October 2021: 9 changes affecting expats in Germany
From the end of free rapid tests to the clocks going back, there’s quite a bit of change going on as we head into October. Here are 9 changes expats in Germany need to know about.
1. End of free rapid tests for unvaccinated people
In an attempt to encourage more people to get vaccinated against COVID-19, the German government will all but scrap its offer of free rapid tests this month. As of October 11, people who are unvaccinated despite being eligible for a jab will have to pay for tests themselves. The cost is likely to be around 15 to 20 euros per test.
With 3G rules in place nationwide, mandating that people need to be either vaccinated, recovered or tested to access certain public spaces, the new regulation will quickly make life quite expensive for unvaccinated people.
The rule change will also apply to vaccinated people who travel abroad and need a rapid test. The government will no longer cover the cost.
2. Quarantine pay ending for unvaccinated
A second regulation with which the German government hopes to put pressure on unvaccinated people is the scrapping of compensation for unvaccinated people who have to go into self-isolation and therefore cannot work. However, the regulation will not stop people from getting paid their wages in the event of illness, regardless of their vaccination status.
The regulation will come into effect from October 11 in North Rhine-Westphalia and Lower Saxony. It will apply nationwide by November 1 at the latest.
3. Tax return deadline approaching
The deadline for self-submitted annual tax returns is fast approaching. The usual deadline of July 31 was extended by three months in 2021 due to the pandemic. If you are submitting your own return, you need to get it to the tax office by October 31, 2021. If you are going through a tax advisor, you have until May 31, 2022.
4. Sick notes go digital
The electronic incapacity to work certificate (eAU) will finally arrive on October 1, ushering out the paper “Gelber Schein”. The new digital sicknote should streamline the process of applying for sick leave by enabling doctors to forward a copy directly to the health insurance company, rather than forcing the patient to do so. All medics will have to start issuing digital sick notes by the end of the year.
For the time being, you will still have to pass a paper copy of your certificate on to your employer, but that should change by July 1, 2022.
5. More check-ups covered by statutory health insurance
October will also see changes made to statutory health insurance in Germany, with more procedures covered by public insurance. New check-ups available from October 1 include extra screenings during pregnancy, including for rare diseases in newborns like sickle cell disease and spinal muscular atrophy.
People aged 35 and above will also be entitled to tests for the viral diseases hepatitis B and hepatitis C, free of charge, as part of their regular health check, which is usually carried out once every three years.
6. New rules for contracts
October 1 will also see the first part of the German government’s new Fair Consumer Contracts Act - which intends to strengthen the rights of consumers - come into force. Among other things, the law aims to stop people from being tricked into agreeing to contracts over the phone, as well as sharpening the rules for overlong and complicated contract terms and notice periods.
Some of the key changes include the new regulation that contracts with energy companies must be concluded in writing from October 2021 onwards, in order to be effective. Contracts with minimum terms of up to two years will still be allowed, but consumers will have more rights in choosing and structuring their benefits. In addition, if a contract is automatically extended for an indefinite period, customers will have the right to terminate monthly after March 2022.
7. Petrol stations to show energy price comparisons
From October 1, larger petrol (filling) stations in Germany will be obliged to display a price comparison chart showing their available energy sources. Consumers will be able to see how much they would pay for different fuel types, including petrol, diesel, hydrogen and electricity, to drive 100 kilometres. The idea is to show motorists what they could have saved with a different fuel type, and open their minds to a possible switch.
8. Clocks go back
Before you ask: the time change in autumn is the good one! Prepare for an extra hour in bed as the clocks go back at 3 am on the night of October 30 to October 31. We’ll get some extra light in the mornings, but the evenings will start to feel considerably darker.
9. Hedge trimming allowed again
And another annual cycle strikes again in October: the end of Germany’s hedge-trimming ordinance. If you want to radically prune hedges, shrubs or trees on your property, you can do so once again from October 1. This is forbidden from March 1 to September 1, as per Germany’s Federal Nature Conservation Act, to protect the natural habitats of birds and other animals.
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