than ever, say Chiara Cavaglieri and Julian Knight

Holidaymakers in Spain relying on their European Health Insurance Cards (EHIC) risk hefty medical bills if they don't take out appropriate travel cover.

The EHIC usually entitles you to free basic treatment from state-run hospitals, but insurers say cartels working across the Spanish resorts are directing tourists to clinics which refuse to accept them in a bid to make money. Spain isn't the only potential trap either; the problem is escalating amid the economic woes in Italy, Greece and Cyprus, leaving travellers potentially vulnerable across Europe if they don't have insurance.

"We know that hospitals in the Costa del Sol and Costa Brava are now refusing to accept the EHIC. Under EU legislation, they are supposed to accept the card but many are starting to cite local by-laws that state hospitals will only treat local people for free," says Amber Howard from

"We have heard of cases where hospital staff in state-run facilities have said that all foreigners must pay. The problem is many of these state-run hospitals are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy."

Around 24 million people in the UK hold an EHIC, introduced so that tourists can enjoy the same free or subsidised medical care as locals in all EU countries as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Although never touted in the industry as an alternative to travel insurance, many travellers risk travelling with an EHIC alone.

This has always been a risky move because an EHIC does not cover repatriation or emergency recovery, but if some hospitals are trying to refuse the cards altogether, decent travel insurance is now absolutely essential.

"Hospitals in Spain are legally allowed to make rules stating that unless the EHIC is presented up front immediately then it can be legitimately refused so this is what they have done. Where before public hospitals co-operated and we were able to retrospectively obtain an EHIC card for them now this is not often possible as a card produced retrospectively will be declined," says Fiona Macrae from

The cost of getting ill, or having an accident abroad can be eye-watering. For example, a heart attack leading to four days in intensive care and up to five days in a ward could set you back as much as £12,000 in Spain, with an additional £6,000 for a doctor escort home.

With household budgets stretched, an increasing number of travellers are scrimping on cover – a recent Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) study found that nearly one in four holidayed abroad without travel insurance last year, and even those with insurance may not have been fully protected because one in 10 travellers are guilty of "buying blind" and not making sure they knew what their policy covered.

The good news is that travel insurance is fairly cheap and if you pick carefully, you do get a lot of bang for your buck. You should still take an EHIC with you, but don't rely on them to cover every eventuality – at the very least you will need insurance to cover lost or damaged property and delayed or cancelled flights.

Comparison sites are a big help initially, but you still need to put some effort in to be sure you're getting quality cover. Cheaper policies often have high excess levels, for example, so this is the first thing to check. There's not much point in a policy offering £500 worth of baggage cover if you would have to pay the first £250 worth of any claim. Find out how the insurer defines "valuables" and cover in transit as you may not be covered for items checked into the hold.

Don't forget about cancellation cover which protects you in the time leading up to your holiday and if you're booking your own trip instead of going on an ATOL-protected package, you will need cover for "end supplier failure".

"Travel insurance is one area where the cheapest deal is not necessarily the best. All sorts of different policies are available – make sure you get the right one, even if it costs a couple of pounds more," says Jane Symonds from the Money Advice Service.

Annual policies should save you money if you go abroad at least twice a year. The average cost of an annual, multi-trip policy in the UK is £101, according to new research from Sainsbury's Bank, just 1.5 times the cost of the average single-trip policy at £68. Make sure you don't pay for cover you already have in place. You may be able to secure a discount on your travel policy if your home insurance policy covers personal property away from home. Call up the travel insurer and explain you don't need baggage cover included to see if they offer a reduced premium.

If you have a packaged current account you may already have travel insurance, so it's well worth going through the list of benefits, but you still need to read the small print. Many policies will only offer basic cover so you may be better off buying a separate policy for comprehensive protection. Winter sports and other activities such as cycling and hiking often catch people out, so if you plan to get active on holiday, find out whether you will be covered and upgrade if necessary. If you want to take on more extreme winter sports such as ski and snowboard racing, jumping, acrobatics and aerials this may be excluded from winter sports and you will need to arrange specialist cover instead.

Always declare any health issues, both past and present, to your travel insurer. If you don't disclose these "pre-existing conditions", the insurer is likely to refuse medical claims.

Care on the card

Never pay for an EHIC You can get one for free online ( or by telephoning 0300 330 1350. You will need your National Insurance number but it should only take a matter of minutes.

The EHIC entitles you to the same care as the nationals in state-run hospitals in any EU country, plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland. So, if they get free medical treatment you do too and if they pay, you pay at the same rate.

The card covers accidents, unexpected illness and some routine treatment for chronic conditions but not treatment that can wait until you get home. You are not covered if you're going abroad specifically to get treatment.

A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
A polar bear’s diet is rich in seal blubber and half of its own body weight is composed of fat
Life and Style
fashion David Beckham fronts adverts for his underwear collection
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson has rejected criticisms of his language, according to BBC director of television Danny Cohen
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Arts and Entertainment
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

    Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

    Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

    Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

    Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

    £25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

    Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

    £25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

    Day In a Page

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
    Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

    Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

    A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
    Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

    Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

    Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
    Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

    Nick Clegg the movie

    Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
    Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

    Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

    Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

    Waxing lyrical

    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
    Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

    Revealed (to the minute)

    The precise time when impressionism was born
    From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

    Make the most of British tomatoes

    The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
    10 best men's skincare products

    Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

    Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
    Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

    Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

    The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
    La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape