British residents urged to tell visitors to travel smart – and get a European Health Insurance Card in order to avoid big medical bills

British residents are urged to tell visiting friends and family to make sure they get a European Heath Insurance Card (EHIC) before they travel to Spain.

The EHIC is free and should be regarded as 'a holiday essential' in order to get necessary medical treatment from the Spanish public health service while on a temporary stay in Spain, says the Pension Benefit and Healthcare Team of the British Embassy in its latest newsletter.

A jellyfish sting, an allergic reaction, a broken leg, or a more serious injury or illness can suddenly turn a holiday or business trip abroad into a nightmare. Dealing with an unfamiliar healthcare system and the costs of an emergency can make things even more difficult. But an EHIC makes things easier, and also includes care for pregnant women, the ongoing management of pre-existing or chronic conditions, such as asthma, diabetes or cancer. It is also possible to get access to oxygen or kidney dialysis so long as this is prearranged before you travel.

An EHIC shows doctors, hospitals and pharmacies that British visitors are entitled to any state-provided medical treatment that becomes necessary during a holiday. Treatment is provided is on the same basis as for residents of Spain, so an EHIC holder may still have to pay for some costs. These may later be refunded by the Overseas Healthcare Team in the UK. However, privately-provided medical treatment cannot be refunded.

The EHIC covers most eventualities but not everything. Visitors are therefore also strongly recommended to take out travel insurance before coming to Spain. Every year there are visitors and their families who end up facing huge, life-changing medical bills because they decided to save a few pounds by not bothering with travel insurance.

Hannah Thronicker, manager of the Pension Benefit and Healthcare Team in Spain, said: "An EHIC is free and simple to obtain. Getting one could save you a lot of grief, but if you don't have one, it could make a tricky situation even harder. Then buy some travel insurance, and for the cost of a meal in a restaurant you should be fully covered against medical problems. It's not worth the risk to be without."

The latest Partners' Newsletter, which is also circulated to any association or individual interested in what the Pension Benefit and Healthcare Team and other Partners do, can be downloaded from the UKinSpain website at: http://ukinspain.fco.gov.uk/en/help-for-british-nationals/living-in-spain/pensions-benefits/

What to do to get an EHIC

British nationals planning to visit or holiday in Spain should apply for an EHIC online at www.ehic.org.uk or by calling +44 (0)845 606 2030.

British residents in Spain who access healthcare through an S1 form (previously an E121, E106 or E109 form) can now apply for an EHIC for use in other European countries, including the UK, by requesting an application form from the Overseas Healthcare Team on +44 (0)191 218 1999.

British nationals resident in Spain who lack entitlement to an S1 should check with their nearest INSS (Social Security) office to see if they are entitled to a Spanish-issued EHIC, known as a 'Tarjeta Sanitaria Europea'.

Residents and visitors can get more information about the EHIC at: http://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?langId=en&catId=559&newsId=1039&furtherNews=yes .

Questions about accessing the Spanish healthcare system or where to apply for an EHIC can also be directed to the Pension Benefit & Healthcare Team in Spain on 902 109 356.