Millions of people across the European Union will be able to apply for a new medical card from Tuesday.
The card will replace existing health forms
The European Health Insurance Card will replace the E111 form, which entitles temporary visitors to other states free emergency care if needed.
The card will eventually replace all other health forms, such as those needed by students and job seekers.
Officials hope it will cut bureaucracy and make it easier for Europeans to get medical care in other member states.
At the moment, people have to fill out a wide variety of different forms depending on whether they are on holidays, studying or working.
These forms entitle holders to emergency care and medical treatment on the same terms as nationals of the country they are visiting.
The smartcard aims to cut bureaucracy by simplifying the process.
It will, for example, allow patients who have to pay for their health care abroad to be reimbursed more quickly by their own social security system.
Over time the card could become a kind of medical passport entitling holders to medical care anywhere in the EU.
While some countries are introducing the card immediately, others are phasing it in over the next 18 months.
Belgium, France, Luxembourg, Spain, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Estonia and Slovenia are all expected to introduce it immediately.
Norway which is not a member of the EU is also joining the scheme.
The remaining member states, including the UK, will phase it in. All countries are expected to have introduced the card by the end of 2005.
A spokesman for the Department of Health in the UK said: "The government is committed to introducing the new EU health card by the end of next year.
"UK citizens can continue to use the E111 forms when they travel to any of the EU member states. They will not be deprived of access to health care should they require it."