Sick on vacation

How to best prepare for your trip and what to do in case of emergencies abroad.

What to do if fever shakes you in the Aegean or you break your arm while hiking in the Andes? Learn the best way to handle illness and emergencies abroad.

Checklist: Here’s what to do in case of illness

«Leisure sickness» is what researchers call the phenomenon of getting sick more often while on vacation. Stress in everyday life alters the immune system and makes the body more susceptible to infections. During periods of stress, the body suppresses the immune response until it feels the capacity to regenerate. This is usually when you are on vacation. If it hits you abroad, follow these tips:

1. get yourself into a stable condition.

The first thing you should do is to take care of yourself. If your leg is broken, call an ambulance; if fever is bothering you, stay in bed. Do not overestimate your strength and make sure you are well cared for.

2. Notify your health insurance company.

Call your health insurance company. Most health insurance companies offer a dedicated service phone for emergency calls abroad and can provide you with country-specific information. You should also inform your health insurance company as early as possible about the coverage of costs.

3. consult a doctor on the first day of illness.

If simple bed rest is not enough, you must see a doctor. To preserve your leave entitlement, see a doctor on the first day of illness. If available: Contact your tour guides or the front desk of your hotel. In many cases, a list of doctors is available. Often the hotels will make the arrangements and you will be taken care of quickly.

4. Keep receipts and bills.

Get all bills and sick notes in writing. You will need these receipts for both your health insurance company and your employer.

5. inform your employer.

Sick on vacation: Holiday entitlement & emergency tips

With a certificate of incapacity from the first day of illness, you may credit your sick days back to your leave account.

Good to know: Contact persons and emergency numbers abroad

The good news first: «112» is not only valid in Germany. You can reach the emergency center under this emergency number in all EU countries, plus Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Montenegro, Switzerland and Turkey. If you are traveling to other EU countries, find out the country-specific emergency call number before you leave.

You can reach the service telephone of your health insurance company around the clock. The German Foreign Office can also help you find translators or certified doctors. The switchboard at 49 3018-170 will put you in touch with the relevant departments. To be on the safe side, also download the travel app of the Federal Foreign Office. You can find contact details for the German embassies here.

How to save your vacation entitlement in case of illness

Sick on vacation: Holiday entitlement & emergency tips

Vacation is supposed to be for recreation. But it won’t be if you fall ill during your days off and have to stay in bed or even go to hospital. If you are an employee, you are allowed to make up for the vacation days lost due to illness. There is even a law for this, the so-called Bundesurlaubsgesetz (BUrlG). Paragraph 9 of the BurlG states, «If an employee falls ill during vacation, the days of incapacity for work evidenced by a doctor’s certificate shall not be counted toward annual vacation.» To preserve your vacation entitlement, follow these four guidelines:

1. see a doctor on the first day of illness.

Many employment contracts state that you do not have to provide a certificate until the third day of your inability to work. There is a special rule for vacation: days that you spend sick without a doctor’s certificate may not be added back to your vacation account.

2. inform your employer

To preserve your vacation entitlement, notify your employer as soon as possible. If you notify late, your employer may refuse to continue paying your wages. Also, provide your leave address.

3. provide a certificate of incapacity for work.

Take special care to have your doctor certify that you are unable to work. A common sick note is not sufficient.

4. have your vacation days credited to you

If you have met all the conditions, you can enjoy the recovered vacation days. However, in order to use them, you must submit a new application for leave and have it approved. If you extend your vacation by the length of your sick days without being asked, this can lead to termination.

Be aware of these three exceptions:

  • Things get legally complicated in the case of self-inflicted illness due to intentional or reckless behavior. In addition to accidents under the influence of alcohol or drugs, this can also include sports accidents, should the athlete significantly overestimate his physical limits. Your employer may suspend your vacation pay in this case. Your entitlement to the lost vacation days will still remain. If you do not want to forfeit your pay, you may not make up the vacation days.
  • If you fall ill while you are accruing overtime, you will lose your entitlement to further vacation days despite a medical certificate. The overtime you spend sick simply expires.
  • If your child falls ill, you also lose your entitlement to additional vacation.

Who pays what? Why do I need health insurance abroad?

Prepare well in advance of your trip to be ready for an emergency. Find out about your destination country and what benefits your health insurance will cover.

What do statutory health insurances pay?

Sick on vacation: Holiday entitlement & emergency tips

With a statutory health insurance (GKV), you enjoy solid protection within the EU and the countries of the European Economic Area (EU plus Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland). To be treated in these countries, all you need is your identity card and your European Health Insurance Card. You do not need to apply for this separately. You will find the proof printed on the back of your health insurance card.

However, the statutory health insurance companies do not cover all services. You will have to pay privately for repatriation, the usual national co-payments or treatment in private clinics.

In non-European countries, you pay all treatment costs yourself. Only with some countries like Israel or Turkey there is a social security agreement. In acute emergencies, the statutory health insurance companies also pay there.

In EU countries without social security coverage, you must pay for all services yourself. In the USA in particular, you can expect high costs for medical emergencies, which can quickly run into five or even six figures.

If you are planning a vacation in another EU country, be sure to take out international health insurance before you travel! If you don’t know which policy suits you best, let the Sparkasse insurances advise you on the best health insurance abroad for you.

4 facts worth knowing about health insurance abroad

  1. You can get the policies for little money. As an individual, you can insure yourself from 8 euros a year.
  2. For families, a family tariff is worthwhile. You can get it for less than 20 euros a year.
  3. If you are staying abroad for a longer period of time, you need an insurance with long-term protection.
  4. The scope of benefits often varies from policy to policy. Make sure that there are no restrictions on the coverage of costs other than the usual exceptions.