Your experiences with medical care in Europe

We've been to Europe numerous times and luckily have never needed medical care beyond getting a prescription refill, but I'm curious to know the experiences of travelers who've run into more serious medical problems. What happened? How was the quality of care? How was it paid for? If you had insurance, was it accepted? Inquiring minds want to know.

Posted by Jeff
Bend, OR, United States
1159 posts

I found in Spain that some facilities - perhaps most of them - are not equipped to accept payment, at least for outpatient care. Everyone has a government issued medical card. I ended up being treated for a minor problem with no charge.

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
8721 posts

Steve,, what do you mean?? Whats that slam for .. OF COURSE your father had to pay,, he is not a UK citizen is he?? And as for the wait,, geesh, he had a cough, not chest pains .

I love our socailized medical system and would never in a million years trade if for the poor American system of "trade your house in for an operation".

Posted by Tom
2876 posts

I hope this thread doesn't become a debate about different healthcare systems. That was NOT my intent. I'm just curious about peoples' actual experiences.

Posted by Michael Schneider
New Paltz, NY
7431 posts

All public hospitals/clinics, everywhere, treat patients based on medical priority; not first come first serve. For a cough to be checked-out you would have to wait around at a US hospital as well.

Posted by Maureen
1357 posts

My son got sick in Ireland last year, nothing big, but was running a fever off and on for a few days. Our townhome where we stayed came with a book of local resources (big shout-out to Brookman Townhomes!), which included a service called Doctor on Duty. We called, had a pediatrician out to the townhome in an hour, had to pay 70 euro. I also had to buy medicine for him, we ran out of children's Tylenol, so I just went to the pharmacy and asked what I should give my child for a fever.

If I had different insurance, I probably could have submitted a claim when we got home, but we have a high deductible plan, so I didn't even bother. Probably should have, though, at least it would have counted towards my deductible.

Posted by Sasha
Bainbridge Island
1952 posts

Steve---what part of "triage" do you not understand? A cough is not an emergency. Of course you had to wait.

And of course you had to pay---why expect otherwise?

I don't know about the UK, but on the continent, if I had a bad cough, I'd start by going to a pharmacist. They have limited authority to diagnosis non-serious conditions, and offer appropriate medication. If it is something the pharmacist can't handle, or needs an actual medical prescription, he or she will refer you to the physician.

Posted by Norma
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
4507 posts

I hope someone will correct me if I am wrong, but I have always understood that in the UK, visitors can receive EMERGENCY treatment at no charge at a hospital. If you need to be admitted that's a different story.

Posted by Susan
Marin County/San Francisco
3691 posts

In Paris in '89 I was very sick (very bad flu and ear ache) and happened to walk past Hotel Dieu in front of Notre Dame. I walked in, the place was empty of patients, and they took me right into the emergency room and a doctor and two nurses took care of me right away. I was given 3 prescriptions and sent on my way. Months later back home, I received a bill for $60. I was shocked by the low price. And impressed with the great care I received. Wouldn't have happened here, even in '89.

Posted by Nancy
Bloomington, IL, USA
8332 posts

Steve, I think what people are taking exception to is your slam at the socialized medicine system. Your original post makes it sound as if you expected not to pay or wait (the "so much for" part). And it did sound like a complaint.

My nephew (22 at the time) became seriously ill while on a flight to Ireland. They met him with a wheelchair at the airport in Shannon, and told my family where to take him for care. They were sent to a doctor's office near the airport, where the doctor met them (the office was not open at the time). He diagnosed food poisoning and gave them a couple of prescriptions. They did pay for the prescriptions at a pharmacy but were not charged by the doctor.

Posted by Toni
Charlotte, NC, USA
3036 posts

I took a bad fall in the Brighton train station. The first responder was wonderful. I didn't need further care, but the kind attention from those around me and the medic made a difficult situation much easier.

Posted by Norma
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
4507 posts

To return to the OP's last question, "If you had insurance, was it accepted?" That's not the way it works. You pay upfront for the medical service abroad and submit a claim to your insurance company, complete with receipts, etc., when you get home.

Posted by Brooke
Bay Area, California, USA
96 posts

This was not my personal experience, so take it with a hefty grain of salt.

Last year the group I'm traveling with had a student fall ill from massive dehydration (no idea how she got that way, but it sounded like it wasn't a symptom of a larger illness so much as not drinking enough for the hot climate). She had to go to the hospital in Portugal and stay overnight, but everyone on the trips is required to have traveler's and health insurance. She was charged all of $15 for the treatment, which was paid on the spot and refunded once back in the states by the insurance companies.

Posted by Lola
Seattle, WA
6098 posts

James, I have friends with a similar story from Austria. He had a heart attack on a ski trip. They recommended a stent or bypass or something, and his wife thought they should return to the US for that surgery. His response. after being in the Austrian hospital for a few days, was "Heck no, they have the best strudel in the world right here!" He had the procedure done there and 10 years later is still happy (and heart healthy).

Posted by Brooke
Bay Area, California, USA
96 posts

All right, you've convinced me that the next time I need a surgery, I'm doing it in Austria!

According to my grandparents (who live in Europe), their doctors have sent them to Switzerland and France for spa trips for their health. I need doctors like their doctors.

That said, my mother does worry as they grow less sound in body that they may not have world class care in their country (Portugal), but have to hop a border or two to get really great care. I have no idea how well founded these concerns are, as I don't have the knowledge of European countries' medical care compared to the US as my mother.

Posted by Christy
Seattle, WA
684 posts

I accomanied my mother in law to an emergency room in Germany, as well as a follow up visit at a clinic. They sent her a bill, which she submitted to Blue Cross, and they covered it.

The biggest issue we had was that she needed emergency care, we were in a small town, and we hard a hard time finding anyone at the hospital that spoke English (it turned out there was a single doctor on staff who did). Not that I'd expect them too--this was a hospital, not a tourist info center. But I would definitely think twice before traveling with an older person with numerous health issues again. I definitly wouldn't stray off the beaten track again--if I were to do it over I'd stick to someplace like Paris, which has the American Hospital.

Posted by Sue
Springfield, VA, USA
282 posts

I am diabetic and was in Paris. I had forgotten to pack extra test strips for my glucose monitor. I knew the meter was old and outdated, but what else could I do. We went to a pharmacy-non francaise--not avilable in France. They ordered a new meter with strips and we went back in the afternoon to pick it up. Cost about 150 euros. When we got home, we filed on our insurance and they reimbursed us 100%.

I also caled the American Hospital, and the English was pretty ono-existent. I thought I might need a scrip for the meter.

One thing to keep in mind in France is that pharmacists can"treat" you and offer meds if they see the need.

Posted by Maureen
1357 posts

That's a big reason why we had my son see a doctor in Ireland. We were flying to Germany the next day to see family, and while I was 99% sure it was just a virus, I wanted to see a doctor in an English-speaking country to make sure. Not that it would be hard to find one that spoke English in Germany, but, especially when dealing with medical terminology, I thought some things might get lost in translation.

Something to keep in mind, too, is to learn the generic names for medications you need before you travel. We had to buy more medicine for him in Germany, the woman in the pharmacy didn't speak English, but she did know "ibuprofen."

Posted by Tod
Fishers, Indiana
74 posts

I had a case of pink eye in Florence two years ago and asked the local pharmacia where I should go and he gave me great directions.

I waited only for 15 minutes and I was out of there in 40 minutes after having seen an Italian optomotrist. I felt like I received good care and he gave me a prescription and it cleared up in few days.

Posted by Linda
Burbank, CA, USA
72 posts

On the third day of our European trip in 1997, our then 7-year-old daughter started spiking a fever. Turns out, her strep throat (treated before we left on our trip) had returned. We arrived in Salzburg around 8:00 p.m. and had a taxi drive us to a Pediatric ER. She received prompt and excellent care by a kind female physician, plus a prescription. We paid (I think $50 at the ER, and an additional fee for the medication at the apothecary) and submitted the receipts (accompanied by English translation) to insurance when we returned home, and were reimbursed for everything. It was frightening at the time, but now is an interesting memory. Our daughter still recalls the colorfully painted wall murals in the exam room.


Posted by Robin Z
Troy, Oh, USA
1683 posts

When my brother was in the UK a driver run a red light and hit Donald..he was taken to the hospital to be checked. Nothing was broken put his leg was hurting really bad..he was at the hospital for about 3 hours. The only thing he had to pay for was the pain medication, they also gave him crutches to use.

When we were in London my daughter got really sick at night, of course no doctor was in so the hotel told me to take her to the hospital. She had food poison, she was treated and released, we didn't pay anything. Then on other trip husband came down with a really bad tooth ache so the hotel sent him to a dental hospital, he was treated and given some medication. We only paid for the medication.

Posted by George
655 posts

During a visit in Bushmills, Northern Ireland, my wife fell at the Giants Causeway. (I know: there are signs everywhere warning that it is dangerous.) She received some very deep cuts and there was lots of swelling which may have indicated broken bones. We were staying nearby at a B&B. The host took us to the clinic (read hospital). She received immediate attention, Xrays, medicine and bandages, including some to take with us. No broken bones. All of this was provided at no cost to us. We were most thankful to the professionals and to the folks at the B&B. Everyone was very kind.

Posted by Carol
Atlanta, GA, USA
762 posts

Several years ago I was in London with a group of Girl Scouts and adults. Day 1, a 66 year old female falls and breaks her arm in two places up very high near the shoulder.

The treatment didn't cost much... which was good because it was HORRID! The facility told the nurse with us that "it will heal on it's own in a sling" yeah, evenually! Bones heal slow at 66. And when the nurse asked about "mobility loss" we were told "thats to be expected at her age" (Gee, 66 is that old)

Luckily I had some connections at a "private" hosptial in London and got her OUT of the British Health System. They were able to get her arm immobilized and her travel insurance paid to fly her and a "caretaker" provided by the insurance company, home in Business the day after I finally got her OUT of the British System. (Prior to that the insurance company wouldn't transport becuase I couldn't get a doctor to sign a travel release, heck I couldn't get a doctor to admit the patient existed after they sent her home with drugs!)

Honestly, it was "rationing" She's 66 so we won't be agressive.. hmm...

Posted by Tami
Boulder, CO, USA
780 posts

Steve - Your father in law might have gone to a private clinic versus a NHS clinic. Private clinics are like Urgent Cares in the US. I called around and was directed to go to the hospital. I wasn't planning on freeloading, I had credit cards with me if necessary. My husband is a British citizen so I felt ok about using NHS.

I became what I thought was ill (or dying, the anxiety of what I felt made it worse!)on my vacation in London and went to the "casualty" department at Chelsea Westminster hospital. I had heart palpitations and felt like I had a lump in my throat, which also caused panic because it made me wheezy.

They did an EKG (normal) and an exam and turns out I only have GERD (acid reflux) and gave me a prescription for Prevacid.

I only had to pay 6 pounds ($9) for the medicine.

The receptionist said I wouldn't have to pay for the visit unless I was admitted for something more serious. That was a relief because I have no medical insurance, but had my Mastercard if I had to pay. Que sera sera and all that.

I went in at 7:30 am and was out the door with my medicine at 9:10 am. They were very efficient and had the nicest Irish nurse that kept my spirits up with silly jokes.

I got lucky that it didnt really take much time out of my trip and went on with my holiday feeling much better. But no sausage rolls or chips for me :(

Posted by Ilja
1974 posts

About 5 years ago I injured my head in a mountain resort in the Czech Republic. The wound was bleeding quite good and I even briefly lost consciousness so bystanders called an ambulance which took me to nearby little town (about seven miles) to surgeon's office. The surgeon happened to be black guy from Ethiopia (very unusual in the C.R.). I was taken right in, got injection against pain, nurses washed my head, doctor put five stitches there. He said I would pay when I come back to have stitches taken out. So one week later I was charged 521 czech koruna (at that time about US$20). For ambulance I paid on the spot 200 korunas (about US$8). I had TravelGuard insurance but didn't feel like submitting claim for 28 bucks. If something like that happened to me here despite my good insurance from work I would pay more in deductibles.

Posted by Christy
Seattle, WA
684 posts

Following up on what Sue said--I agree, the pharmacies, in France at least, are fantastic. That's where I've gone if I have minor ailments, and I've always had wonderful help. And they were a lifesaver the time my husband had food poisoning--it's so great there's a place you can go where you can tell someone what's wrong, and they can advise you or give you medications as needed, without a hospital or dr visit.

Posted by Dan
Ocean Shores, Wa, USA
124 posts

My wife fell in the deserted village on Achill Island, Ireland, and broke her shoulder. There was severe bruising and swelling. We returned to the B&B in Westport for some personal items. We were headed to the ER in Castlebar, but our B&B hostess talked us into seeing a local family Dr. first, for a referal. It is a good thing we did because the Dr visit was only 60 Euro (including a pain shot) and they told us at the ER in Castlebar that there would be no further charges since we had the note from the Dr. Otherwise it would have been several hundered Euro.

Our travel guard insurance reimbursed us for the Dr Visit and about 30 Euro in perscriptions. She also ended up in a sling but we had opinions from 3 different orthepedic specialists, and upon our return to the US, our local orthepedic specialist agreed with their diagnosis and treatment 100%. Our first impulse was to fly home on day 6 of a 15 day trip, but the Drs. in Ireland convinced us that the injury would be much more able to handle 2 long-haul flights after 10 days of recuperation IN Ireland. We curtailed our sight seeing and made the best of it. We did have 2 follow-up checkups at Castlebar, and the wait was a little long but not extreme, and the entire experience was a good as we could have hoped for. Dan

Posted by Marilyn
Mentor on the Lake, OH, USA
251 posts

My nephew is in Europe this semester. He spent 6 weeks in England and six in italy. While in London he developed a severe infection in his salivary glands. He had insurance through HTH worldwide. They covered the cost plus the insurance representative served as a liason between the hospital(who denied he was even admitted)and my sister, who was frantic, and gave her updates with my nephew's condition. She was very pleased with the insurance company.

Posted by Mme Eli
1170 posts

Steve, this is the part you should have left out: "So much for socialized health care in England."

It hints of "we should not have had to pay!"

Anyway, my son was ill in London many years ago, and we called down to the reception area to ask about a doctor. They called one for us, and he came very shortly. My son had a high temperature and stomach aches. He examined him and said it was most likely a virus, but if the symptoms worsened we were to get him to the hospital. The cost was $40 US at the time. Much less than if we had gotten a doctor in the US to make such a call.

Posted by Elaine
Columbia, SC
797 posts

If you are a Member of any of the BLUES (Blue Cross/Shield)here in the US, and you have a little suitcase emblem somewhere on the front of your ID Card, you're covered by your Blues insurance while travelling.

Posted by Carol
Atlanta, GA, USA
762 posts

One note.

If you are on Medicare Part A and/or B.. you have NO coverage outside the US. You cannot pay and "submit" later for reimbursment. So make sure supplement covers you (Some AARP plans have this) or buy insurance!