The word “Europe” means different things to different people. For Americans, it could mean any number of nationalities. If you’re a Hollywood director, it seems to be some kind of French-Dutch-Swiss hybrid. If you’re actually from Europe, it seems to mean “everyone else in Europe, apart from us”.
Within Europe, and particularly in the UK, the other demarcation seems to be “countries in the EU and those that are not”. The UK is still in the EU, technically, even though it has voted to leave. Norway is not in the EU, although its immediate neighbours are and its government wants to be. Many people, even those obsessed with politics, often aren’t sure which countries are in and which are not.
Why is it even important to you, if you’re in the UK and therefore won’t be in the EU much longer? The answer is, it might not be immediately important but, if you want to travel within Europe for work or for pleasure, you may need to know. What’s really amusing, though, is that whether a country is in the EU or not isn’t the only question you need an answer to.
It’s important to know about the treaties and laws that a country has signed up to because this affects your rights in that country. And while you might think “oh, well, I don’t have time to learn that, I just won’t break any laws”, it’s more complex than that. For instance, if you fall ill in another country, how do you know what you’re entitled to?
Having an EHIC card might be your savior if you are on holiday and fall ill. But it is important to know where it is applicable and where it isn’t. For example, fall ill in Norway and, as a signatory to the European Economic Area, you’re covered just like a Norwegian national. In Switzerland, you’re covered because it may not be in the EEA, but it is part of the European single market.
So it’s important to know what groups your destination is part of and what that does to your rights. Although the UK has voted to leave the EU it’s not clear whether it will join the EEA or single market, and the process will take a few years. So it is worth sending your EHIC renewal form right now, because you’ll still be covered. That said, if you’re going to Turkey or Andorra, the card doesn’t apply there, or in a few other countries in Europe.
It can be hard keeping track of where you’re covered and for what, particularly at times of change. A wise approach would be to decide where you want to go and find out exactly what rights you’ll have there. Remember that the EHIC allows you the same medical rights as a citizen of the country you’re in. So while the UK has the NHS, a few European countries will expect an up-front contribution for some treatments.
For other issues, such as legal representation and freedom of movement across borders, make sure you know the key details. When you’re moving between Andorra and France, for example, you move in or out of the EU, the EEA and single market. It’s worth knowing how this will affect you.