Expat Essentials

Not quite Utopia, but close: What it’s really like to live as an expat in Vienna

Hanging out on the Danube (Photo by Terry Boyd)

Any expat living in Vienna is fortunate to find themselves in one of the most comfortable and affordable cities in Europe. With a large amount of international exhibitions, performance festivals and cultural events it is easy to feel that despite living in such a small country the international community is knocking on the door.

Such multiculturalism is a large part of what makes the city so attractive to foreigners. However, there are always difficulties and challenges to being an expat and Vienna is no exception. With every high point there comes a low, and I hope this article can lend a balanced view to life as an expat in what is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.

English is becoming the business language

As an expat, it is important to live in a city that is welcoming to the international crowd. As the country moves forward and more businesses and locales are owned and managed by a slightly younger demographic, English is becoming easier and easier to use casually around the city. While there are always the typically grumpy older Viennese generation (although it has become part of the city’s charm!), it is extremely easy to exist and work in English. Banks and official offices are happy to use English with their customer. Although it is still somewhat a challenge in the post office, hairdresser or smaller district offices.

However, there are a huge number of German-language schools in the city, so these experiences are a great way to practice your new language!

It is also a very attractive place to live for the housing market. A lot cheaper than its European counterparts, it is still possible to find beautiful apartments for a reasonable rate. However, this has changed in the past few years and prices are steadily raising. Apartments in Vienna are usually spacious, beautiful and with high-ceilings, especially if you are lucky enough to find an “Altbau” (old construction) building from around or before the 1950’s.

Safe … and fun!

Another bonus to living in the city is that it is ridiculously safe compared to other capitals. So wherever you find an apartment, it is pretty much guaranteed to be in a neighbourhood where petty crime is very low and it is always safe to walk at night.

As mentioned in the first paragraph, Vienna is especially exciting on a culturally international level. Before the pandemic (and even sometimes during!) the city plays host to some of the most well-respected opera companies, symphonies and museum programs. It also has a high number of annual festivals which bring acts from all over the world.

Some of the highlights of the annual performance festivals include:

Impulstanz is one of the longest and broadest contemporary dance festivals in the world.

• the Viennale film festival specializing in international films.

the Vienna Jazz Festival is a 20-year-old festival that’s now considered one of the world’s best.

Klezmore Festival is, as the name suggests, for fans of Klezmer music.

Resonanzen Festival is focused on chamber-based Renaissance and Baroque music.

the Donauinselfest is Europe’s biggest free outdoor festival on the island stretching the length of the city along the Danube River.

With all of the fun and excitement of international festivals, beautiful apartments and safe streets it is easy to think that Vienna is a utopia. However, like with all cities, there can be disappointments as an international resident.

Now, the not-so-great part

The part of living in Vienna where the standard drops is inside the halls of bureaucracy and government offices. The author has had many opportunities to deal with various ministries within Vienna (public schools, immigration, unemployment and residency) and the service and assistance is nearly always frustrating or unhelpful.

It is usually difficult to find a member of staff in these ministries who will speak English (and those do so exceedingly begrudgingly!), although the special office set up for Brexit was thankfully an exception. For many expat residents working for international companies or firms, there is often staff provided to handle visa or residential issues. For those expats ‘making it on their own’, the experience can be quite different. Unanswered emails, ignored phone calls and frustrated unhelpful staff has been a common experience when a resident does not have money or power behind them. Sad to say, the system is even more unhelpful and unkind to those not coming from Western Europe or the US.

The silver lining of these long lines, grumpy staff and labyrinthine call transfers is that every Vienna resident understands what you are going through, and are always happy to give guidance or lend a supportive shoulder to cry on.

Resources

For these bureaucratic essentials, Vienna is also very lucky to have a few independent organisations set up to answer questions and help in any way possible. One of the most responsive and helpful groups in Vienna for British expats is British in Austria a post-Brexit forum that offers free guidance and help for Brits finding their way through the official mazes of the Austrian system.

Other English language websites and forums for foreigners that address everything from job searching to visa guidance include Vienna Expats, and the globally recognized expat organization Internations. The information from the Austrian state is also comprehensive and detailed, and can be found directly on the City of Vienna website.

Vienna is also fortunate to have experienced a rise in English language newspapers, which offer everything from guidance to living in the city as an expat to current events. Among the best and most informative of these is Metropole (metropole.at) and Vienna Wurstelstand, which are great to read for local news, bureaucratic guidance or simply fun facts about this wonderful
city!

For more information about Vienna’s position as one of the highest ranking cities on the Global Liveability Index, please check out our other post that’s part of our annual “Best Cities for Expats.”

About the author:

Thom Harding was born and raised in the UK and USA, sharing his time between Bath and Boston. Upon completing his studies in Art History and Painting in Florence, Thom travelled around Mexico and India before moving to New Mexico to start his career as a Primary school teacher.

After completing his MA in Education, he now lives and works in Vienna, Austria and enjoys spending his free time hiking, reading, travelling and exploring around Europe.

See more posts about Vienna in the Dispatches archives here.

See more about Austria here.

Website | + posts

Thom Harding was born and raised in the UK and USA, sharing his time between Bath and Boston. Upon completing his studies in Art History and Painting in Florence, Thom travelled around Mexico and India before moving to New Mexico to start his career as a Primary school teacher.

After completing his MA in Education, he now lives and works in Vienna, Austria and enjoys spending his free time hiking, reading, travelling and exploring around Europe.

See more of Thom’s work here in the Dispatches archive.

You can read more about Vienna here in the Dispatches archives.

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