Everything you need to know about healthcare in Germany

As an international student or expat, understanding how the German healthcare system operates can greatly benefit your well-being. Knowing how to find a doctor, when to go to the hospital, or even how to access emergency services gives you peace of mind in times of illness or emergencies.

Home » Moving to Germany » General information » Good to know » Healthcare in Germany

The German healthcare system

Germany is well known for its comprehensive healthcare system. The country ensures accessible and quality healthcare through a well-organised structure that offers various medical services. The German healthcare system uses both public and private insurance systems to provide high-quality care to its residents.

Understanding private and public health insurance in Germany

In Germany, it is mandatory for all residents to have health insurance. To be eligible for a visa or residence permit, internationals must also have adequate health insurance coverage. This could either be through public or private health insurance. Read more below about the general health insurance requirements for internationals as well as the requirements for international students specifically.

How to find a GP in Germany

Finding a general practitioner (GP, or “Hausarzt” in German) is the first step to getting personalised medical care throughout your stay in Germany. Your Hausarzt will be your first point of contact for non-emergency medical issues. You may visit the GP when you have a cold, headache, stomachache, or a minor injury. He or she will also coordinate further care with specialists if needed.

It is advisable to find a GP near your accommodation and register with them. This ensures that you get medical attention more easily and quickly when you are ill. To find a Hausarzt near you, keep the following in mind:

  • Searching “general practitioner near me” on Google will provide you with an overview of family doctors in your area.
  • Be sure to check the reviews and read the experiences of other patients.
  • You may also use sites like “Jameda” or “Doctolib” to see doctors in your vicinity.
  • If you are publicly insured, make sure that the Hausarzt attends to all types of health insurance (known as Kassenarzt)

What to know when going to the doctor 

Making an appointment

Like other institutions in Germany, family doctors also work on an appointment basis. You may either call ahead or pass by to schedule an appointment. However, should it be urgent, most Hausärzte accept walk-ins. The downside of this would be that you may need to wait a longer period before the doctor can see you.

Before the appointment

Make a list of the symptoms you are experiencing and their duration and severity. This will help you communicate your concerns clearly and ensure that you do not forget any important details during the consultation. Providing accurate and detailed information also helps your doctor make informed decisions about your healthcare.

Prepare a list of questions for the doctor about your symptoms, treatment options, or lifestyle changes you can make.

During the appointment

Make sure to bring your health insurance card with you to the appointment. For your first visit, you may also need to provide an identification document (passport or ID card). If you have any medical records or test results, it may also be necessary to carry them.

Many doctors in Germany may have at least a basic understanding of English. However, it is still a good idea for you to have basic knowledge of medical terminology in German. This will help you communicate your symptoms, concerns, and medical history more effectively. You can also consider having a translation app ready.

Be sure to mention any pre-existing health conditions, allergies, or medications you are taking during the appointment.

Discuss any follow-up appointments, tests, or referrals that your doctor recommends. Make sure you understand the next steps in your healthcare journey. You should also make note of any actions you need to take after the initial consultation.

If you have public health insurance, your insurance provider will most likely cover the cost of your doctor’s visit. However, if you are privately insured, you might need to pay upfront and ask for reimbursement from your provider later.

After the appointment

If your GP gives you a prescription, you will need to take it to a pharmacy (“Apotheke”) to collect your medication. Depending on your insurance plan, you might need to pay a co-payment for prescription medications. Make sure to follow the instructions given by the doctor concerning the medicine.

If you had any tests done, ask your doctor when you can expect the results. Follow up with your doctor to discuss the results and any necessary actions.

If your doctor referred you to a specialist, follow through with the referral. Specialists have expertise in specific areas and can provide targeted care for your condition.

When to go to the hospital in Germany

While GPs handle routine health concerns, there are instances when hospital care is necessary. In Germany, hospital treatment is usually reserved for serious conditions and emergencies that require specialised medical attention, surgery, or advanced procedures. If you experience severe symptoms, such as chest pain, difficulty breathing, or severe injuries, it is important to seek care at a hospital’s emergency department.

What to do in a medical emergency

When there is a medical emergency, it is important to know what to do and be prepared to help. The first and most important thing is to call for help.

The European emergency number is 112. Dialling this will connect you to the appropriate emergency responders. The line is active 24/7 and you will not be charged.

When making the call, be sure to provide your location, the nature of the emergency, and other relevant details. While it is natural to be in a state of panic, try to stay calm and speak clearly.

When waiting for the responders, stay in a visible and accessible location. If you are at home, leave your front door unlocked so that responders can reach you quickly.

It could be that you need medical assistance after the standard working hours, but it is not a life-threatening emergency. In such cases, you may call 116117.

This is a medical on-call service that helps patients know the best course of action for their particular health problem. The responder will advise whether to go to the hospital, an on-call practice (ärztliche Bereitschaftspraxis), or wait for your Hausarzt to be next available.

Pharmacies in Germany

Pharmacies, known as “Apotheken,” play a crucial role in Germany’s healthcare system. Germany has strict regulations regarding medications. Many medications that are available over-the-counter (OTC) in other countries might require a prescription here.

Pharmacists are highly qualified and able to give you advice on medications, their proper usage, potential interactions, and side effects.

The opening hours may vary, but most pharmacies follow regular business hours. Pharmacies rotate after-hours service, always ensuring access to essential medications at night, on weekends, and on holidays. You can find information about the closest pharmacy on emergency duty online or displayed on the door of your neighbourhood pharmacy.

Dental care in Germany

Dental care is a vital part of overall health, and Germany has a well-developed dental healthcare system. However, it is important to note that dental care is not fully covered under the public health insurance system in Germany.

Routine procedures such as fillings, cleanings, and extractions are commonly covered by insurance. However, more complex procedures like orthodontics, crowns, and dental implants might require additional coverage or out-of-pocket expenses. Therefore, it is highly recommended to have supplementary (private) dental insurance to ensure better coverage.

Finding a dentist in Germany is similar to finding a GP. Unlike other specialists, you do not need a doctor’s referral to visit a dentist. Like in many other countries, dentists in Germany recommend annual checkups and cleanings to maintain good dental health.

Medical specialists in Germany

Medical specialists such as cardiologists, dermatologists, and neurologists are known as “Fachärtze” in Germany. Seeing these specialists is often only possible through a referral from your GP. Your GP will first analyse your condition and determine if it is necessary to visit a specialist.

After receiving a referral, you are then free to choose a specialist within your health insurance network. Your doctor may also suggest a specific specialist. A visit to the specialist is typically covered by health insurance, but it is recommended to confirm with your insurance provider.

Getting an appointment with a specialist may take longer than with a GP. Therefore, aim to schedule one as soon as you get a referral.

Please note that, with gynaecologists, you do not need a doctor’s referral to schedule an appointment with one.

Mental health care in Germany

Germany has been increasingly working on destigmatising mental health issues and raising awareness. There are a range of mental health professionals available. Psychologists and psychotherapists provide talk therapy, while psychiatrists can prescribe medications and offer therapy.

Public health insurance providers will often facilitate access to mental health care. Please note that there may be co-payments and a limited number of covered sessions. Private health insurance might also cover psychotherapy, depending on your insurance plan.

You may need to consult with your GP for a referral to a mental health professional. As with many other specialists, the demand for therapists might sometimes lead to longer waiting periods for appointments.

In the case of a mental health crisis where immediate support is needed, there are helplines and hotlines available. One may turn to organisations like Telefonseelsorge for support when in distress. You can be assured that all mental health professionals adhere to strict confidentiality rules. The only exception is if there is a risk of danger to yourself or others.


Healthcare in Germany is accessible to everyone, regardless of their type of health insurance. While the system may seem complex, understanding how to navigate it ensures that you receive the care you need. By being informed, you can make the most of this remarkable healthcare system and prioritise your health for a better quality of life.

Fintiba step by step guide

The Fintiba Companion: Guiding your way to Germany step-by-step

Never miss an important step on your journey to Germany. From preparing your university application to mastering your visa application and navigating through daily life in Germany – the Fintiba Companion provides you with relevant information throughout all important stages of your German adventure within a comprehensive checklist – tailored to your individual situation.

Last update: September 20, 2023

* With the Free Travel Health Insurance in the Fintiba Plus package, you can save up to € 95.00. Please note that your right for free travel health insurance will expire if you do not activate either the private or statutory health insurance included in the package. We will issue an insurance confirmation which is valid for 183 days.