The SOS Card Project

On the Importance of an Advance Health Care Directive (Patientenverfügung) and Health Care Proxy (Vorsorgevollmacht) in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland

The statutory regulations on German guardianship law were revised as of January 1st, 2023. However, the situation described below, especially for (1) foreigners and (2) unmarried (or married but living separately) persons, has not improved.

Dear Readers,

A medical emergency opened my eyes regarding the necessity of an advance health care directive and a health care proxy for foreigner living in Germany or visiting Germany (likewise Austria and Switzerland).

Roughly sketched, the legal situation in Germany is:

If a person is over 18 years of age, her/his parents have no influence what medical treatment their own child will receive.

If a visitor (or student, businessman who relocated to Germany) cannot decided by her-/himself about her/his medical treatment (for example, after a serious traffic accident), the German court will decide about a legally appointed representative. This might be (“in the worst case”) any lawyer—who does not know the visitor (student, …), who does not speak the language of the country of origin, and who with that cannot contact the family in the home country.

The simple solution is a advance health care directive (also called living will) and a health care proxy, in which the visitor (student, …) puts down in writing that the parents should take over the representation (for example). Until their arrival, another representative can be named, for example, a good friend or a pastor.

Having the advance health care directive, the health care proxy and a fax from the hospital at hand, the parents can receive immediately a national visa from the German embassy. (I talked to the ambassadors of Germany, Austria and Switzerland in Beijing, they all promised to issue promptly a visa.)

Otherwise, one would have to apply for a Schengen tourist visa. The Schengen visa takes approximately 3 months application time and requires an invitation from Europe. (Who should send this invitation? Foreigners holding a German residence permits cannot invite foreigners.)

The SOS Card team prepared bilingual templates (German + English, for example) of an Advance Health Care Directive (Patientenverfügung) which should be filled-out and signed before you start your journey to Europe.

Even if the probability that an advance health care directive will be used is very small (thankfully!), it can prevent trouble and additional pain.

  • Each traveller needs his/her own advance health care directive
  • Travelling married couples need two mutual advance health care directives
  • No lawyer, no notary, no registration, no costs!
  • The original copy remains at the place of the named representative (i.e. in the home country), so it is immediately at hand in case of need.


Gunnar Lindenblatt