Social Security » Social insurance within the EU, the EEA, and Switzerland

Social insurance within the EU, the EEA, and Switzerland

A German freelance artist visits the Czech Republic for several months to work there. Does he/she remain insured in Germany? Does Europe have a unified social security system?  

National social security systems in Europe differ greatly. Countries within the European Union are free to decide who should be insured under the respective national laws and which benefits may be obtained under which conditions. To make allowances for the mobility and free movement of employees, the self-employed, and all EU-citizens, the special provisions of Regulation (EC) No. 883/2004 on the coordination of social security systems apply. These, however, merely coordinate the national laws without actually harmonizing them. The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) and other standardized documents have been introduced for the purpose of coordination and to allow EU-citizens to claim social benefits in other countries. 

Generally speaking, the social security coverage of the freelance artist is subject to the laws of only one individual member country. Like all mobile workers, he/she is subject to the laws of the country in which he/she is actually employed or self-employed.  

In case of a temporary activity of up to 24 months in another member state, the artist remains insured under the social insurance system of his/her country of origin (Germany, in the case of our example). Here the principle of posting is relevant: when a worker is temporarily send to another member state by his/her employer, posting occurs; self-employed workers can post themselves. The principle of posting applies to activities in another EU country for a period of up to 24 months. 
If he/she plans to stay longer than 24 months he/she will be subject to the social law of the destination country (the Czech Republic, in our example) from his/her first day there. In certain cases, a special agreement can be concluded between social insurance carriers, according to which the artist can remain in the social system of his/her home country for a longer period. 
The law of the country of residence applies if someone is habitually employed in several member states – for example, in border regions –, including the country of residence. The decision rests with the social security carrier in the country of residence.

The coordination of the social security systems is based on four basic principles: 

  1. The laws of only one country apply and any contributions are paid in this country. The insured are not free to choose; the social security carriers decide which laws are to be applied in each case.
  2. The principle of equal treatment and non-discrimination applies: The same rights and obligations apply to posted workers as for the nationals of the country in which they are insured. 
  3. When claiming a benefit (for example, unemployment benefits, pension), previous periods of insurance and work or residence periods in other countries are taken into account. 
  4. If one is entitled to cash benefits from one country (pension, unemployment benefits, long-term care), one may generally receive them even if living in a different country. This is known as the principle of exportability. 

An overview of the applicable laws for stays in other member states is provided by the European Commission: Your rights country by country

An overview of the national healthcare systems of the EU member states, Iceland, Norway, and Liechtenstein by the UK National Health Service, including practical information about the healthcare system in the countries of the EEA, can be found here.

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