How does healthcare work in Germany?

Can I just walk into doctors in Germany? What do I have to pay? How do I get the best treatment? An overview for expats.


This post was last updated on May 6, 2022
Two nurses discuss

Health insurance is obligatory for everybody in Germany by law. You can freely choose among healthcare insurers (Krankenkasse) but not necessarily between public and private health insurance. Read our article about the difference between public and private health insurance in Germany and how to pick the best option for you. “Amazing. Health care is seen as a Human Right here. It’s not just for those who can afford it” source

These are the steps to get health insurance in Germany:

  1. Pick a health insurer.
  2. Let your German employer know. The company deducts the monthly contribution automatically from your salary. For self-employed: you have to pay the contributions yourself.

Health insurance is not tied to your job. You do not lose health insurance coverage if you lose your job.

Once you have your health insurance card (Gesundheitskarte), choose freely among most doctor's offices or hospitals. All you need is to swipe your insurance card at the doctor. You don't have to pay if you have public insurance: the bill is sent directly to the insurer who takes care of it.

Call 112 in case of an emergency. You do not have to pay for transport to the hospital with an ambulance in case of an emergency. In this case, the transport is covered by German health insurance. Do not call a cab in case of emergency: it takes longer, is less secure and you have to pay yourself.

I do not advise going directly to a hospital if your health issue is not urgent. Better go to the family doctor first who then refers you to a specialist if necessary. A family doctor is also referred to as Allgemeinmediziner or Hausarzt.

Call 116117 if you want to speak to a doctor.

You have to make an appointment before visiting specialists. General practitioners often have hours where you can walk in without an appointment (Freie Sprechstunde) but it is recommended to make an appointment to reduce waiting times.

Some physicians only accept patients which are privately insured but most accept all patients. You can identify these physicians if there are signs saying something like Nur Privatpatienten. Alle Kassen means that the doctor accepts all patients.

The treatment quality varies by the doctor but is generally high. You can also call an ambulance and don't have to pay in case of an emergency. Preventive checkups are covered as well.

While you can often walk into general practitioner's offices (Allgemeinmediziner) and wait for anything between 10 minutes and a couple of hours before it is your turn, appointments at specialists will sometimes not be available immediately and you might have to wait a few weeks unless you are privately insured.

You can make appointments with dentists, eye doctors, gynecologists, orthopedists or any other doctor yourself except for laboratory examinations and x-ray screenings which have to be approved by your family doctor (Hausarzt or Hausärztin) or any other general practitioner. Specialists might ask for a transfer form or Überweisungsschein from a general doctor before making an appointment.

Any doctor can hand out sick notes (Krankschreibung) but doctors in emergency rooms never hand out sick notes. You need to present a Krankschreibung to your employer to take sick leave. Often you only need to hand in a sick note in case you are sick for several days. Please check your employers' regulations for this.

The sick note is an actual piece of paper that you have to collect from the doctor. au-schein.de offers a digital sick note after consulting one of their doctors via video chat.

Tip: It's worth doing specialist appointments by phone as there are often free time slots available that do not show up on websites.

Public health insurance covers dentists but you might want to pay extra for better quality dental crowns. Orthodontic treatments up to the age of 18 are usually included. Not all health insurers cover dental cleanings by the dentist. Extra dental insurance is advised if you have many dental visits. We recommend *Feather dental insurance for English-speaking expats.

Eye care doctor visits are covered but public health insurances usually only cover part of the costs of glasses and usually do not pay for contact lenses source.

A spouse or registered partner without a job or working only a limited amount of time and minor children are insured with the main contributor at no extra costs in public health insurance (Familienversicherung) source.

Prescribed medication should not cost you more than 10.- Euro. Prescribed medication for minors is free. You need a prescription from a doctor before going to the pharmacy in order to benefit from this.

Vaccinations, except travel vaccinations, are included in public health insurance.

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German health insurance: We pay all your hospital bills and sick pay while you can't work. We organize cleaning and cooking helpers while you are in hospital. You can attend a rehabilitation clinic and your family gets free psychological support during your treatment.

The end

Maternity care is covered by the German health insurance system. Gynecologists, childbirth including cesarean section as well as the hospital stay after birth is paid by the German health insurance. My family had public health insurance when my children were born and we opted to pay around an additional 400.- Euro for an optional midwife doing several house visits during pregnancy, accompaniment during birth and for a couple of weeks after birth.

Employers are forced by law to continue paying salaries in case of sickness for up to 6 weeks. For a small monthly extra fee, the public health insurance pays part of your salary for up to 78 weeks in the case of sick leave after 30 days.

The separation between public and private health infrastructure is less strong than in other European countries. While there are specialists who only accept privately insured patients, the German health infrastructure can generally be used by all.

Read more about the benefits of public vs. private health insurance in Germany or go directly to the health insurance plans review.

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