How does healthcare work in Germany?

Can I just walk in to 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 March 4, 2021
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

Once you have your health insurance card (Gesundheitskarte), choose freely among most doctor's offices or hospitals. All you need to present is your insurance card. You don't have to pay if you have public insurance: the bill is send 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.

You have to make an appointment before visiting specialists. General practitioners often have hours where you can walk in without appointment (Freie Sprechstunde) but it is recommened 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 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 anything between 10 minutes and a couple of hours before its 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 at dentists, eye doctors, gynecologist, orthopedist 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.

Tip: It's worth to do specialists appointments by phone as there are often free time slots available which 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. Eye care is covered but here as well you might want to pay a bit more for better treatments. These extra payments are affordable though.

A spouse or registered partner without 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.

A prescribed medicament 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 organise 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. Gynecologist, child birth including caesarean 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 additional 400.- Euro for an optional midwife doing several house visits during pregnacy, 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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