Vienna, Austria Report of what it's like to live there - 07/29/18
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?
I have lived overseas previously in the Azores Islands (Portugal), Seoul (Korea), and Abuja (Nigeria).
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?
There are direct flights (about 10 hours) from Washington Dulles airport to Vienna with Austrian Airlines. They also have direct flights from NYC, Chicago, Miami, and LA. Tons of carriers provide one-stop travel to/from Vienna and multiple US cities.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Housing for US Tri-Missions (bilateral, UN, and OSCE) is varied, mostly located in the 1st and 19th districts, but also scatterered through the 9th and a few others. There are two large mixed USG/private apartment complexes in the 19th District that opened in 2016; they are super modern and spacious, with underground parking provided. The GSO has done an exceptional job over the last couple of years in modernizing the housing pool and weeding out problem properties. Commute times vary; if you live in the 9th and work at the Bilat, or in the 1st and work at the Consulate, you can easily walk to work every day. Many families with kids at the American International School choose to live in the 19th for the shorter school commute. For those who work at the UN or OSCE, they generally need to take public transportation - my impression is that living in the 1st District or the 9th (near the Schottentor U-Bahn stop) is the best balance for work commute and location.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Quality is generally excellent, and prices are usually reasonable. Vienna is not as expensive to live as many other EU cities (Paris, London, all of Switzerland).
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Anything spicy (the Austrian palate does not tend towards any kind of spiciness).
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Viennese is wonderful: some dishes don't sound like they'd be all that great (e.g., Tafelspitz is a boiled beef dish), but I've always enjoyed them. I have no idea how many schnitzels I ate, but I never tired of it. The pastries are generally quite good, though I must admit that I was a bit underwhelmed by Sachertorte (usually seemed a bit dry). Vienna is also the only European capital with wineries inside the city limits - they all have their own restaurant and wine tavern referred to as "heurigers." Almost every type of ethnic food can be found in Vienna. If you want something to be spicy, you have to specifically ask for it (e.g., "I want it Thai hot") - even then, don't expect it to be spicy. Short of that, the quality of options are fantastic. Vienna has one of the world's 10 highest rated restaurants (Steirereck); some of my personal favorites: 1st District - PÃ¼rstner & Bettelstudent; 19th District - FischerbrÃ¤u (great beer brewed on site) and several heurigers (Fuhrgassl-Huber, Weinhof Zimmerman, Das Schreiberhaus, and Zum Martin Sepp are my personal favorites).
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Occasional ants, but nothing out of the ordinary.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Diplomatic pouch. Occasionally I ordered a few things on Amazon's German site, which would deliver quickly to the local post office for pick-up. I never had any issues.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Many people who can afford to hire nannies for their kids; I've generally heard it's pretty expensive. Occasionally we hired someone to do some extra housekeeping; to be honest, I wasn't particularly impressed.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
I've heard from others that some gyms are reasonably priced (not cheap, but manageable). That said, they usually only work with 12-month contracts; flexibility didn't seem to be a virtue in many aspects of Austrian life.
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?
Yes on all counts, though for some reason my US debit card never worked at a Bank Austria location.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
I heard that there were some English language Catholic services.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Most Austrians speak English, particularly in Vienna. When I learned German at FSI, I was told that Austrians would understand me but that I wouldn't necessarily understand them. That was often true, though I think my German was good enough that, if I made the effort, Austrians usually kept the conversation going in German.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Some, but public transportation is pretty good in this regard and several buildings are accessible, though many of the older buildings are not.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Vienna has one of the best public transportation systems I've ever seen. Super safe and efficient. If you live in Vienna, you can get a year pass (maybe 350 Euro?) that covers nearly all public transportation options - if you are with the Tri-Missions community, you get this at a heavily discounted price (I think it was only 100 Euro).
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?
Small SUV or smaller is recommended, though we had a Honda Pilot and didn't really have any problems. If you don't ship a car to post, you can make do without one. Buying options include diplomatic sales through BMW (excellent discounts) and Volvo, as well as Military Auto Sales in Germany (though you have to go pick up the vehicle in Bremerhaven and drive it back, about a 13-hour drive).
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, it's generally good. We had A1; they required a minimum two-year contract (again, not very flexible). Service was usually reliable, but when it wasn't, it took a while to get someone to come out and fix it.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
We had a package deal with A1 for TV, home internet, and cell phone. It was very helpful to have a local cell plan, especially if you traveled in the EU since there were no roaming charges.
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
This is a very dog friendly country and most restaurants allow you to bring your dog on a leash. Dogs are allowed on public transportation with a leash and muzzle. Our vet (Tierklinik DÃ¶bling) was simply wonderful. Quarantine was not required. Flying our dog into Vienna with Lufthansa was no problem in summer, but we had to use a pet shipper (Animals First) to bring her back to the US. It was pricey, but they did a great job.
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?
I've seen a mix; there are also EFM jobs available in the Tri-Missions.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Coat and tie at work; outside, Viennese usually expect something in the business casual mode (though that didn't stop me if I was running errands). You definitely want to attend one of the Viennese Balls in February, for which you will need a tuxedo/ball gown.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Not much at all. There have been some concerns across all European cities of terrorist threats, but Vienna generally seems to be a bit more under the radar than other major European cities.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Allergies can be an issue; I also found that colds tended to make more rounds and hit everyone more than I was accustomed to seeing in the US. Medical care is excellent and shockingly affordable; many people (including us) choose to give birth in Vienna, since they give you a week in the hospital (including all kinds of training and medical checks for handling a newborn) for about the same price of a day in the US. Only in extremely serious or complicated medical situations did it seem to make sense to go to the US for medical care.
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?
Other than the previously mentioned allergy issues, air quality was excellent.
4. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
Winter can be very gray and somewhat depressing (particular January - March), but totally manageable, especially if you take this time to travel.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
You get all four seasons; summer in Vienna is magical. The only issue is that some Austrians have, um, slightly different hygiene standards, which was be a bit unpleasant on public transportation in summer (this summer, it was so warm that they started offering free deodorant samples on public transport).
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are TONS of international schools. From what I've heard, they're generally excellent, though I have heard of some issues with AIS.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Huge and morale seems to range widely. That said, most of the complaints I heard seemed trivial (i.e., the people complaining would probably never be satisfied).
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?
InterNations provides a good way to meet people from all over the world in Vienna. Lots of different groups with a wide range of activities.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It's a great family post. I heard some singles complain that the single scene was not particularly exciting and that meeting new people for dating was no easy. I've heard others mention that they sometimes had issues with locals not being very kid-friendly on public transportation, but we never had any issues (then again, our daughter is pretty darn cute, IMHO). :)
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Vienna seems to be a very LGBT-friendly city. There's a huge pride parade every summer.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
I didn't personally see any, though I've heard of some, particularly a growing anti-refugee sentiment in some circles.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Man, the wealth of travel opportunities are simply overwhelming. During our two years, we traveled outside of Austria to London, Dublin, Lisbon, Barcelona, Frankfurt, Berlin, Munich, Liechtenstein, St. Gallen (Switzerland), Prague, Bratislava, Budapest, Vilnius, Tallinn, Helsinki, and Kiev. Within Austria, particular highlights were Salzburg, Hallstatt, and Bregenz. Within Vienna, there are just way too many wonderful things worth seeing. One could do worse than just wandering the 1st District and seeing what beautiful surprises lie around each corner. Going to the opera and seeing Jose Carreras on his farewell tour was simply lovely. Attending the free Wiener Philharmonic open air concert at SchÃ¶nbrunn Palace was also particularly magnificent.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
I could fill pages with things worth doing, but I will mention one that I think is a can't miss. There is a performing arts festival in Bregenz every summer from mid-July to mid-August (http://bregenzerfestspiele.com/) where they perform an opera on a stage built on Lake Constance (Bodensee in German). It is one of the two or three most jaw-dropping experiences I've ever had - seriously, it is so visually stunning that I lack the vocabulary to give it justice.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Oh, yes. Now, whether you can afford it depends on what you want to buy. Snow globes were invented in Vienna, so they make for a nice souvenir.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
There are so many wonderful things about living in Vienna, it's hard to pick just one. There's a reason it's been recognized as the #1 quality of life city in the world for the past 8 years or so. The tap water is often lauded as the best in the world.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
How hard it would be to leave.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
In a microsecond. I miss it desperately.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Negative attitude - seriously, if you can't enjoy Vienna, you have some misery issues.
4. But don't forget your:
Vitamin D tablets.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
1. The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the Present
2. The Austrians: A Thousand-Year Odyssey
3. Fin-De-Siecle Vienna: Politics and Culture
6. Do you have any other comments?
I had heard that the Tri-Missions community was not particularly tight, but I thought it was much better than I expected.