"..a bardy view!"

EHIC – the European Health Insurance Card

EHIC(Such has been the popularity of this post I've decided to highlight a fact: The EHIC is FREE. Click on this official UK Gov link if you require one) 

I arrived in Italy with tooth-ache.

The next morning I figured that I needed some attention by a doctor or dentist, so I asked my tour guide to book me an appointment, and  she got one with a dentist for 4.30pm the same day. (She was an ex-pat local resident).

At lunch time whilst walking around Sorrento I figured that it was too long to wait, and took a chance at a pharmacy and bought a five day course of Erythromycin – that's all I wanted – a short antibiotic. I'm allergic to penicillin so I was particular with my request.

It was my wife who suggested I should try a chemist, and I was astonished that they sold antibiotic over the counter. It cost me 4.80 euros. I subsequently did the decent thing and telephoned the dentist to cancel my appointment. (By the way in Italy there is the dispensing chemist farmacia and the parafamacia which doesn't dispense – think of Boots and Superdrug as a comparison).

It sounds simple, but the reality was far from it. Getting the medicine was pretty straight forward, with my pidgin Italian and the pharmacist's broken English, calculating the dosage, assessing the number of days required – it was a surprisingly pain-free exercise.

The pain came from actually notifying the dentist that I no longer required his service. If I hadn't cared I wouldn't have bothered, but being a decent chap I telephoned his practice. There was no one who spoke English, and I just couldn't get my point across.

So I decided to go there personally. I followed a map, reached the building which was six floors high. It was locked so I pushed the intercom – the door opened mysteriously and I was confronted with an elevator and a set of stairs. I walked into the lift, but it refused to move, and then I realised that I needed 10 euros to make it work.

It occurred to me at this point that a dentist who expects a patient to pay an elevator fee to reach him was a dentist who encourages even more pain.

So I walked up the flight of steps to the top floor. Upon reaching his surgery, I attempted to explain to the receptionist my desire to cancel my appointment. She didn't understand me. So then I spoke to a dental nurse. She didn't understand me. I then spoke to two dental surgeons – they didn't understand me – indeed, one was smoking a cigar in theatre.

The receptionist called a friend who spoke English. I spoke to her and said that all I wanted to do was cancel my appointment at 16.30. She relayed the information back – the receptionist opened her appointment book and drew a line through my name. Result.

I left with a feeling of great relief. Had I ended in the dentists chair who knows what horrors I would have encountered, nor indeed what bill I would have been presented with.

I returned down the stairs to see my wife patiently waiting for me, at which point I felt great elation. I had escaped from the lions den, into the sunlight.

Later on I saw the tour guide and told her that I cancelled my appointment because I purchased antibiotic over the counter of a pharmacy. She wasn't best pleased. Apparently it would spoil her credibility with the locals for cancelling an appointment, particularly as "she made a special effort to get me one – with my own dentist."

I gave her short thrift "Your dentist doesn't speak a word of English, nor did you tell me that I could buy antibiotics over the counter at a local chemist!"

Her reply astonished me. "You could have got treatment in the dentist and claimed it on your travel insurance. Besides I'm not permitted to tell people that they can get antibiotics in Italy without a doctors prescription. It would get me into trouble!"

Well, that was a revelation. I'd heard many stories about Brits going to mainland Europe in Spain and Italy who recieve medical care, but asked in advance to give their travel insurance policy number.

Simply because these medics can charge whatever they want, knowing that it will be claimed on insurance. It explains why premiums are so high.

I always have travel insurance, wherever and whenever I go overseas  – it's designed for serious treatment, and repatriation. The British consulate in any country does not cater for it. They give advice and assistance but not financial cover.

But as part of the EU there is such a thing as a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), it's free, issued by the British Government and designed for British Subjects to have access to the same level of National Health Service care they would normally receive at home but also within countries belonging to the European Union.

This is ignored in the club med countries – it is a worthless piece of plastic.

In England, antibiotics cannot be obtained without a prescription issued by a General Practitioner or Dental Surgeon. The cost is nearly £8 per item. People on welfare benefits, or over 65 or under 18 years old can get them for free.

I had no idea I would get toothache before I arrived, and the last time I had an antibiotic was over five years ago, but if I had used the service of an Italian dentist, there is no question that his bill would have ran into the hundreds of pounds. What value then the EHIC? There are even companies on some websites which charge £10 a hit for it. Let me tell you here and now – IT IS FREE to all British Citizens.

But it is not a substitute for  independent travel insurance. There's the caveat! A claim on travel insurance ensures higher premiums in the future. That's how it works – it's the same as car insurance, except you cannot insure against a claim or build up a No Claims Bonus.

So I reiterate, travel insurance is essential for the emergencies, but the EHIC should protect you if you are travelling in the EU. Unfortunately it probably depends on where in the EU you are. It may be honoured in Northern Europe – Holland, Germany, etc, but don't rely on it in the Mediterranean countries, because fundamentally those countries for all their membership are on the make and take.

Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain are in dire trouble economically – the P.I.G.S. at the trough are in dire straights. If you plan on visiting them be very street smart!


May 2, 2012 - Posted by | Current Affairs, Education, Europe, General, Italy, Politics, Travel, United Kingdom | , , , , , , ,


  1. Riveting stuff and I’m also allergic to Penicillin. I also have a tendency to have trouble with my teeth whilst on holiday. Luckily I have a smart wife, who now insists that I go for a dental check up afore going on holiday. It does cause less hassles. Smart move with the card and the pharmacy though. I trust your tooth is better?


    Comment by Spook Moor | May 2, 2012 | Reply

  2. It depends what part of the Eu country you go.
    For example, in Northern Italy it is another thing at all. Infact there is a lot of people from eastern europe that go all the time in 1st class state hospitals to take free SPECIALIST medical treatment with their EHIC.
    In Northern Italy, you can go, free, to a specialist for free in 1 o 2 weeks.
    Far better than NHS!


    Comment by Alexander | February 21, 2013 | Reply

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