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Austria Expat Health Insurance Guide

Austria is located to the south of Germany and the Czech Republic, a country embodied in the very centre of Europe. They have a proud history and a short trip through any major city will reveal stunning ancient architecture interwoven into every street, great stone buildings surrounded by modern houses and shops.

While Austria shares a number of elements with its close relative Germany, it is very much its own country. It’s capital Vienna pulls in a huge number of tourists every year drawn in by its history and as a result, many of its residents are masters of speaking different languages.

Climate

Austria is famed for having a particularly cold climate. It’s part of the reason why it has become so popular for its winter sports, the regular snow fall combined with the steep hills and tall mountains of its natural landscape make it the ideal spot for thrill seekers.

However, as with most countries, it depends on which are in Austria you are as to what the climate is like. While the change isn’t extreme you will find that the northern and eastern areas have colder winters and hotter summers than the south of Austria who, in turn, has a more consistent temperature with Mediterranean-like summers.

These temperatures can drop as low as minus 20°C during cold winters and then climb as high as 35°C during the summer. The coldest periods are from December to March and the warmest is from July to August.

The mountainous regions almost mean that altitude plays a large role in influencing the different temperatures. There is an average of 5°C lost for each additional 300 meters of elevation, meaning that expats looking to reside in a town or city that is located pretty high up should take extra consideration for the weather. These areas are also more vulnerable to bitter winter winds and rain.

This does make seasonal traveling to Austria a popular tourist choice, with those seeking a sunny European holiday coming during the summer and those wanting to ski or enjoy other winter activities arriving during the early months of the calendar year.

Whichever period of the year you decide to travel to Austria you can rest assured it will still provide you with some stunning sites and view. The snow peaked mountains are just as impressive when they are covered in pastures and grazing wildlife.

The mountainous areas of Austria are pelted with buckets of precipitation every year with it often exceeds 1000mm per year and it’s not unknown to go over 1,500mm. In lower areas such a Vienna there is a lot less and precipitation levels rarely exceed 535mm.

Vienna

 

Jan Feb March April May June July Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Temp °C -1 1 5 9 15 18 19 19 15 10 5 -1
Rainfall mm 38 42 41 51 61 74 63 58 45 41 50 43

Culture

Austrian history is like many other countries, originally a collection of different provinces found a number of cultural similarities and slowly accepted their identity as a singular nation. Well, that’s the ultra-simplified version.

The nine provinces that make up Austria all had their own distinct cultures, the most prominent of which as adopted from their German neighbours. Post-world war 2 despite the nations attempts to separate themselves from their former ally, in 1956 a poll revealed that 46% still identified with their German culture.

Austria’s history plays a huge role in understanding the countries culture. Their slow adoption and assimilation of different people groups over time have had a huge impact on the traditions and cultural norms seen today. Back in 1848 when Germany first decided to become a unified Reich the debate on whether to include Austria was eventually declined due to the huge variety of different ethnic groups in the country. This included Hungarians, Ukranians, Italians, Slovakians and a range of other nationalities from the Balkans.

The Austrian government has even placed in its constitution a promise to help preserve the language and culture from a number of these people’s homelands but, since the twenty century, the number of ethnic groups declaring membership outside of the Austrian nationality has significantly dropped.

The arts are a big part of Austria. The country has given birth to a number of prominent musicians, particularly during the eighteenth and ninetieth centuries when Austria was viewed worldwide as a world centre for culture. They gave birth to some of the most famous composers to ever exist, with Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven all living in Austria.

Language

Following the history of Austria, it is no surprise that they have German as their official language. There are however a number of key differences. The overall tone is a lot softer and doesn’t quite have the same aggression that is typically associated with the German tongue. Just like America and Britain have different words for the same things, so do Germany and Austria, this is particularly true with foods.

 

English Phrase German Translation
Do you understand what I am saying? Verstehst du was ich sage?
What is that? Was ist das?
I don’t know ich weiß es nicht
How are you? Wie geht es dir?
What do you want? Was willst du?
Good morning Guten Morgen

 

English is a popular language in Austria and is taught by the vast majority of their schools. Thanks to the prominence of the Austria-Hungarian Empire that lasted for seventy years from 1867, there are a number of people who still speak Hungarian.

Vienna and other big tourist cities like Salazburg also accommodate a whole host of bi-lingual residents, so don’t be surprised to hear a number of different European languages from time to time.

Transport

Austria has one of the most efficient train services going, their high-speed trains are rated 9th in the world by GoEuro and can get you from Vienna to Salzburg in a little over 2 hours, that’s over 230 km/h. The inside of the trains are luxurious when compared to the rail service of the UK, many contain small cafes and vending machines.

These high-speed trains connect all the major cities in Austria, even going outside of the borders allowing fast travel to Prague, Munich, Zurich and Budapest. Tickets are available at affordable prices and you can go from Vienna to Salzburg for as little as €45, if you buy tickets online you can sometimes even get it cheaper than that. A large number of rail passes are also available.

Vienna is also home to the metro, a system similar to that of Londons tubes. It runs from 5:30 am until half-past midnight on Sunday through to Thursday and on Fridays and Saturdays, it is open for 24 hours. A single trip costs €2.40 but a monthly pass can be purchased for €51 and an annual pass for €365. This is one of the best ways to get around the big bustling city.

As Vienna is the only place in Austria with a metro system, other towns and cities all rely on bus services for public transport. While some parts of Austria do have electric trams available, the bus service is far more popular. Many of the larger cities have a punctual and efficient bus service that is relied upon by a huge number of Austrians.

While driving around Austria is pretty straightforward, some areas are pretty steep and may offer complications such as minor avalanches. These are very rarely serious but expats are encouraged to learn the road theory as quickly as possible and have a reliable vehicle if they are considering driving. Just remember that if you bring your own vehicle, as soon as you are registered as a resident of Austria you must exchange your licence plates for Austrian ones.

Money

Austria is currently a member of the European Union and as such has been using the euro as their currency since the 1st of January 2002. Prior to this Austria used the former national currency of schilling.

When the euro was introduced as the official currency the Austrian government enforced a three-year transition period so markets and people could adjust to the change. The Austrian National Bank, Österreichische Nationalbank, has promised to keep exchanging schilling banknotes and coins for an indefinite period.

Expats looking to open up a bank account in Austria should have relatively few problems. There are a large variety of banks available in Austria and over 3,000 ATM’s that work 24/7 and accept many of the popular debit and credit cards. In order to open a bank account in Austria you should always remember to have the following documentation:

  • Driving License
  • Passport
  • Utility Bills
  • Residence Registration Form
  • Proof of employment

Expats have the standard choice of current accounts and saving accounts. Many of the major banks follow a similar business scheme to those in Europe and will offer a variety of different walk through options and welcome packs to help you get settled.

These banks are all under European Union regulations and as a result, are safe to be trusted with your money under most circumstances. There are at present over 5000 bank branches throughout the country, many with bi-lingual staff, making the whole process reasonably straightforward.

A few banks might even let you open up an account prior to your arrival. This can help with the moving proves and allow you to get everything sorted a lot quicker than normal. Bank Austria is one such bank however, there are some terms and conditions that must be met first such as that you must first be a UniCredit member. Erste Bank also has an option for non-Austrian residents to open accounts from abroad so long as they meet the criteria set and our deemed eligible.

Schooling

Austria’s school system is taken pretty seriously, currently, it is state regulated and the Federal Ministry of Education, the Arts and Culture has authority across the entire educational system. Any changes that wish to be made in terms of major educational reform require a two-thirds majority in parliament due to educations place in Austria’s constitution.

Prior to the age of six, education is not compulsory. The state does, however, provide a number of preschools that charge a set fee, expats can enrol their children into these by contacting their local council. There is, however, a high demand and low supply of these preschools and it is encouraged for parents to act quickly. If however the child is about to turn 5 and has their birthday the following August school is free of charge should they wish to apply.

After the age of six education is still free and children are expected to attend lessons from 8 am until 1:35 pm. By Grade 5, at the age of 10, children will enter secondary school and have three choices:

  • A cooperative secondary school (Kooperative Mittelschule) otherwise known as a lower level of general academic or grammar school (Hauptschule)
  • A new middle school (Neue Mittelschule)
  • A general secondary School typically for sportier or musically gifted students (Unterstufe der Allgemeinbildenden höheren Schule)

Then at grade 9 children will be given a further list of different educational options more personally tailored to their own personal career goals. After the age of 15 children may leave compulsory education to start a job or an apprenticeship. However, the vast majority tend to go on to obtain a diploma which is essential for students wishing to attend college or universities.

Food and Drink

Austrian culinary dishes have been hugely influenced through the history of the Austria-Hungary empire. One of the foods Austria is most famous for its Schnitzel, a meat fried, and bread crumbed, almost resembling a giant turkey dinosaur or flat chicken nugget. Typically served with chips and cuts of lemon, this meal is available in a huge number of takeaway shops and restaurants.

Many of the Austrian dishes follow a flavoursome, hearty and enriched pattern. The use of meat, root vegetables and poultry are all popular items for an Austrian menu. It’s no surprise then that Austrians are big fans of thicks soups that border on broths, big chunks of carrots, parsnips, leeks, turnips, dough balls and bacon dumplings are all common.

Just like many popular Austrian dishes the Käsespätzle is thick with cheese and pasta, tasting amazing but significantly different from the pasta dishes found in other European countries like Italy or the UK. Probably because the pasta, isn’t quite pasta. The soft egg noodles, often compounded into small balls, known as spätzle are a lot thicker and bare a similar texture to dough balls.

Deserts in Austria are something else. Traditionally very sweet with a nutty or spiced after flavour, these dishes tend to be bread based and complimented by ice cream or hot sauce of some variety. Saving room for desert takes a whole new meaning when you have to consume one of these beautiful dishes. For example, the Marmorgugelhupf is a traditional cake thick with cream chocolate and an after taste of rum. Many Austrians will have this cake with tea or coffee throughout the day but, be warned it is still pretty heavy and you might struggle for room following a spätzle-based meal.

Austria is also famous for its wine. Thanks to a scandal in 1985 that saw industries diluting wine for mass sales with diethylene glycol, the Austrian wine industry was forced to remarket itself as a producer of high-quality wines, rather than a bulk supplier. The result is some fantastic dry white wines, even cheaper brands that are sold in local bars or cafes are of a high calibre compared to other countries.

Safety

Austria, in a nutshell, is pretty safe. Long gone are the days of the early when it was locked in constant warfare with the declining Ottoman empire. The biggest threat of danger someone in Austria faces today is probably medical complications as a result of eating too much of their glorious cake.

Of course, just like any other country, it is wise to stay vigilante as Austria is not a crime free eutopia but, it does come pretty close with some of the lowest levels of serious crime in the world. While pickpocketing and bag snatching does happen in densely populated tourist areas, street crime levels are also very low. Safearound.com even go so far as to rank Austria as the 3rd safest country in the world.

The biggest risk probably comes in the form of avalanches and mudslides. Make sure that if you are traveling in areas at risk to these natural disasters you take a number of precautions, including telling people where you are going and for how long.

Places to Visit

Austria pulls in a whole host of tourists every year and for good reason. There is loads to do and see, from the culturally packed Vienna, to the multiple ski resorts located high up in the mountains. Whatever happens, we can guarantee you won’t struggle with boredom.

Vienna

Beautiful Architecture that dates back hundreds of years, concert Halls, palaces, Ferris wheels, cathedrals, wine tasting, bike tours, bus tours, escape rooms, canals, museums and the list goes on.

We could spend forever talking about all of the things Vienna has to offer but we don’t have time. Just know that if you plan on moving to Austria or even just visiting, Vienna needs to be on the top of your list for places to go.

Christmas Markets

There are hundreds of Christmas markets all over Austria and they are undoubtedly some of the best in the world. The most popular of these can be found in, yes you guessed it, Vienna. However, almost every city and town has their own and they are well worth seeing.

These markets sell hot drinks, many of which are alcoholic, scarves, ornaments, hot deserts and a whole host of handcrafted objects.

Ski Resorts

Okay there are literally loads of these and each one has its own unique features but whoever one you decide to go to, you’ll have a great time. Austria is perfect for winter sports, with its naturally cold climate in the winter and its huge variety of sloping hills and mountains.

Even if skiing or snowboarding down a big hill at 70 mph sounds like your cup of tea, there are plenty of other activities. Cross country skiing is a great way to enjoy and take in the sites Austria has to offer, going through serenely wooded valleys on a set of skis at a gentle pace beneath towering mountains is incredibly peaceful and well worth trying.

Salzburg and Hohensalzburg Fortress

So these are essentially two different things but, you should definitely go to Salzburg and while you’re there you may as well visit the fortress.

Salzburg certainly gives Vienna a run for its money in a lot of areas. It too is a huge city filled with arts, musical theatres and just a general hub of history and culture. There is loads to see and do, with tourists going to music halls and a whole range of different museums.

The highlight of Salzburg and it’s a crowning jewel that should be top of the priority list for anybody visiting is the Hohensalzburg Fortress. Constructed in the year 1077, the fortress is a castle that towers over the whole area, quietly boasting the fact that in all its history it has never been captured.

After taking a cable car up to the top, visitors can have a guided tour of the fort and witness the incredible views it has to offer. Salzburg is surrounded by snow peaked mountains and from the top of the Hohensalzburg Fortress you can overlook the entire city, it is a site that is truly breath-taking.

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