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Expat life: how digital services are finally improving in Germany

Expat life: how digital services are finally improving in Germany
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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.

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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