European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)

The EHIC or "Health Card" enables holders to access medical resources when travelling outside of their EU country of residence...

European citizens and residents travelling within the European Economic Area, (i.e. the European Union, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) and Switzerland, for private or professional reasons are entitled to a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which simplifies the procedure when receiving medical assistance during their stay in a member state.

The EHIC entitles the holder to the same treatment at the same cost as a national of that country. For example, if medical care is provided free of charge in the member state where treatment is required, the claimant will be entitled to free medical care on presentation of the card or an equivalent document. However if a fee is normally applicable, this may need to be paid at the time of treatment.

Note: Rule changes in 2014 now means that it is generally not possible to apply for reimbursement of medical fees normally paid by a resident or citizen of the treating country, even if a patient would normally pay nothing in their home country. However, the implementation of this change varies from country to country so it is advisable to confirm this with your health insurer upon returning home.

The card is only valid for state provided services and not private hospitals or treatments.

It is also not an alternative to travel insurance as it only covers medically necessary services.

Note: Third-country nationals (from outside the EU/EEA) resident in the EU and holding an EHIC cannot use their EHIC in Norway, Liechtenstein or Switzerland. In Iceland, non EU/EEA nationals are only covered for emergency treatment. Holders of an EHIC in Denmark will only be eligible for free treatment in a public hospital in the event of:

  • A sudden illness
  • An unexpected aggravation of a chronic condition
  • An emergency
  • Childbirth

The Card

Cards are issued by the institution that provides health insurance in the country of residence. The only personal information on the EHIC is the card holder's surname and first name, personal identification number and date of birth. The card does not contain medical data. It contains the same information in all countries where it is issued.

The card validity period varies from country to country.

Applying for a card

Many EU countries issue the EHIC by printing the distinctive EU symbol and other relevant information on the reverse side of the standard-issue national health card or its equivalent. For those countries that require a separate application, the Europa website publishes the application process applicable to each EEC member state and Switzerland.

EHIC Smartphone Application

The European Commission (Directorate General Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion) has developed a useful multi-language smartphone application which gives details of how to use the EHIC in different countries within the EU. It summarises the treatments, costs, procedure for reimbursement and emergency numbers.

The European Health Insurance Card (Cartão Europeu de Seguro de Doença CESD) allows all legal residents of Portugal who have Portuguese social security coverage to benefit from emergency medical treatment and care when temporarily abroad.

Note: The EHIC only covers unplanned medical expenses and is not travel insurance.

EU citizens receiving pensions from their home country

As of 1 May 2010, the responsibility of issuing the EHIC is no longer with a person's state of residence, but with the state where a person is paying to or benefiting from the Social Security System. This affects people receiving pensions from their EU home country rather than their country of residency. A resident of Portugal, receiving pension in for example the UK, should now apply for the EHIC card in UK.

Applying for an EHIC in Portugal

Application can be made at the local social security office (Centro Distrital de Segurança Social), or at the nearest Citizen's Shop (Loja do Cidadão).

  • To apply online use the Portuguese Social Security portal (in Portuguese)

Portuguese residents using an EHIC card when out of the country must make sure that their card is valid. It is valid for up to three years and each member of a family, including children under 16, must have their own card. Further information is available from the local social security office.

Claiming in Portugal with a card issued elsewhere

The card cannot be used within Portugal unless it has been issued elsewhere in the EU.

Doctors and dentists: To benefit from treatment go to the nearest Health Centre (Centro de Saúde) and show a passport or EHIC card and ask to be treated under the EU arrangements. A standard fee will be charged that is non refundable. Under the state scheme in Portugal, dental treatment is limited and it is most likely that a non-refundable fee will be charged.

Prescriptions: Medication is paid for in-part by the patient (between 30 and 80 percent). Medicines prescribed for serious illnesses are free of charge.

Hospital treatment: Emergency hospital treatment attracts a €15 fee payable at the time of treatment. Any secondary examinations such as X-rays and laboratory examinations will need to be paid for.