Vienna, Austria Report of what it's like to live there - 09/14/21
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?
Second. I have also lived in the Middle East.
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?
From Canada, pre-COVID direct flights to Montreal and Toronto (approx 8 hours) or connecting through Frankfurt (~9 hours) were usually the best options.
3. What years did you live here?
4. How long have you lived here?
5. 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?
Vienna is laied out in concentric circles, with the Ringstrasse around the 1st district, and districts 2-9 surrounding that. Around those districts is the "Guertel" followed by districts 10-23. Within the Guertel, there are only apartments; ones occupied by diplomats tend to be large and spacious, though they don't have built-in closets or storage the way North American homes do. Depending on where you are, districts 2-9 are at most a 40 minute walk to the 1st district. I lived in a flat that was a 20 minute walk to work and was very happy with it. The only problem with housing in Vienna is that air conditioning is relatively rare, and the windows don't have screens.
The outer districts tend to have some townhouses (or at least apartments with yards), with a longer commute (maybe 45 minutes by transit).
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Excellent quality of produce, dairy, meat, etc. and it's very seasonal. Austrians love celebrating the time of year when asparagus, or chanterelles, baerlauch, etc appear. Fewer convenience foods than in North America (NA). Wine and beer are extremely affordable, but it's worth seeking out some of the fantastic natural wines being produced in Austria (which are still very cheap compared to NA!). Coffee was generally more expensive, though excellent. However, I usually had to go to multiple shops to pick up my staples.
I found that my grocery bills averaged out to approximately what I spend at home, with some things being more expensive and others being cheaper.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Plain peanut butter (only sweetened north american or unroasted were available), sriracha.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There's pretty much everything if you know where to look: from Michelin star restaurants to 4 am sausage stands; there are excellent Japanese restaurants, excellent Napoli style pizza, great Indian, Thai, Georgian, etc. Obviously Austrian restaurants are plentiful, but I tended to stay away from them unless I was out in the countryside (where you don't really have a choice anyway) because I need to be climbing a mountain to burn off a schnitzel or kaesespaetzle!
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Windows don't usually have screens so I would occasionally get a mosquito (or a giant hornet!) in my flat. Otherwise, no.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Local post is surprisingly slow (I once received a Christmas card from elsewhere in the EU in April!) but DHL/FedEx/etc. are available. I received most mail through the mission.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Available but not super cheap and is about 12 EUR/hour.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Gyms are expensive, but there are lots of public areas with workout equipment, running and biking trails, and of course mountains and forests to hike in! Swimming in the Donau river in the summer is great, and of course winter sports (skiing, snowboarding, x-country) are hugely popular and cheaper (with far better food options!) than NA.
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?
Becoming more common (especially post-COVID) but it's always best to have some cash on you. ATMs are safe, though the ones in the first district have been known to have scanners attached to them on occasion.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Most young people speak English, but it's good to have at least the basics down. In the countryside, sometimes there won't be any english speakers at a hotel/restaurant.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Some. Most transit stations have elevators, but the old-style trams are still in use so sometimes you'd have to wait for the next one if you were in a wheelchair. Many buildings and shops have at least a few stairs at the entrance, and some of the sidewalks are quite narrow.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
OMG yes. A yearly transit pass is 365EUR; I would get exasperated if I had to wait more than 5 minutes for a tram or metro (even at 4am!). I don't think it's physically possible to be more than a 30 minute transit trip from anywhere in the city. I miss it every single day.
Ubers and taxis are also quite common though the prices are comparable to North America.
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?
I wouldn't. If you want a vehicle, it's easier to buy one locally, because the Austrians are extremely strict about certification of vehicles. I didn't own a car while there, but if I could do it again I would've gotten a small one just to make ski/hiking trips a bit easier, as sometimes the rural transit networks are slow/infrequent. Renting is fairly affordable though it helps if you drive manual, as there's a premium charge for automatic transmissions.
I can't imagine why anyone would choose to drive in Vienna proper.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, cheap and fast. Set-up took a few weeks, though, so wise to grab a SIM card and a mobile router if you need to be hooked up right away.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
I used Drei, and often had full bars in the middle of the Alps. EU-wide roaming, unlimited calls, and 20GB of data cost something like 25EUR a month. Ridiculously cheap.
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?
Great (though expensive) vets and boarding options. Dog parks are ubiquitous around the city and dogs are welcome basically everywhere -- restaurants, shops, bars, transit, you name it! They must wear a muzzle on transit, however.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Generally people were quite dressed up for work (suit and tie, blazers and heels, etc). Outside of work Vienna is a bit more practical than other European cities and not uncommon to see people in hiking gear even in the city.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
No more than any other city of its size.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
A lot of people have bad allergies in Vienna, but I was fine. Medical care is very high quality but as an expat you have to use the private network, where I found that they tended to be very pro-invasive procedures.
As a primarily Catholic country, abortion is not available past a certain period; I had a friend who had an extremely traumatic stillbirth as a result.
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?
Allergies are common, but otherwise air quality is great.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
The EU is very strict about labelling allergens on menus, so it's actually more accommodating than NA.
5. 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 gloomy and grey in Vienna, but the best cure is to get out into the mountains where it's sunny!
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Winters are mild; it rarely snows in Vienna. Spring and fall are long and beautiful, and summer tends to be quite humid and sticky.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
No personal experience, but people seemed happy with the Lysee and AIS.
2. 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?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Given the number of diplomatic missions and the UN, the expat community is huge. That said, my friend group was at least 50% locals; I didn't feel the need to socialize exclusively with expats. Most people seem happy living in Vienna, although of course there's always a few people that will find something to complain about.
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?
I joined a few running/hiking groups when I arrived and met lots of local friends that way. I think the UN does a ski group as well.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
I found it a great place to be single and a great place to be in a couple.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
I found it fairly easy to make friends with locals.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
It's pretty good, though like anywhere there's the odd disapproving look or comment. I never felt unsafe, though, and Vienna Pride is fantastic! There's also the Life Ball every year.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Austria was until recently a very homogeneous society, and there are a lot of prejudices against people of other races. In particular, I heard a lot of disparaging comments about people from the Balkans, Turkey, etc. There were also a lot of disparaging comments about refugees. This seems to be somewhat generational/down political lines.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Hiking in the Wienerwald, wine festivals, Christmas markets, skiing in the Alps, summer hiking in the Alps, swimming in lakes, biking around Burgenland visiting wineries, leaving clubs at dawn, lazy days by the river, picking ramps in the spring, getting lost down side streets in the first district... Austria is a beautiful country with stunning landscapes, and all extremely accessible. Trails are well marked, huts dot the mountains so you can nearly always sleep in a bed and eat a hot meal during a multi-day trek, lift tickets are cheap, and so much nature is accessible via public transit!
It's a very "work to live" kind of place, so take every opportunity you can to do as the locals do and enjoy the place!
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Weinwandertag - fall festival of new wine in the Wienerwald. The AKH Christmas market (way better than the touristy 1. district ones).
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Sure, but it'll cost you. I would recommend buying a dirndl and/or lederhosen; I wore mine a lot to different festivals!
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
So many! Transit, easy access via plane or train to other European cities, great food, beautiful architecture, awesome festivals. Whether you're into classical music or underground clubbing, you'll find something to suit your fancy. There are plentiful parks, great bike paths, and easy access to nature.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
3. But don't forget your:
Skis/snowboard, hiking boots, and bicycles!
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
The Hare with Amber Eyes, the Third Man.