Expat life: how digital services are finally improving in Germany

Germany has the world’s fourth largest economy and the biggest in Europe by a distance. Yet international people who move to Germany are often bemused to find that its economic power isn’t reflected in its digital capabilities.

Expat life: how digital services are finally improving in Germany
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So, is the Covid-19 pandemic forcing the country to make up for lost time in terms of its technological advancement? The Local, in partnership with digital health insurance provider ottonova, takes a look at the topic and the views of our readers in Germany.

Take care of your health via app-based services with ottonova – Germany’s first fully digital health insurance 

Germany lags behind

Germany ranks only 12th in the EU’s Digital Economy and Society Index, which is led by Finland, Sweden and Denmark. It scores particularly badly – and far below the EU average – in terms of digital public services. Readers of The Local in Germany will not be surprised to learn this.

“Allowing digital signatures instead of having to print and sign everything,” wrote one reader in response to our query about how Germany could raise its game in this area. Yet another lamented that even email “seems sci-fi for most services around Germany”. 

Many people complained about being asked to send documents by fax. Glen Johnson, originally from the UK, has lived in Germany for 24 years but is still amazed at some of the difficulties he faces. “To get a same day reply from my local Ausländeramt (Foreigners’ Office) I have to send a fax because to reply to an email takes a week, if they reply at all,” says Johnson, an illustrator who lives in Oberhausen, North Rhine-Westphalia. 

IT director Karri Laiho, originally from Finland but living in Düsseldorf, is “constantly surprised at the total lack of e-invoicing”. “I can get the providers to extract the money from my account, but only after I receive ‘snail mail’ and sign, mail or fax some ancient SEPA approval to them,” he says. 

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

In major cities, the amount of information and digital services provided by local governments in English is rising, however. 

For example, if you live in Berlin, click here for information on visa procedures and extensions, as well as special regulations for refugees. The following links offer further useful information in three cities: Hamburg (guidance on different work-related residence permits);  Munich (including online contact forms and advice on registering your residence); and Frankfurt (including information on extending a residence permit by email. This page is in German but can be translated with Google Translate).

No paperwork, no ‘snail mail’ and no fax machines: get the benefits of fully digital health insurance with ottonova

Professional life: is digital tech working?

So, how has Germany coped with millions of people being forced to work from home due to the pandemic? Several readers said telecommunications infrastructure was inadequate for the needs of employees today. 

“If you live in moderate to low population areas, home internet and mobile data connections are often slow and unreliable”, wrote one respondent from Koblenz in Rhineland-Palatinate. “The connection is basically good, but fluctuates regularly enough and to a great enough degree that something like a video call is easily disrupted.”

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

An OECD report in 2018 said uptake of digital technologies, including fast broadband and cloud services, was relatively slow in Germany, especially “among small and medium-size enterprises”. Meanwhile, employees at some big companies have still tended to work on fixed computer terminals rather than laptops.

Tax rebates for people working at home are among the many elements of state support the German government is offering in response to the pandemic. Many international residents would clearly also like to see greater progress in digital technology, however, to further support remote working.

Healthcare made easy with digital insurance

Surely the land of BMW and Siemens is getting some things right in the technological race? Well, yes. For one thing, Germany is the European leader in terms of robots in operation to make factory processes more efficient.

And even before Covid-19, there was a belated push to increase digital services in healthcare. During the pandemic, demand for video consultations with doctors has increased across the world. 

In Germany, if you’re employed and earn more than €64,350 per year or self-employed, you can choose to have private health insurance (PKV) such as the one offered by ottonova. As Germany’s first fully digital health insurance provider, ottonova offers a fast digital sign-up process and can even give assistance in your visa application process where appropriate.

With the ottonova app, it’s quick and easy to chat to the English-speaking concierge team, get lightning-fast reimbursement of your bills and have all your health documents in one place.

Hoping to see more of the world post-pandemic? Who can blame you? The special ottonova tariff for non-EU expats also includes worldwide coverage.

Digitalisation in Deutschland may lag behind many countries, but with new approaches like digital health care being on the rise Germany offers some bright spots worth taking your time to consider.

Germany’s first fully digital health insurance offers an easy to use app, a concierge team and special expat tariffs – find out more about how ottonova could work for you

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Why more than 20 million people in Germany face higher health insurance costs

Several German health insurance companies have raised their rates this year, pushing up the costs for customers.

Many people are facing higher health insurance contributions this year.
Many people are facing higher health insurance contributions this year. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Jan Woitas

According to a study by the comparison portal Check24, around 21 million people with statutory health insurance (gesetzliche Krankenversicherung or GKV) have had to pay higher contributions since the beginning of the year after several organisations raised their additional contributions. 

A total of 19 of the 97 statutory health insurance providers in Germany have increased their additional contributions, the comparison portal found.

It means more than a quarter of the 73 million people with statutory health insurance in Germany have to pay higher additional contributions. 

According to Check24, the higher additional contributions can cost an insured person in the most expensive case an extra €261 per year.

Among those to have raised their additional contributions include AOK Baden-Württemberg and AOK Bayern, which have both increased the additional contributions from 1.10 percent to 1.30 percent. Check24 has published the full list of additional contributions here.

Customers affected receive a letter in the post letting them know when their contributions are increasing. Health insurance providers justify raising their rates by pointing out rising costs in the health and care system. The pandemic has also put significant strain on providers. 

READ ALSO: How to make the most of reward schemes on your German health insurance

A total of 67 health insurance providers are keeping their individual additional contribution the same. And as many as 11 health insurance funds lowered their contributions – although most of these already had comparatively high rates.

In 2021, Techniker Krankenkasse (TK), the largest statutory health insurance fund in Germany with around 8.2 million members, raised its additional contribution significantly.

The contribution went up to 1.2 percent from 0.7 percent. Average earners saw additional monthly costs of about €10 extra, while self-employed people had to pay up to €288 more per year. 

TK has not raised its rates this year. 

Can you switch health insurance?

If your health insurance company increases the additional contribution, those insured have a special right of termination until January 31st, 2022.

They can apply for the change up until this date, and they will then become a member of the new health insurance provider from April 1st after the statutory two month change-over period has expired.

Insured people also have the right to change their statutory health insurance fund every 12 months.

The cost of public health insurance in Germany is a fixed salary percentage of 14.6 percent, while the reduced contribution rate for employees without entitlement to sick pay is 14.0 per cent.

Beyond that, however, health insurance providers set an additional contribution.

The contribution assessment ceiling for statutory health insurance (GKV) – up to which contributions are levied – remains unchanged at €58,050 per year in 2022, as in the previous year.

Check24 said that switching providers can save employees up to €624 per year depending on their income.

Self-employed people pay both the employee and employer contribution and can therefore save up to €1,248 euros per year by switching, the analysis found. 

However in a representative YouGov survey only 11 percent of respondents in Germany said they had recently changed their insurance provider or would do so in the foreseeable future.

Most of the benefits provided by statutory health insurance organisations are identical.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The three new services covered by German health insurance

However, there are some differences in the voluntary benefits, including dental health (professional dental cleaning and discounted dentures), vaccinations (flu vaccinations for under 60s and travel vaccinations), various cancer screening examinations and osteopathic treatments.

“In addition to the financial relief, insured people can also secure higher subsidies for professional dental cleaning or other additional benefits by switching,” said Dr Daniel Güssow, Managing Director of statutory health insurers at Check24.


Additional contributions (die) Zusatzbeiträge

Right of termination – (das) Kündigungsrecht 

Benefits (die) Leistungen

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