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Why do so few foreigners become Austrian?

Austria - particularly the capital Vienna - has a high proportion of foreign residents. Why do so few become citizens?

Why do so few foreigners become Austrian?
AFP

With one in five people living in Austria foreign-born, the central European country has one of the highest percentages of foreign residents. 

Foreign population in Austria

Austria has one of the highest proportions of foreign residents in the EU. 

Approximately 19 percent of the total population are foreign-born

In the cosmopolitan capital of Vienna, almost a third of 1.9 million residents are non-Austrian nationals, estimates the Vienna city council. Around 250,000 of these came from the EU and 312,000 from non-EU countries. 

In total, approximately 40 percent of Vienna residents are foreign-born – but only a quarter of those have procured Austrian citizenship. 

How difficult is it to become an Austrian citizen?

Becoming a citizen in Austria is difficult. According to German news site Deutsche Welle “in the EU, Austria has the toughest route to citizenship”. 

The conditions for becoming an Austrian citizen have turned into a veritable obstacle course in recent decades, particularly under governments containing the anti-immigration far-right Freedom Party (FPOe), reports AFP. 

The income requirements alone would disqualify 60 percent of blue-collar female Austrian workers if they had to apply, reports AFP.

The fees to have one's application considered run to thousands of euros. A good level of German is required as well as at least ten years' residence.

In many cases, foreigners would be required to renounce their existing citizenship. 

Additionally, in some cases foreigners will have to engage in volunteer work to gain citizenship. 

Naturalisation takes a minimum of ten years in most cases.

And once living in Austria, foreigners hoping to become Austrian citizens will also be restricted for how long they will be allowed to leave the country during that first ten-year period – unless they want the clock to start over again. 

Pursuant to naturalisation rules, foreigners will need to keep 'uninterrupted legal residence' in Austria for ten years. 

Unlike the United States, Canada and a host of Central and South American countries, birth does not confer citizenship, because being born in Austria makes no difference at all, no matter how long one's family may have been settled in the country.

Will things change in the future? 

The SPOe, along with the Greens and the liberal NEOS party, have said they would be in favour of loosening the requirements. 

But the conservative People's Party (OeVP), the senior partner in the current governing coalition, is against this.

“Austrian citizenship is a precious asset,” OeVP Interior Minister Karl Nehammer said in a statement last year.

He said the current system promotes integration.

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PROPERTY

Where to find property in Austria for under €100k

Austria is not known for being a cheap country and property prices are higher than in some other European countries, but it's still possible to find property bargains, some for even under €100k.

Where to find property in Austria for under €100k

Property prices are rising in much of Europe, and Austria is no exception.

The graph below from the European Union’s statistical agency Eurostat shows the sharp upwards trajectory over the past few years with property price increases in Austria outpacing those in the European Union  as a whole.

And a new survey found that the average price per square metre for new apartments in Austria rose by 11 percent last year, making the country Europe’s second-most expensive market.

It’s no surprise, then, that property ownership in Austria remains low.

According to Eurostat, 55.2 percent of people owned their home in Austria in 2021 – well below the 70 percent European average. That’s the third lowest percentage in Europe after Switzerland (41.6 percent) and Germany (51.1 percent).

READ ALSO: Why do so few Austrians own their home?

So, where can we find cheap(er) homes in Austria – either properties that are move-in ready or those that could be excellent investments for those who enjoy fixer-uppers (or huge DIY projects)?

To find these gems, we used a property website that allowed us to search for real estate in the whole of Austria (instead of just a few main cities) and showed us homes with at least three rooms.

The price limit was set at €100,000 (while our colleagues in even-more-expensive Switzerland had theirs set at a much heftier CHF 500k, around €515k).

As of August 2022, we found 25 houses and 34 apartments meeting these criteria on sale.

As you might expect, many of these need (a lot of) work, but the good news is you can definitely still nab a home for under €100,000 with gorgeous views, small plots of land or lake access.

austria map
Houses below €100k are mainly in the south and east of the country. Property map from Wlllhaben.at.

What types of properties are there?
Looking at houses first (see the map above, which also shows the average purchase price across Austria’s different regions), a few things stand out:

The vast majority of the immediately liveable properties are on the tiny side – most are around the 40 square metres mark and billed as holiday homes – but many come fully furnished, a bonus if you’re working to a tight budget.

You will find bigger ones (the largest we saw was 124 square metres), but then they are likely to be complete renovation projects.

If you head for the border, you’ll get more house for your euro in southern and eastern Austria. Many of the properties we saw were in peaceful Burgenland, Austria’s least populous state.

And if you’re happy to buy just over the border in Hungary, Slovakia or even cross into Croatia, you’ll get more space – and less work – for your money.

You might think cities would be a complete no-no for snapping up bargain properties, but when we looked, we actually found a few properties a short drive from Vienna that were below our top price.

House or apartment?
When it comes to apartments, you’ll get more square metres  – we found flats within this price bracket were around 70 square metres on average – and a slightly greater choice of location for your money

READ ALSO: ‘Concrete gold’: Austria ranks as Europe’s second most expensive property market

Plus, the apartments we found were generally in much better condition – some are even newly renovated and fabulous – so you wouldn’t have so much, if any, work to do.

But there is, inevitably, a compromise: you might get a terrace or a balcony, but most won’t have a proper garden, and certainly no land or outbuildings, which many of the houses we found did have.

If you opt for an apartment over a house, you’ll usually have a slightly greater choice of location. Property map from Willhaben.at.

Even when you do find cheap properties, though, they are sometimes quite literally too good to be true. Some may require completely gutting, others may not be connected to the grid or might need costly lease renegotiations.

So, whether you go for a house or an apartment, you need to make sure you do your homework and carry out a thorough inspection first.

While renovation projects can be great investments, they’re time-consuming and can be very costly.

Before you take the huge step of purchasing, be honest with yourself about your own skill levels and how much time you have for a project – it’s easy to get caught up in the romantic idea of the end result of a gorgeous renovation – and get estimates for any work that needs to be done.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Why Austria’s rising property prices are causing alarm

If you’re looking at buying somewhere to rent out, check average monthly rents for that area to be sure it’s worth you putting all the hard work in and that you’ll get a good return on your investment.

Whatever your reason for buying, check the property’s location carefully – some have poor access or no connection to basic services.

And it’s important to be mindful of extra costs, too: besides renovation costs, you’ll also have to fork out for property taxes, monthly charges, as well as any lease renewal costs and other living expenses.

These can all vary depending on the type of property and where it is.

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