6 things to know before visiting the doctor in Germany

Stressed about seeing a doctor in Germany for the first time? No need; the system is simple, and we’ll show you how to find a physician, plan your appointment, and more.

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No one is excited to visit the doctor, but an ordinary task can feel way more difficult when living abroad. Language barriers, not knowing which specialist to visit and confusion about the health insurance system can all make seeing a physician particularly daunting. Here, we’ll explain what steps to take when your health takes a turn and you need a doctor’s care.

Understand your insurance

Patients in the public insurance system (GKV) go through a different process than patients with private insurance (PKV) in Germany. First, you should be clear on which kind of insurance you have. If you have public insurance, make sure when looking for doctors that they accept “Kassenpatienten,” or patients with public insurance. If you are privately insured, you will be able to visit any doctor you choose.

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Find the right doctor

First, consider what kind of specialist makes the most sense for your condition. Do you have a common cold, or a fever or flu? A Hausarzt, general practitioner, can help with these issues. If it’s something more specific, like laryngitis or possibly strep throat, a Hals-Nase-Ohren (HNO) doctor, ear, nose, throat (ENT) specialist, would be the right person to call. For dermatological issues, contact a Hautarzt. A Zahnarzt is a dentist and can take care of your oral and dental issues, and an Augenarzt is specialized in eyes. For women looking for a gynecologist, search for a Frauenarzt near you. 

You can either search online to see which of these doctors is close to you, or you can use resources like Jameda that list ratings and contact information for doctors. With tools like these, it can be easier to find a doctor you trust, especially with ratings online. Additionally, the consulates for certain countries, like France, also recommend doctors who speak your native language.

Don’t underestimate the power of word of mouth when it comes to finding the right doctor. Check with your colleagues or friends living in Germany. It’s important to find a doctor that meets your needs!k

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Scheduling an appointment

Once you’ve determined the right doctor for your situation, call or email to arrange an appointment. If your case is not urgent, like a cold or fever, some general practitioners offer office hours during which patients can drop in. Be warned: you may spend hours in a waiting room, so be sure to bring some reading material.

Here are some phrases you can use when calling for an appointment:


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Paying your doctor’s bills

As soon as you arrive at the doctor’s office and check in at the front desk, they’ll ask for your insurance card. This is another important difference between publicly and privately insured patients. For public patients, doctors have a limited range of treatments that they can offer. But you won’t need to pay for the procedures that are covered; those will be directly by your insurance. In special circumstances, for example, if you’d like an extra test performed that isn’t covered, doctors are required to notify you in advance if you are going to incur any charges. However, for private patients, the invoice will be sent directly to your home. You’ll be responsible for covering the cost. Send the invoice to your insurance company, and they’ll reimburse you based on your plan. The spectrum of treatments is generally much broader in the private insurance system, so you’ll have more options for treatments.

Getting your medication

If your doctor decides that you need medication, there are several possible outcomes. Many general practitioners believe in simple home remedies, like more rest and herbal tea for a common cold. If your condition is more serious, they will write a prescription for your medication. In Germany, these medications are available at the Apotheke, or pharmacy. You can usually spot them by their classic symbol, a green cross. Publicly insured patients will need to cover the cost of most medications by themselves, but many private insurance companies will also reimburse these costs. This can also include but is not limited to health aids like bandages and braces.

Take care of your health

Don’t let your health slip when you move to a foreign country. It’s important to stay on top of your regular check-ups and treatments. Set reminders to visit these physicians to ensure that you’re in top shape as you relocate to Germany.

Useful doctor's visits (non-emergency)

  • Vaccinations for travel
  • Gynecological check-ups
  • Skins check-ups
  • Orthopedist
  • Eye doctor
  • Pediatrician
  • Dental cleaning
  • Flu shots
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HIER SCHREIBT Isabel Sigmund

As a senior sales agent and PKV expert, Isabel answers all questions about health insurance every day. She has lived abroad for 2 years as an expat herself and knows what she is talking about.

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