Getting Started in Germany

Hands holding a globe Photo: Jakob Studnar

Whether you are here for a short research stay, or you are moving to Germany for the first time, we realize that the necessary formalities for planning for your visit, arriving, and your first few weeks in Germany can be overwhelming.

To help you get off to a good start, we have collected the most important information about your first steps in Germany on this page, as well as checklists to help you plan your stay.

  • As a general rule, citizens of most non-EU countries (“third country nationals”) need a visa to enter Germany. Depending on the length and purpose of your stay in Germany, there are different types of visas, including:

    You should avoid entering Germany on a tourist visa, as this will not allow you to work or obtain a residence permit.

    It often takes several weeks to months to process a visa application, so it is best to apply for your visa (and visas for any family members who will accompany you) as early as possible. Please contact the nearest German embassy or consulate in your home country at an early stage in your planning to get more information on the relevant visa requirements.

    Citizens of EU and EEA member states and Swiss citizens do not require an entry visa. A valid identity card or passport is sufficient for entry.

    More useful links:

  • As a rule, citizens of non-EU countries need a residence permit. Depending on the length and purpose of the stay, there are different residence permits with different requirements and which allow you different rights, for example:

    Please allow plenty of time to apply for the appropriate residence permit at the local immigration authority (“Ausländerbehörde”) before your entry visa expires. In the event that your residence permit cannot be renewed in time, under certain circumstances you may receive an interim document, called a “Fiktionsbescheinigung,” which permits you to remain in Germany until you receive your residence permit.


    Receipients of scholarships from German funding agencies such as the DAAD or the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation are not required to pay the usual fees for residence permits or visas.

  • General Information for Your Apartment Search: It is relatively easy to find an apartment in the city center, but available apartments close to the FernUni campus are rarer.

    In addition to the option of finding an apartment through our cooperation partner, you can enter the search terms “Wohnung, Hagen, NRW” into the search engine of your choice and find numerous results. Do exercise caution when searching for apartments online, and do not transfer funds for a deposit or rent without first viewing the apartment and signing a rental contract.

    Note that many unfurnished (“unmöbliert”) apartments in Germany do not include kitchen fixtures, appliances, or light fixtures – tenants often supply these themselves. If a kitchen is included, this is often mentioned separately in the apartment listing (“Einbauküche” or EBK), but be sure to clarify specifically which fixtures are included before signing a rental agreement. In some cases, if the kitchen or other fixtures are provided by the tenant, it may be possible to arrange to purchase them directly from the outgoing tenant.

    This illustrated overview of useful vocabulary about housing in English and German may also be useful in your apartment search.

    Apartments for Visiting Scholars and New Employees: The FernUniversität cooperates with local housing provider in Hagen. Through this cooperation, visiting scholars and new employees can arrange to rent an apartment for a short- to medium-term stay (1 to 8 months). Furnished apartments are also available on request, many of which are located near the campus. The rental contract is arranged directly with You can get information about the currently available apartments and lease terms from at the number +49 2331 3110666.

  • Deposit and Additional Costs: Most rental agreements require that you pay a deposit on the apartment before you move in, which will be returned to you once your lease ends. For apartments, this deposit may not exceed three months’ rent (the so-called “Kaltmiete,” or “cold rent” which does not include heat, utilities, or other additional costs). This deposit is usually paid into a bank account specifically for this purpose, which is exclusively under the tenant’s name.

    In addition to the “Kaltmiete” or “cold rent,” you will need to pay additional costs or “Nebenkosten.” These are usually explicitly mentioned in the rental contract, and are costs that are related to your use of the apartment, such as the cost of heat and warm water. Depending on your contract, they may also include costs for a employing a property manager, removing snow, maintaining the garden, fees for garbage removal, water and sewage, electricity in common areas such as staircases and shared laundry rooms, and/or TV fees.

    The total amount you must pay each month, including both the “Kaltmiete” and the additional costs, is referred to as “Warmmiete” or “warm rent.” As a tenant, you have the right to request a detailed accounting of the additional costs from your landlord.

    Public Broadcasting License Fee: Since January 2013, all households in Germany are required to pay a yearly license fee (or “Rundfunkbeitrag”) of 210 Euro for public broadcasting. This fee applies even if you do not own a television or computer, or if you do not consume any public broadcasting programming. It is possible to arrange to pay the fee in installments. Students, people with certain disabilities, or people who receive social benefits may be exempt from the fee or eligible for a reduced fee.

    Moving in: When you first move in, be sure to clearly write your name on the nameplates on your doorbell and mailbox, as your mail cannot be delivered otherwise. Please also note that you must register your new address with the registration office (or “Einwohnermeldeamt”) within two weeks of moving in.

  • When you first move to Germany, and each time you move to a new address within Germany, you are required to register your address with the registration office (“Einwohnermeldeamt” in German) within two weeks. You will usually need to bring your passport or other identification documents, as well as a confirmation of your residence signed by your landlord (“Wohnungsgeberbestätigung”).

    If you are here for a temporary stay, you are also required to deregister before you leave.

    You will receive a confirmation of your registration, which you should keep in a safe place, since you may need it to apply for a residence permit or open a bank account, for example.

    Shortly after the first time you register, you should also receive a letter from the Federal Central Tax Office with your tax identification number, which you will need to provide to your employer. You may also be asked to provide information about your religious affiliation when you register for the purpose of collecting the relevant church tax, if applicable.

  • If you plan on a longer stay in Germany, if you will be receiving regular income (for example, a stipend or salary), or if you will have recurring payments such as rent, it makes sense to open a German bank account.

    As a rule, you can open an account at any local branch of your chosen bank - it is often easiest to make an appointment in advance. You will typically need to bring your passport or other identity documents, tax ID number, and the confirmation of registration you received at the Einwohnermeldeamt and/or your residence permit. Services and fees vary somewhat between banks, so it is best to inform yourself in advance about which bank or account is the best fit for you.

  • The social insurance system in Germany includes health insurance, pension, unemployment insurance, accident insurance, and long-term care insurance.

    It is mandatory to carry adequate health insurance coverage in Germany. In order to obtain a residence permit, you will typically be required to provide proof of your health insurance, either from a private or statutory health insurance provider, so it is important to make arrangements for your health insurance before you arrive.

    Whether you are eligible to enroll in a German statutory health insurance plan, and whether you are obligated to participate in the social insurance system depends on your individual situation and the nature of your stay at the FernUniversität. A general summary of German social and health insurance for research stays in Germany can be found on the Euraxess website.

    If you have questions about social insurance and you are or will be employed by the FernUniversität, Human Resources can provide you with further information about your rights and obligations. Students with questions about the health insurance requirements to enroll at the FernUniversität can contact student services. For other types of stays at the FernUniversität, please contact your host or the international office, who can advise you further.

  • 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 a general overview of taxation for research stays. You can find more information on double taxation agreements on the Federal Ministry of Finance website.

    If you will be employed by the FernUniversität in Hagen, you will need to provide Human Resources with your tax identification number, which you will receive from the Federal Tax Office after registering your address.

    If you are employed at the FernUniversität and have further questions about your tax obligations as an employee, you can contact Human Resources for support. For other types of stays at the FernUniversität, contact your host or the international office.

Leaving Germany

Has your time at the FernUniversität flown by, and now you are planning your departure? We hope you had a pleasant stay in Hagen and that we will welcome you back again soon!

Before you leave, there are a few organizational things to bear in mind. For example, many contracts must be cancelled three months in advance. Please allow yourself plenty of time in your planning.


If you have any further questions, or if you need assistance, please do not hesitate to contact our international office.

International Office Team

Email: international

Universitätsstr. 27 / Building 5
58097 Hagen

International | 22.11.2021