7 health insurance pitfalls to avoid when moving to Germany

7 health insurance pitfalls to avoid when moving to Germany

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Recently moved to Germany? Mirja Lundehn, an insurance expert from KLforExpats, explains what you need to look out for when organising your health insurance. 

Whether you're coming to work, freelance or study, moving to Germany can be very exciting! However, settling into your new country and taking care of administrative tasks such as researching, finding and applying for the appropriate health insurance can be a daunting process. 

Since organising your health insurance is a crucial step in your move, this guide outlines seven common pitfalls to avoid to ensure your health coverage is both compliant with German regulations and the best fit for your needs!

1. Not registering for health insurance immediately

In Germany, health insurance is a legal requirement for all residents - as soon as you establish residency, you must register for health insurance. 

Delaying this can lead to penalties, back payments to insurance providers, finding yourself responsible for medical expenses incurred before your insurance takes effect, and in some cases, complications when applying to certain providers. Not to mention that if you're employed, you won't be able to receive your first paycheck until your employer receives the details of your health insurance!

2. Not understanding public vs private health insurance options

Germany offers two main types of health insurance: public (Gesetzliche Krankenversicherung - GKV) and private (Private Krankenversicherung - PKV). 

Public insurance is generally mandatory for students younger than 30 years, and employees making less than the income threshold of 69.300 euros (as of Jan 2024) annually. Freelancers, people earning more than the income threshold, students 30 years or older and certain other groups such as civil servants can opt for private insurance. 

Choosing between public or private health insurance can be complex and depends on your marital status, income and personal health needs. For instance, private health insurance can often be more affordable for high-earners and offers shorter wait times, personalised coverage and additional benefits. Public health insurance, on the other hand, can be more affordable for those with families or pre-existing health conditions. 

However, sometimes these factors can be more nuanced and very unique to each individual, so it's best to seek advice from an experienced and independent broker who specialises in health insurance for expats. Health insurance brokers are widely used in Germany and their service is free, so it's a great option if you want a second opinion regarding your options.

3. Underestimating coverage needs

It's easy to underestimate your health coverage needs, especially if you're young and healthy. However, ensuring you carefully consider the different options available and opting for a plan that provides comprehensive coverage can:

  • Save you from unforeseen expenses arising from emergencies or chronic conditions.
  • Allow you to personalise your coverage and ensure preferences like preventative dental care and cleaning, vision aids and alternative treatments such as acupuncture are included. 
  • Add additional benefits that make managing your healthcare more convenient and economical. For example, some plans offer an annual cash-back bonus from the insurance provider or include shorter wait times for appointments and access to more specialists.
  • You should also take into account that upgrading your plan or changing providers often means you have to undergo a new medical assessment, which might increase the cost of your premiums.

4. Ignoring long-term eligibility and conditions

Understanding your eligibility for switching between public and private health insurance systems in Germany is vital. For instance, once you opt for private insurance, it might be challenging to switch back to public insurance. Pre-existing conditions can also affect the cover you are eligible for and private insurers may add surcharges to your premiums when you first apply.

5. Missing out on potential subsidies

For students, artists and high-earning employees with a limited residence permit, there might be subsidies or special rates available. It can be difficult to find information about these special subsidies so be sure to speak to an independent health insurance broker who can help you understand the options available. 

6. Neglecting travel insurance integration

While your German health insurance covers you comprehensively in Germany and within the EU, travel abroad might require additional coverage. The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) provided by public health insurers is valid in many European countries, but not abroad and cheap private plans sometimes do not fully cover health costs in expensive countries like the US. If you travel frequently, consider a health insurance plan that integrates travel insurance to ensure seamless coverage across borders.

7. Failing to update health insurance with life changes

Life changes such as a new job, changes in marital status, or having a child can affect your health insurance requirements and eligibility. It's important to regularly update your health insurance provider or broker about significant life events. This not only ensures that your coverage meets your current needs but also helps avoid potential legal issues or lapses in coverage.

Navigate the German health insurance landscape with ease

Navigating the health insurance landscape in Germany as an expat involves understanding and managing several critical aspects to ensure compliance and adequate coverage. By avoiding these seven pitfalls, you can protect yourself against unexpected costs and legal ramifications, and enjoy your time in Germany with one less worry. Always stay informed and consider seeking advice from a professional health insurance broker if you find navigating the health insurance system in Germany overwhelming.

Want to ensure you avoid these common pitfalls and understand your health insurance options as an expat in Germany? Get in touch with KLforExpats, an English-speaking health insurance brokerage with 25 years of experience. The team specialises in finding the right health insurance provider for you, providing personalised advice and offering ongoing customer support throughout your entire stay in Germany - completely for free! 

Mirja Lundehn


Mirja Lundehn

Mirja Lundehn is the co-founder of KLforExpats, an English-speaking, independent insurance brokerage with 20+ years experience in the industry. KLforExpats provides health insurance advice and support to internationals in Germany...

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