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Everything you need to know about becoming a freelancer in Austria

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DIETER NAGL / AFP
Struggling to get your head around Austrian bureaucracy? Here is a comprehensive guide to setting out on your own.

Whether you’re in tech, media, an artist or musician or working in a creative industry, it’s becoming more and more common to work as a freelancer these days.

First things first, whether you’re from within or outside of the European Union, when you move to Austria you must register with the authorities. 

Registering

People who plan to become resident in Austria are required to register their place of residence within three days with the competent authority (municipal office or Municipal District Office). You can register (or de-register) here.

EU/EEA Citizens

EU/EEA citizens and their relatives who intend to stay in Austria for more than three months and settle are required to apply for a registration certificate (Anmeldebescheinigung).

Third country nationals

Third country nationals, for example people who are not EEA citizens or Swiss nationals, need a residence permit for Austria when they plan to stay longer than six months.

If you are seeking to live and work in Austria you need a Rot-Weiss-Rot (Red White Red) card, which is issued for a period of 24 months. 

The following groups are eligible for this card. 

  • Very highly qualified workers
  • Skilled workers in shortage occupations
  • Other key workers
  • Graduates of Austrian universities and colleges of higher education
  • Self-employed key workers
  • Start-up founders

General requirements for issuing residence permits

The authorities may only grant you a residence permit if you can prove you have a fixed and regular personal income enabling you to cover your living costs without resorting to welfare aid from local authorities, around €1,000 a month for a single person or €1,500 for a couple. 

If you plan to stay more than a year in Austria as a Rot-Weiss-Rot card holder, you will have to learn German up to A2 level within two years. For those hoping to get permanent leave to remain, including a permanent work permit (Daueraufenthalt),  most people will have to reach B1 level German.

READ MORE: Just how good does your German have to be to gain citizenship in Austria?

Health and social insurance

Health insurance is compulsory in Austria. Every person taking up work, whether employed or self-employed is automatically covered by health insurance and his/her dependants are covered by co-insurance under the health insurance scheme. 

In Austria, while working as a freelancer, once your income exceeds around  €5,710.32 annually you must also pay compulsory health and social insurance SVS (also known as SVA). The SVS has access to your tax return and will send you a bill for any shortfall in contributions.

Paying tax

As a self-employed person you are subject to tax if you earn more than the basic tax-free allowance (Existenzminimum). The basic minimum tax allowance is € 11.000, but it may vary depending on your personal circumstances. 

Registering for tax with the tax office (Finanzamt) is a complicated process. First you need a tax identification number, in order to fill out your tax return. This involves filling out a questionnaire Verf24 via FinanzOnline.

Most people recommend you use a tax adviser to help you with this: it’s very easy to make mistakes, which could get you in trouble, especially if you are not a confident German speaker. 

The tax year in Austria starts in January, unlike in some other countries such as the UK, where it runs from 6 April.

Tax returns should be filed by the end of June for the previous year if you are filing tax online. 

However, if you employ a tax adviser the deadline for tax returns can be extended to February. 

VAT

If your business turns over more than €35,000 per year you may have to charge VAT. This is a separate number to the tax number and will be assigned upon special request at the tax office. 

What is tax deductible? 

While it is possible to save up receipts from work related expenses and offset them against tax, many freelancers find it easier to take advantage of a flat reduction in tax (Basispauschalierung), calculated according to income.

Office costs, training costs, travel expenses, communication expenses, office supplies, liability insurance and SVS payments can all be tax deductible. 

Becoming self-employed in Austria

Identifying the right type of self-employment is the first step to becoming a freelancer in Austria, and there are four different categories:

  • New self-employed (Neue Selbständige)

This includes artists, writers, journalists, lecturers, self-employed nurses, midwives, scientists, self-employed psychologists, psychotherapists  and physiotherapists. In these professions a trade licence (Gewerbeschein) is not required. 

  • Liberal professional (Freiberufler)

This group includes pharmacists, architects and engineering consultants, doctors, notaries, lawyers, veterinarians, accountants and dentists.

  • Self-employed with a free or regulated business licence (Freie/ Reglementierte Gewerbe)

This group includes professionals such as builders, IT workers, commercial agents, masseurs, carpenters, financial advisors, management consultants, insurance agents, insurance brokers and  translators.

  • Independent contractors (Freie Dienstnehmer).

Independent contractors are insured at the Austrian Health insurance (ÖGK) and do not have to worry about insurance payments as these will be covered by their employer.

However, as an independent contractor, you are subject to income tax and you have to also file a tax return every year. 

Business registration can be done at the Austrian Chamber of Commerce or Wirtschaftskammer Österreich (WKÖ).

This is also somewhere you may be able to get help with someone who speaks English.  There is an annual WKÖ fee of €100, plus annual business fees and tourism tax to pay as a freelancer.

Is it worth it?

Being a freelancer in most cases is quite tough in Austria.

Often you pay as much tax and social and health insurance contributions as an employee, but you are not eligible for holiday pay, sick pay or unemployment benefit, depending on which category you fall into.

However, since 1st January 2009, self-employed persons have been able to insure themselves against the risk of unemployment under an ‘opt-in’ model.

If you are an artist or musician, you may be able to find help at the Künstler-Sozialversicherungsfonds or the artists’ social insurance fund.

The KSVF pays subsidies for the social security contributions of the self-employed artists, and can pay subsidies in an emergency.


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