Hans-Torsten Richter answers your questions about surviving and thriving in Berlin. Write to email@example.com.
What’s the best option to choose with regards to health insurance, public or private? I’m 22, taking a year off after uni, seeing if I can get a job here. I am registered as a resident of Berlin but I also have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) which I got in my home country, the UK.
Stop! Don’t do anything stupid. The wonderful German health insurance system is impressively expensive and complicated. If you get a job in Berlin, your employer will hook you up with a mandatory statutory insurance or Krankenkasse (and then, hooray, if you lose your job, the Jobcenter will cover your insurance payments). Till then, don’t sign up for anything. You’re probably still considered to be a UK resident, and since you’re young and probably have few commitments, the EHIC should be just fine for emergencies and other care – with the exception of non-emergency visits to the dentist. If you get sick, bring your EHIC card to the doctor’s, but make sure it’s not a “private patients only” doctor – they won’t accept your card and you could end up having to foot a very high bill. You’ll then have to drop by the office of the AOK Krankenkasse (there’s a branch near Alexanderplatz) and fill out some paperwork ensuring that the costs are covered automatically by the UK’s NHS. For UK residents the EHIC is valid for five years before you have to reapply, so in theory you can be covered for that period.
I moved here from Sweden a few months ago, but haven’t registered yet. I heard there was a fine for registering later than two weeks after you move into a new flat, so I’m sort of scared of having to pay something or any other consequences.
To register or not to register. Zat is the question that every young member of the Easyjet set asks him- or herself on the way from the Admiralbrücke to the Berghain queue. It’s up there with “Sterni or Club Mate vodka?” in terms of existential gravity. Seriously: no, you won’t be fined if you register late, just tutted at perhaps. Like the crimson-haired ladies there have been doing to me for the past 15 years every time I go to the Bürgeramt for something and they see in their computer that I have yet to provide a copy of my birth certificate. I smile and compliment their kitten photos and I’m off the hook. My advice: don’t bother registering here until you have to. If you’re just partying for a season, forget about it. If you want a job, a bank account or German health insurance, or you want to study here, etc., you will need to take that step. Actually, you should probably wait till you have a health insurance strategy in place (i.e. your status and finances need be clarified, meaning you’ll need to know whether you’re an employee, self-employed, an artist in the special artist insurance thingy (the KSK), a student or unemployed), because if you sign up for a statutory Krankenkasse much later than registering, there is a slim chance you will (but not necessarily) be asked to cough up back payments for the entire time you were officially living here without having German insurance. And that would just be shit, wouldn’t it? It’s too complicated to explain in detail here and varies from case to case, so email me if you still have questions.
Originally published in issue #131, October 2014.