Vienna, Austria Report of what it's like to live there - 03/24/15
Personal Experiences from Vienna, Austria
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No, I've lived in several other Western European cities.
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
East Coast is about 8-10 hours depending on route.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Mostly in the 1st, 9th, 18th, and 19th districts with a few people scattered elsewhere. There is a combination of owned/leased housing and it mostly seems to be apartments/townhomes. Several new complexes are under construction which will house both USG employees and the general public. Commutes can be a 1 minute walk if you live next to the Embassy or over an hour if you live in the 19th and have to commute to the US Mission to the UN Organization. There are pros/cons to all locations and nothing is perfecct. I've heard people complain about their housing but everything I've seen appears very nice.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Almost everything I need is here and I find I spend about the same as I did in DC. A decent commissary is available for those affiliated with the UN. If you're really compelled to save money you can drive to Hungary (about an hour) and shop at a large Tesco and save about half.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Nothing but I'm not tied to American goods.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
LOTS of sidewalk sausage/falafel/schnitzel/pizza vendors at cheap prices (3ish euros for most things). McDonald's, Starbucks, Subway, and Burger King all have a presence here but there are much better places to eat. It's a big enough city - you can find almost any type of food at almost any price.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Ticks are a huge issue here and the Health Unit (and our children's school) strongly suggest immunizing against tick-borne encephalitis.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
10 euros/hr for babysitters or cleaners seems to be the going rate. People are frequently advertising that their nanny/cleaner is looking for extra hours.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The Embassy has a small, sort of sad gym. There are private ones at varying prices and quality (30-100+ euros per month).
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
There are a number of stores that will only take chip/pin cards or cash.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
When I first arrived I desperately wanted to improve my basic German skills. 95% of the time when I try to speak German people automatically switch to very decent English. It makes it hard to learn and too easy to get by without German.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
As someone who travelled the city with a stroller I'd say yes. The older trams and sbahn trains have steps inside the train. Even the low floor buses can have a large gap between the bus and the curb. Elevators in u-bahn stations are often closed for repair. I rarely see anyone in a wheel chair on public transportation. Lots of streets are cobblestoned.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
You can get a pass that covers all public transport in the Vienna city limits for 365 euros/year - it's a fabulous deal. Trains are definitely safe and reliable. Prices can add up quickly for whole families however, though kids though age 6 are free. Taxis are abundant and I don't feel the prices are outrageous.
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
Many people don't even bother bringing one. We have a small car which is perfect for weekend trips but easy enough to park in the city.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
We pay about 52 euros for decent service (no problem streaming through a VPN).
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
There are several options. Prepaid is cheap and easy, especially with an unlocked phone.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
There are some with the UN agencies, OSCE, and schools but they are highly competitive. If you speak fluent German your options will be much wider.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
I find it to be much less dressy than other parts of Europe.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
There are the typical tourist city pickpocketing problems and scams. The occasional protest blocks off some of the city and occasionally gets out of hand (but we've always been well informed about this ahead of time). Home break-ins are not uncommon, even in apartments, so be sure to lock all the bolts on your doors. Police presence in noticeably higher around the city (particularly in U-bahn stations) since the Charlie Hebdo shootings.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
As mentioned above in the air quality question, my biggest health concern is the second hand smoke. Seriously, it is SO bad here. My pregnant friends don't like to walk around busy streets because of it and I'm so tired of taking my kids to the playground only to find a group of parents smoking next to the swings.
We've used both public and private health care providers/hospitals and overall have been very happy with the care received.
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
The biggest air quality issue is the secondhand smoke. The city is plagued with it.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
It doesn't get nearly as cold as you might expect and the snow rarely seems to stick around for long. A few weeks in the summer can be hot and somewhat miserable when riding buses and old trams. The gray in the winter sometimes seems to go on forever but then you're generally rewarded with streaks of perfectly sunny days.
Schools & Children:
1. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
There are many great options including both public (60ish euros a month) and private (300-400 euros per month seems normal for private though there is a huge range). Both are highly subsidized by the government and even diplomats get the subsidy. If you want a preschool right by your housing you might need to wait for an opening but if you're willing to commute with your child you'll likely find something. We've been pleased with the quality but definitely ask around visit in person.
2. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes - ballet, soccer, baseball, gymnastics, martial arts to name a few.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
For a city consistently ranked with such a high quality of living it's surprisingly mixed. The Viennese are, generally speaking, a somber bunch in public and this can wear on you after awhile (glaring/shushing of children, dirty looks, etc). A few local expats have told me they loved it until they learned German well enough to understand what people were saying about them. If you can just enjoy the beauty around you and shrug off the grumpiness you'll be ok.
Within the USG many, many people are unhappy with the work environment and of course this spills over into personal lives. I wish I'd counted the number of times I've heard people say to newbies "Don't worry it's not this bad at other posts."
2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Heuriger (wine taverns), beer gardens, tons of good restaurants, Christmas markets (stand around a table merrily drinking gluwein), the Opera, Viennese Balls, lots of musical performances, theater (some in English), English language theaters.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It's a good city for everyone as long as you're willing to go out and explore it. If you sit around waiting for the CLO to provide your entertainment you will be bored as there aren't many mission-wide events. If you need to feel a tight connection with the USG community this is not the place for you.
4. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Within Austria, as a family we've really enjoyed farm stays in the mountains where you actually rent a small apartment on a working farm. The views are generally gorgeous, the kids love being on a farm, and it feels like such an authentic piece of Austria. The Heuriger (wine taverns similar to a beer garden but for wine and often in the vineyards) on the outskirts of Vienna are such a lovely and relaxing way to spend a nice spring/summer/fall day. The abundance of charming festivals in the fall completely won me over.
Outside of Austria - the easy travel to Croatia, Slovenia, and Hungary (particularly Budapest) have been highlights.
5. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Easter and Christmas Markets, taking a mountain train up the nearest mountain (the Schneeberg) and stopping for fresh krapfen (donuts) on the way up, enjoying the Danube on hot summer days, biking trips in the Wachau Valley
6. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
I prefer experiences (and there are many to be had here). Specialty local items -all I can think of are snowglobes (invented here), lederhosen and dirnls, wine.
7. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
The travel opportunities are endless: Slovakia, Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Germany, Switzerland - all are easily accessible by car (and usually train). If that's not enough, cheap flights can often be found to places further abroad. Vienna is consistently rated as one of (if not the) cities with the highest quality of life and it's easy to see why: great public transportation, tons of parks and outdoor recreation areas, great festivals, outdoor cafes ... I could go on and on.
8. Can you save money?
It's unlikely if you're getting out and seeing things.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
I wish I'd known more about how bad the work environment is here. Long timers say it's been this way for a significant period of time - many appear to consistently push off major issues waiting for their replacements to deal with it.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Honestly, despite how much I love this city, I'm not sure. If I was assured the work environment has improved, then I would consider coming back.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Jokes about the Sound of Music - it annoys locals. Also your visions of living in the mountains - the mountains are quite far away.