However, the future’s bright and big plans are underway to bring Germany squarely into the digital age. The Local has partnered with ottonova, a private health insurer offering both digital and conventional healthcare services, to present four areas where digitalization has been slow and give you an idea of when it will catch up.
The first thing to contend with when moving to Germany is the country’s notorious registration process. Everyone living in Germany is required to register a new address within 14 days of moving, a bureaucratic delight known as the Anmeldung.
Now for the fun part: the Anmeldung is done in person at the Bürgeramt (citizens office). You’ll need to book an appointment - which is done online or by calling up - and you’ll need to book it in advance as spots can fill up weeks beforehand. If you’re not able to get an appointment on time, you’ll have to visit the Bürgeramt in person, pick up a number and wait. And then probably wait some more.
The good news is that in 2017 the chief of staff at the German chancellery set a goal of making the country’s 500 administrative services digital. It’s part of the government’s wider digital strategy that aims to improve the quality of life for everyone living in Germany and means that by the end of 2022, all of the services offered by authorities - including the Anmeldung - will be available online.
Figuring out an unfamiliar healthcare system is a struggle for expats all over the world, but it’s a struggle that can be lessened by digital healthcare.
Digitalization has been slowly and steadily taking place in Germany and more healthcare apps are becoming available. Private health insurance provider ottonova has been a trailblazer in this department, offering digital solutions to make life easier for expats in Germany.
For example, there are over 392,000 doctors working in Germany but only 55,000 who hail from international backgrounds. Unsurprisingly, this can make it trickier to find an English-speaking doctor. Once you have, you could be in for a long wait until your appointment - in some cases, this can take weeks. With ottonova, an English-speaking doctor is always just a couple of clicks away - using the app you can request a doctor’s appointment in person or via video call as well as around-the-clock advice from ottonova’s ‘concierge’ team, documents delivered through the app and reimbursement of your bills within hours.
It also makes it much simpler to see a specialist. In most cases, you need to see a general practitioner to get a referral to a doctor who’s more specialised, a process that can feel frustratingly long. When you have private health insurance with ottonova, you just need to let the concierge team know the issue you are experiencing and they will book you an appointment with a nearby specialist.
If you’ve ever tried to get from A to B in Germany on public transport, you’ll know it can feel like you need a PhD just to understand which ticket to buy.
Germany’s national railway, the Deutsche Bahn, operates throughout the country but there are also many regional operators. For example, Berlin’s S-Bahn (the city rapid railway), is a subsidiary of Deutsche Bahn and part of the Transport Association Berlin-Brandenburg (VBB). Each city has its own system as well as individual rules when it comes to ticket validity and often these aren’t clearly communicated. For example, Deutsche Bahn can offer special deals - but they are only valid with a printed ticket. So it’s no surprise that many people get caught out and lumbered with a hefty fine.
The public transport system might be complicated but most transport organisations do offer apps. If you know which one to use and when, purchasing tickets and travelling in Germany can be a breeze. If you don’t, not so much. Could Germany follow the lead of nearby Sweden, which is thinking of introducing a single ticketing app? There are no plans yet but with the rate Germany is digitalizing, you’d do well to watch this space...
When you’re living and working abroad, communication is a priority. Whether it’s sending emails to colleagues, using Google Translate, or ringing family back home, your handy (mobile phone) becomes absolutely essential.
With that in mind, it’s not ideal that Germany’s mobile phone network coverage is officially one of the worst in Europe. Despite its reputation for efficiency and innovation, other EU countries often offer better overall mobile services. While in nearby Sweden travellers on the metro can text and surf as normal, in Germany you’ll be faced with many ‘dead spots’, i.e. areas where you get little to no reception at all.
Public WiFi also isn’t as widespread as it is in other counties. Germans are still quite privacy sensitive and the cafes and public spaces that do have WiFi will ask you to register your details first. When you do finally find some WiFi, you may also often find that it doesn’t actually work.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel though. The government plans that by 2025 all of Germany will be served by 5G, the latest high-speed generation of cellular network technology. It has established mobile infrastructure as a priority and aims to become the leading market for 5G applications.
So hold on tight. Germany may be trailing ever so slightly behind in the digitalization race but it’s making serious efforts to move into first place. And when it comes to ottonova’s digital healthcare services, in many ways it already is.
This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and sponsored by ottonova.
‘Worst coverage in Europe’: https://www.dw.com/en/germanys-4g-mobile-network-one-of-worst-in-europe/a-46880219
Public transport in Germany: https://www.german-way.com/travel-and-tourism/public-transport-in-germany/