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Do I really need European travel insurance?

In a word, yes.

Some people assume that because they have an EHIC card, they don't need European travel insurance. However, although EHIC cards help keep the cost of insurance down, they are not intended to replace travel insurance.

EHIC's are freely available to UK nationals, and ensure that if you're travelling in the European Economic Area and Switzerland, you have access to emergency medical treatment (on the same basis as nations of the country you are visiting). However, if you have pre-existing medical conditions, your EHIC may not cover you, and EHIC cards will not cover repatriation costs.

If you're treated for an emergency condition and discharged, your EHIC will not cover return flights (if you're fortunate enough to be able to fly). Also, if you need special arrangements to enable you to return home, an EHIC card will not protect you against these charges, or the cost of any medical personnel needed to travel to assist you.

Aside from the medical cover, travel insurance also protects your bags and belongings when you are travelling. Admittedly, some policies have restrictions on claiming for items like smartphones, but, if your bags go missing, you should be able to claim for clothes, cameras and other items. You're also likely to get protection for cancellation or curtailment of your travel, so you won't be out of pocket if your carrier fails.

What is European travel insurance?

It sounds like a pretty straightforward question, right? Unfortunately, it's not quite that simple.

European does not necessarily mean all of Europe when you're buying travel insurance. In fact, in some instances, it doesn't mean the whole of the EU. So, before you sign on the dotted line (or click to buy), check where you’re covered to go. Many European policies are actually Schengen zone policies. They cover the countries which are part of the Schengen zone, together with the Republic of Ireland, Lichtenstein, Vatican City, Monaco, and the UK (if you need that), but they don't cover countries outside of Schengen (Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia). So depending on where you are going, you may discover you don't have the cover you thought you had.

Further Reading

NHS EHIC Guidance