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Austria has a good healthcare system, considered by some to be one of the best in Europe. Indeed, its standards of medicine are so high that Austria sees a significant number of “healthcare tourists”, mainly from the US and Canada, every year. The country has a strong tradition of social security and all Austrians pay healthcare insurance as part of their taxes. The standard of healthcare is excellent, with good coverage of hospitals, doctors and dentists in all areas of the country. Whether you are planning to live, work, study or travel in Austria, there are certain points to bear in mind and some significant differences to the healthcare system of the UK.
Healthcare for tourists
Unlike the UK, Austria does not have a national health service as such. Regional authorities or Gebietskrankenkasse take responsibility for health services in each district. If you are going to Austria on holiday, it is a good idea to find out which of these authorities you will be visiting. You can do this by downloading a list from the NHS website. This will give you contact details for each district, should you have need of them while you are there.
If you experience a medical emergency whilst in Austria, you will need to dial 112, or if appropriate, 144 for rescue services (rettung), 133 for the police (polizei) or 122 for the fire department (feuerwehr). For the deaf, the number for SMS is 0800 133 133 (Gehörlosen-Notruf ). As German is spoken in Austria, emergency calls will be answered in this language, so it’s a good idea to learn a few basics or to ask for local assistance if you’re struggling. Bear in mind that paramedics and hospital staff will also speak German, although in larger tourist centres you are reasonably likely to find English speaking staff.
European health insurance card
For visitors to Austria, your EHIC (European Health Insurance card) will allow you access to state-provided healthcare. You may receive this at a reduced fee or there may be no charge at all, depending on the services you use. Emergency care given without an EHIC will be fully charged. Your EHIC will not cover the costs of any private treatment you receive, nor will it cover the cost of being brought back to the UK, cruises or mountain rescue services. With this in mind, it is important to use state-funded healthcare and to consider topping up your health cover with private insurance.
Health travel insurance
It is vital that you purchase enough travel insurance to ensure that you could access any necessary medical treatment in Austria. This is important for all travellers, but most especially if you are planning activities such as skiing or climbing which entail more risk of injury. If you do need to use this service, make sure you retain any paperwork for use when making a claim. Health insurance is particularly important if you have a pre-existing health condition. Make sure you seek advice from your insurance company and from your doctor before travelling to Austria.
Not all providers are covered by your EHIC. Make sure you choose one which operates under the state system. Look for a sign which states “Kassenarzt” or “Alle Kassen” meaning that they are operating under this system. Beware of advice given by third parties about your ability to claim money back as they may be talking about private insurance rather than any treatment received under the EHIC.
Austria is well supplied with dentists and any emergency dental treatment needed during your stay will also be covered by your EHIC, although you will still need to pay the same as residents. Look for the “Zahnärzte” sign and make sure they are part of the state health system. You may find an English-speaking dentist in the larger tourist centres and it is worth seeking one out if your German is limited as receiving the correct treatment may depend on your ability to communicate with the dentist.
Austria has over 270 hospitals which include both public and private institutions. Austrian hospitals are known as Krankenhäuser. Public hospitals are most often general hospitals which deal with all kinds of injury or disease and have an accident and emergency department. All public hospitals are open to anyone with an EHIC, private insurance or an E-card. If you do need to visit a hospital, take proof of your insurance with you, as you will be liable for any fees for which you are not insured. If you’re going to need to stay in hospital, take nightclothes, towels and toiletries with you.
If you need emergency hospital treatment your EHIC will entitle you to treatment at the same cost as residents. A referral from a doctor will be needed for emergency hospital treatment, just as it would in the UK. You will be charged a daily amount for the first 28 days of a hospital stay and, depending on your insurance, you may be staying in a single room, a double room or a larger ward.
Pharmacies and medicines
Apotheken, as pharmacies are called in Austria work in a similar way to the UK. You can purchase prescribed medicines from them and you will be charged the full price. If you have private insurance, don’t forget to keep the receipts for your prescription medicines so you can claim back the cost. You may find that certain medicines you are used to buying over the counter in your own country must be bought by prescription in Austria. Some pharmacies are open 24 hours, but others open between 8am and 6pm, Monday to Friday and until 12pm on Saturdays. Be aware that “drogeries” or drugstores sell only toiletries, not medicines. If you are bringing medicines with you into the country, be aware that you may need a personal licence for some controlled medicines. Visit www.gov.uk for more details well before beginning your journey.
When the UK leaves the EU
When the UK leaves the European Union, the health care situation will change. The EHIC will likely no longer apply to UK residents and those planning to travel to Austria on holiday after this date are advised to buy health travel insurance. Those travelling to Austria after the UK leaves the EU without insurance will have to pay the full cost of any emergency treatment themselves.
Healthcare for those working In Austria
As part of the social security system in Austria, all residents are required to pay health insurance, so you’ll need to register with the authorities and one of the state healthcare insurance providers. Known as Gebietskrankenkasse, you’ll need to register with them within the first week of work. The amount you pay will vary depending on your salary and your health insurance will cover both you and your family (including children and young people who attend university up to the age of 28). Employers are required to pay an equal amount into the system and freelancers are also required to register.
Once registered, you will receive an E-card (for which you will pay a very small annual fee), as will all members of your family. You should carry the E-card at all times and it can also be used as ID as it contains information about your social security number and date of birth. The government uses the card to process claims electronically which makes for an efficient system without lengthy delays.
When you have your E-card, you have access to all the same services as Austrian nationals. Make sure that any treatment you need is provided by a state register doctor, hospital or dentist, as private institutions will still charge the full rate. State healthcare professionals and institutions will display “Alle Kassen” or “Kassenarzt” to indicate that they are part of the state-funded system. Private healthcare is also available in Austria and will provide benefits such as single rooms for a hospital stay. In a pharmacy (or apotheke) you will be charged a small amount for prescription medicines.
There are very few health risks specific to Austria, however tick-borne diseases such as Encephalitis or Lyme disease can be problematic. These can be avoided by using an appropriate insect repellent and covering legs with trousers when walking. The usual vaccinations are recommended for Austria – MMR, diphtheria, tetanus and hepatitis B, but nothing further is necessary.
After the UK leaves the EU
Although you may have to apply for a work permit after the UK leaves the EU, once you are paying into the social security system, you will still be able to access all the same services as residents. If you have lived in Austria for more than five years, you may be able to apply for permanent residency, and receive the same health benefits as Austrian nationals.
Studying in Austria
The EHIC card will cover those studying in Austria, with access to emergency care and reduced fees, although it is worth remembering that many services will require payment at the time of treatment, so you’ll need to have some funds available for this. After the UK leaves the EU, students will need to purchase private health insurance as the EHIC will no longer cover them. It may be possible for students to make voluntary contributions to regional insurance providers, gaining some level of health cover.
Pensioners living in Austria
If you are a pensioner living in Austria, you may be able to export your pension and receive healthcare paid for by the UK. You will need an S1 certificate which you can find out about by visiting www.gov.uk. The S1 certificate will allow you access to healthcare in Austria and will be valid until the UK leaves the EU.
Private healthcare in Austria
As the public healthcare system in Austria is so good, covering basic medicines, dental care, some specialist consultations and hospital treatment, the private system is used only as a supplementary source of care. Depending on the insurance plan purchased, private cover might include things such as daily benefits or hospital costs. Private health insurance will also allow you access to private doctors and, if you need to stay in hospital, more private rooms or smaller wards. If you get private healthcare as part of your employment benefits package, you will have access to shorter waiting times and more services.
Choosing a healthcare provider in Austria
Choosing which doctor, dentist or hospital to go to in the event of an illness or injury is less problematic than in many countries. As the majority of providers are part of the state healthcare system, you can go to any which are convenient and which fulfil your needs. Beware attending private hospitals as you may not be reimbursed for the costs you incur. General hospitals can be found in every city and major town and these will cater for any type of medical need. Unless you have been referred by a doctor, you will need to go to the accident and emergency department or Notaufnahme, from where you may be admitted.
Doctors and dentists who are part of the state healthcare system are also easy to find and identify. All the major population centres are well supplied with a good choice of both physicians and dental care.
Enjoying your time in Austria is very important, so make sure you are prepared for every eventuality with your health. Applying for your EHIC well before you leave and investigating additional travel health insurance are key for visitors to Austria. If you are going to work in Austria, you’ll need to make sure you register with the authorities in order to start paying into the system and access all the healthcare benefits to which this entitles you. No matter what your reason for travel, you must be aware of the UK’s departure date from the EU and how this will affect your healthcare cover.