German Healthcare Terms Expats Should Know

For expats residing in Germany, it is helpful to learn some of the key German healthcare terms so that you are able to make informed decisions regarding your health and wellbeing both during and after you move.

Moving to a foreign country can be daunting, especially when you don’t know much about the new land’s laws and regulations. On top of that, if you are not well-versed with the language of your new country of residence, you are bound to feel confused and most likely overwhelmed.

Keeping that in mind, we decided to share everything about the German healthcare system for expats living in Germany. Germany has one of the oldest healthcare systems in Europe, dating back to the 1880s, and is now ranked among the best in the entire European region. Anyone living in the country can access the medical facilities offered by the state through health insurance Germany

Sponsored by state-funded programs, healthcare in Germany is accessible to all. But that’s not all; people can (and do) acquire some of the best private health insurance policies in the country to bear expenses not covered by the statutory funds, such as advanced dental procedures. 

German Healthcare Terms Expats Should Know

Here are some German healthcare and related terms you should know as an expat:

  • Arzt (doctor) 
  • Hausarzt (GP, primary care doctor, family doctor)
  • Überweisung (referral from your GP to a specialist)
  • Rezept (prescription)
  • Krankschreibung or Attest (sick note)
  • Zahnarzt (dentist) 
  • Krankenhaus (hospital)
  • Patient (patient)
  • krank (sick)
  • Medizin or Medikament (medicine)
  • Öffentliches Krankenhaus (public hospital)
  • Frei gemeinnütziges Krankenhaus (non-profit hospital)
  • Privatkrankenhaus (private hospital)
  • Apotheke (pharmacy)
  • Heilpraktiker (alternate practitioner/naturopath)
  • Notaufnahme (emergency room)
  • Rettungswagen (fire brigade ambulance service)
  • Krankenwagen (ambulance)
  • Impfung (vaccine)
  • Krankenkasse (health insurance provider)
  • Krankenversichertenkarte (health insurance card)
  • Sozialversicherungsnummer (social security number)
  • Gesetzliche Krankenversicherung (statutory health insurance/public health insurance)
  • Private Krankenversicherung or PKV (private health insurance)

Now that you know about the common German healthcare terms, let’s understand German healthcare.

Understanding Health Insurance in Germany

While the statutory programs take care of all medical health expenses residents incur the country, they need to pay some premium for that. 

The GKV program is managed by 110 Krankenkassen (non-profit organizations that overlook GKV). Once registered with GKV, a person has to pay a premium at the rate of 14.6% of the annual gross salary (7.3% paid by the employee, the other 7.3% taken care of by the employer). All Krankenkassens must charge the same percentage of a beneficiary’s gross yearly salary. If you are asked for more, know that something is not right. 

The amount an employee has to pay for the GKV scheme cannot exceed 4350 euros a month, which is shared equally by the employee and employer. 

Once you have registered with a particular Krankenkassen, you must stay with it for at least 18 months. After the 18 months have passed, only then can you go to a different organization. 

GKV Coverage

As mentioned earlier, GKV or Gesetzliche Krankenversicherung is a federal scheme to facilitate people residing in Germany in getting access to public health. This means, if you want to get state-provided medical benefits, you must sign up with a Krankenkasse. That said, not all medical expenses are covered by said state healthcare program. 

You will receive free services from registered doctors, hospital care (both in- and out-patient) and basic dental treatment. For any advanced medical treatment, you may have to get private medical insurance or pay out of pocket

One other thing about getting registered with a Krankenkasse for GKV is that it will look after the expenses of all the non-working family members residing with you in Germany. You will not have to pay any added amount for getting the medical costs of your dependent kin covered by GKV, provided that they live with you. 

For availing the benefit of having your family’s medical expenses taken care of under GKV, you and they should share the same address that you have given to the Krankenkasse dealing your case. 

Getting German Health Insurance

Expats and permanent residents in Germany can take out public health insurance by following these steps. 

  • Registering at a nearby town hall
  • Once you are registered with the German authorities you will get a social security number, aka Sozialversicherungsnummer as called in the German language. 
  • Next you will begin paying the standard premium and have access to all public medical care amenities. 
  • You should then sign up with a local insurance fund that will provide you with a card. You will have to carry it with you to every doctor’s appointment or visit to the hospital. 

Since public health doesn’t cover all medical expenses, such as cosmetic treatments, some people choose to get private insurance. But not everyone can take it out. There are a bunch of terms and conditions that must be fulfilled if a person wishes to have private medical coverage. 

Choosing Between Private and Public Medical Insurance In Germany

By law, every person residing in Germany needs to take out private or public medical insurance. But which option of the two you pick will depend on your job status and earning. 

Statutory Healthcare in Germany is classified as compulsory (pflichtversichert) health insurance, voluntary (freiwillig versichert) health insurance and getting insured under a family plan. This classification only applies to the public scheme. As the name gives away, the former category is for people who must sign up for public health insurance or GKV while the latter is for those who are free to choose their insurance plan (between private and public). 

Who Has To Apply For Compulsory Insurance?

Compulsory public health insurance is for employees who earn less 64.350 euros per year. If your annual salary doesn’t add up to 64.350 euros or more, you are bound by law to take out a public health fund. 

Who Can Get Voluntary Insurance

Everyone who doesn’t qualify for compulsory insurance automatically becomes eligible for voluntary insurance. Still, here is a quick rundown of people who meet the criterion for freiwillig versichert. 

  • People earning more than 64.350 euros a year
  • Self-employed people or freelancers
  • Students 
  • Stay-at-home family members, primarily spouses. 

What Does Private Insurance Cover

Like in pretty much all other countries, private healthcare insurance covers a larger array of medical expenses, depending on the policy you take out. 

Beneficiaries can get a mix and match of benefits from private insurance based on their needs as you can get coverage for anything and everything. 

Some people like to have a better dental coverage program while others might go for having private rooms or even both. One of the most appealing aspects of private medical insurance is that you can get appointments with specialists much faster than if you are under public health coverage. 

In the public scheme, or GKV, patients will have a general physician or primary care doctor (Hausarzt) assigned to them, which they can choose themselves. This doctor will examine patients and refer them to specialists if need be. 

But since specialists typically have appointments lined up for months in advance, people with public health insurance have to wait for their turn, which can take a while.  

Hospital and Other Medical Services in Germany

If you are registered under GKV, you can access all public healthcare facilities as a German citizen. 

Whether you have public medical insurance or took out private insurance, you should have some basic idea about the hospitals and medical facilities in Germany. To educate you on the topic, here is a quick overview of healthcare organizations in the country.

There are three types of hospitals (Krankenhäuser) in Germany

  • Public, owned and managed by government authorities
  • Non-profit, owned and managed by charitable organizations or churches
  • Private, owned and run by a private association. 

Mother Care and Pregnancy Care Services

Since going through pregnancy and subsequent childbirth is arguably the most common medical need, knowing about the services available for it is important. 

All pregnancy related issues are covered by public health insurance, including sexual, fertility and urological matters. On the contrary, in the case of private insurance, some pregnancy-related expenses may not be covered, depending on the program you choose. So, be sure to go through all your options and pick the best program for yourself. 

Contraceptive items, such as birth control pills, and IUDs must be prescribed by a gynaecologist while emergency contraceptives can be bought over the counter. 

Ending Note

The German healthcare system is among the most advanced in the world. If you want to have access to it, be sure to sign up for medical insurance, private or public, as early as possible. And if you are an expat living here, look up expat health insurance Germany to not miss out on any healthcare amenities and services. 

Public or Private Health Insurance in Germany: Which Is Better for Expats and Why?

As an expat in Germany, getting health insurance is a crucial part of securing the best healthcare for yourself. Not only is it a requirement, but opting for public or private health insurance can make all the difference.

Expats are eligible for State healthcare, but it’s not as comprehensive as some private policies that can help you get various health-related treatments that are within your insurance policy.

Of course, there are additional costs to bear, but it could also help you save money in the long term. So, regarding expat health insurance in Germany, we’ll help you decide whether private service or public is a good option for you based on your needs. Here’s what you should know. 

Private vs Public Health Insurance?

Some people living in Germany do not have the choice of opting for the best private health insurance. So, if they earn less than €64,350 in a year, they cannot opt for private insurance. They will need to continue using public health insurance. This is applicable to both expats and locals. 

However, if you earn more than that figure annually, you can choose between the best private health insurance in Germany or public insurance. There are some reasons why you may want to opt for private insurance. Here’s what they are. We also mention one advantage that’s worth noting if you choose public insurance. 

Private Health Insurance Has More Coverage than Public Insurance

Public insurance covers only limited healthcare treatments. There’s also only basic coverage for dental work. On the other hand, private health insurance can offer a variety of additional forms of healthcare coverage based on your needs.

More coverage could increase the price of your policy, so you can choose coverage for only those treatments that you feel you will need at that moment or in the future. In any case, the coverage for the following is comprehensive with private health insurance as opposed to only basic coverage with public insurance. 

  • Treatment coverage 
  • Dental care
  • Medication 
  • Contacts and Glasses
  • Alternative Treatment 

Private Health Insurance Can Limit Waiting Times for Appointments with Specialists  

With public health insurance, people may have to wait for months until they can get an appointment with a specialist (if they want that to be covered). This is because there are long waiting lines, and you will have to wait on the list. However, private insurance can cut down on those waiting times by allowing only short notice periods. 

Private Health Insurance Allows You to Choose Your Private Specialists and Hospitals

You get to choose both the doctors and the hospitals with a private health insurance policy. With a public insurance policy, you will have to use whatever the state gives to you. 

Private Health Insurance Can Have Coverage Outside of Germany

If you’re an expat who travels a lot, you can certainly benefit from private health insurance. This is because public insurance is geographically limited to Germany and the EU only, while many private health insurance policies offer coverage in different parts of the world. Therefore, you will be protected even if you get sick and receive treatment from a country outside the EU. 

Public Insurance Does Not Have Upfront Costs

One important advantage that public insurance has over its private counterpart is there are no upfront costs of treatments that are covered. However, with a private insurance policy, you will need to pay the charges upfront and then have them reimbursed. That said, you will limit your treatment options and the healthcare facilities when you opt for public insurance. 

When to Choose Private or Public Health Insurance in Germany

Whether you choose private or public insurance will depend on what type of coverage you need for insurance. If you typically don’t have medical bills that are anything more than what’s included in basic coverage, you don’t have to opt for private service.

However, if you want extended dental coverage or coverage for treating chronic conditions, then private insurance is the way to go. 

Opting for private health insurance when public insurance doesn’t cover what you need can help you save a lot of money in the long term. Certain medical procedures can be expensive, and your insurance will ensure that you don’t go broke trying to stay healthy. 

It’s important to note that the coverage can vary from one private health insurance policy to another. So, be sure to review your policy carefully to ensure that it covers the specific treatments that you need. This way, you won’t have to pay for those treatments out of pocket, which, in some cases, can be fairly expensive. 

Last Few Words

The best private health insurance in Germany should be one in which you have all the coverage you need within and outside of Germany. Of course, it should also be affordable so that it makes it worth it. 

The Expat Guide to Health Insurance in Germany

Our Expat Guide to Health Insurance in Germany will provide you with everything you need to know in order to make an informed decision of what type of health insurance is best for you and you family.

Did you know that health insurance in Germany ranks number 12 worldwide, and the Euro Health Consumer Index puts it at the top of European countries due to its extensive range of recovery measures?

What makes German health insurance incredible is that you have full access to the healthcare system as an expat in the country, like every other German citizen. Moreover, Germany also requires you to show proof of health insurance while applying for a German visa.

So, let’s explore the German healthcare system and all you need to know to secure a health insurance plan as a new expat in the country:

What to Expect from Health Insurance in Germany

In Germany, health insurance is an obligation, i.e., all residents and expats are required to have some form of medical insurance in Germany. You can register with public health insurance (GVK) or private health insurance. Alternatively, you can choose GVK with supplemental private medical insurance.

Private vs. Statutory Health Insurance in Germany

So, what is the best health insurance in Germany? The answer is entirely dependent on you. That said, most German residents choose public health insurance as the private one requires you to be self-employed, non-eligible for public healthcare, earn more than the required salary threshold, and more. 

The significant difference between these two insurance types is that the bills in public insurance go directly to the insurance company. Still, the privately-insured individuals have to pay the medical bill and then receive reimbursement from the insurance provider. 

What Does Public Health Insurance Cover?

Statutory or public health insurance covers you for the following events:

  • Regular check-ups
  • Medical examination by a registered doctor
  • In- and out-patient care at a hospital
  • Certified sick notes
  • Prescription drugs
  • Pregnancy care
  • Health insurance for non-working dependents, such as children up to a certain age, spouse, and civil partner
  • Statutory sick pay (the employer will pay your wages of up to 6 weeks, and then you can continue to receive 70% of your net salary for a maximum of 78 weeks.

In Germany, public health insurance doesn’t cover prescription glasses or lenses, private hospital room treatment, alternative treatments, dental implants, and consultation hours with private doctors.

As a German citizen or expat living in the country, you need to join an insurance plan. Public/statutory health insurance is the standard plan for anyone earning less than 64,350€ every year. The cost of statutory health insurance will depend entirely on your salary. You will only have to contribute if you earn more than 850 euros a month. 

The health insurance contribution is 14.6% of your gross monthly income. You will have to pay this rate to any public health insurance provider.

However, the great news is that your employer will share half the contribution, i.e., they will have to pay 7.3% of your gross monthly salary with a cap of 4,687.5 euros each month. Your part of the contribution will get deducted from your salary every month. 

All You Need to Know About Private Health Insurance in Germany?

When it comes to private health insurance, you have great packages to choose from, determined by your budget and needs. You can go for the most expensive or the cheapest private health insurance in Germany. Whether you can switch from state to private insurance will depend on your employment status. If you earn more than €64,350 each year, you can apply for a private health insurance plan. 

But if you’re self-employed and earn more than the threshold, you can switch to private insurance. It works best for younger individuals with fewer health issues and significant salaries.

It’s because private insurance premiums are determined by personal factors, such as age, health risks, and family members on the plan. 

With that said, private health insurance does offer more extensive services and lower waiting times. You will also have access to doctors who are not available under a public insurance policy. Since these doctors only see private patients, it results in shorter waiting times. You can also look for a doctor who speaks your language. 

But private insurance in Germany doesn’t cover partners or children for free. Moreover, it requires you to pay the doctor’s fee upfront and then seek reimbursement later, which means you might have to remain on a tight budget after paying a hefty medical bill and waiting for the reimbursement. That said, you will likely get the total amount.

If you want to reduce your monthly premiums, you can choose a deduction fee, i.e., opt for a certain amount that you can pay for your treatments each year. Moreover, you are not obliged to stay with a company for 18 months in private insurance, but each insurance company might have different terms.

Now that you know about both types of insurance, you need to decide which insurance plan works best for you, depending on your salary, needs, and specific budget.

How Do Expats Get Health Insurance in Germany?

Expatriates living in Germany are eligible for state healthcare plans that are funded by social security contributions. Even though the state-sanctioned expat health insurance in Germany is pretty reasonable, if you’re earning well, you might benefit more from private health insurance. 

The German Healthcare System 

Health insurance in Germany is inarguably one of the best around the world. All expats working in the country can access state-supported state healthcare. However, it is mandatory for German residents to have a health insurance plan. 

So, once you become a German resident, you will need to register with a state-sanctioned health insurance scheme known as gesetzliche Krankenkasse, GKV, or a private health insurance scheme known as private Krankenversicherung, PKV. 

Why Do You Need Health Insurance in Germany?

It’s mandatory in Germany for people to show proof of health insurance when applying for a German visa. Most workers remain on their state health insurance in Germany, but you can also opt for private health insurance. Regardless of the policy you have, you and your employer will have to split the contributions.  

State/Public Health Insurance in Germany

The state healthcare scheme in Germany covers almost 90% of its residents. EU and non-EU nationals working in the country should have statutory sickness insurance. The state policy is ideal for covering people who earn less than €64,350 per year. In certain conditions, the policy also covers your spouses, civil partners, and children (up to 23-years-of-age.) Unless their income doesn’t exceed €415–450 per month, they don’t need to pay any contributions. Pensioners are also eligible for state healthcare. 

Here are health insurance criteria for various individuals:


Today, self-employed individuals pay their health insurance contributions on a projected monthly earning of €1,038. It greatly benefits lower-income earners. 


As a student above 25 studying in a state-approved education institute, you will have to pay a health and nursing care premium. The current premium is about €80 per month if you don’t have children. After you turn 30, the premiums will increase by €50 per month. Overseas grad students not covered by their country’s policy can access health insurance from about €25-€30 per month.

Foreign Visitors

EU, EEA, and Switzerland citizens traveling for a short while are allowed health care if they have EHIC before arriving in the country. If you plan to work or stay more than a year, it’s best to arrange health insurance in Germany. Transient visitors from outside the EU can also claim state healthcare under a mutual agreement with their nation. Otherwise, they might have to pay for healthcare services.

What Does German Public Health Insurance Cover?

Here’s everything Germany’s healthcare covers:

  • Inpatient care at the nearest hospital
  • Outpatient care from doctors
  • Limited specialist care
  • Limited mental healthcare
  • Basic costs of pregnancy and childbirth
  • Routine dental procedures (filling, dental hygiene, etc.)
  • Partial coverage for major dental work
  • Sickness benefit (your employer will pay your wages for up to six weeks, the health insurer will pay 70% of your regular salary for 78 weeks)

How to Apply for German Health Insurance

You can apply for Germany’s healthcare scheme through your employer, who will register you with a regional health insurance company. But you can choose your preferred insurer as well. Just inform your employer about your choice within two weeks of starting your job. 

If you’re self-employed, you need to take your passport and residence permit to a regional office and fill out the required registration forms. Make sure to choose an insurer whose contribution rate, ease of contact, supplemental services, and other offers align with your goals. Once you’re insured, the health insurer will issue you an insurance card that you’ll have to show at the hospital on each visit. 

German Private Health Insurance 

As a well-earning self-employed individual or a salaried individual with monthly earnings of more than €5,063, you can look for private health insurance in Germany. But private insurance premiums are based on multiple factors, and the prices increase with health risks, age, and more family members. It’s a great option for a young, well-earning expat in Germany. 

However, if you suffer from serious or chronic health issues, it’s better if you stick to the public healthcare scheme. If you want to change your insurance company, you can do so by giving two months’ notice before the end of the typical 18-month expiry date of the membership.  

Benefits of Private Health Insurance

Here are some benefits of choosing private health insurance in Germany: 

  • More covered services, specialist treatments
  • Private rooms
  • Shorter waiting times
  • More English-speaking doctors

How Does Private Insurance Work in Germany?

If you choose private health insurance, you’ll have to pay your doctor’s fee upfront and claim reimbursement later. You will get the full reimbursement based on your premium. You can choose your level of deduction fee and select a certain amount each year for your treatments. If you choose a higher excess, you can reduce your monthly payments. Moreover, you’re not obligated to stay with the same company for 18 months. 

If you need help deciding between public and private expat health insurance in Germany, MW Expat can help you make the right decision. We have the experience and knowledge required to answer all your questions and dispel all your doubts. So, if you need sound advice and guidance in choosing the right health insurance plan, get in touch with us today

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