Health insurance: which one is right for me?

In Germany, health insurance isn’t “health” insurance; it’s “sick” insurance - Krankenversicherung. With that (pretty useless) piece of trivia out of the way, let’s get down to the nitty gritty of German health insurance – how it works, how you get it, how much it costs… All the information you need is right here!

Confused about German health insurance? Take comfort in the fact that you’re definitely not the only one. The German health insurance system is – like most systems in Germany – incredibly complex. Anybody would think the Germans do it on purpose just to bamboozle foreigners. (Maybe they do?) Anyway, in your face Germany. We’ve taken your system and broken it down into an easily digestible overview that even the most clueless of newcomers can understand. (We hope.)

Health insurance is mandatory

First of all, everyone who moves to Germany is required to have health insurance. The good news is that the German healthcare system is one of the best in the world - people even come from abroad to have medical treatments in Germany so lucky you that you’re already living here! If you’re planning on staying long-term, travel insurance won’t cut it; you’ll have to get either public or private health insurance.  

Public or private?

What’s the difference?

The German health insurance system is split into two parts – public and private. About 90% of the population have public health insurance – in German: Gesetzliche Krankenkenversicherung (GKV), more scarily long German words. If you’re in full-time employment, things are actually surprisingly simple – you’ll get it automatically through work and your employer pays 50%. Easy-peasy. If you’re a freelancer, unfortunately, you’ll have to pay the full whack yourself. The cost of your insurance is based on your income, and you’ll pay between 14.8% and 16.3% of your salary.

The most popular public health insurance companies in Germany are:

Whichever one you decide to go for is really up to you. Pricewise, there’s very little difference as rates are set by the state. However, you may want to check what’s actually covered as some providers offer additional services such as travel vaccinations, skin cancer screening, professional teeth cleaning and osteopathy. If you have a family, you would probably also like to have extra check-ups for the kids. In Germany, everything requires research. 

If you have a high income (over around €4,500 a month), you can choose between public and private insurance. Fees for private insurance (Privat (PKV)) are not income-based but depend on your age and health status. So, if you have a chronic illness or are over the age of 40, even though you think you’re still in your prime, private health insurance companies don’t see it that way and you’ll end up paying an arm and a leg to take care of your arms and legs.

Which is right for me?

Private health insurance companies often have better offers for their clients and cover more treatments. Waiting times for busy specialists will also likely be shorter. However, your application for private insurance can be rejected. A major disadvantage of private insurance is that your family members are not automatically insured. You’ll have to insure each family member with a separate insurance policy and pay membership fees for all of them. Or maybe just the ones you love most. Choose wisely.

I’m self-employed. Help me!

Fear not, arty one. Help is at hand. The state supports artists and freelance publicists because they’re usually less socially protected than other self-employed people. More fun with German words coming… the Künstlersozialkasse (artists’ social insurance) covers health, pension and care insurance and is very cheap as the state pays 50%. You’ll have to meet certain criteria and it can take an age to be accepted but if it works out, you’re golden.

Anything else I should know?

Of course! This is Germany – there’s always something else you should know. If you accidentally hurt someone else, their health insurance company will try to claim damages from you. If you don’t have personal liability insurance, this is going to suck for you as there’s no ceiling on the level of damages a person can be awarded in Germany. After you get your health insurance sorted, it’s highly recommended that you take out Haftpflichtversicherung (private liability insurance) to make sure you’re covered if the worst should happen. As the Germans are rather a cautious lot, they consider this the most important voluntary insurance and more than 70% of them have it. You’d be wise to do the same.

Around €4 a month is a small price to pay for being able to sleep at night.

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