What to do if you are ill
In the event of minor illnesses, such as colds or headaches, you can buy medication in a pharmacy. But many medicines are available on prescription only. The prescription must be written by a doctor. Then you can use the prescription to collect your medication from the pharmacy, and you only have to pay a contribution towards the cost.
Pharmacies are usually open from Monday to Friday from 8am to 6.30 or 6pm, on Saturdays they close at 1pm. In cities however, some pharmacies are open until 8pm. And there is an emergency service for Saturday/Sunday and during the night.
Seeing the doctor
Do you feel very ill? The best thing is to make an appointment with the GP. Is your child unwell? Then go to the paediatrician. You can normally only go to the doctor from Monday to Friday. But there is an out-of-hours doctor service for Saturday/Sunday and during the night.
If you have a doctor’s appointment you need a card from your health insurance company, the health card. The first time you visit the doctor, you need to fill in a questionnaire with your personal details and information about your illnesses. Once you have registered you wait in the waiting room. They will call your name. Often it only takes a few minutes, but it can be an hour or more.
In the consulting room the doctor asks you some preliminary questions. At this point you should describe your symptoms precisely. What hurts? How long has it been hurting? Have you ever had this pain before? After questioning you, the doctor will examine you. After that he will make a diagnosis. He will tell you what illness you have.
Sick note and specialists
Once he has examined you, the doctor may write you a sick note. He will often give you a prescription for medication too. Perhaps you will also be given an appointment for your next examination. Or the GP will refer you to a specialist, for instance an ENT doctor, orthopaedic specialist or a gynaecologist. The specialist will then give you a further examination.
Different insurance policies
Everyone lives with risks: a risk is for example sickness or incapacity for work (you can’t work anymore). In a situation like that, you suddenly have additional costs. So that you are not solely responsible for these costs, you can take out insurance: you pay money to an insurance company every month or every year. In the event of sickness or incapacity to work, the insurance company pays you money. Some types of insurance are compulsory in Germany: everyone has to have these policies. Other insurance is voluntary: you can have the insurance if you like.
The most important compulsory insurance schemes are health insurance, pension insurance and unemployment insurance. Health insurance pays for your visits to the doctor or any medication you need. Unemployment insurance provides you with money for a year if you lose your job and do not find a new one. Pension insurance is also compulsory for employees: when you are old you cannot work anymore. The pension insurance scheme pays out money for you to live on. Do you have an employer? Then you do not have to pay the money for health insurance and social insurance all by yourself. Your employer pays almost half of it. If you have a car or motorbike, you also need vehicle insurance. What if you have an accident and another car is damaged? The vehicle insurance policy pays for the repair, or a proportion of it.
The most important voluntary insurance policies are liability insurance, house and contents insurance and life insurance. Have you broken something belonging to another person? Then the liability insurance pays for it. The house and contents insurance pays if things are damaged in your home, for instance in the event of water damage. And the life insurance policy pays out if you die. The money can be paid out to the children, for instance.
There are many other insurance policies besides. Private accident insurance for instance pays out if you have an accident outside working hours. Legal protection insurance is for legal assistance, for instance to hire a solicitor. Payment protection insurance, travel insurance and pet insurance are also available. But check carefully which policies you need. The thing is, every insurance policy costs money.
In the Event of Illness
In an emergency, refugees who are awaiting a reply in their asylum process can see a doctor. That’s the law. Before you can go to a doctor, you have to apply for a special health insurance voucher with the social welfare office. Please take this voucher with to your doctor’s appointment so that the social welfare office can pay for the medical costs. Sometimes a doctor may prescribe medication. Take the prescription to a pharmacy to receive your medication. The costs are paid by the social welfare office. Pregnant women or mothers with babies are granted special support from the state.
If you have been living in Germany for more than 15 months, you will no longer need a health insurance voucher when you want to see a doctor. The social welfare office will pay in the same way as a health insurance. However, only standard examinations are covered. The social welfare office will not pay for glasses or travel expenses to reach the doctor. Regulations may vary for children.
In Germany, everybody who has health insurance also has a health insurance card. In the federal states of Hamburg and Bremen, every refugee also receives a health insurance card. This card means that you no longer need a health insurance voucher and can go directly to the doctor. However, this does not mean that you have health insurance. The social welfare office will pay for standard examinations only.
The same applies to psychological problems: In the beginning you may only see a doctor in an emergency. However, many towns have advice centres that can help. A doctor can also tell you where you can get help.
Frequently asked questions
Where can I find a GP near to where I live?
Go to the Kassenärztliche Vereinigung website (Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians).
Auf der Seite gibt es Links zur Kassenärztlichen Vereinigung in allen Bundesländern in Deutschland. Sie klicken auf Ihr Bundesland und kommen auf eine Internetseite mit Telefonnummern. Dort können Sie anrufen und nach einem Allgemeinarzt in Ihrer Nähe fragen. Sie können aber auch direkt auf den Link mit einer Suchmaschine für Ärzte in Ihrer Nähe klicken.
Can I go straight to a specialist?
Normally you go to the GP first. He will refer you to a specialist. He knows which specialist you need. But you can also go straight to a specialist without a referral.
How do I find an emergency doctor in my area?
In emergencies, for instance in the event of a serious accident, call the emergency services directly using the number 112. For all other emergencies you can use the Ärztlicher Bereitschaftsdienst (out-of-hours doctor service). Find out more by calling 116117.
You can find an overview of all out-of-hours and emergency services provided by pharmacies in Germany at apotheke.com. Every pharmacy also has a notice listing all the pharmacies that offer an out-of-hours and emergency service.
How do I get a health card?
Your health insurance company will tell you that.
What do I have to do if I am sick and cannot go to work?
Inform your employer and go to the doctor. After that, let your employer know how long your illness is likely to last. Send him the doctor’s note if the doctor has signed you off sick. Some employers want the sick note on the 1st day of absence, others not until the 2nd or 3rd day. Ask your employer from what point you are required to produce a sick note.
How do I find a doctor who speaks my native language?
Go to the Kassenärztliche Vereinigung website (Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians).
Click on your state. Then you can find a doctor who speaks your native language.
Additional information for asylum seekersCan’t find a suitable doctor in your area who speaks your mother language? Then you can search for an interpreter. For example, you can find an interpreter here www.dolmetscherzentrale.de
Are you looking for someone to accompany you to a doctor’s visit or for the duration of a hospital stay? Then please refer to support networks and initiatives in your area. You can find them in the “Help” section under “Addresses for refugees: support networks and initiatives”.
What is the difference between a medical practice and a hospital?
In Germany there are different medical practices. For every medical field, there is a so-called specialist physician. In case of a toothache, for example, you should search for a dentist. For all other health problems, you should visit a general practitioner first. Most patients have their own specific general practitioner. For example, you should go to your general practitioner when you need a prescription for medication.
In the case of certain illnesses, the physician will refer the patient to a specialist physician or directly to the hospital.
During the week, the general practitioner is usually only reachable during specific opening hours. However, in case of an emergency you can go to the hospital emergency room at any time. There you will also receive assistance, even on weekends and public holidays.
In the case of an accident or sudden serious illness, you should immediately call an ambulance by dialling 112.
You can search online for doctors in your area.
Additional information for asylum seekersRefugees who are waiting for asylum procedure results may visit a doctor in an emergency. However, before you go to the doctor in some Federal states, you must apply for a special health insurance certificate at theSocial Welfare Office. You must take this certificate with you to your doctor’s visit so that the Social Welfare Office will cover your medical bill.
If you are experiencing mental health issues, you can contact information centres. You will find assistance there. You can find more information here:
BAFF, Bundesweite Arbeitsgemeinschaft der psychosozialen Zentren für Flüchtlinge und Folteropfer (National council for psychosocial centres for refugees and victims of torture): Traumatised refugees
Centre for Refugee Aid and Migration Services: Psychotherapy
Information network for Asylum and Migration: Psychosocial Centres
How much do I have to pay for health insurance and pension insurance?
You pay about 15.5 per cent of the money you earn to your statutory health insurance. Pension insurance is about 10 per cent. That means that if you earn a lot of money, then you have to pay more. If you earn less money, then you have to pay less.
My company has to pay something towards my health insurance and pension insurance. How do I get the money?
You don’t have to do anything. The employer transfers the money directly to the insurance companies on your behalf.
I earn a lot of money and the statutory health insurance is too expensive for me. Is there an alternative?
Yes. You can approach a private health insurance company. That often works out cheaper for younger people. But for older people it usually costs more than the statutory health insurance. Then it is very difficult to be accepted by the statutory scheme again. Conditions vary with private health insurance schemes: you don’t get the same money from every private health insurance company even in the same situation.
Where can I find a pension insurance company?
If you have permanent employment, you don’t have to find a pension insurance company. You are automatically in the Deutsche Rentenversicherung. You can also take out a policy with a private pension insurance company. You have to find this yourself. If you are not in permanent employment, you should also take out a private pension policy. Make sure you receive good advice.
When I’m old, the pension insurance scheme will pay me. Will I receive as much money as I earn now?
No, you will usually be paid less money. But you can take out a private pension policy in addition to that. Then you will have a little more money in your old age than you would have had with just the statutory cover.
The car insurance pays out if I damage another car. But what do I do if I damage my own car in an accident?
A comprehensive insurance policy pays out if your own car is damaged. You normally have to pay a higher premium for this kind of policy. Make sure you receive good advice.
I am looking for an insurance policy for my dog. What sort of insurance is good?
Sometimes liability insurance policies cover dogs too. It’s best to check with the insurance company. Consumer centres can also be helpful, as they can provide plenty of information about the different kinds of insurance.