How to Find an English-Speaking Family Doctor in Estonia

A step-by-step guide to making the most of the Estonian healthcare system as an expat.

One of the many benefits of living in Estonia as an expat is the high-quality healthcare. The Estonian health insurance system, which covers about 94% of the population, is a solidarity-based social insurance system—everyone has the right to the same quality of care.

Estonia also has an advanced system of e-health solutions and services: electronic health records, e-prescriptions, and e-consultations were very common even before the pandemic. This makes accessing healthcare quite easy and convenient—which is exactly what you need when you're sick.

Your main source of medical care while you're living in Estonia will be your family doctor (also known as a family physician, general practitioner, or primary care physician, perearst in Estonian). You’re not going to be assigned to a doctor automatically, so once you have your Estonian residence permit, health insurance coverage, and a registered address, you'll need to find a doctor yourself and sign up.

Sound complicated? No worries. 

Here's everything you need to know about finding an English-speaking family doctor in Estonia.

What is a family doctor and why do I need one? A quick look at the Estonian healthcare system

All foreigners living in Estonia with a valid residence permit or right of residence have to be entered into the registry of a family doctor. Your family doctor will be your first point of contact whenever you have a health concern—unless you unavoidably need emergency care, in which case you should call 112 or go to an emergency room.

You are guaranteed an appointment with your family doctor within a reasonable time frame, at no cost to you.

Your family doctor is there to:

  • Diagnose and treat most acute and chronic conditions;
  • Put you on sick leave if you're unable to work for health reasons;
  • Perform minor surgical procedures, direct you to further testing, take samples, administer vaccines, bandage wounds, remove stitches, and make house calls if needed;
  • Give general disease prevention and health advice;
  • Refer you to a specialist if needed;
  • Write prescriptions, etc.

Unlike some countries, family doctors In Estonia don’t normally perform regular check-ups on people without symptoms. If you feel like getting your health checked without any symptoms or specific concerns, you can turn to a private clinic like Qvalitas or Confido for a health audit or SYNLAB for blood tests. These services are not covered by national health insurance, so you will have to pay for them yourself.

To get paid sick leave (sickness benefit) in Estonia, you need to notify your family doctor as soon as you get sick, because sick leave can’t be entered into the system retroactively. Your doctor will register your sick leave and call you in for an appointment if needed.

Being registered with a family doctor is crucial not just because they can treat and diagnose you and register your sick leave, but also because they are your gateway to specialized medicine.

If your family doctor finds that your health concern needs specialist attention, they will give you a digital referral.

With the exception of psychiatrists, gynecologists, dermatologists, dentists, or ophthalmologists (in case of major trauma), all specialized doctors will require a referral from your family doctor. 

Once you have your referral, you can make an appointment with a specialist to take a closer look at your concerns.

How to find an English-speaking family doctor in Estonia: A step-by-step guide

Now we've established the importance of having a family doctor, let's walk you through the process of signing up.

You'll be able to register with a family doctor in Estonia once you've reached a certain stage of your relocation process. What you need to have:

  • A valid Estonian residence permit.
  • A registered address in Estonia.
  • National healthcare coverage. 

14 calendar days after your employment in Estonia starts, you will be covered by national healthcare. This will make you eligible for free medical care and paid sick leave. If you have or are planning to have children, note that all children whose address is registered in Estonia have valid health insurance until the day of their nineteenth birthday. Unemployed people are covered if they are registered with the Unemployment Insurance Fund.

 

How to find and choose the right family doctor

The good news is that you’re technically free to choose your family doctor. The slightly tricky part, however, is that there are a couple of restrictions to keep in mind:

  • You have to register with a doctor in the area your address is registered in. All family doctors have dedicated service areas, usually local government units. You'll be able to change doctors if you need to, but this is usually only necessary if you move outside of your current doctor’s coverage area.
  • Family doctors in Estonia are not required to speak English, so not all of them do. While you can theoretically also visit your doctor with an interpreter or support person, this isn't always a realistic or comfortable option when personal medical information is involved, so finding a doctor who speaks English is your best bet. Russian-speaking doctors are pretty common.
  • The doctor you choose must have space available in their directory. Family doctors typically have 1,200 - 2,000 patients; more in larger practices.

To get started, you can search for doctors by service area in the Estonian Health Board’s registry (website in Estonian), where you'll also see if they have space available in their patient directory. Although it is generally quite handy, this registry does not specify which doctors speak English.

To find an English-speaking family doctor in Estonia, you have a couple of options at varying levels of difficulty:

  • Personally contact individual doctors in your area and ask if they are able to take you in. This can be time-consuming, especially since doctors and their staff might not be able to understand you.
  • The Estonian Health Board might be able to help you find a suitable doctor in your area.
  • Your quickest and easiest option is a private service like Jobbatical that will find a suitable doctor in your area and submit your application on your behalf.

Speaking of which...

How to submit your application

Once you’ve found an English-speaking doctor in your area with an available slot in their directory, your next step is to submit a signed application ("Avaldus perearsti nimistusse registreerimiseks") either in person, by mail, or by email. By far the easiest way to do this is to sign your application digitally and email it to the doctor’s practice or clinic.

Although you can download the application form in English, this version is only meant to be a reference—the application itself has to be submitted in Estonian.

If you moved to Estonia with your spouse and/or children and are signing them up as well, you’ll need to submit a separate application for each of them.

Once you’ve sent it in, your application will be reviewed within seven working days, after which the doctor’s office will let you know if you’ve been accepted. The doctor might decline your request if their directory is full or if your address isn’t registered in their service area.

If you’re accepted, you’ll be officially added to the doctor’s directory starting from the next calendar month, but you’ll already be able to turn to them for help as soon as your application is approved.

While you wait: Other healthcare options

Given the potential roadblocks on the way to finding a family doctor, you are likely to find yourself in medical coverage limbo for some time. But never fear—there are plenty of ways to access healthcare in Estonia before you land in the right family doctor’s registry.

Through online healthcare services like Salu.MD, for example, you can access private consultations with qualified doctors within minutes. Salu lets you call or chat with a qualified doctor from wherever you are, in English or Russian. 

The Family Doctor Advice Line number 1220 offers service in English daily between 3 and 5 PM and is a good option in medical non-emergencies that still require expert advice. If your health deteriorates drastically and you need urgent care, dial 112 or go to an emergency room. 

NB! Find more information on COVID-19 in Estonia here.

Even though expats can sometimes struggle to find an English-speaking family doctor in Estonia on their own, the simplest workaround is a service like Jobbatical that takes care of the whole process for you, from finding a doctor to submitting your application and giving you a comprehensive overview of the Estonian medical system. Contact us to learn more.


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