Vienna Profile

Expat Briefing Editorial Team, 28 March, 2017

Vienna is the capital of Austria, in the heart of Europe, and, according to Mercer, has the best quality of life for expat workers. This special feature attempts to provide the essential facts about expat life in the city.

Austria Fact File

Austria is at the gateway between Western and Eastern Europe. A landlocked country, it shares borders with eight nations, including Germany and the Czech Republic to the north, Slovakia and Hungary to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland to the west.

Vienna, home to around one-fifth of Austria's population of 8.7m people, is in the east of the country, close to the border with Slovakia.

German is the official language, spoken by almost 90 percent of Austria's population. There are minorities of former Yugoslavs and Turks; Serbian is spoken by 2.2 percent of the population, and Turkish by 2.3 percent.

Austria is not an overtly religious country, but three-quarters of the population identify themselves as Roman Catholics, with Protestantism and Islam practiced by 5 percent and 4.2 percent, respectively.

Most people probably associate Austria with the Alps. However, only the western and central regions are mountainous. The landscape of the north and the east – where Vienna is located – is, by contrast, mostly flat or rolling terrain.

The climate of Austria is temperate. Summers are usually mild, but often cloudy with some showers. Winter usually brings snowfall, even to lower elevations.

Historically, Vienna was the center of power for the large Austro-Hungarian Empire, and its grandiose architecture is befitting of a capital that was the capital of a sizeable European empire.

Austria was reduced to a small republic after its defeat in World War I, then annexed by Nazi Germany in 1938.

After World War II, Austria was occupied by the allies. A treaty to end the occupation was signed in 1955. This recognized Austria's independence, and forbade unification with Germany. A constitutional law that same year declared the country's "perpetual neutrality" as a condition for Soviet military withdrawal.

Austria became a member of the European Union in 1995, and adopted the euro currency in 1999.

While economic growth has been weak in recent years, averaging just under one percent from 2014 to 2016, the economy is well developed and standards of living are generally high. The economy features a large service sector, a relatively sound industrial sector, and a small, but highly developed agricultural sector.

Life In Vienna

The fact that Vienna topped Mercer's rankings for the eighth consecutive year in its latest survey is a clue to how good the quality of life can be in the Austrian capital.

Mercer bases its ranking on a number of key factors, including the quality of a city's infrastructure, the prevalence or otherwise of crime, and access to public services, among other items.

Vienna is also rich in cultural attractions, including the internationally famous opera house, and a wide range of art galleries and museums.

With plenty of open green spaces, Vienna also offers residents plenty of opportunities to escape the hustle and bustle of city life.

However, Vienna can be a potentially lonely city for expats. The Viennese are generally a reserved and insular people, and many expats have reported difficulties in attempting to mix with the locals.

As a result, expats in Vienna tend to stick together, and thankfully there is a fairly vibrant social scene within the city's expatriate community. Many groups have been formed along the lines of hobbies and interests, such as history, literature, and sports.

Getting There And Getting Around

Vienna International Airport, located 11km south east of the city center, serves most European destinations.

There are fewer direct flights to places beyond Europe and the Middle East, meaning expats from farther afield may have to connect at one of Europe's larger hubs, such as Frankfurt, London or Paris.

Austrian Airlines is the only carrier to provide direct flights to the United States, serving Chicago, Miami, Newark, New York, and Washington D.C. Other airlines provide direct flights to cities in China.

There is a ticket tax on flights departing from Austria, which increases according to distance to the destination. However, the Government recently announced that this tax will be halved from 2018.

Compared with sprawling capital cities elsewhere in the world, Vienna's historic center is relatively compact, so it is not too arduous making your way around the city center on foot. The city is also very bicycle-friendly.

Nevertheless, Vienna is well served by a network of trams, trains and buses, and these tend to be frequent, reliable and cheap.

Vienna is also an excellent base from which to explore other countries in Central and Eastern Europe; Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, is an hour away by train, and Budapest, the Hungarian capital, can be reached in 2.5 hours by express train. Major towns and cities in other bordering countries are also quite easily accessible.


The quality of health care in Austria is generally of a high standard. Under the two-tier health system, publicly-funded healthcare is available to all (funded through social security contributions), but individuals can choose to purchase supplementary private insurance.

Health services are organized by region with regional authorities (Gebietskrankenkasse – GKK). Doctors usually display a sign saying "Kassenarzt" (contracted doctor) or "Alle Kassen," which means they operate under the state system.

If you move to Austria long-term or plan to work in the country, you'll need to be registered with one of the public health insurance providers. Nearly all employees in Austria pay into the social security system and are therefore covered by health insurance, which is mandatory.

It is usually the employer who is responsible for registering employees with a health insurance organization. The provider you are registered with depends on the status of your employer and its location.

Private contractors are also required to register for social insurance through the Sozialversicherung der gewerblichen Witschaft (Social Insurance for the Industrial Economy).

Once you are paying into the Austrian social security system and you have been registered with the relevant health insurance provider, you will receive your social insurance card, the e-card. You should always bring this card with you when visiting a doctor.

Patients also need to present their e-cards when receiving treatment in a hospital (Krankenhäuser) to receive treatment at the same cost as a resident.

Standard treatment is free of charge if the hospital has a contract with the "Landesgesundheitsfonds" (such as university hospitals or regional hospitals). There is a daily charge for the first 28 days in hospital. At the time of writing, this ranged from EUR13.50-EUR21.70.

Pharmacies are called Apotheken in Austria. You can get prescribed medicines from any pharmacy, which will be charged at a standard prescription rate. At the time of writing, this charge was set at EUR5.85.


Those relocating to Vienna will be pleased to know that Austria's education system is also generally of a good standard.

Compulsory education starts at the age of six and continues until 15. The first four years are spent in a primary school (Volksschule), and the next eight in a secondary school (Gymnasium). Secondary school is divided into lower secondary and upper secondary, both of which last for four years. However, lessons in state schools are taught almost exclusively in German, which may not be ideal for families anticipating a relatively short stay in Vienna.

Alternatively, there are numerous privately-run international schools to be found in Vienna providing foreign curricula, although these tend to be expensive, and parents can expect to pay out EUR20,000 per year for the best schools.

Another option to consider is a bilingual school. As the name suggests, pupils at these state-run schools are taught in their first language, but there is also an emphasis on building up their German language skills. Bilingual schools operate across the compulsory school age range. However, competition for places is quite fierce, and schools fill up quickly.


If you are moving to Vienna as part of your job, and your employer is arranging your living accommodation during your period of expatriation in the city, then lucky you!

But if you are required to arrange your own accommodation, it is recommended that you employ the services of a property agent, who will search for the most suitable properties on your behalf, and deal with the necessary legal procedures, for a fee. This is especially helpful to those who are not fluent in the German language.

The vast majority of people in Vienna rent their accommodation, and as is to be expected, apartments and houses in the center of the city are only affordable for those with deep pockets.

Vienna is arranged into 28 districts, numbered from one to 28 (they are also named, but are most commonly referred to by their number), one being in the heart of the city, encompassing the area around the 12th century St Stephens Cathedral.

Generally, the higher the district number, the further away from the city the center the district is located, and the cheaper property rentals become.


Residents of Austria are taxed on their worldwide income, but non-residents are taxed on their Austrian-sourced income only.

In general, a person is considered resident in Austria for tax purposes if their stay extends beyond six months.

Taxable income includes income from employment, investments and the carrying on of a business or profession.

Income tax rates are progressive up to a top rate of 55 percent, as follows:

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