European Health Insurance Card in Portugal: what is the EHIC and how do you get one?

The EHIC is called Cartão Europeu de Seguro de Doença (CESD) in Portuguese / Gtres
31 October 2018, Alena Voronkova

The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) is a customised card which allows its holder to receive medical care during a temporary stay in a country in the European Union, the European Economic Area (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway) and Switzerland.

What is the Health Card for?

Briefly, the European Health Insurance Card, which is known in Portuguese as the Cartão Europeu de Seguro de Doença or CESD for short, allows access to healthcare in any part of Europe under the same conditions as you would get in your home country. The medical bills are picked up by the tax authority where you are registered as a resident, not the country where you receive the medical attention. It’s vital to have one of these cards in case of emergency, whether you holiday or live in Portugal.

How do you apply for the EHIC?

You must apply for the card from your country of residence. If you are a British resident, you’ve got to apply through the NHS; for Irish residents, the relevant authority is the HSE.

If you are an ex-pat and a resident of Portugal, with a full and valid residence permit, you can apply for the card by filling in your details on the Portuguese-language Social Security website or at any local Social Security office. You can find the full list of regional offices on this website, also in Portuguese.

Can you still use the EHIC after Brexit?

If and when Brexit finally comes into effect some time before 31st October 2019, there is a transition period scheduled until 31st December 2020, during which time your EHIC will still provide you with all the same benefits. After this buffer period ends, it’s still not entirely clear whether UK citizens in the EU will be able to keep using the EHIC/CESD as before; it’s true that a provisional agreement has been made to let UK residents keep receiving the same emergency healthcare while overseas in Europe, but the negotiations with Europe haven’t been formally finalised as yet.

What health issues are covered by the European Health Insurance Card?

  • It’s important to note that the EHIC is not a substitute for travel insurance. It covers neither private healthcare nor the costs of a return flight to your country, nor is it valid for the loss/theft of personal belongings. It’s still recommendable to contract travel insurance when you go abroad.
  • It is designed to cover emergency health problems that may arise during a quick trip or visit, not for travelling overseas with the express purpose of receiving medical treatment.
  • There is no guarantee that the medical assistance you receive will be free of charge.
  • If you get medical help while abroad but you’re going through the process of changing your country of residence rather than on holiday, you don’t need the EHIC to receive medical attention; you’ll have to register using European form S1, available through your insurance provider.
  • It does not cover repatriation to your home country in the case of severe illness or death.

The aim of the EHIC is to cover emergency medical assistance for illnesses or accidents and the aggravation of chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer. For pregnant travellers, the EHIC/CESD provides all the necessary and relevant treatments, up to and including going into labour and delivery. That said, if you’re deliberately travelling abroad so you can give birth in a different country, you’ll first have to apply for clearance to do so from that country.

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