Finally, you’ve made it to Germany.
Maybe you’ve decided to explore all the bohemian and bio wonders that Berlin has to offer.
Or perhaps you’re visiting Munich’s genteel streets, or any one of the other fascinating places that Deutschland has to offer.
It’s all great. Traveling’s great, right?
Until the lack of sleep, the plane travel and the unfamiliar environment catch up with you and you get sick.
This happened to a friend of mine who visited me in Berlin recently. She came to visit for five days, and for every one of those days, she was curled up on the couch with horrible flu-like symptoms.
Luckily, I was able to take her to the doctor so she could get the medicine and care she needed to recover. But what if she’d been traveling alone, or with someone who wasn’t familiar with the German language and medical system?
Don’t let this cautionary tale scare you out of international travel. Instead, read on and discover everything you need to know about the German medical system, as well as ten medical terms for when you’re sick in Deutschland.
What Do You Need to Know About German Doctors?
You should easily be able to find a German doctor by Googling “doctor [your German city here].” Here’s what you need to know about your visit.
Many German doctors speak English.
Luckily, in my experience, most German doctors speak at least enough English to communicate with you about your symptoms, illness and medicine. Unfortunately, not all receptionists and helpers at doctors’ offices speak English.
But don’t worry—with our list of medical terms, you’ll be able to make an appointment with no problem.
Their fees are much cheaper than American fees.
You know how you would never be able to afford to pay an American doctor out of pocket, sans insurance, in a million years? Good news. The cost of visiting a German doctor is much, much lower.
Even if you don’t have insurance and are paying entirely out of pocket, you can expect to shell out about 20 euros for visiting a general practitioner, and 50 euros for visiting a specialist. Just keep in mind that most doctors take cash, and not credit cards.
Their practices are often smaller and cozier.
Instead of feeling like vast, impersonal halls of medicine, German doctors’ offices often have a cozy living room vibe. They’re frequently located on the first floor of apartment buildings, and they often have a small staff.
The doctor herself will usually do all the checks that a nurse often does in the states. And most doctors have walk-in hours or will be able to fit you in last-minute if you call first thing in the morning and say that you have an emergency sickness.
After the doctor, you must go to the Apotheke (pharmacy).
After you visit the doctor and figure out what’s wrong, you’ll have to visit an Apotheke (pharmacy) to fill your prescription. Apotheken (pharmacies) abound in Germany, so you shouldn’t have trouble finding one.
Once there, you’ll give the pharmacist your prescription; if they have the medicine on hand, you can buy it on the spot. If not, they’ll ask you to come back in a few hours after they’ve ordered the medicine and had it delivered from a nearby Apotheke.
Much like doctor appointments, medicines are very cheap in Germany—even without insurance. You can expect to pay between 10 and 20 euros for your medicine.
What Do You Need to Know About German Insurance?
Maybe you’re planning to come to Germany as more than a tourist—to live or work. Or maybe you’re just curious about how this medical system works. Either way, read on to learn the different options for German insurance.
German public insurance
All Germans are required to have health insurance. And although not everyone has public insurance, the majority of Germans do buy their health insurance from the government. This public insurance is administered through Krankenkassen, organizations that organize and administer the insurance.
You pay a monthly fee—based on income—for this public insurance, but all approved care is free once you have it (you don’t even have to pay that 20 euros for the doctor’s visit).
German private insurance
Unfortunately, if you’ve never worked full-time in Germany, you aren’t eligible for German public insurance. That’s why you can purchase private insurance in Germany, if you’re self-employed or earn below or above a certain amount per year. Private insurers are required to give the same benefits as public insurers in Germany.
Finally, you can also purchase insurance from certain international companies that are authorized by the German government to cover medical costs in Germany. These companies tend to have lower monthly fees than their German counterparts.
10 German Medical Terms for When You’re Sick in Deutschland
Learn these ten German medical terms, and you won’t have to worry about getting sick in Germany.
1. das Fieber (fever)
If you’re feeling hot and cold, sweaty and feverish, you’ll need to know this German word. Tell the doctor “Ich habe Fieber” (I have a fever) or, perhaps the doctor will tell you, “Sie haben Fieber” (You have a fever), and you’ll have at least one of your symptoms identified.
Of course, to diagnose a fever, you’ll need…
2. das Thermometer (thermometer)
“Thermometer” is one of those blessed German-English cognates. With this word, you’ll be able to buy a thermometer at a pharmacy or ask your hotel to borrow one, if you don’t want to go all the way to the doctor to confirm that you have a Fieber (fever).
Keep in mind that thermometers you encounter in Germany will be in Celsius. Not sure how to interpret that? No worries. Thirty-eight degrees Celsius is equivalent to approximately 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, so if your temperature is above 38 degrees Celsius, you’re running a fever.
3. der Schnupfen/die Erkältung (a cold)
Sometimes, the common cold can lay us low. And sometimes, we want to go to the doctor to confirm that all we have is a common cold, and perhaps figure out what medicine can help us get through it.
Der Schnupfen and die Erkältung both mean “the cold.” So, perhaps you’ll hear from your doctor that “Sie haben Schnupfen” (You have a cold), in which case you might need…
4. das schleimlösende Mittel (decongestant)
Schleimlösendes Mittel is decongestant, a product that’s available without a prescription at the Apotheke. Ask the (always helpful) pharmacists at the Apotheke for this, and they’ll give you a product that’s likely to clear out your sinuses and nose and leave you feeling a lot better.
5. die Praxis (doctor’s office)
Remember that doctors’ offices are called the Praxis. You’ll need to know this word for two reasons: one, because when you’re searching Google to find a doctor’s office, you might need to use this word if you aren’t getting enough results with your English terms. You might also need it after you’ve made your appointment and are making your way to the doctor’s office.
Remember how I said that doctors’ offices are often unobtrusive offices tucked into the bottom floor of an apartment building? You might need to know that word Praxis so you can spot the sign and figure out where you’re going.
6. Schmerz (pain)
Schmerz, which means pain, is a word that’s used for lots of different maladies. For example, Kopfschmerz means “headache,” Bauchschmerz means “stomachache” and Ruckenschmerz means “back pain.”
Remember that these different Schmerz maladies don’t use an article when you’re saying that you have them. For example, you would say, “Ich habe Kopfschmerz” (I have a headache).
7. der Termin (appointment)
If you call an Artzpraxis (doctor’s office) and speak to a receptionist who doesn’t speak English, you’ll need to know this word. Tell him or her, “Ich möchte einen Termin machen” (I would like to make an appointment).
The receptionist will likely ask you for die Adresse/Anschrift (address), die Telefonnummer (telephone number), der Vorname (first name) and der Nachname (last name). Give him or her this information, and you’ll be well on your way to health again.
8. die Verschreibung/das Rezept (prescription)
If the doctor wants to give you medicine to help you recover from your illness, you’ll need eine Verschreibung/das Rezept (a prescription). You can take this to the Apotheke, where, as outlined above, they will fill it for you.
Note that if the pharmacist tells you to leave and come back later, he or she might use the verb abholen, which means “to pick up.”
9. das Schmerzmittel (painkiller)
Your doctor might prescribe you a painkiller, or maybe you’d like to ask the pharmacist if they have some non-prescription medicine that can help you get through your sickness. Either way, this word could be invaluable in helping you get through what’s ailing you.
10. heilen (to heal)
Finally, this word represents the goal of all this: heilen, “to heal.” Heilen is a verb that takes accusative; hopefully the doctor will heilen dich (heal you) and you’ll be back to enjoying your trip around Germany in no time.
Getting sick while you’re on the road is terrible, but it doesn’t have to be the end of the world. With a little bit of information about doctors and insurance, as well as some key German vocabulary and phrases, you’ll quickly be able to navigate the medical system, get better and enjoy your trip.