Why Doesn’t Expat Health Insurance Work for Visa Renewals?
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Why Doesn’t Expat Health Insurance Work for Visa Renewals?

Summary:

Expat health insurance plans don’t work for visa renewals. Why not? And what can you do about it?

Imagine this: you’ve been living in Germany for two years on a freelance residence permit and you’ll soon need to apply for a renewal. You’ve been through this before—you have all the necessary documents at the ready, and a great expat health insurance plan to boot. 

But when you head to your appointment at the Ausländerbehörde, you learn that your great expat health insurance plan won’t be accepted for your residence permit renewal. The officer gives you a troubling ultimatum: get on public or private insurance or leave the country.

So what can you do? And why wasn’t your expat plan accepted?

Short-term solution

We’ve said it before and we will say it again: expat health insurance is only meant as a short-term solution. There are two main scenarios in which expat health insurance is appropriate:

  • You’re applying for a residence permit and don’t (yet) qualify for a comprehensive public or private plan
  • You aren’t planning to stay in Germany for more than a year or so. 

We always recommend that newcomers to Germany get comprehensive public or private insurance if they can—but sometimes, it isn’t possible or affordable. In these cases, expat health insurance provides excellent coverage for unexpected illnesses and injuries. But it has some significant shortcomings, like not covering pre-existing conditions. 

And even though the visa office will accept expat health coverage for your first residence permit, they know it doesn’t cover everything. So you’ll be expected to have a comprehensive insurance policy by the time you renew your residence permit. 

When will I need to get comprehensive insurance?

Most expat health insurance plans (including the Feather expat plan) say they’ll cover you for “a maximum of five years”. But just because you buy a policy for five years doesn’t mean it will be accepted by the Ausländerbehörde for the entire period. 

“This makes it a bit confusing,” says Johanna Sieben, founder of Berlin-based relocation company C/O Germany. “People see they can sign up for five years of insurance, but really the plan will only cover them for their first residence permit. They’ll need to get different insurance when they renew.”

So if you signed a five-year contract but first residence permit is for just two years, you could be locked into three years of expat insurance you can’t use. (This is why the Feather expat plan is particularly useful—there’s no minimum contract period and you can cancel any time!) 

But the bottom line on this timeline? You will need to get a comprehensive public or private policy by the time of your renewal appointment

I’m a freelancer. What can I do? 

If you’re a freelancer from outside the EU, you may again find your options to be fairly limited. But there are a few things you can do:

  • Get comprehensive private insurance: This will be more expensive than your expat plan but provide full coverage, including for pre-existing conditions. 
  • Apply to enter the Künstlersozialkasse (KSK): Admission to the KSK will allow you to join public insurance. The KSK will also pay half your insurance costs. And even though the name means “artists’ social fund”, the KSK covers more than just artists. Read more here.
  • Get a full-time job with a German company: This will allow you to sign up for public insurance.

Have questions? Get in touch with our team of experts to discuss your options. 

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