Anyone that has free healthcare due to living in an EU or EEA country or in Switzerland has probably heard about the EHIC — otherwise known as the European Health Insurance Card.

Many people, however, still do not have the card, and some wonder what exactly the EHIC is and is it something they should apply for? If this sounds like you, read on.

What is the EHIC (European Health Insurance Card)? — The EHIC is given to anyone that has health insurance through their country of residence. As long as that country is in the EU, the EEA or is Switzerland.

The card entitles anyone in those countries, and legally holding the EHIC, to get free healthcare outside their country of residence. This means they can get healthcare no matter where in the EU, the EEA or Switzerland they happen to be, without having to worry about going back to their country of legal residence to get it.

The country where they reside pays the cost of their medical care, as long as the EHIC is presented when the person goes to the medical facility to get treatment.

Is the EHIC given automatically? — It depends which country you currently reside in.

In Austria, for instance, for most people the information needed for the EHIC is already printed on the back of their normal E-card. That means, when they travel outside the country, they just present their Austrian medical E-card before treatment at a doctor’s office or hospital, and the medical care needed will be taken care of free of charge.

For some other countries, however, sometimes a separate EHIC card needs to be processed. It is recommended, therefore, that you contact your local health insurance authorities to find out if you already have the EHIC or need to apply for a separate card.

Should you apply for an EHIC? — If you plan on traveling outside your country of residence, and the EHIC information is not already part of your current medical E-card, then you should apply for an EHIC.

This can be done online, via your own country’s health insurance service or via one of the online companies set up to help people do this. Application for the EHIC card takes just a few minutes, and processing of the card is generally just as fast.

That usually means you can receive the EHIC for any travel you plan on doing within just a few working days.

Does the EHIC cover all medical care? — It covers most but not all medical care.

For instance, it will not cover care that would not be covered in your country of residence. It will also not cover care in a private health facility, nor would it cover the costs of a rescue if you went skiing, had an accident and required rescue from the mountain itself.

It is recommended, therefore, that you contact your local health insurance organization to find out what is and is not covered before you make your next trip.