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Frequently Asked Questions about accessing medical treatment in other countries in Europe

The rules and procedures to access medical treatment in another Member State differ depending on the purpose and duration of your stay there.  You may be on a temporary stay, for example, a holiday or business trip.  You may have gone to that country specifically for medical treatment because that treatment was not available in Ireland or there are long delays to obtain the treatment in Ireland or you may have taken up residence there.

See below for Frequently Asked Questions on:

Accessing medical treatment during a temporary stay - the European Health Insurance Card

The European Health Insurance Card makes it easier for people from the European Union’s 28 Member States plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland to access health and medical care services during temporary visits abroad.

If you are going on holiday, a business trip or a short break or are heading off to study abroad, remember to make sure that you have obtained a card. It will help save you time and money if you fall ill or suffer an injury while abroad.

What are the practical benefits of the card?

The card ensures that you will get the same access to necessary medical treatment under public sector health care (e.g. a doctor, a pharmacy, a hospital or a health care centre) as nationals of the country you are visiting. If you have to receive medical attention in a country that charges for health care, you will be reimbursed either immediately, or after you go home to your own country. The idea is that you are given the care you need to allow you to continue with your stay.

However, it is important to note that the card does not cover your health care costs while abroad if you are travelling in order to obtain treatment for an illness or injury that you had before travelling. Nor does the card cover you for private sector health care providers.

June is an Irish national and is resident in Ireland. She plans to go to Spain for a short holiday. While she is in good health, she is worried about healthcare if she becomes ill while abroad. As a citizen of the EU, does she have any entitlement to healthcare in Spain or in any other Member State of the EU?

As a resident of an EU Member State, June is entitled to free or reduced cost necessary medical treatment in any EU country as well as Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland.  If she falls ill, she should present at the nearest public hospital with her European Health Insurance Card.  She will be given the same medical treatment as a Spanish national would receive.

Only publicly funded treatment is included in the European Health Insurance Card scheme – each country operates its own rules for medical provision. In some countries, medical treatment is free, in others you pay part of the cost; in others you pay the total cost and then claim a refund.

Where can I obtain a European Health Insurance Card?

You have the following options in applying for your European Health Insurance Card:

  • You can apply online at

  • You can apply in person by completing an application form at your local Health Office

  • To apply by post, ask for an application form at your local Health Office, Community Care office or Health Centre. An application form can be posted to  you from these offices or you can download it from  Return the completed forms to your local Health Office.

If I am resident outside Ireland but receive my pension from Ireland, where do I apply for my European Health Insurance Card?

You should apply for your European Health Insurance Card from the country where you are paying to or benefiting from the social security system.  This will not necessarily be your State of residence.

In practice this means that the HSE has to issue the EHIC for all Irish insured persons or pensioners and their dependant’s resident in other member States, e.g. a retired person receiving a contributory pension from the Department of Social Welfare but who lives in Spain should apply for his EHIC to the Irish authorities.

Is it necessary to obtain travel insurance in addition to the European Health Insurance Card?

It is advisable to take out travel insurance in addition to the European Health Insurance Card. Few countries pay the total cost of medical treatment even under reciprocal health service arrangements. Illness or accident abroad may mean extra travel, accommodation and repatriation costs for which you should be insured. Certain travel insurers will only honour a travel insurance claim for medical costs if the policy holder can produce evidence of the European Health Insurance Card.

Who should I call in case of emergency?

112 is the single European emergency number, reachable everywhere in the EU, from landlines and mobile phones, free of charge. 112 links the caller to the relevant emergency service (local police, fire brigade or medical services) and is available 24-hours a day. 112 is now operational in all EU member states alongside existing national emergency numbers (like 999 or 110). 112 is also being used in a few countries outside the EU, such as Montenegro and Turkey.

For further information go to:

What if I have a pre-existing medical condition requiring weekly medical treatment e.g. diabetes.  Is it possible to visit a doctor in another State and who is responsible for the cost?

The cover provided by the European Health Insurance Card is not limited to emergency treatment.  You should produce your European Health Insurance Card to the hospital to obtain the treatment. You may require supporting evidence from your GP of your condition and as a consequence, you are recommended to bring a letter from your doctor confirming your condition.

Does a student undertaking studies in another Member State have an entitlement to healthcare there?

Students are entitled to all health care benefits in kind e.g. healthcare and medicine during their studies in another Member State. To ensure that students can avail of these benefits, they should obtain a European Health Insurance Card from the health authorities in their home State prior to departure.  Students are regarded as retaining their habitual residence in their home State and students are treated as “staying” in the country of study.  In these circumstances, the Commission has taken the view that the EHIC issued to students by their home State is valid and it guarantees to students as persons insured in another Member State “any benefits in kind which become necessary on medical grounds during their stay, taking account of the nature of the benefits and the expected length of stay”.

When returning the application form, it should be accompanied by a letter from the student’s college confirming that the overseas semesters are part of a registered course.

If the student becomes ill while abroad, he should produce the European Health Insurance Card to the medical staff he consults at his local public hospital.

Where can I obtain further information on the European Health Insurance Card?

Further information on the European Health Insurance Card can be obtained from the following website:


Accessing Planned Healthcare in another State

What is the significance of the Cross Border Healthcare Directive?

Accessing Planned Healthcare in another State What is the significance of the Cross Border Healthcare Directive? On 25th October 2013, the Cross Border Healthcare Directive 2011/24/EU came into force throughout the EU. 

The Directive is designed to clarify patients' rights to access safe and good quality treatment across EU borders, and be reimbursed for that treatment. Patients travelling to another EU country for medical care should enjoy equal treatment with the citizens of the country in which they are treated. If patients are entitled to that healthcare at home, then they will be reimbursed by their home country. Their reimbursement will be up to the cost of that treatment, if obtained at home. In some cases, patients may need to seek authorisation before travelling for treatment, in particular if the treatment requires an overnight stay at a hospital or highly specialised and cost-intensive healthcare.

How does the Cross Border Healthcare Directive dovetail with existing provisions on obtaining health or medical care in another Member State under Regulations 883/2004/EC and 987/2009/EC?

If you are travelling temporarily to another Member State of the EEA or to Switzerland, and you require necessary medical care in that State, you can still rely on your European Health Insurance Card to obtain the medical care that you require during that temporary stay.

You can still apply for prior authorisation for planned medical care under Regulation 883/2004/EC. This authorisation cannot be refused if you cannot be treated in your home country within a time limit which is medically justifiable. It is important to note that in Ireland, treatments that qualify for funding under the E112 Treatment Abroad Scheme (under the social security Regulations) are excluded for reimbursement under the CBD. Before applying for authorisation under either scheme, you should satisfy yourself that you are making the application under the correct scheme. To obtain advice, you should contact the Treatment Abroad Scheme office on 056 778 4551 or the Cross Border Directive Office on 01 620 1668 in Ireland. 

What is the added benefit of the Cross Border Directive over existing provisions on obtaining healthcare abroad under the social security Regulations?

First the Directive covers all healthcare providers in the EU and is not limited to public providers. Second, prior authorisation will not be required in all cases as is currently the case for planned medical treatment under the social security Regulations.  As a patient, you should be able to receive sufficient information to enable you to make an informed choice prior to making a decision to obtain treatment in another State.  National contact points have been established to assist and advise patients on their options under the Directive. The HSE has established a National Contact Point (NCP) office for the administration of the Cross Border Healthcare Directive in Ireland. 

The contact details for this NCP are: National Contact Point, Cross-Border Healthcare Directive Department, HSE Overseas Section, Stewarts Hospital, Mill Lane, Palmerstown, Dublin 20 Tel: 01 620 1668 Email:

When is prior authorisation from my national authority required under the Directive to receive treatment in another State?

National authorities are permitted to introduce a system of "prior authorisation" for going to another Member State for treatment in 3 cases:

  1. For healthcare which involves overnight hospital stay of at least one night
  2. For highly specialised and cost-intensive healthcare
  3. In serious and specific cases relating to the quality or safety of the care provided by the particular provider in question

If you are subject to Irish legislation, you will require prior authorisation from the HSE in all the above cases. 

Can this authorisation be refused?

National health authorities can refuse authorisation if the treatment in question, or the healthcare provider in question, could present a risk for the patient. If the healthcare can be provided at home within a medically justifiable time limit, then authorisation can also be refused. However, Member States will need to explain why such a decision is necessary, and will need to base their assessment of what is "medically justifiable" on your individual case.

What if I am refused authorisation?

Patients have the right to request a review of any administrative decision on cross-border healthcare for their individual case.

How much will I be reimbursed after receiving a treatment abroad?

Patients will be reimbursed the same amount as they would receive in their own country for the same type of healthcare. Member States where care is free at the point of delivery will need to inform patients about their reimbursement tariffs. If the treatment abroad is cheaper than in the home country, the reimbursement will reflect the real price of the treatment.

Can I seek healthcare abroad if the treatment is not available in my country?

Yes, but you will only be entitled to reimbursement if it falls within the "basket of benefits" you are entitled to according to the legislation or rules of your home country. 

In Ireland, any service which is provided by the public health services in Ireland can be availed of under the Cross Border Directive (CBD), for example

  • acute/psychiatric hospital services – day, inpatient, outpatient care,
  • community based outpatient care e.g:
    • dental/orthodontics services (some exceptions i.e. dental screening services in schools)
    • speech & language services o occupational therapy services (some exceptions i.e. assessment for aids at home)
    • psychology services o physiotherapy services o disability services
    • methadone programme o ophthalmic (eye tests etc) services
    • mental health services

Do I need to pay for cross-border treatment upfront?

Yes, generally the patient pays upfront and is then reimbursed by their national authority as quickly as possible.

What should I do if something goes wrong whilst receiving treatment abroad?

The National Contact Point will be able to explain your rights and give information on the regime applicable in the country of treatment. Your home country is obliged to provide you with the same follow-up treatment it would have provided had the treatment taken place on its territory.

How can I be sure that the treatment I received abroad will be followed up properly on my return home?

Your home country has an obligation to ensure that the medical follow-up is of the same quality regardless of where in the EU the treatment took place.

Will my prescription be recognised in another EU Member State?

A prescription issued in another EU country should be recognised in a patient's country of residence and vice versa. This ensures that the healthcare provided in another EU country is properly followed-up on the patient's return home. The patient is entitled to obtain the prescribed medicine provided that the medicine in question is authorised for sale and available in the country where he or she wishes to have the product dispensed. Although these principles are not new, in practice getting prescriptions recognised can be difficult. Although it will not solve the problem overnight, the provisions of the Directive should greatly increase the ability of pharmacists to understand and dispense prescriptions issues in another Member State.

What information must be included in a prescription to ensure that the medication referred to can be obtained outside the Member State which issued it?

To be eligible for cross border use, the prescription must comply with the Annex to Directive 2012/52/EU.  The name and surname of the prescribing professional must be set out together with their professional qualifications; their direct contact details; their work address and signature.  The prescription should also include the date of issue; the patient’s name and surname; date of birth and information on the product prescribed.  In relation to information on the product prescribed, the common name of the product should be provided (Directive 2001/83/EC); the brand name; the pharmaceutical formulation (tablet, solution, etc), quantity; strength and dosage regime. 

Where can I find further information on my rights in Ireland to obtain healthcare abroad?

You can obtain further information on obtaining healthcare abroad through the following website of the HSE -


Accessing Health and Medical Care during residence in another State

What is my entitlement to health and medical care if I take up residence in another State?

You have the right to receive sickness benefits in kind, e.g. healthcare and medicines, in your country of residence, regardless of where you are actually insured. You are entitled to exactly the same treatment as nationals of that country.

If you are insured in a different country than the one where you reside, you should register with  the local healthcare institution of your place of residence. To do so you may need to ask the healthcare institution where you are insured for an S1 form that you will then present to the institution where you live. This is typically the case of pensioners retiring to a different country than the one that pays their pension and where they are insured.  It is not necessary for temporary stays.

Can I transfer benefits accrued in the country I have just left to my new country of residence?

The country where you are insured is always responsible for paying your sickness, maternity or paternity benefits in cash, i.e. benefits that replace a wage that has been suspended due to sickness. These benefits will be paid according to the rules of the country where you are insured, regardless of where you are living or staying.

Whenever certain conditions have to be fulfilled before you become entitled to benefits, the institution examining your claim must take account of periods of insurance, residence or employment completed under the legislation of other countries. This is a guarantee that you will not lose your sickness insurance coverage when changing employment and moving to another country.

Where can I find out more about my health and medical care rights if I take up residence in another Member State?

You can access further detailed information on your health and medical care rights on taking up residence in another State on the following website:


Last update: 08/07/2015  |Top