A guide to German health insurance for foreigners

Internationals are obliged to register with health insurance in Germany. This is how it works!


6 minute read
Updated on 22 Jun 2023

Germany’s excellent healthcare system ranks 13th in the world. This high ranking is a result of accessibility to medical treatment, positive health outcomes, and low illness and mortality rates. German medical care is accessible for nationals and internationals alike, and they can choose between public and private health insurance.

But which one is right for you? Don't worry, our guide breaks down how the system works, identifies the best health insurance companies, and outlines the cost of health insurance in Germany.

Do foreigners need health insurance in Germany?

Everyone residing in Germany is required to take out health insurance. So, regardless of whether you’re a student or a working expat, one of the first things on your relocation checklist should be arranging your health insurance.

There’re 2 types of health insurance in Germany: public (Gesetzliche Krankenversicherung or GVK) and private (Private Krankenversicherung or PVK). These insurance options enable individuals to access medical care.

Without any form of health insurance in Germany, you’ll either be denied non-emergency medical treatment, such as a check-up with your general practitioner, or you will be required to personally cover the costs, such as a hospital stay.

Public vs private health insurance in Germany

Most German residents are part of the public health insurance scheme, which provides basic healthcare coverage. People who opt for private health insurance in Germany often do so because it offers a wider range of coverage compared to public healthcare.

Public health insurance in Germany

Any person in employment or vocational training (including traineeship or apprenticeship) earning a gross annual salary lower than €66,600 (2023) is obliged to join the public health insurance scheme as soon as they have signed their employment contract.

You don’t have to worry about signing up yourself, as your employer will do that for you in most cases. You’ll likely be enrolled in one of the larger health insurance funds: AOK Baden Württemberg, TK (Techniker Krankenkasse), KKH (Kaufmännische Krankenkasse), DAK-Gesundheit, or Barmer.

Regardless of which public health insurance fund you belong to in Germany, your coverage includes:

  • Check-ups by your general practitioner (GP)
  • In-patient and out-patient medical treatments
  • Basic dental care (such as cavity treatment, but not teeth cleaning)
  • Prescription medicine
  • Pregnancy care
  • Statutory sick pay
  • Family health insurance

Under public health insurance in Germany, sick pay is initially provided by your employer. For a maximum period of 6 weeks, you will continue to receive your full wages during your illness. However, if your illness persists beyond this period, your public health insurance will step in and cover 70% of your net earnings as sick leave.

If you’re relocating to Germany with your family, it’s better to opt for public health insurance, as it enables you to include your family members in your coverage.

Cost of public health insurance in Germany

Being part of a public insurance scheme in Germany means that every month, you automatically contribute a portion of your income towards your health insurance. This contribution is known as the health insurance contribution and is calculated as 14.6% of your gross monthly income. The good news is this contribution is shared between you and your employer, so both sides pay 7.3% of your gross salary.

As the contribution to public health insurance is based on a percentage of your salary in Germany, the higher your income, the higher your contribution will be. However, there is a contribution assessment cap set at €59,850 annually__ (or €4,987.50 monthly). This means that your health insurance contribution will continue to increase proportionately with your salary until you reach this limit, and it will remain fixed at that amount afterwards. As a result, the maximum monthly contribution you can make is €364.

Private health insurance in Germany

Private health insurance gives you more extensive medical coverage, additional services, access to premium healthcare, flexibility, and customisation.

While having private health insurance is great, not everyone is eligible for it. According to German law, only residents who meet at least one of the following requirements are eligible to enrol in private health insurance:

  • Self-employed residents or freelancers
  • Civil servants
  • Employees earning more than the required salary threshold (€66,600 annually or €5,550 monthly)
  • Students between 23 and 30 whose domestic insurance isn’t valid in Germany

Keep in mind that even if you meet one of the requirements, you still need to be approved by the private health insurance provider before you can sign up with them.

Once you’re approved for German private health insurance, you have the opportunity to select from a range of options offered by over 40 different companies. Some of the popular insurance providers in Germany include AXA, Allianz, HanseMerkur and Mawista.

Cost of private health insurance in Germany

Contrary to public health insurance, private health insurance costs aren’t based on your income. Usually, the contribution depends on personal characteristics like age, medical history and scope of the coverage. This is why the costs vary widely. The cost of private health insurance in Germany can be as low as €400 and as high as €700 monthly.

If you’re moving to Germany on a work visa, you need to make sure that the health insurance you’re choosing meets the visa requirements.

You have the option to enjoy the advantages of both public and private health insurance in Germany by combining them through supplementary private health insurance. To determine if you qualify for this option, request a supplementary private health insurance quote from your chosen private health insurer.

How to apply for health insurance in Germany?

The process of applying for health insurance in Germany is pretty straightforward, regardless of whether you’re signing up for a public or private one. We’ve compiled a list of the general steps you need to follow, but you should always check with your insurer beforehand to make sure you’ve got everything ready.

Applying for public health insurance

In most cases, your employer enrols you for public health insurance. But if you’re self-employed or a freelancer, you’ll have to apply yourself.

Before you start applying for public health insurance in Germany, you have to register at the local residents' registration office (Einwohnermeldeamt). This is how you receive your social security number (Sozialversicherungsnummer), which you use to pay your insurance contributions.

Now that you have your social security number, these are the steps that you should follow to apply for German public health insurance:

Find a suitable provider: Research and select a public health insurance provider that meets your specific needs and preferences. Gather the necessary documents: You’ll need your valid ID/passport, German visa (if applicable), proof of German residency, proof of university enrollment/income, and a filled-in application form. Submit your application: You can apply in person, online or by mail. Wait for confirmation.

Applying for private health insurance

If you’ve decided that you want to add or switch to private health insurance, you don’t have to stress about the application process because it’s very simple. Just like with public health insurance, you’ll need your social security number, so don’t forget to register at the Einwohnermeldeamt.

To register for private health insurance in Germany, you need to follow these steps:

Find a suitable provider: Research and select a private health insurance provider that meets your specific needs and preferences. Evaluate eligibility and request a quote: Determine if the chosen plan aligns with your requirements and request a personalised quote from the provider to understand the associated costs. Complete the provider's health assessment (if applicable): Some private health insurance plans may require you to undergo a health assessment to determine eligibility and pricing. Gather the necessary documents: You’ll need your valid ID/passport, German visa (if applicable), proof of German residency, proof of university enrollment/income, and a filled-in application form. Submit your application: You can apply in person, online or by mail. Wait for review and approval.

Health insurance for international students

Every (international) student in Germany must be covered by health insurance.

International students from EU member countries, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iceland, Israel, Liechtenstein, Morocco, Macedonia, Montenegro, Norway, Switzerland, Serbia, Tunisia and Turkey can use their national health insurance providers. This applies to students below the age of 30 who aren’t working during their studies.

International students coming from other countries need to sign up for student public health insurance (Krankenversicherung der Studenten) in Germany. Students under 30 can benefit from a reduced rate, which is between €90-€120 per month. You can sign up for one yourself via the provider’s office, website or via mail.

Regardless of which country you’re coming from, all working students in Germany must have German health insurance.

Time to find your German doctor!

The best way to find an English-speaking doctor in Germany is via recommendations, online comparison portals or simply Google Maps. Once you have chosen your ideal doctor, you’ll have to fill out a short survey about your medical history during your first visit.

Now that you know the pros and cons of public and private health insurance, you can make an informed decision and choose the scheme which perfectly fits your medical needs.

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