enjoying reading time: 10 min publication date: 19.10.2021


© Stefanie Kaiser
Home medicine chest with pills, clinical thermometer and plasters

Providing high-quality healthcare is a top priority of the Austrian government, and the Austrian healthcare system is one of the best in the world. Health insurance is compulsory here and so 99.9% of residents are covered, most as part of the national (or statutory) health insurance system.  If you are employed and earn more than the marginal wage threshold of €475.86 (2021 figure), then your contribution is automatically deducted from your paycheck each month. Private insurance is available for those few people who do not qualify for public social insurance, or for those who would like extra or private insurance.

But how does the healthcare system actually work? What do you do if you get sick? How do you go about finding a doctor? Where can you find medicine? What if you need a specialist? What do you do if you have a medical emergency? This post will give you all the ins and outs on this important topic!



In Austria, as in most countries, there are a wide variety of types of doctors and healthcare workers, and the Austrian Medical Chamber has a handy tool where you can search for doctors, including detailed searches based on languages spoken, specialities, location, etc. Most Austrian doctors are funded through the public healthcare system, in which case the vast majority of your visits will be free or cost very little - don’t forget to bring your health insurance card (e-card) with you to each appointment! If you choose a private or elective doctor (Wahlarzt or Privatarzt), be aware that you will pay more out of pocket for these services. The difference between an elective doctor and a private doctor is that you can get partially reimbursed for the cost of services or treatments that you choose to have done by elective doctors, but with private doctors you must pay all fees yourself.



Though not required, it is common practice in Austria to have a primary care physician (general practitioner), known as a Hausarzt (officially called an Arzt für Allgemeinmedizin), and this is a doctor who you can build up a relationship with over time. You are free to choose whatever primary care physician you want, though usually it is a doctor who is located near to where you live for ease of access. Your primary care physician is someone you can go to for a yearly health check-up (Gesundenuntersuchung), the first place to go if you are sick or injured and need care (except for emergencies - more on that below), if you have questions about your health or any problems, to get advice on health or nutrition-related issues, or if you need a doctor’s note for your employer or your child’s school in the case of illness. Primary care physicians in Austria are qualified to treat a vast array of physical and psychological problems, and they are also the ones to turn to if you think you need a specialist for more acute, chronic, or specific issues.



If you have a physical or psychological issue that is beyond the scope of what your normal doctor is trained to handle, they will give you a referral (Überweisung) to see a specialist (Facharzt) or to get specialized hospital care. In these instances a referral is usually required, so make sure to check in with your primary care physician first!



A gynecologist (Frauenarzt or Gynäkologe) is a doctor who specializes in women’s reproductive health and pregnancy, and is another doctor you can freely choose and who you can build up a relationship with over time. You do not need a referral to go to a gynecologist, and the doctor search engine mentioned above can help you find doctors practicing gynecology (Frauenheilkunde) in your region.

© Alexandra Pöcher
The sign of a pharmacy in Villach


If you are in need of any kind of medication - whether it’s over-the-counter medicines like Tylenol/Paracetamol, or something your doctor prescribed - a pharmacy (Apotheke) is the place you’ll find it. (Please note - drugstores, or Drogerien, like DM or BIPA do not sell medications of any kind!). At a pharmacy you can also usually find products such as dietary supplements, first-aid supplies, tinctures, essential oils, cough medicine, herbs and herbal preparations, and much more.

Costs for medication in Austria are generally quite low and are very strictly regulated. When your doctor gives you a prescription for some kind of medication, you take the prescription to the pharmacy and in most cases you can expect to pay only a prescription fee (Rezeptgebühr) of €6.50 per medication (in 2021). However, if the cost of the medicine is lower than this prescription fee, you will only be charged the lower price. Normal pain relievers and medicine for coughs and colds, heartburn, diarrhea, constipation, and mild sleeping problems, as well as ointment for cuts and scrapes, can be bought in a pharmacy without a prescription; these you will need to pay for yourself.

Pharmacies have normal business hours during the week, but there is always at least one pharmacy per region that will stay open throughout the night and over the weekend. This service, called Notdienst, Nachtdienst, or Bereitschaftdienst, rotates between pharmacies and may be different every day, so it is important to look in a local newspaper or online to see which pharmacy is open in your region on any given day - see emergency pharmacy information in Villach or for elsewhere in Austria. Be aware that there is a small upcharge for this service, called a Notdienstgebühr, which amounts to between €1.30 - €3.80 per visit.



In the event of a medical emergency of any kind, you can go to any hospital in Austria. It is not necessary to call ahead of time or to call the paramedics. That means that if you sprain your ankle, for example, or break your arm, you can simply go to the hospital and get the care you need.

In medical emergencies where you are unable to get to the hospital yourself or even with the help of family or friends, or in the case of life-threatening emergencies such as major accidents and injuries, heart attacks, strokes, or similar situations, you can call the European emergency number 112, which will alert the appropriate local ambulance, fire department, and/or police station. In Austria it is more common to immediately call the number 144, which will put you directly in touch with the closest ambulance service to get you as quickly as possible to the nearest hospital.  

Austria also has several other emergency numbers, including:

  • Fire department: 122 
  • Police: 133
  • On call doctor: 141
  • Mountain rescue: 140
  • Crisis hotline: 142
  • Poison control center: +43 1 406 43 43
  • National health number: 1450 
    • Since 2019 there has also been the national health telephone number 1450, which is available 24 hours a day. Call this number if you suddenly have concerns about your own or someone else’s health. Calling the health telephone number is particularly helpful in situations where you don’t know what to do: Can the pain be managed at home? Should you go to your primary care physician the next day? Should you get treated by a specialist? Or should you call an ambulance? Medically-trained employees will help you find the best care for your situation, quickly and unbureaucratically. This health telephone number became much more well-known by the Austrian population due to the COVID pandemic, and it is still the case that you should first call 1450 in the event of COVID symptoms (fever, cough, or shortness of breath) and not go to a hospital or doctor’s office. The hotline employees will get the necessary process going for all suspected COVID cases.

Healthcare is a complex but vital topic, and one that can vary vastly by country. We hope our overview has helped make the Austrian healthcare system more understandable and accessible to you, so that you can get the care you need!