I’ve lived in Jakarta, Paris, and all over the United States, so the idea of living in Germany didn’t scare me. But even though I did my research before making the move, nothing prepared me for the complexity of the German healthcare system.
There are a million things more fun to shop for than health insurance, but it’s also one of the most important decisions you’ll make while living abroad. So here are my tips for avoiding the biggest mistakes I made when navigating the healthcare system in Germany.
1. I went right into the public insurance without checking if it fit my needs
When I first moved to Germany, I asked around to see what people recommended for health insurance. Right away, most of my friends and family advised me to get insured with a company in the public system. I didn’t know if there was a major difference, but it seemed like the right thing to do, so I took their advice and signed up. That way, I thought, I’ve crossed one important task off my To-Do list!
If I had researched my options a little bit more, I could’ve considered other factors that are important to me: do they offer English customer support? Are all doctors accepted? How easy it is it to submit a claim? How much am I paying? I took a leap of faith and went with a trusted company. While I don’t regret it – public is a good option! – it wasn’t the best fit for me.
Photo: KT Flood
2. I didn’t know I had to check which doctors accepted private or public
Everyone told me the public system was easy and hassle-free – which is mostly true. When you visit the doctor, you hand them a chip-card and all transactions are handled between your insurance company and the doctor, which can seem like a relief at first.
What I didn’t realize is that not all doctors in Germany accept public patients. When it came time to find a doctor, it wasn’t enough to just search the internet for a recommendation. I had to call and check if they would accept me and not being fluent, this also put my German skills to the test. Sometimes I couldn’t understand the terminology of the receptionist to pass this step. Then, if they did accept public patients, it might take weeks for them to have a free appointment for me. Not ideal.
3. I lost money by not assessing my options first
Your monthly premiums in the public and private systems are calculated differently. In the public system, your monthly premium is based on your income. In the private system, it’s based on your age and health status when you enter your contract. If you earn above a certain amount (note: at the time of writing, the current salary requirement for employees is €59,400), you’ll be charged the maximum possible monthly premium for public healthcare.
With my public insurance plan, I was paying around €820 each month. But with private, my premium is half the cost! By waiting three full years to learn more about the public and private system, the initial cost of my private health insurance was higher than if I had signed up right away. This would’ve been great to know when I had first moved to Germany!
4. Travel health insurances aren’t accepted by the Ausländerbehörde – and can lead to steep fees, and visa problems
I’m friends with lots of other expats in my city – it’s a great support network, and when I talked to them about insurance options, my friends also suggested travel insurances. These plans are about €50 per month, which can sound like a great deal, but if you’re trying to get your visa to stay in Germany for longer than a few weeks, they just don’t cut it. If you’re already working for a German company or freelancing, some agents at the immigration offices might even ask you to pay a penalty for choosing an insurance that’s not officially recognized by the German government! It’s an acceptable option if you’ll only be in Germany for a few weeks, but don’t take the chance if you want to stay in Germany long-term. It’s much smarter to choose a German insurance company.
5. Don’t value price over performance
When I finally decided to switch to private insurance, I looked around to see what was most important to me. Sure, price is important, but there are other factors that made me choose my new insurance company. Are they there when I need them? Can I talk to them in English? Do they have services that will make my life easier? Will they help me to understand the German healthcare system? I wanted a health partner – not just a faceless insurance company.
I chose ottonova because I knew I could trust that my health was secured. I understood what I was signing up for. When you’re in a foreign country, there are enough variables. Your health should never be in question.
ottonova offers 24/7 support, wherever you are in the world. I can upload my invoices directly, and get money back on my account in a day or two. I can video chat with a doctor anytime to get a diagnosis, a sick note for work, or a treatment recommendation. With all of these services in one app, I don’t have to think twice about my healthcare. That’s priceless to me.
This content was produced by ottonova.