Applying for a UK EHIC

For a while health insurance for travel wasn’t much of an issue; there weren’t really any places to go due to the world being somewhat on fire due to COVID. However, as things started opening up again, it suddenly became relevant to have health insurance abroad again, and I was completely confused as to what to do as an EU citizen. I vaguely knew I had the right to health insurance within the EU, but had there been an agreement since Brexit? Was it still being sorted out? Was the agreement that no collaboration would happen between the UK/NHS and the EU?

About two years ago, I’d contacted my university to ask about this since I was already sorting out all the administrative stuff for starting my PhD and figured I might as well add other admin stuff to the pile. However, they also did not know; I got an answer back saying it was to be sorted out, but as far as they knew, it hadn’t yet been done. Fortunately, it seems the UK did get around to sorting that out, and there is now a UK EHIC application portal! No problem, just apply, right? Well kinda.

The application process is fairly well put together, apart from one point: There is no indication of whether a field is mandatory or not. Since most questions are multiple-choice, or things like your legal name and date of birth, it would be reasonable to assume that all fields are mandatory. This becomes a problem at the question “What is your NHS number?”. As far as I know, I don’t have one. But the website only tells me what it is and where I can find it if I don’t know it.

So I tried calling my GP. It turns out that NHS numbers are only a thing under the English NHS and not under the Scottish NHS (I like the NHS, I really do, but the fact that it’s not the same across the UK despite the ‘N’ standing for “National” is very confusing…). Unfortunately my GP also didn’t know what to do for the application in that case. At this point I thought “Might as well try” and clicked Continue without filling anything in. And it just… let me through… It then asked for my National Insurance Number, which was fine because that I could provide. But there was never an indication, graphical or textual, that providing my NHS number was not compulsory; that it was not essential for the application.

The cynic in me would guess that it’s intentional, so that they get as few applications as possible. But I think it’s much more likely that it was an oversight and they forgot that people outside of England could be applying (if you know a bit about UK politics, that doesn’t sound too far-fetched). In any case, I was able to complete the application procedure, so I’m just happy that I could get a new EHIC.

I hope this was helpful if you’re in a similar situation! After the application has been submitted, you might get an email asking you to prove your (pre-)settled status. There’s also a portal for that, but double-check the email for the details on what you need to send them. Thanks for reading! : )

Thomas Ekström Hansen
Thomas Ekström Hansen
PhD student in Computer Science

My interests include information visualisation, formal methods, and low-level programming.