Is Healthcare better in Germany?

Sometimes “home” feels a lot further than a 10 hour flight away. My old college roommate was just diagnosed with colon cancer and I don’t know how to express my worry, my concern – all the feelings I am having for her – better than in a facebook message. She is not one for social media so I’m not sure if she’ll see it. Over the decade that I have been out of college we lost touch as we each got married, moved (one of us across the country and an ocean), and generally went about our lives.

Maria Heimsuchung Hospital PHOTO: Erin Porter

But with this news I am brought back to those good ‘ole college days and can’t believe she is facing the C-word. It is among an expats’ greatest fears; not that you will just miss out on the fun things (like weddings), but you won’t be around when things inevitably fall apart.  Just because you’re gone doesn’t mean things stop changing.

In her post, my friend sums up her month as one of “major surgeries, 4ER visits, 2 blood infections, staples, stitches, and a jugular infusion line. Then the 7/3/17 game changer of a colon cancer diagnosis and starting chemo in 4-6 weeks.” She is facing a brutal battle, and one of the major concerns isn’t even the massive health issues she is tackling. It’s financial. As my country (the USA for the uninitiated) continues to claw itself apart over a workable health care system, everyday people need to keep figuring out how to pay for it. Continue reading

Moving to Germany: The Top 10 Things to Consider


Moving anywhere is a challenge. Even a short move across town can be problematic. An international move presents additional complications, but a little preparation will mean fewer hitches. Even if you are fortunate enough to be using the services of a relocation agent, you should be aware of the following ten factors to consider when moving to Germany.

Berlin apartment parking

Having a car in Germany can be a mixed blessing. Here: apartment parking in Berlin-Friedrichshain. PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

NOTE: The external web links on this page imply no endorsement of, nor any commercial relationship with the sites we link to. Such links are provided for your convenience only.

1. Get Oriented
By “get oriented” I mean get to know the culture, the language, and the place where you’ll be living. This may seem obvious, but I am constantly amazed by how many new expats fail to do this. You’re moving to a new country with a culture and a language very different from what you’re used to. Don’t arrive in German-speaking Europe without at least some basic preparation. This is what our German Way site is all about! You’ll find all sorts of help here, and here are a few tips on what you need to learn: Continue reading

Bureaucracy and the formalities of moving to Germany

From the outset, I am going to give you a disclaimer. I don’t profess to know everything about German immigration. But for the past few months, I have been working as a relocation consultant for expats moving to Germany for large multinationals. I accompanied them to the Ausländeramt and filled out any number of forms for them. So here is what I know.

The two situations I have dealt with in recent times are expats moving from countries that do not require a visa for entry into Germany. This applies to Americans, for example, and also to South Koreans (and many more, I am sure). Those people can enter Germany without a visit to the consulate in their home country and without filling out any paperwork. However, in order to work, they need an elektronischer Aufenthaltstitel (eAT). This also applies to people who enter with a visa. I have had transferees from Russia, for example, who required a visa. At home, they have to fill out paperwork to apply for a  temporary visa. When they arrive, they have to apply for the eAT as well, and if they are allowed to work, they receive a Fiktionsbescheinigung, which they can hand in at work. Remember, I have only been working with people who are here to work. I can’t vouch for the way this works for others. Continue reading

The German health care jungle

Since becoming self-employed, which was not so much of a choice for me, but more a forced path, I have had to become privately insured when it comes to health insurance. I had very much hoped to avoid doing so, but it turns out that public health insurance gets very expensive if you are no longer an employee, or Angestellte(r).

You are “allowed” to join the private system only if you are self-employed, are a civil servant, or if your income is above a threshhold, right now which is at about €52,000 per year. If you are an employee and decide to remain in the public system, you are considered freiwillig (voluntarily) insured. In the public system, if you are below the threshhold, you are pflichtversichert (mandatorily publicly insured). Ruth wrote about the benefits and detriments of the two systems. Continue reading

In Search of Healing

One of the typical hotspots in any political discourse between Americans and Germans is the topic of health care. Europeans firmly believe that a shocking percentage of Americans live without any access to health care, and Americans believe that the socialist Europeans pay their hard-earned cash to cure another (poorer) man’s illness. There is a bit of truth in both views, which is then ballooned by the media until it becomes impossible to understand how one country or the other can possibly survive on their current system.

For the purpose of discussion here, let us first differentiate between health insurance and health care. Health insurance is the system we pay into that should hopefully pay out in the event that we are ill and need financial support for treatment. Health care is the treatment of sick patients. While it is true that large numbers of Americans (about 16% of adults  and 9% of children) don’t have health insurance, hospitals across the country offer health care to anyone who comes through their doors – for emergency care.  And while Germany has universal health insurance, there are even people here who fall through the cracks and have no coverage. Continue reading

Gesundheit!

Sitting at the pediatrician at the hour-and-forty-five minute mark with my kids to get a flu shot this past week I thought back to what my mom said a few months ago. It was June and my family was in the midst of yet another move, this time across the great big pond from Zürich to Toronto doing a repatriating of sorts after 10 years abroad. I had called my mom, feeling ill from the onslaught of summer flu and telling her that the family doctor had come by the house earlier to see me after he had closed his practice as I was too weak to drive and my husband was not home. So the doctor came by, confirmed my suspicions, ordered me to rest (as much as possible), take some medicine and Tami-Flu. Did I mention he brought all of my medicine? Yes, he did. I did as told and was able to “recover” enough to fly two days later to Toronto for some house hunting with my husband. My mother’s words are still ringing in my ears: “Well, you can kiss that kind of service good-bye in Canada, I think.” Oh, how right she was. Just finding a pediatrician has taken me two months, as not every pediatrician is accepting new patients here in Oakville. Continue reading

Perceptions of Healthcare

Since coming to Germany as a permanent resident about 3 years ago, I’ve had the opportunity to experience healthcare here in its varied forms.  Just so you get a good idea of what I’m talking about I’ll give you a short rundown of healthcare events that have occurred to me and within my family (minus graphic descriptions):

  • physical examinations as part of healthcare insurance checks
  • joint problems
  • gallstones
  • infant surgery
  • child surgery
  • homebirth

If you are looking for me to pass judgement on healthcare here, I can’t fully satisfy you.

Continue reading

Rx for Drugs in Deutschland

German Apotheke logo

The official German Apotheke logo.

One of the more important items on the pre-departure checklist for expats or travelers headed to Germany concerns any prescription drugs they may require during an extended stay. Those who need certain medications can bring their own prescription drugs with them when they travel to Germany — in their carry-on or checked luggage. That’s not a problem. The hassles only begin when you want or need to “import” your own prescription drugs to Germany from the U.S. or some other country. I have some personal experience with the complications that can arise when you have your own medications sent to you in Germany by a friend, spouse, relative or anyone outside Germany. You may also want to do this, since your U.S. prescription plan may not cover you in Germany, but it is fraught with peril.

First, let’s talk about how you can avoid such complications and related hassles up front. (In other words, what I should have done, but didn’t.) Then I’ll tell you what happens if you don’t follow this advice! Continue reading