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Living in Vienna
A comprehensive guide about living well in Vienna
Living in Vienna as an expat can be an amazing experience: a recent international comparison ranked Vienna second in the world for quality of life. In this guide, you’ll learn all about being an expatriate in Vienna, including education, transportation and healthcare.
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Life in Vienna
At a Glance:
- From the sprawling vineyards on the outskirts of the city to the stunning architecture, Vienna has it all. It is comparable in size to other big European cities, but crimes are usually limited to small offenses.
- Compulsory schooling begins at six, and public schools are free. For expats worried about the language barrier, there is a wide variety of English-speaking schools to choose from.
- Daily commuting using public transportation is made easy by the Wienier Linien, with five lines that run smoothly throughout the city.
- If you want to drive on the Austrian highways you are required to buy a vignette as the country has imposed a toll on those high-speed roads. Fortunately they can be valid for up to a year.
- Almost every employee is automatically covered by a public health insurance plan and Vienna offers several dozen hospitals specializing in many different fields of medicine.
A Sparkling Metropolis
For centuries, Vienna has been a city renowned for its contributions to the arts, literature and science. Many of the world’s greatest minds lived in Vienna at some point of their lives. History buffs and “culture vultures” are in for a treat: immortal pieces of classical music were composed here; there’s stunning architecture around every corner, and the locations of countless historical events bear the traces of the past.
Despite its size, wealth, and international appeal, Vienna — especially the city center — is generally a very safe place. Crime is usually limited to small offenses such as petty theft, and violent crime is comparable to other European cities of a similar size.
From Elementary School to Higher Education
Expats with children or prospective parents should familiarize themselves with the Austrian school system. Compulsory schooling begins at the age of six and lasts for nine years. If you begin your new life abroad in Austria’s capital before your child turns six, one year of Kindergarten is obligatory. Here, your offspring will easily and naturally be introduced to the German language.
Public schools are free of charge for everyone living in Vienna. Elementary schools, grades one through four, provide additional German courses and — for some languages — classes in the child’s mother tongue. Starting from the secondary educational level, parents have the choice between different types of school according to their child’s academic skills and interests.
The highest level of secondary education in Austria ends with the Matura, the equivalent to a high-school diploma. It enables students to attend higher education and go on to one of over 15 local universities and academies.
International Schools in the City
If you don’t plan on staying in Vienna for a long time, or simply do not want to enroll your child in a public school, there are multiple private international schools. Lessons are mostly taught in English. The United States Embassy offers a comprehensive list of private international schools, pre-schools, and kindergartens for people living in Vienna and the rest of Austria. No matter what you decide on, rest assured that your children will receive a high-quality education in Vienna.
Such high-quality education generally comes at a high price with fees costing between 5000 and 30.000 EUR per year. Some schools offer a range of scholarship and sponsorship programs, or income-based discounts that cover part of the tuition fees. As international schools in Vienna are quite popular, the waiting list can often be very long so it’s useful to start applying as soon as possible. The general application requirements can vary from school to school, but they usually ask for school reports and academic records.
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From Bus to Bike
It’s not very difficult to lead a comfortable life in Vienna without owning or using a car. The Wiener Linien offer good public transportation services, making every part of the city accessible with comparative ease and speed. Subways, for example, run every two minutes during rush hour, and all night during the weekend.
Getting around by bike is a one of the best and most convenient ways to commute in Vienna. Around the old city there’s a sightseeing bicycle path called the Ringstraße that is used both by tourists and locals. If you don’t own a bike, you can easily rent one with CityBike Wien that has over 121 bike stations across the city. This requires a one-time registration, and as soon as it’s done you’re ready to peddle!
Gürtel, Gas and the Autobahn
If you can’t get by without a car, brace yourself for long commutes due to the busy and often congested main roads. The famous Ringstraße and Gürtel roads have a particular reputation as hotspots for baustellen — construction sites — check this site for current and planned disruptions before you set off.
Gas prices in Austria are similar to other European countries, but they might seem quite steep to some expats, especially those from the United States. Public transportation is a great alternative as annual tickets for the Wiener Linien can be bought online for just 365 EUR.
When using the Autobahn (highway), keep in mind that the country has imposed a toll on these high-speed roads. In order to use them, you will have to purchase a toll sticker (Vignette). These stickers are valid for ten days, two months, or one year. However, the slower, narrower Landstraßen, remain free of charge.
To and from Vienna: A Wide Network
Over 181 locations worldwide offer nonstop flights to Vienna Airport, located on the outskirts of the city. From there, you have a wide range of options to get into the city. A special express train — the CAT — connects the airport with the city center. Buses and the S-Bahn, which both take a little longer, provide more stops in the suburbs en route. Since the opening of the new central station at the end of 2015, the airport is also connected to the Austrian railway system. Of course, you can also hail one of the many cabs!
Lots of large European cities are connected to Vienna by high-speed railway services. Until 2015, the two most important hubs were the Bahnhof Wien Meidling, as well as the Westbahnhof, which is located at one end of Vienna’s busiest shopping street, the Mariahilferstraße. Since the opening of the new central station in the 10th borough, both are becoming less important; Wien Hauptbahnhof was completely finished in 2015, and now connects the four major railway lines into Vienna.
On a Budget or Not: Vienna Has it All
The cost of living in Vienna is a little higher than the European average, but still quite affordable. Decent-sized meals in restaurants or Heurige (traditional wine bars) start from 10 EUR, and non-alcoholic beverages are usually priced around 3 EUR.
A wide range of supermarkets offer quality products in every price category. If you’re on a tight budget or a connoisseur of fresh produce, a trip to one of the many Turkish or Asian businesses might be worth your while. These family-run shops offer fresh fruit, vegetables, and bread — often higher quality than the big supermarket chains — at lower prices.
Health Care in Vienna
Doctor’s Appointments and Hospital Visits
The city offers excellent medical care for all citizens and expatriates. Medical services such as doctor’s appointments and hospital visits are free to anyone with valid Austrian health insurance: as we have pointed out in our article on working in Vienna, almost every employee is automatically covered by a public health insurance plan.
Additional insurance coverage is optional and not included in Austrian welfare state health care plans. Benefits include higher-quality hospital stays, as well as reimbursement of specialists’ fees.
In Case of Emergency
Vienna boasts several dozen hospitals, specializing in many different fields of medicine. Eleven of these clinics are run by the Vienna Hospital Association, many others are private institutions or run by various Christian associations. The largest general hospital is the Allgemeines Krankenhaus der Stadt Wien, or AKH.
In case of emergency, the ambulance service can be reached by dialing 144 on any phone in Austria, including cell phones. This number is always free of charge, as is the pan-European 112 emergency number. If you are in need of a doctor outside of their regular office hours, dial 141 in order to reach someone on call.
Pharmacies are very common in Vienna. They offer prescription medicine and over-the-counter drugs, most of which are readily available. Others can be ordered and picked up within hours. If you have a prescription, you can obtain your medication for a 5.55 EUR charge, no matter the actual cost — your health insurance will cover the difference. Additionally, every district has at least one pharmacy that remains open throughout the night.
Doctors and other medical staff often speak at least one foreign language, most commonly English. If you would like medical attention in your native tongue, you should consult your embassy.
Advice and Support for Expats
Expat living is not always easy, and you might need a helping hand when your new life in Vienna brings about unexpected challenges. Catering to the city’s many expatriates, Vienna has recently set up an Expat Center, where you will find lots of information and advice on expatriate life. From accommodation and registration to schooling and paperwork, the staff are prepared to answer your questions.
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