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How to survive as a freelancer in Austria

Freelancing in Austria has a reputation for being tough, with high taxes and an expensive cost of living.

How to survive as a freelancer in Austria
Photo by Joseph Frank on Unsplash

It doesn’t mean working as a freelancer in the Alpine republic is a bad idea though – it just means there might be a few more hoops to jump through.

Here’s what you need to know about how to survive as a freelancer in Austria.

Get an accountant

Navigating the world of tax is confusing at the best of times. Throw in a foreign language and a new country and it can be overwhelming.

This is why hiring a tax accountant (Steuerberater) is a good idea for freelancers – especially for international residents or people without a high-level of German language skills.

EXPLAINED: What can I deduct from my tax bill in Austria?

Toni Krainz, a self-employed Business Development Engineer from Ireland, told The Local: “A tax advisor can give you some smart tips about your entitlements as a business owner, which more than cover the cost of hiring a Steuerberater.”

A tax account can also help with setting up health insurance, which is compulsory in Austria.

James Tibbles, from the UK, spent four years working as a freelance web developer when he first moved to Tyrol in Austria.

He said: “My tax advisor explained it all to me and picked out the correct one for my circumstances, so whenever I received a letter from them I just immediately passed it on to her.”

The downside of hiring a tax accountant is the cost. But in most cases the fees are worth the peace of mind when it comes to submitting a tax return or dealing with Austrian bureaucracy.

Find a way to lower expenses

Austria is well known for expensive living costs and freelancing has a reputation for sporadic work and payment – especially for those just starting out.

Put the two together and it can be a recipe for financial instability, but finding a way to lower expenses can significantly reduce stress for freelancers.

READ MORE: Cost of living: Seven tips to save money in Austria

A good starting point for staying on top of finances is to be honest about your expenses (rent, health insurance, food, bills) and identify areas where costs can be cut.

For example, working from home can save money otherwise spent while working in cafes, and joining a coworking space is usually much cheaper than renting an office.

Another option is downsizing or moving to a cheaper area to reduce living costs.

Even making smaller changes, such as shopping at lower cost supermarkets, can save money on grocery bills each week.

In the end, all the small savings can add up to make a big difference.

Consider income protection insurance

Income insurance protection is exactly what it sounds like – payments to cover part of your income if you cannot work due to sickness or an accident.

This is especially useful for self-employed people and, according to other freelancers, should be considered to provide some extra financial security. 

Toni, from Ireland, said: “As a freelancer, you’re not entitled to sick pay so I highly recommend getting income protection insurance. 

“The fees are tax deductible and there are varying levels of cover available, so it doesn’t have to be expensive.”

Austria can be a great place to freelance. Photo by Galymzhan Abdugalimov on Unsplash

Learn German

Although many people in Austria speak English at a high level, it is still a German-speaking country. 

This means having German-language skills can be a big advantage for a freelancer – even for people with clients in different parts of the world.

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about becoming a freelancer in Austria

The reason for this is because bureaucracy and official communications in Austria are mostly conducted in German. 

So, even if all you can do is make a simple phone call or write an email in German, it will make life as a freelancer in Austria much easier. 

Network with other freelancers

In pre-corona times, freelancers could attend professional networking events to meet new people and scope out work opportunities.

However, the past 18 months has seen most events cancelled in the interests of public health, which means networking has moved online.

There are some advantages to this, such as the possibility to network with people from all over the world, not just in your region or country.

But the downside is it can be harder to forge strong professional relationships with others by only communicating online.

Despite the disadvantages to online networking, getting to know other freelancers in your industry is a great way to establish a local support network, and can even generate referrals for future business.

Essential websites for freelancers in Austria

Social insurance: sozialversicherung.at

Austrian Health Insurance Fund (ÖGK): gesundheitskasse.at

Austrian Federal Economic Chamber (WKO): wko.at

Self-employed information in English: self-employed.at

SVS (for self-employed insurance): svs.at

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LIVING IN AUSTRIA

How much do you need to earn for a good life in Austria?

Austria is known as a country with a high standard of living, but it also comes with a high cost of living. Here’s an overview of what you can expect to earn in Austria.

How much do you need to earn for a good life in Austria?

As with most things in Austria, the question of ‘what is a good salary?’ is difficult to answer as the cost of living (and wages) can vary between states and cities.

For example, the east of Austria is typically much cheaper than the west for housing (with the exception of Vienna). And those living in cities often have easier – and cheaper – access to public transport when compared with people living in rural areas. 

READ ALSO: ‘Bad-tempered locals’: Vienna ranked the world’s ‘unfriendliest city’

Childcare is also something to consider with huge differences between Vienna, where there is access to heavily subsidised services, and places like Tyrol where childcare costs more.

To delve a bit deeper, we looked at the data to find out the average salary in Austria and how it differs between professions and locations.

What is the average salary in Austria?

In 2021, the average gross annual salary in Austria was €44,395, according to the latest data from Statistics Austria

However, in the latest survey by online job platform Step Stone, the average gross annual salary in Austria is €49,609.

The Step Stone survey then broke it down further by industry with those working in pharma earning the most at €60,504. This was followed by energy at €60,345, medical technology at €59,106 and banking at €58,711.

The industry with the lowest average annual salary is hotels/gastronomy at €37,546, followed by agriculture at €39,779 and tourism at €43,965.

FOR MEMBERS: REVEALED: The best and worst districts to live in Vienna (as voted for by you)

Occupation also plays a part with people working in management earning the most – on average €66,768. Consulting came second at €53,721.

And like many other European countries, the gender pay gap in Austria prevails. The average annual salary for a man is €52,633 and for a woman it is €44,330.

Furthermore, the top earning city in Austria is Bregenz in Vorarlberg with an average annual salary of €54,620. When comparing the west of Austria with the east, the median salary in Vorarlberg is €46,450, whereas in Burgenland it is just €39,100.

What is the average cost of living in Austria?

Many international residents will find everyday living costs in Austria to be expensive, especially for those that come from countries with a much lower cost of living.

Inflation has also been rising steadily in Austria throughout 2022, leading to some steep rises in prices for groceries, housing costs and energy.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: 10 ways to save money on your groceries in Austria

However, the average cost of living varies across the country, depending on the location. For example, Vienna and Innsbruck in Tyrol are two of Austria’s most expensive cities, but more affordable places to live are Graz in Styria and Klagenfurt in Carinthia.

In Vienna, the average price for a one bedroom apartment in the city centre is €915, going up to €2,000 for a three bedroom apartment, according to Expat Arrivals.

Whereas in Graz, the average cost of a one bedroom city centre apartment is around €609, and a three bedroom apartment is €1,170.

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