Healthcare is a right in Germany, and health insurance is actually obligatory. It’s against the law to be uninsured: as a resident, you must have health insurance in Germany. It’s one of the first things you should take care of when planning an extended stay in the country and it’ll likely be your first contact with German bureaucracy. But never fear, although understanding the ins and outs of the German health insurance system completely might be a bit daunting, our guide to health insurance for foreigners in Germany will explain all the essentials.

Quick guide to health insurance for foreigners in Germany

German law requires all residents to have insurance to cover visits to the doctor as well as hospital and medical treatment. When applying for a visa or residence permit, you’ll need proof of adequate health insurance.

In a nutshell, Germany has public and private health insurance: “Gesetzliche Krankenversicherung” (which literally translates to statutory health insurance) and “Private Krankenversicherung (private). These are often abbreviated as GKV and PKV

If you move to Germany for some form of employment, your employer will deal with the registration process for you. In any case, you are free to choose any of the public options available, or private insurance in case you’re eligible.

As a citizen of a country within the European Economic Area or a country with an existing social security agreement with Germany, you can remain insured in the health insurance system of your home country. However, the difference in benefits can make it necessary to take out additional insurance or pay additional fees.

Public health insurance in Germany

The choice of insurance company is entirely yours, but your employer will do the registration for you. More than 90% of the benefits are the same among insurance providers, but differences in coverage can include alternative medicine or preventive care, for example. Various providers also have different ways of offering a payback system for clients who are healthy and don’t need medical services.

You’ll have to arrange your own registration if you’re a student or self-employed, but with most providers, you can sign up online. Alternatively, you can register in a regional office with your passport and documentation. When choosing a provider, you can compare your contribution rate, coverage, contact (online or in person), and English-language customer service. There are also portals which help you compare German health insurance providers.

As a member of a “Krankenkasse”, you’ll receive a chip card (“Krankenversichertenkarte”), which you’ll show every time you visit a doctor. Your monthly contribution will depend on your income.

Private health insurance in Germany

Only roughly one in ten Germans opt for private health insurance, and it’s commonly less viable for foreigners as well. Employees with a higher gross income (roughly more than €5,000 per month), public servants and some self-employed workers opt for private insurance in Germans.

Premiums depend on personal factors and your rate will increase with age, health conditions, and more family members. Unlike with public insurance, you usually cannot bring another family member or partner on your plan without additional costs.

The benefits of private health insurance in Germany include more options for doctors (some only take patients with private insurance, shorter wait times, and improved coverage. However, the way the system works is that you commonly foot your medical bills yourself, then reclaim the amount spent from your insurance provider.

To apply for private health insurance, you first have to obtain exemption from the compulsory public health insurance. Then you can select a provider according to your needs and preferences.

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What about the European Health Insurance Card?

As an EU national with a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), you’re eligible for free access to emergency treatment and most basic health services while visiting the country or staying temporarily in Germany. You can rely on your EHIC for vacation or while looking for work, but it’s neither a long term solution nor a substitute for German health insurance.

Expat health insurance in Germany

Chances are you’re coming to Germany without a job offer and not necessarily with your entire future mapped out, apart from learning German. There is another option for health insurance that is eligible for obtaining a residence permit and is a viable option especially when you’re moving from a non-EU country to Germany. As a student, if you’re planning on staying only up to two years anyway, or if you just don’t know how your freelance work or job search are going to go, you can sign up for a health insurance policy specifically for expats. It’s similar to having travel insurance, only for a temporary residency abroad. You can still switch to another option later in case you end up staying longer or take up any form of employment.

Thinking of moving to Germany and need to learn the language? Visit the Lingoda website and sign up for your free 7-day trial with our native speaking teachers. You can choose to take classes anytime, as long as you have a secure internet connection.