Leaving your home country to study abroad is a big decision to make …
… and choosing health insurance is another step towards your enrollment. In this article you will read about student health insurance options in Germany and my experience choosing a provider.
When I decided to come to Germany to study, I was beyond joyous to participate in another health care system. As the US has a notoriously bad and expensive insurance system, I believed my health insurance as an international student would be cheaper, with simpler terms and fuller coverage. However, despite my enthusiasm, I had no prior experience with other systems to compare and was therefore rather clueless as to what the process of getting health insurance would entail.
With little research, it became clear that health insurance is mandatory in Germany. I did not have months to decide between providers. I needed to be able to prove that I had acquired health insurance in order to enroll in my study program. This therefore could not be a last-minute decision, especially considering that I needed to do some research to understand my options and the overall system.
I read through a few articles on the generalities of the German health care system, proving helpful for providing an overview and detailing the differences between my options. There are many resources out there and you may find one or two that match the level of detail you are interested in. I planned to make a decision within a week to move onto other items on my checklist for enrollment.
With little research, it became clear that health insurance is mandatory in Germany.
Choosing a Provider – Private or Public?
The first main decision, when choosing between health insurance providers, is whether you would like to go with a private or public health insurance provider. All of the large health care providers I had already heard of were public health insurance companies. There seemed to be very little difference in terms of price between public providers, as I found most offered insurance at a little over 100 euros every month. On the other hand, I found a much wider range in the monthly expenses required by different private insurers. I remember even seeing some private insurance plans offering me insurance for less than 30 euros a month, though this raised some questions for me. I found more information on private health insurance companies than on many private providers. When I looked at lower cost private insurance options, I found many companies I had never heard of before. After more research, it also seemed that most Germans held public rather than private insurance.
If private insurance is cheaper, why would anyone take public insurance? What was the difference in Germany? I felt suspicious of private insurance, being critical of the prevalence of private insurance in my home country, but this was a bias.
These insights made more sense when I found out that it could be difficult to switch from private health insurance to public after selecting private health insurance. It also appeared that while I found offers for low monthly feeds, private insurance fees were likely to increase as I aged and possibly quite dramatically.
Over 100 euros out of my bank account each month felt steep, but I considered that I had not normally checked my old US pay slips to see exactly how much was taken for health insurance. I very likely had paid a higher monthly fee while in the US, without the promise of ever being able to see a doctor without a co-pay. So maybe this would still be better. I decided to stick to a public insurance provider.
Next, I needed to understand which public insurance carrier to go with. Comparing them felt a bit like comparing oranges and tangerines, I did not find a big difference.
Many people online will share different opinions, which I would again encourage you to sift through on your own when making a decision. I personally ended up going with a public health insurance provider and my decision as to which health insurance provider I chose was made somewhat coincidentally. I had traveled and met some Germans, before ever planning to move to Berlin, and found that the people I knew had this company. For me that familiarity and the informal satisfaction these friends had shared was enough, though you may gain different perspectives from your acquaintances.
Many people online will share different opinions, which I would again encourage you to sift through on your own when making a decision.
What comes after choosing a health insurance provider?
Thankfully, the application for my chosen health insurance was very straightforward and I was quickly approved for insurance without giving much information about my medical past. Your public health insurance rate is determined by public authorities without the insurance company planning to make a profit off of you. While workers will pay a percentage of their income for their public health insurance, student rates are subsidized.
With my health insurance, I could make a digital profile and will need to send in a photo of yourself to be added to your card. Yes, you can ever choose your own photo without having to get unflattering photo booth shots taken, or stick to unnatural seating positions like many other IDs!
Two years later, and I’m still very happy with my decision for public insurance.
I was even happier when learning how to use my health insurance, visit doctors in Germany, and do all of this without any necessary co-payments or surprise fees. I have gotten used to and comfortable finding a doctor and making an appointment according to any concern I have related to my health, rather than wasting time trying to diagnose my own symptoms online beforehand as I had in the US. Once you become acquainted with the website to find a doctor in your network, this is all rather simple. I have often gotten doctor recommendations from others, as my health insurance is accepted in most offices. If you are unconfident in your German without having a recommendation of a specific doctor, you can also check whether a doctor speaks languages other than German online.
My insurance, and many others, offer some support in English to international students. Many also offer wellness programs, for which your monthly fee can be lowered according to your participation. These extra programs are often offered through apps, and likely by many health insurance companies.
I made my health insurance decisions before the onset of the Corona pandemic. I am glad that I considered the possibility that my studies would be extended and how my health insurance decision could be affected by this. I encourage you to also consider what bumps in the road would be possible during your studies, and think of what health insurance would work best for you in these circumstances. If there is anything this pandemic should have taught us, is that our health and wellbeing is of utmost importance.
I wish you all the best in your health care decisions. Read the fine prints, look up outside reviews from the companies you consider, and read more than two articles! Good luck and stay well!
Sylvia is from the US and moved to Germany to complete a Master’s in Natural Resource Management at Humboldt University. She loves the international focus of her program, the independence of students in managing and shaping their own studies, and the low cost to higher education in Germany. After completing her program, she hopes to find full time employment in a small Berlin-based NGO or elsewhere to gain more international experience.