Vienna, Austria Report of what it's like to live there - 07/23/09

Personal Experiences from Vienna, Austria

Vienna, Austria 07/23/09

Background:

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

My eighth.

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2. How long have you lived here?

August to November 2008.

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

8 hrs to Frankfurt, then 2 more to Vienna.

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

US Embassy Employee.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Small, old refurbished military quarters for most. I was in a TDY apt (1BR) but it was spacious and nice, with high ceilings, right downtown. I loved it.

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

Groceries are high, but pretty much everything is available. The Austrians don't dwell as much as we Americans do on variety. Foodwise, they don't do much in the way of beef or lamb. Do try the frozen prepared foods here, they are not like those in the US. Here they are VERY edible as meals. Wine is very reasonably priced, as is beer.

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

BEEF. Cental Europeans arent interested or familiar with it, apparently. Anything electronic, other than cell phones. That stuff is very expensive. A Bike! These people think a cheap bike is $400 or more!

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

Why go to McDonald's, Burger King or Pizza Hut (all available for those who miss the taste of home) when you have Wurst stands and chicken stands all over the city? You can have a doner kebab, a Gyro, a wurst of many types, or salad and a beer, usually for less than 6 Euros. Of course its a world-class city and has some world-class restaurants. But one of the nicest things about Vienna is that it shares with NYC the ability to eat well cheaply when one wants. Do stop in at the Sacher Hotel (bring money!) and have one of the chocolate desserts!

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

None.

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Daily Life:

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

Local mail is expensive but reliable -- if not always fast. All of the world couriers are available (Fedex, DHL, etc). The embassy of course has APO/DPO and Pouch.

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

VERY available and very expensive.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Yes, but they are expensive. If you work for the US Embassy, they have a small workout room in one of the apartment complexes.

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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?

Whatever you want, but they arent as plentiful as in the States. Try to get to know a few in places you might frequent. As to reliability and security, there are no problems I know of.

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

Most are in german of course, but I noted many services offered in english and spanish, too. These were catholic churches, just what I noticed.

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

At most of the bus stations and places of entry, english newspapers were readily available. Your local newsstand might not have all you want. TV is more mixed, but cable is kind of expensive, as are most things here.

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

Just a bit of German (Austrian dialect) goes far. English is fine tho.

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

In museums and govt buildings there are attempts to modernize to high levels of adaptation and accessibility, but this is an OLD city.

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Transportation:

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

Get a multi-trip ticket and ride any of the 3 modes to your heart's content. Also, rent or buy a bicycle. I didnt have a bike, and the ones they have all over town for "automatic" rental didnt turn me on (solid plastic tires). But getting around town on a bike is fun and not hard. I also rollerbladed pretty much all over the place. Some parts of town are kinda "hilly" for skates, but if you are just in the center of town, rollerblades can do OK. Be aware of places that are cobblestoned!

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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?

WHY? Their system of buses, trams, and metro (subway) trains is among the best in the world. I doubt they even know what carjacking is But they do have traffic, if you need that particular bit of home.

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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?

Internet is fast and reliable. Of course its expensive as most things in Central Europe are.

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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?

No recommendations are really needed here. It is a very modern country, everyone has the cellphone of their choice. Choose the plan that works for you. Most vendors speak english, in my experience.

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Pets:

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?

Not that I know of, check with your agency for advice.

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

Yes, these people love their pets, especially dogs, which are very well behaved and clean.

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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?

Don't know. The embassy will work to get your spouse a job here, especially if said spouse is skilled, but I didn't see a lot of opportunities for other expats out on the economy. I think you would have to speak German fluently. Only having been there for 4 months though, I might not know.

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

At the embassy its business casual to suit and tie.

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Health & Safety:

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

Generally decent.

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2. What immunizations are required each year?

The usual western battery, nothing special.

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

This is possibly the safest city I have been in in 6 yrs of foreign service travel. Of course you should always take the normal big-city precautions, but it's not likely they are really needed. I walked the city at all hours and NEVER felt threatened. I could never say that back home.

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

Top-notch medical care here, but not the same medical infrastructure we have in the US. private doctors' offices would be much the same, but hosptials can be just a bit more spartan in design. However, I would say the care is as good as anywhere.

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

Weather in Austria is a mixed bag. You do get plenty of rain, but its not as bad as Germany, so you will see the sun a lot. It can get quite chilly in winter, with snow and ice, but I went in summer and it was usually very warm.

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Schools & Children:

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

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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?

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

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Expat Life:

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

Comparatively large, considering the size of the city (only 2Mil), I would rollerblade all around the city in decent weather and hear many different languages as I went thru the well travelled areas. There are also some growing immigrant communities, especially on the western side of the city.

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2. Morale among expats:

Fine, this place is easy living. Travel out of here is readily available and not too expensive. And there are plenty of interesting places to go, not too far away. But just staying here is fine.

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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?

Varied. Like most of Europe, small pubs abound. There are clubs and bars for the younger crowd, as well as the more mature (like myself). If you are in town for any length of time, take dance classes, as you are in a dance capitol. They can often be very reasonably priced and a lot of fun. I found a 10-week course at one of the top dance schools teaching most of the primary ballroom forms.

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

Excellent for all. Many museums, while definitely worthwhile, don't offer english interpretation though, so a bit of internet searching prior to visting can reap rewards in the amount of enjoyment and understanding.

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

I saw no overt discrimination vs alternative lifestyles, and it seemd to be generally accepted that people live as they wish.

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

Very little. As a black man, I found the Viennese to be quite reserved, but accepting. None of the big-city "hostility" that you sometimes feel in other places. They seem more laid back.

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

WOW. There is not enough room to write.....The city itself is an attraction! Ride the metro out to Danube Tower or Prater Fair with the kids, or walk thru all of the central city and see the opera house, the Burg theatre, Ring Blvd and St Stephens Cathedral. Don't forget Schonbrun Palace, the zoo, and the Vienna opera House.

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

Glassware, ceramics and art, sightseeing -- which can also be very cheap if you wish.

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9. Can you save money?

No way, unless you don't do anything. Even the weekend markets tend to be very expensive for used items, like in Germany.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

As soon as I could pack!

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

Worries about safety or security in a "big" city. Your prejudgements about SMALL, 'backwards' Austria. The place is small, but rarely have i seen so much packed into one small city. Parks, musuems strolling boulevards, the riverside, it will surprise and delight you. DO Remember that english is NOT the native language of this land, so the fact that the people here speak english is somewhat of a favor to those of us who are not as linguistically capable. Don't go everywhere thinking you are OWED an english-speaking greeter or guide. just a few words in the native tongue, followed by an admission of inability in German, will get you very far with most people.

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3. But don't forget your:

MONEY. You may want to shop. Souvenirs can be high. Decent hotels are also not cheap. Better restauants are expensive.

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

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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7. Do you have any other comments?

Be ready to enjoy all the convieniences of a mdern, world-class city in a small package, and with MUCH less stress or worry about safety or security concerns. Dont forget to go and listen to jazz or classical music (or the Boys Choir!) in the Rathaus PLatz or one of many playhouses or arenas, or one of the fairs!

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