Living in Germany: five types of insurance you should know about

Maybe you’ve heard a German say, ‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing’. German culture places a premium on being well-prepared. But not only when it comes to the weather – could this cultural value have something to do with the world of German insurance?

Living in Germany: five types of insurance you should know about
Life happens. Being insured can help reduce the effect on your wallet. Photo: Getty Images

Insurance is a big deal in Germany. There are numerous social safety nets in place, but there are still more than a few things you’re expected to take care of on your own. It’s common for new arrivals to feel frustrated and overwhelmed when they try to figure out what kinds of insurance they need. 

To help demystify this aspect of living in Germany, here are five types of coverage you may want to consider.

Personal liability insurance (Private Haftpflichtversicherung)

Ask any German what the most important kind of insurance is, and soon you won’t be able to get them to stop talking about personal liability insurance – 80 percent of the population has it. Personal liability insurance covers the financial costs if you accidentally cause damage to someone else, their property or their assets. 

This type of insurance is so common in Germany that if you spill wine on someone’s trousers on a night out, the wearer may ask you to file a claim with your personal liability insurance to cover the cleaning costs. If your toddler draws all over a friend’s couch, even that friend might ask you to file a claim. It’s not considered rude here, or even a little weird. People simply tend to assume that everyone has personal liability coverage.

The good news is that personal liability insurance isn’t that expensive, especially when you consider that it also covers more serious cases, for example if you accidentally injure someone who becomes unable to work, leaving you financially on the hook for all their lost income. It also covers things like Mietsachschäden in a rented flat, which refers to damage to things that are part of the flat itself, like floors, windows, and doors. It even covers accidental damage to holiday apartments!

It’s always a good idea to be prepared for whatever life throws your way, especially when you’re living abroad.

You can protect yourself with a policy Getsafe in under fifteen minutes, as well as, manage and adjust via app in English

Contents insurance (Hausratversicherung)

Are you a renter or a homeowner? Then another type of insurance most Germans will recommend you get is contents insurance. Contents insurance covers your belongings within your home against insured risks. ‘Contents’ refers to things like furniture, electronic devices, and clothes. Think of it this way: if you turn your flat or house upside down, anything that falls out normally counts as contents. Insured risks are things like fire, storms, or burglary.

Say a water pipe in your kitchen bursts, your washing machine leaks all over your nice chairs, or you accidentally leave a lit candle unattended and cause a small fire in your bedroom. Contents insurance will cover the financial costs associated with the damage. 

It’s important to note that if you’re renting a furnished apartment, contents insurance doesn’t cover the furnishings that came with the apartment. They’re the landlord’s property, so they’re not covered by your contents policy.

Private health insurance (Private Krankenversicherung or ‘PKV’)

Whether you’re working or studying in Germany, health insurance is mandatory. The majority of people in Germany have public health insurance (Gesetzliche Krankenversicherung, or ‘GKV’).

Germany’s public health system is highly advanced, and you’ll be well looked after if you get sick or have an accident. However, if you’re a freelancer, or you’re an employee and earn over a certain amount per year (for 2023: €66,600), you have the option of taking out private health insurance instead.

Private health insurance gives coverage holders a greater choice of doctors, largely eliminates waiting periods to see a specialist and can ensure a single room if you’re hospitalised. It also provides access to a more diverse variety of procedures and treatments than public health insurance.

Income protection insurance (Berufsunfähigkeitsversicherung)

According to the Federal Statistical Office, one in four people in Germany will become unable to work in their current profession for at least six months in a row due to accident or illness over the course of their lives. A significant percentage of people who file an income protection claim are dealing with a mental health issue like depression or burnout. 

You’ll find that many Germans also have income protection insurance to prepare for this eventuality. Income protection insurance covers all your living costs, including regular bills and grocery costs, when you can’t work, giving you peace of mind so you can focus on getting better.

The younger and healthier you are when you take out income protection coverage, the more affordable it will be. It’s a worthwhile investment in an additional personal safety net. 

Getsafe offers access to a broad range of insurance policies in English, all through an easy-to-use app 

Dog liability insurance jumps in when Mr. Fluffy does something naughty to someone else’s stuff. Photo: Getty Images

Pet health insurance (Tierkrankenversicherung) and dog liability insurance (Hundehaftpflichtversicherung

Germans are pet-loving people, and if you’ve got a feline or canine buddy in tow, you’ll find yourself in good company. But the seriousness with which Germans take care of their animals can sometimes translate into hefty costs for their veterinary care.

Pet health insurance can be a worthwhile option if you’re a pet parent in Germany. Pet health insurance provides a wealth of benefits. Depending on the level of coverage you choose, you can cover surgeries, additional treatments and preventative care. Some providers also provide virtual 24/7 veterinary appointments when you’re travelling or it’s three in the morning.

If you have a dog, it’s also a good idea to get dog liability insurance. (For one thing, it’s a legal requirement in Berlin, Brandenburg, Hamburg, Lower Saxony, Thuringia and Schleswig-Holstein.) Dog liability insurance covers the costs if your dog accidentally damages someone else, their property, or another dog. 

The simple solution

Many German insurance companies have begun to offer specialised English-language services as the number of English speakers living and working in Germany increases. One of these companies, Getsafe, has gone further, providing all-digital, English-language insurance via app. 

Companies like Getsafe recognize that international workers in Germany don’t want to deal with piles of German paperwork. That’s where the app comes in. It makes it easy for users to buy, manage and adjust their coverage and file claims 24/7, all from their smartphone.

Living in Germany may become one of the grandest adventures of your life. But as the Germans know, it’s always good to be prepared, just in case something should go awry. Luckily, being prepared is easier than you think. 

Life happens, but Germans know the value of preparation. Getsafe allows you to sign up online and be protected within minutes – with everything in English

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OPINION: Germany has never had a real Covid lockdown

Germany is in the grip of a third Covid wave, with intensive care beds filling up. As politicians and medical experts talk of a “lockdown”, many people are confused. Aren’t we already in a lockdown? No, and this is part of the confusion, writes Rachel Loxton.

OPINION: Germany has never had a real Covid lockdown
People walking in central Frankfurt am Main on March 27th. Photo: DPA

Living in Berlin throughout the pandemic has had its ups and downs. Like in most places there have been strict measures aimed at slowing down the spread of Covid. 

For nearly six months now (!) restaurants, cafes and bars have been shut (except for takeaway) in Germany. Things like gyms, cinemas and museums have also mostly been shut. And clubs have been closed for over a year. 

All this is absolutely rubbish, and it has been difficult for everyone. 

But I would argue that we haven’t really had a proper lockdown in Germany. Although there are contact restrictions, we have still been able to meet people, and we haven’t been forced to stay indoors. 

We’ve been encouraged to cut down on social contact and form a “social bubble” but not ordered to.

The closest we’ve come to a national lockdown in Germany is during the first wave last spring when people were not allowed to meet with others indoors. 

At its most strict, we were allowed to meet with one other person outside, and told to only leave our homes for essential reasons. But this included unlimited exercise time and we didn’t need a form to go outside as was the case in some other European countries.

Travel was also banned in March 2020 for a period of time, but this has never been the case during the second and current third wave. At the moment travel is discouraged, but this didn’t stop tens of thousands of German tourists flying to Mallorca during the Easter holidays.

READ ALSO: ‘I really needed a break’: Pandemic-weary Germans find ‘freedom’ on Mallorca

People sitting on a bench in a Berlin park on April 4th 2020. Photo: DPA

Of course last spring everyone was shocked by the extreme measures and simply getting to grips with the concept of the “coronavirus lockdown” which we’d never had to think about before. 

Since the first wave and throughout the pandemic there have been localised outbreaks that have seen small-scale lockdowns in Germany with people forced to quarantine, such as after outbreaks at meat plants or in housing complexes.

What’s in a name?

I think it’s important to consider the way we use the term “lockdown” as politicians and medical experts are talking at the moment about bringing in a new lockdown to control the rising number of Covid infections. 

READ ALSO: Could a ‘bridge lockdown’ be the answer to Germany’s spiralling Covid cases?

“Aren’t we already in a lockdown?” I’ve heard people ask. 

The Cambridge dictionary defines a lockdown as “a period of time in which people are not allowed to leave their homes or travel freely because of a dangerous disease”.

By branding all tough coronavirus measures as a lockdown, we’ve risked taking away the seriousness of what it actually is and means to be essentially banned from socialising, moving around and therefore stuck inside most of the time. 

I’ve been guilty of it myself – often talking about “Germany’s lockdown” with friends and family. At times I may have even called it a lockdown in stories for The Local although we have tried to make a big effort to call it a shutdown, lockdown measures or a partial lockdown. 

From ‘lockdown light’ to ‘hard lockdown’

Although the first action taken in November was widely called a “partial lockdown” or a “lockdown light” by German media and politicians (although not in official government documents as far I’m aware), come December when schools and hairdressers were closed, it was suddenly branded a “hard lockdown”. 

Yes, there were stronger restrictions, but this was no hard lockdown. 

The way we talk about the rules leads to people both inside and outside Germany thinking the country is in a different position than the reality. 

People in Germany have had a lot more freedom than other countries.

In France there was a full national lockdown last spring and people needed a form every time they left the house. Spain and Italy also had very strict lockdowns in the first wave, with more regional tough restrictions in the second wave.

I regularly give the word on the ground from Germany for BBC Radio in my home country of Scotland. During these reports I’ve had to emphasise that Germany’s “lockdown” is a partial lockdown, and not the same as Scotland’s. 

In Scotland, among other measures, people are still not allowed to visit anyone else indoors and there was until very recently a legal requirement to stay at home for all but essential purposes, which had been in force since January 5th.

A tweet by German political scientist Marcel Dirsus that gathered more than 11,000 likes sums it up.

“I wish Germans had never started using the word lockdown,” he said. “It made them overestimate the severity of pandemic restrictions and now it’s tougher to sell an actual lockdown to people because they think they’ve had it all along.

In the tweet thread he pointed out that people in Germany have “kept working at the office. They could always go see a friend at their house if they wanted to. They never needed to fill in a form to go jogging. Germany never had a hotel quarantine for international arrivals.”

“If you want to let people hang out with friends or work at the office even though they clearly aren’t essential personnel, so be it. It’s a legitimate position I happen to disagree with. But do everyone a favour and stop calling it lockdown.”

When I contacted Dirsus he added: “Germany never had a lockdown… But because journalists and politicians kept referring to existing contact restrictions as lockdowns, it’s now more difficult to impose one because Germans think they’ve had it all along.”

Tobias Kurth, professor of public health and epidemiology at the Charité in Berlin, said using the term lockdown for any rules “absolutely was and is damaging”.

“In the end, Germany never had a real lockdown and the consequences we all feel now,” he said. “Likely, as we have used the word lockdown in variations since November, now people may think, ‘Well but we are already in a lockdown so what is new and why do I need to change?'”

My colleague Rachel Stern, editor of The Local Germany, said the flaky way that restrictions are put in place and then taken away adds to the confusion.

She said: “As time goes on, the term ‘lockdown’ seems to be losing its seriousness for Germans.

“Measures are put in place, only to be quickly repealed following criticism, or in some case lawsuits. In many states, night-time curfews were quickly overturned, and the ’15 kilometre rule’ – which was about how far Germans living in coronavirus hotspots could travel – barely lasted a couple of weeks.”

A half-arsed lockdown

So if we haven’t had a proper lockdown what have we had for the last six months? In my opinion, it’s been a long-drawn out, half-arsed (as we’d say in Scotland) kind-of-lockdown. 

And it’s been excruciating, for every single person I’ve spoken to. We may be able to go outside often and meet up with a small number of people, but these restrictions have been a nightmare. Life is far from normal.

Yet I am very thankful for the little freedoms we have when I think of some other places.

I do wonder, though, what difference it would have made for Germany to have brought in a real, tough lockdown way back at the beginning of the second wave or at least in December during the peak.

Instead there’s been back-and-forth on various rules, talks of an Easter lockdown before a U-turn, mixed messages and people travelling. Meanwhile, the B.1.1.7 Covid variant has wreaked havoc.

On Friday German Health Minister Jens Spahn and medical experts pleaded for a lockdown, saying the health system is is on the brink of becoming overwhelmed.

But if an actual lockdown is proposed – or at least much stronger measures – will people in Germany be on board with it?