Situated in the heart of Europe, Austria is well known for its grand architecture, famous composers and scenic ski resorts.
With its historic cities and breathtaking scenery, Austria is often cited as one of the best places to live as an expat. Vienna and Salzburg are magnets for culture vultures and the mountains are a haven for outdoor enthusiasts.
Conservative in both social and business environments, Austrian society is fairly insular so expats may find it takes time to integrate with local Austrians, and many choose to spend time with other international expats.
This guide will give some points of reference when it comes to starting life in Austria, including information on accommodation, education and healthcare, as well as visas and social and business etiquette.
Individuals from countries on a visa-waiver list, which includes EU states, will not need a visa to enter Austria for stays of up to 90 days. Nationals of countries not on this list and who wish to visit Austria as a tourist require a Schengen travel visa.
For stays longer than three months, expats need residence and work permits. In order to obtain the former, applicants need to show that they have sufficient financial means and proof of employment in Austria. For work permits, employers will need to draft a letter explaining that the individual has skills which can’t be fulfilled by an Austrian citizen.
For those unable to obtain these permits, a jobseeker visa will allow highly skilled potential workers to look for work for six months while living in Austria. Once finding employment, expats must still apply for a work permit.
Permanent residence may be granted to those who’ve stayed in the country for ten consecutive years, with preferential treatment given to those who display significant scientific, economic or cultural contributions to Austria.
Most accommodation options in the big cities of Austria consist of apartments and studios. They are normally fairly large, with high ceilings and beautiful parquet flooring. Expats moving to the suburbs will find more houses and cottages.
Renting property in Austria is normally done through real estate agents. One can either rent as the primary leaseholder, or enter into a sublet agreement with a primary leaseholder. These agreements can either be limited in time, with a minimum of three years tenancy, or unlimited in time. Three months’ rent is usually charged as a deposit, while most apartments come unfurnished.
If moving to one of Austria’s major cities or university towns, it’s advisable not to begin the property search in September as students flood in from all over Europe, limiting available options in the process.
The Austrian education system has a good reputation and is accessible to foreign children. Nine years of education is compulsory in Austria, with all students enjoying access to free public schooling. Most of these state schools use German as the language of instruction so the language hurdle may be a major deterrent for expat parents when it comes to public schools. There is a smattering of bilingual institutions, teaching both in German and English. Their curricula cater towards students with a knowledge of both languages.
After the first four years of primary school, children will then move on to either a general or academic middle school. Non-mandatory secondary education follows, preparing them for university, while vocational schools offer more practical programs to prepare students for chosen professions.
Expats tend to send their children to international schools, which are mostly based in Vienna. Kids enroll from all over the world to follow the school systems of their home countries, such as the British, American, French, Spanish, German or Japanese curricula. Other schools offer the International Baccalaureate qualification. Note that these international schools can be incredibly expensive.
Austria’s temperate climate is fairly consistent. However, there are a few notable differences throughout the country, especially across the colder areas around the Alps and the hotter, Mediterranean-style conditions of the southeast.
The west receives more rainfall and less extreme weather, allowing a huge variety of flora and fauna to flourish. Winters are cold, especially at higher altitudes. Alternatively, summers are warm so expats should come prepared for both extremes.
Dominated by mountains, hills and forests, Austria possesses gorgeous landscapes, but it’s most famous for its alpine meadows and ski slopes, covered by a thick blanket of snow as one travels further up the rocky summits.
While Austria is extremely modern and advanced, it’s fairly conservative as far as Western European nations go. Throughout its existence, its cultural makeup has been influenced by its neighbors Germany, Poland, Hungary, Italy and the Czech Republic.
Quite formal, Austrians are modest in public but will likely relax once they become more familiar with a new acquaintance. There’s a strong German heritage and the culture up high in the Alps is unique. Vienna, Austria’s capital, is also the historic center of classical music, once home to composers like Mozart, Beethoven and Strauss.
Austrian German is the dominant and official language in Austria, spoken by 98% of the population. It’s used by the media and for official government announcements, as well as in schools and universities.
Alemannic and Austro-Bavarian are considered the major unofficial languages, with both used in more informal settings. The former is found mainly in the westernmost state of Vorarlberg, while Austro-Bavarian can be found throughout the country. It’s worth noting that many Austrians do speak English.
Austrians love their food, with cuisine that generally consists of rich, warm and hearty flavors. There are a few regional variations and specialties. A myriad of dishes dot their way across the country, from the strong cheeses and bacon of Tyrol to the seafood and dumplings of Salzburg, from well-known Viennese pastries to the many sausages and meats from all over Austria.
The concept of gemütlichkeit is a big part of Austrian culture. It essentially means a friendly feeling of warmth, a sense of belonging and good spirit. This cozy state of mind normally accompanies the comfort of dessert and post-dinner coffees. When entering a restaurant, particularly those outside the cities, it isn’t uncommon to greet and be greeted by other patrons with a friendly “Mahlzeit”.
Austria’s most recognizable dishes include Wiener Schnitzel (a breaded veal cutlet), a Viennese Sachertorte (a local chocolate cake), Apfelstrudel (a popular pastry) and Tafelspitz (boiled beef).
Austrians adore both beer and wine. Expats will often find the latter served, along with tasty snacks, at rustic establishments called Buschenschank. When toasting, Austrians maintain eye contact, clink their glasses and exclaim, “Prost!” Expats should make sure they do this to each person in the group. Schnapps is often served after a meal. A strong digestive, it must be downed in one go.
Austria is famous for its coffee houses, especially in Vienna. Many have outdoor terraces which are ideal for summer gatherings. Brews and pastries are often enjoyed together during Jause, an Austrian daily ritual occurring mid-morning or mid-afternoon.
Austria’s public holidays consist mostly of Christian observances. There are a few localized holidays, as Austrians prefer to identify with their region first and country second. This is mostly due to their staunch avoidance of anything resembling nationalism. Provinces also celebrate holidays for their patron saints.
New Year’s Day – 1 January
Epiphany – 6 January
Easter Monday – March/April
Labor Day – 1 May
Ascension Day – May
Whit Monday – May or June
Corpus Christi – May or June
Assumption of Mary – 15 August
National Holiday – 26 October
All Saints’ Day – 1 November
Day of Immaculate Conception – 8 December
Christmas Day – 25 December
St Stephen’s Day – 26 December
The telecommunications infrastructure in Austria is of the highest standard. Keeping in touch is easy, with internet and telephone services both reliable and efficient.
Telekom Austria is the main player when it comes to installing landlines. While it is the dominant company on the market, competition is currently growing with cheaper options such as Priority, Inode, Tele2 and UTA. Expats should have an idea of how they want to use the connection before choosing a provider as packages can vary greatly.
Mobile phones, called Handys in Austria, receive good signal across the country, even on the underground metros. Expats should consider a contract, as pre-paid rates are generally more expensive. Providers include Orange, Tele-ring, T-Mobile, 3, Yesss and A1.
WiFi is available all over Austria, especially in the busier city centers. Internet cafes are ubiquitous while most restaurants provide a connection free of charge. It’s not difficult to acquire high-speed internet as the whole country is fast integrating fiber optic cable. Some internet service providers include Telekom Austria, A1, UPC and Priority.
Austrian Post functions as the country’s official postal service. Importantly, it offers an express service for items whose accurate timelines are a priority. Post boxes and offices are easy to recognize, thanks to their bold yellow coloring.
Austria is extremely wealthy and has a healthy, stable economy, despite recent economic downturns. While it was once a difficult place for foreigners to find work, especially since Austrians are known for being hard-working and well-educated, laws have loosened to allow more prospective employees through the border.
Tourism is a cornerstone of Austria’s economy, coupled with other big industries such as food and luxury commodities, mechanical engineering, steel construction, chemicals and vehicle manufacturing. Bespoke arts and crafts also play an important role, while the service industry is the country’s fastest growing sector.
Expats are considered tax residents if living in Austria for more than six months in a year. This means that income earned both locally and internationally will be taxed. Residents who stay for less than six months in a year will only pay tax on income earned in Austria.
Employers will automatically deduct tax from salaries, as well as social security contributions. The rates of taxation function on a progressive scale, meaning they will change based on the amount of income earned. The rates range from 0% to 42%.
Retiring to Austria comes at a price as the cost of living is high, especially in the bigger cities. Foreigners wishing to retire in Austria will need a Permanent Residence Permit as there’s no specific retirement visa. While the very cold and snowy winters may put some off, Austria’s efficient public transport system and gorgeous natural surroundings make it a lovely spot to retire in peace.
The Austrian workplace isn’t dissimilar to most in the Western world. With a strong focus on respect and politeness, Austrians are fairly conservative and serious about meeting business objectives. Hierarchy remains important, with decisions made entirely by a small, senior group. Colleagues are always referred to by their titles unless instructed otherwise.
Punctuality is very important, with lateness considered a cause for offense and extremely rude. If running late, it’s imperative to let colleagues know and provide an explanation. Famously fastidious and bureaucratic, Austrians will religiously stick to an agenda but don’t be surprised at a little small talk at the beginning of a meeting. They focus on fostering long-term relationships, rather than short-term deals.
Austrians will not be swayed by an emotional argument, so expats must be sure of the facts and have material to back them up. A firm handshake is the standard greeting, with some Viennese men traditionally kissing women on the hand. During conversation, eye contact is vital.
As befitting their nature, office attire is formal. Men and women both wear dark suits, while the latter may also choose to wear conservative dresses. Business cards should have both a German and an English side, while also including any noticeable academic degrees or honors.
Public transport in Austria is fast and advanced, with a reliable railway network running throughout the country and a metro system in Vienna. Buses and trams provide useful and cheaper ways to get around, often with schedules running from 5am until 11pm. There are also night-bus lines, perfect for getting home after a late night out.
Driving in Austria is fairly simple thanks to an excellent road network. But there are a few things to get used to. For starters, all vehicles need winter tires to combat the snow, slush, ice and frost during the cold months.
To drive in Austria, expats must have an international driving license. Toll stickers, sometimes called vignettes, must be placed on the windshield. Drivers can be fined if their vehicle doesn’t have these toll stickers, which can be bought at gas stations, border crossings and post offices.
The official currency is the Euro (EUR), which is divided into 100 cents.
Money is available in the following denominations:
Austria has an advanced and stable banking system, with a large selection of banks from which to choose. A useful quality of ATMs in Austria is that there aren’t any extra fees when drawing from a machine that isn’t one’s chosen bank.
Opening a bank account is an easy process; the only major requirement, aside from paperwork, being an initial financial outlay. This sum will change from bank to bank. Expats will need a passport, proof of residence, employment details and a Residence Registration Form.
Some of the most popular banks in the country are Erste Group Bank, RZB Group, UniCredit Bank Austria AG and Raiffeisen Bank International AG, among many others.
Most banks are open from 8am to 3pm.
While expats may enjoy an exceptional standard of living in Austria, it doesn’t come cheap, with both rent and grocery prices seen as some of the most expensive in Europe. Naturally, those who live in rural areas will not feel the pinch as much as city dwellers.
Families will also contend with the cost of education. Expat parents are more likely to send their kids to international schools and these institutions normally have school fees that go through the roof.
The cost of public transportation is reasonable. Many choose to cycle, while those who don’t mind the extra cost make use of the reliable tramlines, buses, underground metros and suburban railways. While Austrians love their cars, owning one is pricey, mostly due to the high insurance rates.
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