Plane sailing – if you’re flying abroad to Europe, make sure you have the right cover

When heading off abroad on holiday or for work, the one thing that nobody can afford to compromise on is health. And on arriving in a foreign country it’s also massively important to know that if you require medical care, it will be prompt and of a good standard.

Buying health cover might not be the most fun part of preparing for a trip abroad – but it is easily one of the most important things to remember -  along with having an up to date passport and your all-important check-in documents.

Despite the importance of travel insurance, as well as the peace of mind it brings knowing you won’t have to pay towards any medical fees you may incur if you fall ill abroad, many people do go abroad uninsured. A recent survey by the Association of British Travel Insurers found that almost a quarter (twenty four per cent) of travellers out of the UK in 2011 went abroad without the right cover, and ten per cent of those who did have insurance were unsure about what their policy covered them for.

So, how can you make sure you’ve got an adequate level of cover when you’re heading overseas?

For European Economic Area (EEA) citizens, the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) is free and it’s also a handy way to help with the cost if you require emergency medical treatment during travels to other countries that are members of the EEA – essentially the EU, except with Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein in addition.

However, the EHIC – while useful to have – isn’t intended as a replacement for travel insurance, despite its name. This is because it entitles the holder to treatment under the same terms as a national of the country being visited. So if you’re in a place where patients from that country are required to pay towards treatment, then an EHIC holder will also be required to.

On top of this, there have been reports in the news this year of instances where some patients who hold the EHIC were refused free treatment in Greek and Spanish hospitals. The EHIC also doesn’t cover medical repatriation – those instances where someone needs to be transported back home for treatment, which can be very expensive.

The UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office recommends that travellers to EEA countries have medical insurance as well as an EHIC, in order to be covered for emergency medical costs. Your insurer will probably stipulate that you need the EHIC too, so check when you buy. You can get a free EHIC quickly and easily by visiting the NHS website where there’s a link to the application form.

Other things to be aware of when travelling abroad include the requirement for extra cover if you’re going to be taking part in activities like skiing or snowboarding. And if you’re off to study overseas or live there (even only temporarily) then you’ll need to look at buying a policy for health insurance abroad. This differs from travel cover and is designed to help you get the right medical help anywhere in the world you may be living.

Another big advantage with having private medical insurance for overseas is that if you choose a provider with a support helpline, you have access to support with any questions you may have – and it’s always nice to know there’s that extra support available when you’re in a foreign country.