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EXPLAINED: Can I leave Austria to go on holiday during the lockdown?

Austria went into nationwide lockdown on Monday, with people largely confined to their homes. Under what circumstances can I leave the country?

A green exit sign at Vienna International Airport
Austria's lockdown rules are among the harshest in the world. Can you travel abroad? Photo by niklas schoenberger on Unsplash

As of Monday, November 22nd, Austria has gone into a nationwide lockdown. Whether for work, travel or to visit family, is it possible to escape the lockdown and head abroad? 

READ MORE: Thousands protest against Austria’s nationwide Covid lockdown

Here’s what you need to know. 

What are the rules of the lockdown? 

Bars, restaurants and shops will be forced to close, while people will be restricted from leaving their home other than for a handful of exceptional reasons, including shopping and exercise. 

While the lockdown is expected to run until December 12th for the vaccinated along with those who have recently had the virus and recovered, there is no deadline to the lockdown for the unvaccinated. 

A compulsory vaccination requirement will come into place from February. 

READ MORE: What we know about Austria’s plan for compulsory Covid vaccination

Austrian Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg made the announcements at a press conference on Friday

What are the exceptions to the stay-at-home order?

Austria’s stay-at-home order, sometimes discussed as a 24-hour curfew, requires that people stay at home other than for the “necessary basic needs of life”. 

While this has not been extensively defined as part of the new lockdown order, the language is the exact same as that used during Austria’s previous Covid lockdowns. 

Austria’s coronavirus lockdown: Under what circumstances can I leave my apartment?

At that time, the Austrian government clarified what people are allowed to do on several occasions to include visiting close family and friends, go to the doctor, exercise, shopping and going to work. 

You are also permitted to leave the house to avert danger

Unlike a handful of countries including the United Kingdom and Australia who put in place restrictions on allowing people to leave the country, Austria never put in place any restriction on people leaving the country and is not expected to do so this time around. 

Where people encountered difficulties, it usually related to restrictions put in place by another country on being allowed to enter, rather than any rule put in place by Austria. 

Can I go on holiday during the lockdown? 

Under the lockdown rules during winter of 2020/2021, Austrian residents were clearly allowed to leave Austria to visit close family members, partners or for professional reasons. 

Travelling to a second home outside of Austria is also permitted, Kurier reports. 

Therefore, as visiting family fits within the “necessary basic needs of life”, foreigners who live in Austria will not be prevented from heading to their countries of origin. 

They will also not be prevented from returning, provided their residency permits and visas remain valid. 

Whether you can leave Austria to go on holiday however remains a little less clear, although all of Austria’s neighbours remain open to arrivals from Austria. 

As of Monday, November 22nd, the travel advice from the Austrian Foreign Ministry still has all EU countries coloured green, i.e. meaning that there are no restrictions. 

It appears that while the government does not want to encourage people to head abroad on beach holidays by expressly saying this is permitted, there is little the government can do to prevent you from leaving. 

As written by Austrian media outlet Salzburg Nachrichten on Monday, “Anyone who wants to escape the lockdown by taking a long vacation trip abroad should be able to do so. It could only become problematic if the return takes place during the lockdown and none of the exceptions can be made credible during a police check.”

Key points: How will Austria’s new national lockdown work?

Constitutional and administrative lawyer Peter Bußjäger told Kurier during the previous lockdown that trips abroad are “officially not forbidden” and that an effort to fine someone for going on vacation “would probably not hold up in court”. 

“Prohibition norms have to be precise, but the regulation is not enough at this point,” he said. 

Bußjäger said a court would be likely to strike down an attempt to prevent someone from staying in a hotel abroad on a holiday – primarily as visits to second homes are allowed. 

Bußjäger said however that the reason for heading abroad would be relevant in the court’s decision. 

“It is understandable that there is a higher risk of infection in a hotel than, for example, when hiking,” he said. 

Even deciding to go abroad for a beach holiday would be looked at more favourably by the courts than, for instance, going abroad to stay in a thermal bath hotel, Bußjäger said. 

Please keep in mind that this report has been written as a guide only and does not constitute legal advice. 

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TRAIN TRAVEL

EXPLAINED: How to not be ‘bumped’ from an overcrowded Austrian train

Austrian trains have been overly crowded recently, with some people who had valid tickets having to be removed for "safety reasons". Here's how to make sure you get to your destination.

EXPLAINED: How to not be 'bumped' from an overcrowded Austrian train

Train travel is a safe and relatively comfortable way to get around Austria, but there is still much to do to make these journeys better for travellers, especially for commuters.

In Austria, a combination of high fuel prices, the adoption of the subsidised Klimaticket, and Vienna’s new short-term parking system, combined with other factors including a green surge and nice weather, has led to an increase in the search for train travel.

The operator ÖBB expects an even higher surge in the next few days, as warm weather meets holidays in Austria. This has led to several journeys being overcrowded, with people travelling standing up or being removed from trains when they reach capacity and the number of people compromises safety.

READ ALSO: Half-price Europe train tickets on offer in Interrail flash sale

“Safety is the top priority. If the train is too full to be guided safely, passengers must be asked to get off. If they don’t do it voluntarily, we have no choice but to get the police. This happens very rarely,” Bernhard Rieder from ÖBB told broadcaster ORF during an Ö1 interview.

Why are trains overcrowded?

There are several reasons for the surge in train travel, but they boil down to two things: rising costs for other means of transportation and environmental worries.

With galloping inflation, Austrians have seen prices of fuel climbing, and as the war in Ukraine continues, there is no likelihood of lower petrol prices any time soon.

At the same time, since March, Vienna (the destination for many domestic tourists and commuters) has instituted a new short-term parking system, basically removing free parking in the streets of the capital.

Driving has become more expensive when everything else seems to be costly, and many Austrians turn to train travel. Particularly for those who are holders of the Klimaticket, a yearly subsidised card that allows for unlimited travel for just over €1,000 – early buyers could get a hold of the ticket for under €900.

READ ALSO: Nine German expressions that perfectly sum up spring in Austria

The ticket allows travellers to “hop on and hop off” as they wish, making occupancy more unpredictable. However, it is possible to reserve seats even if you have them, and there are low-budget bundles for commuters.

The Klimaticket was created in an effort with the Environmental Ministry, looking to increase the use of greener transport alternatives in Austria.

The environmental concern is also one of the reasons why train travel is on the rise globally – travelling by train is also more convenient in many cases, with comfortable seats, free wifi, a dining area and the fact that you can start and end your journey in central stations instead of far-away airports.

READ ALSO: OPINION: Trains are in fashion so why is rail travel across Europe still so difficult?

Why won’t ÖBB only sell as many tickets as there are train seats?

A reasonable question, but that is not possible with the way train journeys operate in Austria – and in most countries.

Some tickets are “open” and flexible, meaning that people can board any train from a specific time. These are particularly useful for commuters who might be late leaving work, for example.

Additionally, holders of the Klimaticket and other regional yearly offers don’t need to buy tickets. They only need to show their Klimaticket card with an ID once checked.

READ ALSO: Austria’s nationwide public transport ‘climate ticket’ now available

What is ÖBB doing to avoid overcrowding?

After the several incidents of overcrowding when people even had to leave their trains despite having valid tickets, ÖBB announced it would bring additional trains for the peak season around the holidays (May 26th, June 5th and 6th and June 16th), increasing the number of seats by “thousands”, according to a press statement.

What can I do to guarantee my journey?

Despite the increase in offer, the operator still warns that “on certain trains, demand can still exceed capacity”.

The best way to try and guarantee your journey, according to ÖBB, is by reserving a seat.

READ ALSO: One day in Vienna: How to spend 24 hours in the Austrian capital

“A seat reservation is the best way to use the most popular train connections. Starting at €3, you can reserve a seat in ÖBB trains in Austria”.

Reservations are available online at tickets.oebb.at the ÖBB app, at the ÖBB ticket counter, and at the ÖBB customer service at 05-1717.

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