Tips for Everyday Life in Germany
In order to help you settle in and make your stay at the FernUniversität as comfortable as possible, we have collected some useful tips, information, and links for day-to-day life at the FernUni and in Hagen.
The FernUniversität's International Office is happy to offer advice and assistance to our international guests on campus. If you have questions or would like more information, please do not hesitate to get in touch.
The FernUniversität’s on-campus cafeteria offers students, staff, and guests a rotating menu of inexpensive lunch options, as well as snacks and drinks. The cafeteria is open Monday through Friday from 7:30 am to 2:30 pm, and serves lunch between 11:30 am and 2 pm.
Religious freedom is guaranteed by the German constitution. The Tax Office collects church tax from the members of some religious communities on behalf of these communities. When you register your address at the registration office, or "Einwohnermeldeamt," you may be asked to indicate your religious affiliation, if any, in order to arrange for any applicable church tax to be collected.
There are a variety of religious communities in Hagen, including Protestant, Catholic, free churches, Greek Orthodox, Jewish, and Islamic communities. In addition to their places of worship, many of these religious communities maintain various community organizations which are open to their believers.
The city of Hagen and local social organizations offer a variety of advising services, assistance, and financial support for people with disabilities.
Services and Information for People with Disabilities in Hagen
For information and assistance regarding disability in the workplace at the FernUniversität, you can contact the FernUni’s representative for employees with disabilities (German).
As a family-friendly university, the FernUniversität offers its students and staff a variety of services and support to help maintain a balance between family and career. For example, the FernUniversität’s MiniCampus is available to provide backup childcare if your usual care provider is not available, or if your schedule changes unexpectedly.
The FernUniversität's Family Services Team is happy to provide advice and information about the full range of options available to support your family at the FernUniversität.
An overview of schools, childcare options, and other services for families in Hagen can be found on the city of Hagen’s website.
The FernUniversität has a number of health-related services and points of contact for students and staff, including in-house occupational health and counseling services, a social advising service, and representatives for students and staff with disabilities or chronic illnesses.
Health insurance is mandatory in Germany. The emergency telephone number in Germany is 112.
Doctors in Hagen
There are many doctors with different specialties practicing in Hagen. The website of the regional physicians’ organization Kassenärztliche Vereinigung Westfalen-Lippe offers a search function which can help you find the right doctor for you. The languages spoken in each practice are also listed on the site.
This illustrated health dictionary [pdf] provides an overview of useful vocabulary for your doctor’s appointment in English and German.
Hospitals in Hagen
There are four hospitals for acute care with six different locations in Hagen. These hospitals offer inpatient treatment both in general medicine and specialist departments.
In Germany, you can only purchase medication from a pharmacy (“Apotheke”). Drugstores (“Drogerien”) sell toiletries and hygiene articles, but do not sell medicine.
There are two categories of medication: medication which is available over the counter from the pharmacist, and medication which requires a prescription (“Rezept”) from your doctor before the pharmacist may dispense it. If you are covered by statutory health insurance, your insurance will cover most prescribed medications, although you typically have to pay a percentage of the cost as a co-payment.
The laws about dispensing medication in Germany are quite strict, and medicines which are available over the counter in other countries may require a prescription. Your pharmacist can advise you further about specific medications.
Most pharmacies are open during regular business hours, but there is an emergency service for nights and weekends. The pharmacists' organization Apothekerkammer Westfalen-Lippe website offers a search function for local pharmacies as well as information about which pharmacy is currently offering emergency pharmacy services.
Students and staff can access the internet via the FernUniversität’s wireless network in all buildings on campus and in the regional and study centers. You can use the FernUniversität’s WLAN via the eduroam network. Alternatively, guests can access the internet using a voucher code provided by their host, and students and staff may access the network using their FernUni account.
If you have technical problems or questions about the FernUni’s IT services, the Helpdesk is your first point of contact.
When you start work at the FernUniversität, you will receive a letter with your user name and a temporary password, which will allow you to activate your FernUni user account and create your own password. This account will allow you to log in to your computer, email, and other IT services. You can find more information in German in the Helpdesk’s guide for new employees.
The FernUniversität is the only state-funded distance learning university in the German-speaking area. The main language of instruction at the FernUni is German, however most employees also speak English. Hagen’s Volkshochschule adult education center offers a variety of language courses, including German.
In comparison to many other cities and countries, living in Hagen is relatively inexpensive. However, it is still worthwhile to take a look at the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD)’s funding database and other opportunities for external funding. The FernUniversität also offers funding through its internal research funding program, which can be used to fund visits from guest scholars, for example.
Cash is widely used in Germany compared to many other countries, and some stores and restaurants may not accept debit or credit card payments. In other cases, cards may only be accepted above a certain minimum amount.
For longer stays, it may be advisable to open a German bank account. Services and fees vary slightly between banks, so it is best to compare offers before choosing the bank that is right for you. In order to open an account, you will need your passport or another identity document, your tax number, and the confirmation (“Meldebescheinigung”) that you received when you registered your address at the Einwohnermeldeamt.
The FernUniversität offers its employees extensive opportunities for continuing education and professional development via its internal professional development program. Internal professional development courses are usually offered at no cost and cover topics ranging from office organization to health and communication to seminars designed specifically for researchers.
Hagener Straßenbahn AG operates bus and train lines within Hagen. They have two customer centers in Hagen: one in the city center, at Körnerstraße 25, and one at the main train station. In these customer centers you can purchase tickets for the regional public transport association Verkehrsverbund Rhein-Ruhr, get information about routes and timetables, and set up a subscription for a monthly transit pass.
The national rail system is operated by Deutsche Bahn. On their English-language website, you can view timetables and purchase tickets both for long-distance travel and for many regional transit associations.
In Hagen's city center, you will find large shopping centers with a wide selection of retailers for fashion, electronics, and beauty and wellness products, as well as opticians and supermarkets. You can find more shops near the main train station, at the lower end of Elberfelderstaße, near the Volkspark, and on Kampstraße.
Shops and supermarkets are generally closed on Sundays and public holidays in Germany.
The FernUniversität’s sports club Sportgemeinschaft FernUniversität 1975 e.V. offers inexpensive sports programs and classes to FernUni students and staff. FernUniversität staff can also take part in a number of fitness and health programs through the FernUni's internal professional development program. Additionally, there are numerous sporting organizations in Hagen where you can meet like-minded people.
If you receive a grant or scholarship for your research stay in Germany, under certain circumstances these funds may be exempt from German income tax. However, your stipend may still be taxable in your home country. We recommend contacting the provider of your grant or scholarship to clarify which taxation rules may apply to your situation.
Certain countries have double taxation agreements with Germany, which determine in which country you are taxed. The Euraxess website provides general information about taxation for research stays. Information about double taxation agreements can be found on the Federal Ministry of Finance website.
If you are employed in Germany and your situation does not fall under a double taxation agreement with your home country, then you will be required to pay taxes on your income in Germany. Your employer will automatically withhold the necessary taxes and social security contributions from your pay. In order to do this, you will need to provide your employer with your tax identification number when you begin your employment.
For employees of the state government of North Rhine Westphalia, including employees at the FernUniversität, tax and social security contribution withholding is managed by the Landesamt für Besoldung und Versorgung NRW.
There are three main types of taxes that are deducted:
1. Income Tax
The amount of income tax you pay depends on your income, family status, and tax category. You can find an overview of income tax in Germany on the Make it in Germany website.
2. Church Tax
Under certain conditions, religious communities in Germany can have the state collect church tax from their members on their behalf. If you are a member of a religious community which collects church tax, it is deducted from your salary along with your income tax. In North Rhine Westphalia, the church tax is an amount equal to 9% of your income tax.
When you register your address at the Einwohnermeldeamt, you will be asked to indicate your religious affiliation, so that any applicable church tax can be correctly collected.
3. Solidarity Surcharge
The Solidarity Surcharge (or “Soli”) is an additional tax that was implemented in 1991 to fund German reunification. Currently, the surcharge is 5.5% of your income tax, although employees below a certain income level pay a reduced amount or may be exempt from paying.
If you work at the FernUniversität and have further questions about taxes or social security contributions, you can contact Human Resources.
In addition to the information above, the following external sites offer helpful information about higher education and research in Germany, general tips for day-to-day life, and help with the bureaucratic formalities: