Reader question: Do I need health insurance if I am visiting Switzerland?
All the residents of Switzerland must have a basic health insurance for illness and accidents. But what coverage do tourists need?
When you plan a trip to Switzerland, you are likely thinking of which towns and mountains to visit, not which hospitals to see.
But sometimes that is what happens: you get ill or injured, and you have no choice but to see a doctor or go to an emergency room.
Who pays for this?
The answer depends on where you come from.
If you are a citizen or permanent resident of a EU / EFTA state, then your insurance policy will cover you in Switzerland, as long as you have your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). This arrangement is reciprocal — your Swiss insurance card will guarantee free treatment in the EU / EFTA nations as well.
According to the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH), visitors who have their EHIC are “entitled to receive medical care that is considered essential given the type of treatment and the expected length of their stay in Switzerland. This means that patients do not need to curtail their visit to Switzerland and return home for treatment".
Tourists from third countries, on the other hand, “must ensure that they have adequate health insurance cover".
The only exception are UK residents, who can apply for UK Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) or the UK European Health Insurance Card (new UK EHIC), both of which are valid in Switzerland.
However, if you come from non-European nations, you have two options:
Insurance from your own country
You can purchase a travel medical plan from your country, which will cover all your medical expenses in Switzerland. How complete / comprehensive this policy is — that is, whether it covers only the basic emergency treatment but not follow-up care or medical transport back home — is up to you, but keep in mind that if you have limited coverage, you will have to pay the rest out of your own pocket
Additionally, tourists who need a visa to enter Switzerland — everyone except people from the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, and Singapore — “must take out private medical insurance providing minimum coverage of EUR 30,000”, according to FOPH.
You can also purchase the so-called ‘guest insurance’ from a number of Swiss carriers.
It covers unexpected medical emergencies, as well as search and rescue operations, ambulances, and repatriation to your home country.
You can usually select a coverage limit ranging from 10,000 to 50,000 francs, but higher ones are also available. The price will be based on the upper limit you choose, your length of stay in Switzerland, and your age at the time of travel.
However, guest insurance only covers illnesses / accidents that occurred during your stay in Switzerland; it won’t refund the costs of pre-existing conditions or elective surgeries.
A deductible — usually of 200 francs — applies for each claim, though it could be higher for people over 60.
According to Moneyland price comparison site, guest insurance is offered by travel insurance providers like Allianz Travel and Europäische Reiseversicherung (ERV). ‘Regular’ Swiss health insurance providers like CSS, Swica, and KPT also offer guest insurance, but it is underwritten by travel insurance companies.
Will you have to pay for medical care on-the-spot despite having an insurance?
If you have an EHIC card, then no.
But if you are from a non-EU / EFTA country, you will have to settle your bill after your medical treatment, and then claim reimbursement from the insurance you took out, either in your country or in Switzerland.
You will have to provide the record of your medical treatment (which you can obtain from the doctor or hospital), as well as proof of payment.
And one more thing…
This kind of ‘guest insurance’ can be taken out if you are actually a tourist — that is, if you stay in Switzerland for no longer than 90 days.
If you exceed this time limit, then you are no longer a visitor but a resident (either legal or not, depending, again, on where you come from).
In this case, you will need a ‘regular’ Swiss health insurance policy that everyone in Switzerland is required to have.