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Six things to expect when you move to the Austrian mountains

Escaping to the mountains in Austria for a simple life of fresh air and frolicking in the snow is a dream for many people. But what is the reality?

A cross country skier walks through the snowy landscape near the village of Ramsau at the Dachstein mountains in Austria.
A cross country skier walks through the snowy landscape near the village of Ramsau at the Dachstein mountains in Austria. Photo: CHRISTOF STACHE / AFP

Here are six things to expect when you move to the Austrian Alps.

Cash is king and the cost of living is high

A top tip for living in the Austrian mountains is to always have cash in your purse/wallet and never expect to be able to pay by card.

This is even more crucial if hiking in the mountains and hoping for a well-earned schnitzel and beer at one of the huts. A lot of them will only take cash for payment.

For people that have lived in cities like London where carrying cash is a rare event, this can take some getting used to.

But after a few times of missing out by only having a card to pay with, you will soon get the hang of it.

READ MORE: Could coronavirus end Austria’s love affair with cash?

Then there is the high cost of living.

Clare Woolner, from Darwen in the UK, says people moving to the Austrian mountains should expect to pay more for basics like food and rent.

Clare, who lives in St Johann in Tirol, said: “The cost of living can be more expensive here so you might have to downsize your accommodation.

“Groceries are also often more expensive and you can’t always get the same products that you can find in the UK. But it balances out by spending less money on entertainment.”

The Steineres Meer mountains are seen in the background on a sunny day as sheep graze in a field in Leogang, near Salzburg, Austria. Photo: ALEXANDER KLEIN / AFP

Weekend shopping is not a thing

In the larger towns and provincial capitals, going shopping on a Saturday is the same as in most other places. The shops are open and they’re busy with people indulging in consumerism.

But in the smaller towns and villages, a lot of shops close at midday on a Saturday. And don’t open again until Monday (shops are closed on Sunday in Austria).

At first this can be confusing but the reality is that weekend shopping is not really a popular activity in the mountains.

Most people are more interested in exploring the surrounding nature (see ‘You will embrace an outdoor lifestyle’ below) or catching up with friends and family.

For the most part, it’s great. But if you do have the urge to spend some money on a Saturday then the best option is to visit one of the larger cities, like Innsbruck.

People stop work for lunch at midday – every day

Lunch runs to a strict timetable in the Austrian mountains.

Every day, in businesses and households, most people stop what they’re doing at 12pm and take a break for lunch.

Prefer taking lunch at 1pm? Or 2pm? Then you’ll be eating on your own.

READ MORE: What you need to know about opening a bank account in Austria

While this can seem restrictive at first – especially for people that prefer some spontaneity in their lives – there are benefits to this schedule.

First, people sit down and have lunch together – usually followed by coffee. It’s a sociable and friendly part of the day.

Second, lunch is a not just a hastily made cold sandwich. Typically it involves a cooked meal, which is nice and comforting.

Just don’t forget to say “Mahlzeit” (“enjoy the meal”), even if you’re not eating. It’s the standard greeting during lunch time.

A cable cabin travels over a valley connecting Wuerzhoehe and Pengelstein mountains in Austria’s most famous winter and summer resort of Kitzbuhel. Photo: JOE KLAMAR / AFP

You will embrace an outdoor lifestyle

Living in the Austrian mountains means being in close proximity to nature every day.

It also means your lifestyle will change to adapt to the new environment with outdoor activities replacing bar and café hopping.

Cost of living: Seven tips to save money in Austria

Emma Barr lives in St Johann in Tyrol with her husband but is originally from Reading in the UK. She loves the healthier lifestyle she has in Austria, in comparison to her former life as a HR Manager.

Emma said: “We moved here over 10 years ago, and it was the best decision we ever made. Spending time walking or skiing in the mountains on a regular basis is life enhancing.”

Adjusting to a change in pace of lifestyle and embracing the outdoors can be a challenge for former city types. But for most people, the benefits far outweigh the loss of Saturday shopping trips and crowded streets.

You won’t understand the local dialect

In the mountains, the locals speak dialect, which can change from village to village.

Combine this with German lessons being taught in Hochdeutsch (High German) and it’s a recipe for a slow learning process with daily confusion.

This is something that Clare from Darwen has experienced herself.

She said: “The language is a difficult thing for everyone that moves here. Not necessarily because of someone’s level of German but because of the different dialects.

“Even if someone has been learning German before, they should expect that the way people speak will sound different and it’s not a reflection of their German language abilities.”

The upside is that lots of people speak English – particularly the younger generation – which is helpful during the early days of living in the Austrian mountains.

However, bureaucracy and official communication is mostly conducted in High German, so German skills are still essential.

For this reason, Emma from Reading recommends getting professional advice when dealing with Austrian bureaucracy.

She said: “Unless your German is excellent I recommend getting an Austrian tax advisor or solicitor that speaks good English – it will really help.”

Ultimately, the key to surviving the language conundrum is to keep plugging away with learning German but also take time to listen to the locals when they speak.

Skiers glide in a snowy landscape near the village Ramsau at the Dachstein mountains in Austria. Photo: CHRISTOF STACHE / AFP

Eventually things will start to make sense.

If you don’t ski or snowboard then the winter is long

Skiing and snowboarding are a huge part of the lifestyle in the mountains. But if you’re not into winter sports then it’s a very long season to endure.

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about paying tax in Austria

If speeding down the side of a mountain on pieces of metal is not your thing, then there are other sports to try, like cross country skiing (Langlaufen) or snow shoeing.

Both of which are easily accessible and usually free to enjoy (no ski pass needed).

Or you could just decide to embrace downhill skiing or snowboarding. After all, if you can’t beat them, join them.

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LIVING IN AUSTRIA

What is Austria’s Mutter-Kind-Pass and how is it changing?

The Mutter-Kind-Pass is hitting the headlines as the Austrian Federal Government plans a reform of the scheme. Here's how it works now, why it is necessary and how it will change in the future.

What is Austria’s Mutter-Kind-Pass and how is it changing?

The Mutter-Kind-Pass (Mother-Child-Pass) was launched in Austria in 1974 to ensure the health and wellbeing of pregnant women and their babies.

It grants pregnant women free access to essential examinations and consultations, and serves as a record of healthcare.

But big changes are on the cards for the pass as a digitization reform is planned for the coming years, while disputes continue about the cost of the scheme.

Here’s what you need to know about how the Mutter-Kind-Pass works, why it’s necessary and how it will change. 

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What is the Mutter-Kind-Pass?

The Mutter-Kind-Pass is a small, yellow passport-style document to provide and track healthcare for pregnant women and young children in Austria.

It is issued to a woman when a pregnancy is confirmed by a doctor and contains records of medical examinations during pregnancy. As well as health check-ups for the child up to five years of age.

The Mutter-Kind-Pass exists to ensure pregnant women and children get the necessary medical care they need.

For example, women in Austria are entitled to five medical check-ups throughout their pregnancy including blood tests, internal examinations, ultrasound scans and consultations with a midwife.

READ ALSO: Reader question: Am I liable for ambulance costs in Austria?

Who can get the Mutter-Kind-Pass and how much does it cost?

Any pregnant woman living in Austria can get the Mutter-Kind-Pass (and subsequent health examinations) for free.

However, all examinations must take place with a doctor that is registered with a health insurance company in Austria.

Women without health insurance need a confirmation of entitlement from the Austrian health insurance fund that is responsible for the area where they live.

This is a required step before any examinations can take place free of charge.

Why is the pass necessary?

The Mutter-Kind-Pass and its mandatory examinations are primarily used to detect any illnesses or possible complications early. 

The expected date of delivery is also entered into the Mutter-Kind-Pass, so the document is needed to receive maternity pay in Austria.

Additionally, proof of examinations are required to receive the full entitlement to childcare allowance (Kinderbetreuungsgeld). This means the pass should be taken to every maternity-related appointment, as recommended by the Österreichische Gesundheitskasse.

How is the Mutter-Kind-Pass being reformed?

On Wednesday 16th November, Minister for Women and Family Affairs Susanne Raab (ÖVP) and Minister of Health Johannes Rauch (Greens) announced a reform of the Mutter-Kind-Pass.

The most notable change will be a transition from the paper booklet to a digital app in 2024, as well as new services and a name change to the Eltern-Kind-Pass (Parent-Child-Pass).

Raab said: “In addition to the services in the area of ​​health care, we will introduce parent advice, which should be a compass for the new phase of life for new parents.”

The new services will include counselling, an extra consultation with a midwife, an additional ultrasound, hearing screenings for newborns, nutritional and health advice, and multilingual information in digital form.

Photo by Juliane Liebermann on Unsplash

In the future, parents-to-be and new parents will also be offered parenting advice when they have their first child, for example on the compatibility of employment and childcare, on the division of parental leave or on the effects of part-time work on pensions.

“The mother-child pass has been an essential part of maternal and child health in Austria for decades. Now we have managed together to further develop this important instrument in a contemporary form”, said Rauch.

READ NEXT: EXPLAINED: What you need to know about parental leave in Austria

The implementation of the parent-child passport is a comprehensive, multi-year project and will begin with digitisation from next year.

The annual budget for the Mutter-Kind-Pass is currently €62 million and an additional €10 million from EU funds has been allocated to cover the cost of the reforms. 

However, there have been debates in recent months about the general cost of the pass. 

As a result there are ongoing negotiations between insurance companies and the Medical Association about the reimbursement of fees for providing healthcare and examinations.

READ ALSO: ‘Better and cheaper’: What foreigners really think about childcare in Austria

Der Standard reports that the Medical Association is threatening to discontinue the Mutter-Kind-Pass at the end of the year if an agreement on doctors fees cannot be reached. If that were to happen, expectant mothers would have to pay for examinations.

Currently, doctors receive €18.02 per examination and the Association is calling for an 80 percent increase.

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