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HEALTH

EXPLAINED: How the Austrian healthcare system works

Falling ill isn't on anyone's to-do list when moving to a new country, but it happens. Here’s what you need to know if you get sick in Austria and need to access healthcare.

Male doctor
Visiting the doctor can be a bit complicated in a new country, so here's our guide to finding the right medical help. Photo: Karolina Grabowska/Pexels

Austrian healthcare has a reputation for being of a high standard with modern facilities and easy access to specialists.

In fact, Austria is regularly listed in the top 10 countries in the world for healthcare, including at number nine in a World Health Organization (WHO) ranking and at number four in a CEOWORLD health index.

Not surprisingly though, a high standard of healthcare does not come cheap and in 2020 Austria spent 11.5 percent of GDP on healthcare, according to the latest figures from Statista. In 2019 (pre-Covid times), the amount was 10.4 percent.

As a result, the Austrian healthcare system is primarily public (with the option for private healthcare). So as long as you are a legal resident in Austria and in the social security system, you are eligible for healthcare — although this doesn’t always mean your treatment or medicines are free.

Tourists and temporary residents can also access healthcare if they become unwell in Austria, but often have to pay full price for treatment if they don’t have insurance.

Here’s an overview of the healthcare system in Austria and what to do if you get sick.

How does the healthcare system work?

Healthcare in Austria is covered by social security and enrolment is compulsory for everyone.

For most people, enrolment is automatic when they start work and contributions are taken out of a salary payment each month. This means the cost is linked to income, rather than healthcare needs.

There is a separate social insurance system for self-employed people, which you need to sign up for when you become self-employed, but contributions are still compulsory and linked to earnings.

FOR MEMBERS: Everything you need to know about health insurance for freelancers in Austria

Social insurance is also guaranteed to co-insured people, such as partners and children, and to people that might not be able to work, like some students, pensioners and those on unemployment benefits.

For some groups, for example international students who are not co-insured or EU citizens who are self-supporting, you may need to get private insurance to ensure you are covered while in Austria.

What to do if you get sick in Austria

If you are unwell and need to visit a doctor, the first step is to contact your general practitioner or family doctor (Hausarzt) and make an appointment. Be prepared to provide your name and contact details, as well as a brief reason for the visit. To find a doctor, you can use the website praxisplan.at, which shows you where doctors are located as well as which languages they speak.

For non-emergency help, you can also call the healthcare helpline 1450 for advice.

If more specialized care is then required, such as from a chiropractor or dermatologist, the doctor will be able to refer you to a specialist in the local area. In Austria, you can book directly with a specialist rather than waiting for a referral if you know the kind of help you need.

To get a doctor’s appointment you will generally need an e-card or a social insurance number. If you don’t have these, you may be treated as a private patient, which means higher fees.

The e-card is Austria’s electronic healthcare card and is issued to everyone in the social insurance system. It has an electronic chip that is linked to the online database and includes details about health, accident, pension and unemployment insurance.

READ MORE: What is Austria’s e-card? Everything you need to know

Cards issued since January 1st 2020 also include a photo of the insured person.

The e-card is used by doctors to determine if the patient is covered by insurance and which provider will cover the cost of the medical treatment.

A doctor’s appointment is also required to take sick leave from employment in Austria – regardless of how long a person will be off sick. This means people have to visit the doctor even if they have a cold or the flu.

However, during times of high Covid-19 cases during the pandemic it has been possible to register for sick leave by telephone to reduce the burden on doctors.

It’s worth pointing out there is no shortage of doctors in Austria, with data from the WHO showing there are 52 doctors for every 10,000 inhabitants. To offer a comparison, in the US there are 26 doctors for 10,000 inhabitants.

Note that not every doctor accepts every form of insurance. Again, the praxisplan.at website allows you to search for a doctor that accepts your insurance fund, or you can look for the term ‘alle Kassen’ (all insurance funds).

It’s also useful to know that annual health check-ups are common in Austria, even if you don’t have a specific medical issue. These are free, and if you are self-employed you can get a free check-up which allows you to reduce your social insurance contributions if you meet certain health goals like maintaining a healthy weight.

Healthcare in an emergency

Everyone in Austria is entitled to emergency medical care – even tourists.

If you experience a medical emergency, or someone else needs urgent medical care, call the following numbers:

144 – ambulance

141 – emergency medical service

112 – European emergency number

There are hospitals in every district and metropolitan area in Austria and the standard of facilities are very high.

Larger and specialized hospitals are usually concentrated in the main cities though, such as Vienna, Graz, Innsbruck and Salzburg.

READ ALSO: Explained: What are Austria’s new rules around sick leave for employees?

Furthermore, each local authority is responsible for the delivery of care, which means there are often differences in services between the provinces. 

As with visiting a doctor, you will need to show an e-card or social insurance number at the hospital if you have them, although priority is given to treating people in an emergency before bureaucracy is involved. EU citizens should show their EHIC (European Health Insurance Card).

For tourists, travel insurance is recommended to cover any hospital costs in the event of an accident or medical emergency.

Fortunately, many hospital staff in Austria speak a high level of English, although paramedics primarily work in German.

Weekend doctors

Doctors typically only operate from Monday to Friday but each district will have a weekend emergency service (notdienst) for matters that can’t wait until Monday morning.

For example, in the Kitzbühel district of Tyrol, the weekend doctor service rotates around the different practices within the district. Details can be found at the Kitzbühel district website

In Vienna, contact details for the weekend medical services can be found at the City of Vienna website.

To find out more about the weekend doctor service in your district or city, visit the website of your local medical provider.

Basic medicines

For people from countries like the UK, it might be a shock to realize that basic medicines like paracetamol and ibuprofen can’t be easily bought in Austria.

In the UK, painkillers, cough medicine and antihistamine tablets can be picked up in supermarkets alongside a weekly grocery shop. But in Austria, medicine is generally only sold at a pharmacy.

Basic painkillers for treating a headache or allergy medication for hay fever are also more expensive in Austria, and there is a stronger focus on natural or alternative therapies for treating colds and flu.

Prescriptions

If a doctor writes a prescription for medicine, it can be filled at any pharmacy and there is usually a small fee to be paid (approximately €6).

Opening times at pharmacies can vary with some closing for two hours at lunch time, but the Austrian Chamber of Pharmacists has a useful online tool for finding a local pharmacy.

Useful vocabulary

Pharmacy – Apotheke

Prescription – Rezept

General practitioner (GP) – Hausarzt

Hospital – Krankenhaus

Emergency – Notfall

Emergency service – Notdienst

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For members

LIVING IN AUSTRIA

EXPLAINED: Everything you need to know about camping in Austria

Camping in Austria can be a lot of fun, but what are the rules? Here’s everything you need to know about setting up camp in the Alpine republic.

EXPLAINED: Everything you need to know about camping in Austria

Waking up beside a lake or surrounded by mountains is a dream Austrian holiday for many, but it’s important to know the rules about camping before heading off with a tent or campervan.

As the summer season approaches, here’s everything you need to know about camping in Austria.

Is wild camping legal in Austria?

Wild camping – setting up camp outside of a designated campsite – is generally illegal in Austria. This applies to both camping in a tent or sleeping in a van on the side of the road.

Exceptions to this rule do exist but usually only if the municipal authority grants a temporary exception, for example for a school trip or a youth club activity.

A bivouac (temporary camp without cover) is allowed in the event of bad weather or injury, but planned wild camping in the mountains is illegal. 

FOR MEMBERS: What are the rules for wild camping in Austria?

There are some regional differences though.

In the states of Salzburg, Vorarlberg and Styria there are no laws strictly forbidding camping outside of campsites, but local authorities can prohibit it and take action if necessary.

The strictest rules apply in national parks, nature reserves and special protection areas across Austria, so check before you plan your camping trip that your spot is not located in one of these areas.  

In most cases, if someone is caught camping illegally in Austria it is considered as an administrative offence and a fine can be issued, ranging from €5 to €500, depending on the location.

Camping in the forest

Camping in the forest is prohibited everywhere in Austria by law (specifically Section 33 of the Forest Act). The only exception is when you have the consent of the landowner.

Camping above the tree line

In Upper Austria and Styria you are allowed to camp in the mountains above the tree line, as long as you are outside of pasture areas.

In Vorarlberg this is also permitted, although the mayor of a municipality can prohibit the setting up of tents outside approved campsites if the interests of safety, health, agriculture or the protection of the natural balance as well as the landscape and townscape are “grossly violated”.

In Salzburg, camping above the tree line is in theory permitted, but the Alpine Association recommends groups wishing to camp should contact the nature conservation department of the responsible district administration before setting up. 

READ ALSO: How to explore the Austrian mountains in the summer like a local

Camping in a tent

Camping in a tent is the most common way of camping in the summer and most people pitch up on a dedicated campsite.

Many campgrounds have water and electricity facilities, as well as showers, cooking areas, recreation spaces and even kids clubs. Others have luxury elements like year-round heated pools, saunas, beach volleyball and restaurants.

Campsites are also often located near a lake or at the base of mountains, which means you can wake up to beautiful scenery every morning .

Some of Austria’s top camping associations include Camping Wien, Camping Steiermark and Top Camping Austria.

Camping in a van

Camping in a motorhome is only allowed at campsites in Austria and if someone is caught sleeping in a van in a prohibited area they can be fined.

The only exception is if a driver has to stop and recuperate before continuing driving.

Top camping tips

Austria is packed with stunning natural landscapes, so camping during the summer months is a popular activity – both for Austrian residents and tourists.

For this reason, it’s recommended to book ahead during the peak summer holiday months of July and August, whether planning to camp in a motorhome or tent.

Camping in motorhomes is also becoming more popular at some winter campsites during the ski season, so it’s always a good idea to book in advance.

Additionally, it’s advised to take bug spray when camping in Austria in the summer as insects like mosquitoes and ticks are common in countryside areas.

In fact, tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) – a viral infection transmitted by the bite of infected ticks – is endemic in Austria and it’s recommended to get vaccinated before going on a hiking or camping trip in the country.

The main affected areas for TBE are Tyrol and Upper Austria.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: What is Austria’s ‘tick vaccine’ and should you take it

Useful vocabulary

Campsite – Campingplätze

Tent – Zelt

Campervan – Reisemobil

Electricity – Strom

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