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Sunday, June 24, 2007

Holidays on the Mainland 

Brits travelling across the channel for their annual summer holidays will benefit from most of continental Europe being in the European Union (EU). Sadly, the UK chose to opt out of the Euro and hang on to the Pound, which means that somewhere along the line currency exchange will cost the British tourist money, but that aside, European Citizenship brings a raft of benefits.

UK residents are generally entitled to medical treatment, equivalent to that provided under the state scheme, at reduced cost or sometimes free, when visiting another EU country. However, to obtain treatment under the scheme, they must produce a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). To get a card, free of charge, UK applicants can either apply online, telephone 0845 606 2030, or ask at the Post Office for an application form.

It is only necessary to apply once and remember that an EHIC will last for up to 5 years, so do not leave it until the last minute to apply. Seasoned travellers should also note that the old E111 certificates are now invalid and holders should apply for an EHIC. Presumably, similar arrangements are in place for the citizens of other member states.

Government advice is that EHIC and holiday insurance are complementary. Travellers are recommended to have both because there are some costs, such as repatriation, which are not covered by the EHIC. Some insurance companies actually require that people they insure have an EHIC, while some will waive any excess charge if an EHIC has been used.

Another benefit is the authorisation to drive throughout the EU. However, motorists must again look carefully at the small print of their insurance policy if they take motor vehicles abroad.

The problem is that under current EU law, insurance companies only have to offer cover for damage an insured driver causes to another vehicle or driver, so called third-party insurance. Auto insurance companies are under no obligation to provide cover against theft, accidental damage to the insured car or personal injury; even if these circumstances are covered in the UK by a comprehensive insurance policy.

British motorists taking their cars to Europe must usually notify their insurer and it is sometimes possible to upgrade the level of cover but the upgrade is unlikely to be free. Presently, it seems as if there are only a couple of insurance companies who provide motorists with the same level of insurance cover wherever they use their cars in the EU; if a UK motorist is fortunate enough to have comprehensive insurance with one of these companies, then their comprehensive insurance cover continues when they take the Eurostar or ferry across the channel.

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