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How to get health insurance in Germany

Should you get public or private insurance? What if you’re a freelancer or a student? Here’s all you need to know about health insurance.

8 min read

Germany is well known for its strong state health insurance system and the high rate of insured residents. In fact, all residents in Germany—including self-employed individuals and students—must have health insurance by law, and you can’t get a residence permit without it. It’s one of the first things you should look into if you’re moving to Germany, so here are the basics on what healthcare in Germany looks like, and how to get insured.

Public health insurance

There are two kinds of health insurance systems. The first is public health insurance (Gesetzliche Krankenkasse), which accounts for the vast majority of insured residents in Germany. If you’re an employee and your gross income is less than €62,550 per year, or €5,212.50 per month, it’s compulsory to be insured under a public, statutory health insurance scheme, and you must choose an insurance provider. The three most common providers are TK (Techniker Krankenkasse), AOK and Barmer GEK. Benefits are nearly identical across these companies, but TK has the most English language resources, and is frequently recommended to expats. Click on this link to apply for TK insurance online, and you’ll hear back within a day with next steps. Your provider will issue an insurance card (Gesundheitskarte) with a chip, much like in a credit card, that you must present at every doctor’s visit.

Each provider covers a basic set of medical care and services including general practitioner visits, sick notes, hospital treatment, immunizations, preventive care, prescriptions, dental examinations, detection and diagnoses, plus much more. The general rule of thumb is that medically necessary care is free, while additional care requires additional payment. For example, you can see the dentist for free, but a cleaning may cost you money. This is becoming increasingly common as the government attempts to sustain such a vast network of care while keeping costs down. Those of you who are unaccustomed to “free” public health care may experience the strange sensation of going back to reception to pay after you see a doctor, only to be reminded that you don’t have to.

The price of a public health care plan is based on your gross income. You split the cost evenly between you and your employer, which comes out to around 8%. Additionally, if you’re insured through the state system, your family is also insured. Your spouse, along with your children (up to a certain age) are covered under your plan. This is the simplest solution that works for most people, especially those who work for an employer that arranges the paperwork.

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Private health insurance

The second kind is private health insurance (Private Krankenversicherung), which you can choose as your primary form of insurance only if your gross income is higher than €62,550 per year, or €5,212.50 per month. This is also the case for freelancers and self-employed residents, who have the option to choose between public or private health insurance. It’s worth noting that if you already have public health insurance in Germany, you’ll have to opt out of your state insurance scheme and switch to private—and it can be difficult to switch back in the future. Private insurance is often more expensive than public, and it doesn’t cover your whole family. The price of your plan isn’t based on your income, but rather on your risk profile. So for example, older people generally pay higher prices than younger people.

The advantage is that you enjoy more extensive coverage that includes exclusively private or semi-private clinics, subsidization of alternative treatments, subsidization of glasses and contact lenses and much more, depending on the provider. Doctors and hospitals welcome the additional income of serving private insurance patients, so wait times are typically much shorter, and you can often request a doctor who speaks your language. You can also shop around for a plan that best suits your needs and your budget over a wider selection of insurance providers than just going with a public plan. However, it’s important to keep in mind that many of these contracts are in German, and oftentimes, you’ll have to submit forms for reimbursement after a treatment—so you’ll end up paying for it out-of-pocket first. One of the easiest ways to get private insurance is to consult directly with an insurance expert. Click on this link to book a free consultation in English, and get an honest evaluation about whether a private plan is best for you, plus recommended plans from various providers. You won’t have to deal with any paperwork in German.

Supplementary private insurance

There’s also a type of insurance that occupies the space between the two. If you have a public health insurance plan, you can get an additional private plan (Krankenzusatzversicherung) that covers inpatient, outpatient and dental treatment. For example, your public plan may not cover dental treatment beyond checkups, so you want supplemental insurance for expensive dental work. Or you know that you’re covered for hospitalization, but would prefer a private room instead of a shared one. Look for supplemental coverage for health, travel, accidents, disability and others from the myriad of private health insurance providers in Germany.

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Expat health insurance

There’s actually one more type of insurance to explain, and it’s the most relevant if you’re a freelancer, job-seeker, or language school student right now. It’s called incoming insurance, and it’s perfect if you’ve recently relocated to Germany, but can’t sign up for public health insurance right away. For example, you might be coming from a non-EU country and you need to get a job before you can get public health insurance. Or you’re just young and healthy, and don’t plan on staying in Germany for more than two years. Think of it as a longer lasting travel insurance that provides affordable care and doesn’t restrict you from entering the public system later. Most importantly, it fulfills the insurance requirement for your residence permit so you can get legally insured as quickly as possible. Click on this link to apply for a policy online and get insured in a few hours, or sometimes, in only a few minutes. Just make sure to not stay on it for more than two years.

Private liability insurance

While not technically health insurance, private liability insurance, otherwise known as accident insurance, is one more thing you should consider to be completely covered. Known as Haftpflichtversicherung in German, this will cover you for up to €30 million in damages that you might accidentally cause to another person or someone else’s property. It will also cover you if you’re injured, or your property is damaged by someone without liability insurance. It’s supplemental to your health insurance because it extends to ambulance costs and lost wages, in addition to the medical bills. Click on this link to learn more and get covered for only €5 a month.

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How to get health insurance as an employee

As previously mentioned, this is the easiest way to get insured. If you make less than €62,550 per year or €5,212.50 per month, you will automatically be enrolled in the public health scheme, so your employer will complete all the required paperwork for you with your cooperation and your chosen insurance provider. Your payments will automatically be deducted from your monthly paychecks. If you make more than €62,550 per year, you can decide if you want to switch to a private insurance provider, and your employer will still make the arrangement with them.

How to get health insurance as a freelancer or self-employed person

If you’re a freelancer or self-employed, it’s all up to you to do the following steps:

  1. Decide if you want to enroll in a public or private health insurance scheme
  2. Choose a provider and find the right application form on their website
  • Provide basic personal information like your name, address and nationality
  • Provide employment information like your job title and start date
  • Provide previous insurance information like whether you’ve been insured in Germany before, and by whom
  • Send the completed form to the appropriate address, which is usually written on the form
  • Submit a recent passport photo to put on your insurance card
  • Set up a direct debit to get billed automatically

3. If you choose private health insurance, you must also choose your particular plan, and plans vary by cost and coverage. People typically recommend choosing a private plan if you’re young, in good health and don’t plan to live in Germany permanently.

How to get health insurance as a student

The process to get health insurance in Germany as a student is similar to the one as a freelancer or self-employed person, except you’ll have to submit the application form for students. Rates for students are considerably lower, so consult with your university’s office for international students first, and then make the following considerations:

  • Decide if you want to enroll in a public or private health insurance scheme
  • Choose a provider and find the right application form on their website
  • Provide basic personal information like your name, address and nationality
  • Provide academic enrollment information like the name of your university, specialty/major and expected graduation date
  • Provide possible employment information like whether you will have any income during your studies
  • Provide previous insurance information like whether you’ve been insured in Germany before, and by whom
  • Send the completed form to the appropriate address, which is usually written on the form
  • Submit a recent passport photo to put on your insurance card
  • Set up a direct debit to get billed automatically

There are clear advantages to both public and private health insurance. Regardless of your decision, you can take care of your payments easily by opening a free bank account online in Germany with N26. Discover which N26 bank account suits you best, then sign up directly from your smartphone in just 8 minutes.

Moving to Germany means navigating a lot of bureaucratic red tape, but opening a bank account doesn’t have to be so complicated. With N26, you can open a German bank account in minutes, right from your smartphone. All you need is a German address—no Anmeldung necessary. You’ll get a local German IBAN, which means no worrying about inconvenient T&C’s that sometimes come with foreign IBANs. There are no hidden fees and you’ll always have access to English-speaking customer service, so the only thing left to worry about is settling in to your new home.

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