Vienna, Austria Report of what it's like to live there - 04/04/08

Personal Experiences from Vienna, Austria

Vienna, Austria 04/04/08

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

Second expat experience.

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2. How long have you lived here?

Nine months.

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3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

I am affiliated with the U.S. Embassy.

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4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

From DC, government folks take the United/Austrian Airlines codeshare. It's about ten hours direct. If you have to connect somewhere I'd avoid any layovers in Frankfurt. I'd take Heathrow over it every day and twice on Sundays. A truly horrible, crowded, miserable place. Avoid at all costs if traveling with a small child.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Generally apartments and generally pretty nice. I think Americans have a ton of space compared to everyone else. There are some single family homes, or villas that have been converted into apartments. The Embassy has two compounds which have their advantages -- AFN is provided, appliances are American-sized, there are playgrounds, but the aesthetics leave something to be desired. Singles and couples without children are generally housed in the first district, families in the 18th and 19th. The 18th is actually pretty close in to the Embassy and the city center. The 19th stretches all the way up to the Vienna Woods, so you can be pretty close to everything or quite far away.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Well, we're at 80% COLA these days, that should tell you something. For everyday living I find it manageable with the COLA, but travel or touristy things start to look pretty expensive.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

You can find everything here, it's a question of cost. I'd ship my Weber grill again because it would cost 2x as much here. Ditto for big baby/kid/toddler items, bikes. Ship contact solution if you need it. With the exchange rate I don't buy shoes or clothes here.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

McDonald's, Burger King, others. Lots of decent and some very good dining to be had.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

Austria Post is pretty reliable.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Sort of available and cost is high. For cleaning 6-8 euros an hour and babysitting 8-10 euros an hour.

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3. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

Your ATM card will work here, but you will need an Austrian Bank Account with a debit card for the grocery store. Most places do not take your American MasterCard or VISA.

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4. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Both Catholic and Protestant.

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5. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

The International Herald Tribune. You can get a few English channels on basic (free) satellite, but most people have AFN. I'd buy your decoder before you get here if possible. They are in short supply, even at the military bases.

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6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Little, but make no mistake, this is a German speaking country. You can get by with no German, but I think you're better off knowing some.

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7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Some, but there are lots of elevators for the U-Bahn. Older buildings would be an issue.

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Transportation:

1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?

Right, like in the States.

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2. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Very safe and pretty affordable.

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3. 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?

Some people manage quite well with no car. If you live in the 1st District I can't imagine you'd use it much. If you do bring something, make sure it's not too big -- you do see some smaller SUV's here but about the biggest is the BMW X5.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes, I guess the same as the States.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Pay as you go. You can shop around for plans.

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3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?

We use internet phone.

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Pets:

1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

A vet on every corner. I haven't checked into kennels.

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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?

Yes, but not tons. If you speak German it's easier.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Maybe a little more dressy than in the U.S., but jeans and sneakers are widely worn.

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

Good.

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2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Very few, although home break-ins are apparently on the rise. Otherwise,Vienna is unbelievably safe. Children as young as 8 or 9 ride public transportation to and from school without adult supervision.

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3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Very good medical care. The Embassy Health Unit is really great too.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Four seasons. Some winters in the past few years have been mild, but it snows. Someone told me it was like DC. They lied.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

No experience. Most Embassy folks send their children to the American International School (AIS) and they seem happy with it. It has a gorgeous campus. The other popular schools are the Vienna International School and Danube International School.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

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3. 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?

No daycare, period. If you have a child under the age of two and both parents are working you need a nanny. And they aren't cheap -- you'll pay what you'd pay in the States. That said, we have a absolutely wonderful nanny that immigrated here from the Philippines and our family is very happy to have found her. If you know you will need someone, start looking early-- the easiest way is to find someone that is leaving and hire their nanny/housekeeper.

I hate to be negative, but the CLO/Embassy was of no help other than to suggest to advertise in the newsletter (duh). Other potential resources are the Vienna Babies Club http://www.viennababiesclub.com/ or http://www.nanny-service.at/index2.html (I know a couple of families that have had a good experience with this service.). Some preschools will take children as young as 18 months, but they aren't full day programs. You might be able to cobble together full day care when your child is three or four. Also, do what you like, but there are laws concerning the employment of nannies and domestic help. There is an FSN at the Embassy that is very helpful for navigating the legal side of things.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Enormous.

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2. Morale among expats:

Good. Some people complain and hate the Austrians and the staring, frowning and telling you what to do can get old, but this is a gorgeous, safe city with tons to do, not to mention the nearby travel opportunities. There also seem to be a lot of people here obsessed with their American products. Simply put, if you can't live without Butterball turkey maybe you should reconsider living abroad.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

Home, out, whatever. There are clubs, restaurants, opera, theater, etc.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

For everyone, really. I will buck the conventional wisdom and say that I find Vienna a great place to live with a small child. No, you can't take your toddler to a five star restaurant, but why would you want to? There are tons of parks and indoor playgrounds. The public transportation largely accomodates strollers and people make room for you. On the old trams someone will almost always offer to help you get your stroller on and off. I think the standards of behavior for older children are more stringent so I can see things from that viewpoint. The Viennese aren't particularly friendly so singles can be lonely if you don't find a niche somewhere. I think this would be paradise for couples -- just a million things to do.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

I would think so.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Maybe. Vienna is very international, but I don't think they are color-blind.

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7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Too many too mention. There is always something going on.

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8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Well, not local, but Polish pottery. They also have these Easter markets with an unbelievable amount of lavishly decorated eggs.

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9. Can you save money?

Not really.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Yes. I like it here.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Calculator. If you think about what you are spending in dollars, you will go insane.

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3. But don't forget your:

Warm clothes. Bring or plan to buy a winter coat, snow boots, etc. You're going to need them.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

The Third Man, Before Sunrise.

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6. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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7. Do you have any other comments?

I don't mean to be hard on my fellow expats, but this isn't America. If you expect friendly faces, familiar grocery stores, etc. you are going to be disappointed. I think this is a very nice posting with no real hardships. That doesn't mean no bad days, but it's a matter of perspective.

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