(N.B.:  If you will be employed by a German university during your sabbatical, or if you have a grant through a German institution, you probably don’t need to read this post.  You should be able to get insurance through the university/institution, and you’ll be able to take full advantage of the excellent German health system.  If not, read on.)

You are required to prove that you have health insurance in order to get a visa to stay in Germany.  For the visa office to recognize it, the insurance has to cover routine medical care and care for pregnancy and birth in Germany.  Thus, your health insurance at home won’t likely work, even if you have travel insurance on it (at least, our wasn’t sufficient).  Not to mention that you probably want insurance that covers more than just absolute emergencies. Coming to Germany with a child made it more important to have decent local health insurance.

However, after contacting an insurance agent specializing in expats, we were told that German insurers would not cover us.  We made too much for public insurance and private insurers wouldn’t take us for only a year.  Yet we had to have health insurance to get the visa.  Catch-22?  Yep.

There are a few options, none perfect, that were recommended to us:

  • Mawista.  This is a type of travel insurance that is tailored to visiting researchers and students.  It covers everything the visa office deems necessary (pregnancy, coverage of treatment up to a particular amount).  They do not cover preexisting conditions or treatment for pregnancy before the ninth month, though, so if you have medical conditions already, are pregnant, or are planning to get pregnant, Mawista isn’t your best bet.  In 2015-16, the cost for a family of three (two adults over 40, one child) was €221.80/month.
  • International HealthCare Company.  I’m pretty sure that unless you purchase this insurance with the optional pregnancy coverage, it will not be accepted by the visa office, but you can always try.1  They offer very reasonable normal coverage and an optional pregnancy rider that costs over twice as much as the policy.2  Similar to Mawista, this insurance does not cover preexisting conditions.  I also found them very slow to respond to inquiries, and their English is quite stilted — probably not what you want from an insurer you need to rely on.3  In 2016, for a family of three with optional pregnancy coverage for our one female member of childbearing age, ISHCP would have cost €310/month.
  • DAAD.  If you’re “supported by” a German university or a partner institution of the DAAD, you can request to be covered on their insurance.  This is a very expensive insurance, but is probably the closest to real health insurance of the three.  For a family of three in 2015-16, DAAD wanted €459/month in premiums.

We went with Mawista, since the DAAD premiums were more than we could have afforded on a single sabbatical salary.  Also, there was some question as to whether DAAD would consider my husband to be “supported by” a German university as his grant and salary were paid by his home institution, though he was sponsored by a German university.

Thus, I can confirm that the visa office accepted Mawista for us, as the Welcome Centre said they would.

Here was our experience:

  • Signing up was easy — you do it all online and get acceptance right away.  Monthly premiums can also be charged to your credit card, so you can apply before you get to Germany and have your bank account set up.
  • If there’s any danger that your credit card might be replaced during the year,4 Mawista will only accept bank account transfers for the policy thereafter, so you need to be prepared to cover it out of your German bank account.
  • Doctors will consider you a “cash patient” (Bar).  Their offices will bill you (sometimes 3-4 months later) and you will need to transfer the money to them, then file for reimbursement from Mawista.  Or, in one case, we were expected to pay in cash to the cent (they could not provide change) on the spot.
  • It can take up to a month to be reimbursed, and you may have to file a claim multiple times.  Mawista paid our first claim in about a week after filing, but ignored the second one we filed. Once we refiled it, it took them a few weeks to pay it. Our third claim also took a few weeks to be reimbursed. You file online for payment, and they transfer the reimbursement to your German bank account.
  • If you have a child, you will probably want to budget extra money to pay out of pocket to set up a relationship with a paediatrician.  Mawista does not cover preventative care, so you need to be sick to see a doctor.  That means you won’t have a doctor to go to when you actually are sick.  We were caught empty-handed the first time my daughter had the flu.  You have to see a doctor in Germany to get even the most basic medication — children’s ibuprofen and cough syrup are not sold over-the-counter, so you need a prescription to get pain relievers.  We didn’t have a doctor, and had to use the after-hours clinic, where they grilled us about why we didn’t have a doctor.
  • Routine dental care is also not covered.  We had checkups and cleanings just before we came to Germany and just after we flew home, so we missed only one checkup; if you’re here for longer, or if you feel very strongly that you must have a checkup at 6 months, you’ll want to budget to cover a dentist out of your pocket.

Another good thing to know is that there is a 24-hour, nationwide number in Germany for help finding medical care in your local area:  116117.  If you dial this number, they will help you find either the closest after-hours care clinic to you, a doctor with open consultation hours, or they can also send a doctor to you if you are unable to leave the house.

Overall, if I had to do it over, I’d still go with Mawista in our circumstances.  However, I would have found a family paediatrician on my own dime when we arrived, so that I’d have a place to go in emergencies.

1 We were given their information by a university Welcome Centre as something to look into, although they told us they didn’t know anyone who’d used them.
2 I confirmed with International HealthCare that the optional pregnancy rider cannot be added after the policy begins, so you’d have to buy it up front to comply with the visa requirements. You can’t try to see if the basic coverage flies with the visa office and then add it later if not.
3 My German’s okay, but when it comes to official, important things like health insurance, I prefer to use English if I can. (Actually, I usually read the contracts in both languages, just to be sure.)
4 Mine was, due to a retailer breach back home.