Once we had our visas taken care of, our next hurdle was health insurance.
Our plan was public health insurance. The entire family can be on one policy- William’s student rate would be about 86€ and I would be insured for free under him. Much, much cheaper than private!
Furthermore, we eventually learned that private insurance requires you to pay out of pocket and apply for reimbursement (at least at the doctor I would be going to). Since we can only spend a fixed amount of money a month, this would likely be impossible if we needed a doctor.
So public insurance was the natural choice. Cheaper price, better coverage for our needs. We went into the best known Krankenkasse in our town, the AOK, and filled out an application. But without our visas, nothing could be done yet.
We waited and waited until our visas could finally be processed. Then the immigration office (Ausländeramt) signed a piece of paper provided by the AOK, and we brought it in that same day. This was at the beginning of December.
Within a couple days, we got a rejection letter, but that was all we could understand. I brought the letter into my German teacher to ask. It took her, the secretary, and several phone calls to figure out the reason – the paper the immigration office had filled out told them our livelihood was not secure.We figured this was because they filled out the form the same day we proved we can support ourselves. More phone calls by the secretary and I was told it should be fine and we would get a new letter in a few days.
Sure enough, we got a wonderful letter a few days later! All we had to do was bring in proof of our visas and we would be golden. We did that the same day.
But we never heard back. So we went in to talk to them again. The man we spoke to refused to acknowledge the second letter we received. He insisted that the immigration office wouldn’t change their answer that our livelihood is not secure. But the immigration office told us that in no way should the form they filled out prevent us from getting insurance. None of these people who get paid to help us were interested at all in doing so. I cried a lot out of frustration.
Winter break came and we were forced to take a break from our pursuits. When it was over and the offices were open once more, I spoke to someone new who could not believe that we were not being allowed to have insurance. He called the AOK for us and was told the problem was that we had not brought in proof of our visas. Well, we had. But if they are calling that the problem, fantastic!
William and I went back in just 1.5 hours after that phone call, armed with the necessary paperwork and a few other things as well. They kept changing their story, and we wanted to be prepared. But we were hopeful.
But then we arrived, and the woman we spoke to told us the problem was not our visas, but it continued to be this “proof of livelihood” thing. This makes no sense, as we spent so many months proving we could support ourselves to the immigration office. Why were they saying we couldn’t?
We tried to prove this to the AOK, but everything began and ended with the immigration office’s word. They were very rude to us in the process. Not listening to what we were saying and insisting we explain why William couldn’t have just gone to school in the US. As if he was the first foreign exchange student ever. And many other questions that really had no bearing.
What infuriated us, though, is that they gave completely different information within an hour and a half. They even tried to tell us that the letter we received after my school’s intervention was supposed to be sent before the one sent 4 days earlier.
It was around this time that I literally screamed in the middle of this building and started sobbing. They were still rude after, but at least they attempted to help us by making some phone calls. Which is more than I can say for what anyone there did when we simply asked questions or I cried quietly.
Eventually we left, our good, hopeful day ruined.
(FYI, at no point did we attempt to speak to them in English. All of this happened in German and they deliberately ignored us when we spoke to each other in English. If you ever need to go to the AOK, know that they are extremely not English friendly. From what we’ve heard this is true in all their branches.)
But we hadn’t given up hope. The following Monday (we are now in mid-January), I met with a social worker who helps young immigrants. She had done a lot of research and found that there is an obscure law:
If you support yourself with a blocked bank account (a Sperrkonto), you are not allowed to be enrolled in public health insurance.
In all of our extensive research about being a foreign student, we never came across this information. Even once we knew it, we could find no mention of it in any of the information about the Sperrkonto.
The social worker took me around to talk to various health insurance companies to learn more about our options. Private was definitely beyond our budget, but we found the DAK, another public health insurance company. The man there was very friendly and I felt good about him. We applied for health insurance there, just in case. Every time I went in, the same man spoke to me (unlike at the AOK). He complimented my German and answered my questions. Unlike the AOK, who could never agree on what they would charge us, the DAK specifically mentioned Befusfachschüler on their rate sheet. We knew without a doubt what it would cost.
But when the letter came, it still said no. But this time, the letter was detailed, easy to understand, and accompanied by highlighted sections of the offending law. It was heartbreaking news, but at least they were polite and upfront about it.
Next, back into the immigration office (thank God all these places are within walking distance of the apartment). What the hell was the problem? We can support ourselves, why won’t they let us have health insurance? How are we suppose to afford private when they are restricting our spending? The woman had no answers, but at least she acknowledged the problem and apologized.
William asked his school. They offer absolutely no help to their students, even the German citizens.
Broken and beaten, constantly scared that something will happen we can’t pay for, and only just now getting answers 2 months into this process of lies and finger pointing, we were angry and ready to give up. But we gave one more option a try as January came to a close…
I went into the immigration office one more time and asked if it would make a difference if our parents were “supporting” us. It is given as an option for securing a visa, and one of William’s foreign classmates is actually using that path. Since the insurance companies have told us the only problem is with what the immigration office said, it was a simple matter of finding out if it would make a difference.
But it didn’t. The woman I talked with thoroughly asked her boss to confirm we were getting the right information. But it would make no difference. As students, we had exhausted every option of getting health insurance. There were no more paths available to us for a health insurance whose payments we could afford with our restrictions.
I write this detailed account of our process because people need to know. Yes, if either of us worked it wouldn’t be a problem. But I can’t work yet, and William is so restricted in his hours that it is unlikely any Berufsfachschüler would be able to work enough to qualify. So why isn’t this information available? Why are foreign students not told that the very thing that lets them live in Germany prohibits them from affordable insurance? Why were we forced into a 2 month long fight of lies, rudeness, and a lack of information before we were even told that public is not an option?
People need to know this before they sacrifice everything to come here. No one should have to go through what we have, especially after all the research William did.