Europe is Unified – But Is There A European Healthcare System?
With so much of Europe unified – from trade agreements to currency – it’s not surprising that expats and tourists expect that there’s a European system of healthcare as well. But, surprisingly, there is not. There is no “European healthcare system” per se. Healthcare remains the responsibility of each individual country. The majority of European countries have universal health care, primarily administered through socialized medicine or a multi-payer system. The overall standards of care are very good – in some cases, outstanding. And all European countries boast high life expectancy, low infant mortality, and good access to physicians, pharmacies, hospitals, and clinics.
Which European Countries Offer The Best Care?
The majority of European countries have similar standards of care. However, there are some gaps between the western and Nordic countries and the southern and eastern countries. In the top 5 healthiest countries (Netherlands, Switzerland, Denmark, Norway, and Luxembourg, according to the 2017 Euro Health Consumer Index), the standards regarding wait times, accessibility, and preventative care far outstrip the scores from those at the bottom of the list (Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, and Cyprus). A rural clinic in Albania may feel very rustic indeed compared to an urban hospital in Denmark. However, on the whole, visitors and expats receive excellent care.
Some more detailed health information in the following countries:
- Health Care and Insurance for Internationals Living in France
- Global Medical Insurance for Expats and Foreigners in Germany
- UK Health Insurance Plans for Expatriates and Foreigners
The EU Has Some Policy Powers
While the European Union isn’t responsible for providing healthcare, it does pass laws which do affect healthcare and health standards. For instance, the European Union is responsible for laws regarding food safety, consumer rights, and anti-smoking regulations. So while it doesn’t have a hand in, say, wait times in French hospitals or the number of pediatricians in Spain, it does play a strong role in influencing public health, public safety, and environmental standards.
Universal Health Care in Europe
There is a strong spirit of cooperation which ensures that European citizens can access emergency healthcare services when they are visiting neighboring countries. All European Union countries, plus some additional non-member countries, offer their citizens a European Health Insurance Card.
This card allows for reciprocal emergency medical treatment when the holder is visiting another European country. It does, however, come with some limitations. It doesn’t include coverage for elective services. And it also excludes any care that can safely wait until you return home. It’s not appropriate coverage for when you travel to another country specifically to receive healthcare, perhaps enticed by a particular treatment program or specialty clinic. It really is designed just to provide emergency care at little to no extra cost to the European patient.
To be eligible, it’s not enough to hold a European passport. You have to be a legal resident who is eligible for healthcare services in whatever country you reside in. If you’re an expat who has local healthcare insurance, this includes you. However, if you rely exclusively on private international care, you wouldn’t be eligible and therefore should carry traditional emergency medical travel insurance.
Learn About the Schengen Visa
Europe Travel Insurance Advice information for those of you traveling to the following countries:
Austria: Safety and Travel Insurance : Travel to Denmark – Advice for Visitors : France Travel and Insurance Advice : Germany – Visitors Insurance and Safety Advice : Travel to Ireland
Visitors to Italy : Portugal: Travel Insurance Advice : Travel to Belgium : Travel to Europe : Visiting Turkey : United Kingdom : Visitors to Greece : Travel to Spain :
If you are traveling outside of Europe, make sure you have a travel insurance plan to cover you while abroad.
Health Insurance for International Citizens Living in Europe
Assuming you do not have the benefit a European Health Insurance Card, or you want greater access to a wider range of health care facilities, you may want to consider a private international medical plan that will cover your medical expenses in Europe and anywhere else in the world. International citizens living in Europe have many options for their global medical coverage. Two of the best international health insurance companies are listed here. The first, Cigna Global Medical, is a great option as their global headquarters are located in Glasgow. GeoBlue Xplorer plan is a great plan for US citizens living in Europe as they will provide the option to purchase up to 9 months of coverage in the USA, if requested, as well as worldwide.
A Leading International Health Plan for Foreigners in Europe
- Access to Cigna Global’s network of trusted hospitals, clinics, and doctors
- The flexibility to tailor a plan to suit your individual needs
- The convenience and confidence of 24/7/365 customer service
The Best Global Medical Insurance Plan for US Citizens Living in Europe
- Customize your medical coverage to suit your needs
- Define your deductible and prescription benefits
- Choose providers either in or out of our elite network
Another low-cost option would be IMG Europes International Plans
Appreciating the Role of Pharmacies
Pharmacies play an important role in European healthcare. The role of a pharmacy or apothecary is often very different from that of a drug store, which focuses more on toiletries than medication. Pharmacists are trusted to provide medical advice for minor problems and illnesses. While they are often not open on weekends or evenings, they always post information for a pharmacy which offers after-hours care.
Understanding Attitudes Towards Health
Attitudes towards healthcare and health, in general, can vary from country to country and indeed by the individual. But, in general, Europeans indulge in some habits that have long been ingrained in North American thinking as unhealthy, such as smoking, drinking, and consuming high quantities of bread, butter, and cheese. However, Europeans also embrace many healthful habits that many North American eschew, such as daily walking and cycling, buying a high percentage of local, seasonal produce, avoiding processed and genetically modified food, and taking time for relaxation and improving mental health. As a visitor or expat, it can be a bit surprising to navigate the cultural differences between what’s considered healthy versus indulgent but it’s all part of the fun of travel!