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LIVING IN AUSTRIA

Cost of living: 45 ways to save money in Austria

Inflation has pushed up the cost of living in Austria as elsewhere, but we've collected dozens of tips to help you get the most out of life here without needing to push your budget to the limit.

Cost of living: 45 ways to save money in Austria
Photo: Daniel J Schwarz/Unsplash

Culture

If you are living on a low income there is no need to sacrifice your culture fix, thanks to the Hunger auf Kunst und Kultur initiative which gives you free access to museums, art exhibitions, theatre and music performances across the country.

If you do not meet the strict requirements for that card, you could save money by getting either an annual card for your favourite museum if you’re a repeat visitor, or finding a combination ticket to suit you.

The Bundes Museen Card will give you a one-time entry to eight museums for €59, making entrance roughly half price, while the €75 annual membership of the Gesellschaft der Freunde der bildenden Künste allows you to visit 15 museums nationwide (but mostly in Vienna) for free and gives you a discount to the Albertina Modern as well as access to regular events. For students and family members of card-holders, it costs less.

If you’re a good planner, you might be able to visit the same museums for even less. Several museums offer free or discounted entry on Austrian National Day on October 27th each year, so check their websites when that date rolls around.

And every first Sunday of the month, several spots in Vienna open their doors for free: the Hermesvilla in Lainzer Tiergarten , the Roman Museum, the Pratermuseum, the Beethoven Museum, the Clock Museum, the Otto Wagner Pavilion and of course the location on Karlsplatz. Every Tuesday, the Austrian Museum of Applied Arts has extended opening hours and reduced admission.

For parents in Vienna, the municipally-run summer, spring and winter camps are just €50 a week, including lunch and snacks, dropping to €25 a week for siblings. 

Most of Vienna’s famous opera houses and theatres offer cheap tickets, though you’ll generally either need to book in advance or make your peace with a restricted view. The blog Visiting Vienna has a comprehensive guide to the best offers.

Groceries

Be savvy with your supermarket shopping. Discounters Hofer, Lidl and Penny Markt generally offer cheaper prices than the larger chains Billa and Spar, and/or you can sign up to your preferred supermarkets’ loyalty programme to start earning discounts, as well as checking out budget brands such as Billa’s Clever line and Spar Budget. If you happen to live near one of Austria’s borders, it’s worth doing your research to see if it’s cheaper to shop in your neighbouring country and, if so, which products you’ll get the biggest savings on.

Buying food that’s local and in-season is good for the planet and often cheaper, and when living abroad you will also save by eating what the locals eat. Buying food from ordinary supermarkets is of course much better value than hunting down home comforts at international food stores, or you can try asking on expat Facebook groups for tips for an Austrian equivalent to your favourite treat from your home country.

Most supermarkets discount food that is approaching its best-before date, and Saturday afternoons can be a good time to snap up these offers before Sunday closures (just be prepared for crowds!). The online supermarket Gurkerl also gives you the option to buy food at a cheaper price if it’s nearly out of date.

Another way to reduce food waste while saving money is the Too Good to Go app, where you can buy food that would otherwise be thrown away by supermarkets, restaurants and cafes.

And check if there is a Buy Nothing group or similar for your neighbourhood, where people give away food they do not have a use for.

For those on a very low income, Austria has ‘social markets’ where you can buy essential items at a reduced price. Find a map for the offerings in Vienna, selling everything from pet food to electronics to groceries, by clicking here.

READ MORE: How to save money on fuel costs in Austria

Bills

Unlike some countries, it’s usual to pay a monthly fee for your bank account in Austria. Pay close attention to the terms and conditions; sometimes you can get the account for free for the first year so it may pay to switch your bank, or you may be able to reduce the cost by meeting certain conditions such as going paperless or making regular direct debits.

Alternatively, you can find a free bank, for example online bank N26 (though this does have a one-time fee if you want a physical card).

If you send money to and from your home country, track exchange rates and use a transfer service that gets you a good deal, such as Wise, rather than sending it via your bank.

Check for referral schemes where you can get a bonus if a friend signs up for a service using your code. These are relatively common with banks, insurance programmes, and even food delivery apps for example.

If you’re renting, look into Austrian renter protections beforehand and check if your apartment is subject to rent control. There are rules in place in Austria which set a cap on the amount of rent that is possible to charge, and knowing your rights can save you hundreds per month.

When you’re looking for a new rental, try to find one without commission (Provision) especially if you will only be renting short-term — these fees are usually around three times the monthly rent, so if you stay for one year it’s equivalent to paying 25 percent more each month, but if you do find a Provision-fee home, make sure the price hasn’t been hiked up in other ways.

READ MORE: Is it better to buy or to rent property in Austria?

Use comparison websites like Durchblicker or E-control to see if you could save money on bills and insurance by switching provider.

Reduce your electricity consumption. When replacing devices, consider how energy efficient your replacement is. You can compare this at the website TopProdukte for example. And do what you can to keep your home well-insulated and reduce draughts, especially in an old building.

If you don’t watch TV or listen to radio, you can opt out of the GIS licence fee and save yourself over €300 per year. Or if you only use your TV for streaming, consider whether it’s worth paying a one-time fee to have the tuner removed, which means you can legally avoid the licence fee.

EXPLAINED: How to pay Austria’s TV and radio tax, or (legally) avoid it

Austria has several subsidies and exemptions available for low-income households so make sure you use these if eligible. They include exemptions from the licence fee and a heating cost subsidy called Heizkostenzuschuss, but also cheaper monthly public transport passes in many cities.

Check your monthly and annual subscriptions. Are you using all the services you pay for, or do you have options to reduce the cost such as teaming up with someone for a family subscription? Set reminders to review these, especially if they have minimum contract times.

Do your tax return! It’s not the most fun task, but it could help you reclaim some taxes on work-related expenses, even if you aren’t obligated to fill one out. You can claim back deductions up to five years later.

For self-employed people, check out which deductions and bonuses you’re eligible for.

That doesn’t just mean making sure to include all expenses related to your business in your accounts, but also using programmes such as Selbständig gesund to reduce the amount you pay for doctor’s visits by having a check-up and sticking to (usually quite simple) health goals, or claiming a €100 bonus if you’ve had all your recommended vaccines with the Geimpft Gesund programme.

Travel

Austria’s public transport is generally very reasonably priced, but it’s worth doing your research to make sure you get the ticket that makes most sense for you.

You’ll pay less per journey as a regular traveller if you get a monthly or annual ticket, but if you can cycle or walk most of the time, that could be even cheaper, or if you’re often travelling cross-country the annual Klimaticket could make more sense.

When travelling to and from the airport in Vienna, do not get the official airport train. The S-Bahn and regional trains will get you to the centre in almost the same amount of time at a fraction of the cost: €4.20 or a steal at €1.80 if you already have a Vienna public transport ticket.

Book in advance with a Sparschiene ticket by national train operator ÖBB. This is a reduced rate ticket with prices starting at €9.90, and you can even get cheap fares on international journeys.

Not much of a planner? ÖBB also offers the Einfach raus ticket which you can buy on the day of travel, and allows you to get on a wide range of trains within Austria and take unlimited journeys, from €35 for two people and just €4 more for each extra person up to a maximum of five.

Prepare snacks for your journey at home, such as a sandwich and coffee in a thermos, rather than paying hiked-up prices en route.

If you travel by car, you can use the ÖAMTC website to compare fuel prices and find the cheapest option near you. It’s also worth investing in an annual vignette (motorway tax) if you regularly travel on motorways. An annual pass for a car in 2022 costs €93.80, whereas a 10-day vignette costs €9.60.

Dining and drinking out

Like in many countries, in Austria it is often cheaper to buy a restaurant meal at lunch rather than in the evening, at least on weekdays, so you can save by planning your meals out this way.

The website The Fork allows you to book at some restaurants for a discount as well as earning loyalty points.

Or skip the restaurants altogether. There’s plenty of good street food in Austria’s cities, from the Viennese sausage stands (a true institution — and these days you’ll often find vegetarian options too) to market stalls and roasted chestnut and potato stalls in the cooler months.

Find special promotions from happy hours to flash discounts by following your favourite restaurants on social media.

Self care

Hair salons are fairly expensive in Austria, but if you’re quite flexible on what style you go for, you can save by looking for those that need models. Again, following salons on social media can pay off as you might see discounts offered after last-minute cancellations.

Looking after your health often pays off in the long run, and it’s good to be aware that every adult in Austria is entitled to a free annual health check-up. Just ask your health insurance provider for details.

READ MORE: Six helpful tips to save money on food shopping in Austria

Shopping

Hit the flea markets or secondhand stores when you want to buy things like clothes or furniture, or check out sites like Refurbed to buy refurbished electricals at a lower cost.

Or if you’re buying new, get a good deal by buying when there’s a sale — you can find current brochures for a wide range of shops at the website wogibtswas.at.

If you’re buying new things because your old item broke, see if you can get it mended or fixed first. This applies to clothes and shoes, but also electricals — there are ‘repair cafes’ held around Austria where you can meet up with others and get help mending old things.

And when your electrical items are only reparable by a professional, make sure to claim Austria’s ‘repair bonus’ if you’re eligible.

READ MORE: How to get money back when electrical items break in Austria

Exercise

Look out for outdoor gyms across the country where you can workout for free, and perhaps even with a view. If you do sign up for a gym membership, it may sound obvious but you must check the contract first. It’s quite common to have a strict binding time, so make sure you know how long you’re committed for before you sign.

Vienna’s municipal swimming pools include some beautiful buildings and locations, and swimming is free for under-sevens, €1 for older children and only a couple of euros more for adults.

Keen swimmers might benefit from a six-months card granting access to all the city’s pools, which starts to pay for itself if you’re visiting more than seven times per month. Additionally, Austria is home to countless lakes with crystal clear water – many of which are free to access for swimming in the summer.

For those based in the mountains, or visiting for a holiday, avoid buying a costly ski pass by opting for cross country skiing or ski touring. There are cross country skiing trails in most alpine towns and villages that are free to use – all you will need are the skis, boots, poles and winter sport clothes.

Ski touring (hiking up mountains on special touring skis before skiing down) is also often free, although some resorts charge a small fee for accessing the piste. With day passes hitting €60 in peak season, this is a great way to enjoy the mountains without the cost.

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TAXES

EXPLAINED: The main Austrian ‘tax traps’ foreigners should be aware of

Moving to a new country results in a series of adaptations, and getting used to a different tax system is definitely one of them. Here's what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: The main Austrian 'tax traps' foreigners should be aware of

When you move into a new country, there are many things to learn and get used to.

But, unfortunately, there are also many “traps”, those differences in systems and cultures that can catch a foreigner entirely off guard while seeming normal to all native or long-time residents of a country.

In Austria, there are many particularities, not only when it comes to culture – how many times are immigrants surprised with Freikörperkultur, for example? – but also with bureaucratic and day-to-day issues.

For example, foreigners are often surprised to learn that the alpine country has a mandatory public health system with several insurers, and each person is legally required to be insured by one of them.

Which one? It depends mainly on your profession.

READ ALSO: Everything foreigners need to know about the Austrian healthcare system

When it comes to taxes, several specificities could be confusing to non-Austrians or people who have recently moved to the country. The Local spoke with Dr Rainer Kratochwill, a tax adviser, owner and CEO of steuerexperten.at, to help foreigners avoid the typical “tax traps” one may find when moving to Austria.

Documentation is key

In some countries, it may be common practice to call tax authorities directly or send letters to them trying to explain or rectify issues they might have had.

“We sometimes have to overcome the expats’ desire to explain something to the tax office over the phone or appeal to common sense. In Austria, this will probably not work.”, says Dr Kratochwill.

Austria is a very formal country in many ways. Titles and official papers (literal papers, mailed and stamped, not emails) matter.

In many circumstances, expats end up needing to draw up a cover letter with the help of a tax advisor to follow specific Austrian standards.

READ ALSO: Will inflation force tax changes in Austria from 2023?

Documentation is also absolutely essential to support the origin of funds, Kratochwill highlights.

One thing many immigrants are surprised to learn is that large gifted sums or properties need to be registered with the tax office – and it is mandatory to provide the documentation of the origin of the funds from the giver.

“This point has to be further explained to expats because they often do not understand why the donor has to be verified and what documents can be provided”, he says.

So, don’t fall into the trap of taking a laissez-faire approach to Austrian authorities and documentation.

Taxes are high – but so is the standard of living

Kratochwill noted how many of their immigrant clients are used to paying fewer taxes in their home countries. That is another trap incomers might set up for themselves: “be prepared to pay high taxes in Austria”, he says.

“But for this, you have a lot: security, good public transport, good schools and universities and much more”, he added.

READ ALSO: How to prepare for your Austrian tax return if you’re self-employed

Austria works with a bracket system for income tax. So the higher you earn, the higher the taxes – up to 55 per cent for those making a whopping €1 million after expenses.

Up to €11,000 annual income, there is no income tax. However, whatever surpasses that falls into the next bracket (from €11,000 to €18,000) and is taxed at 20 per cent.

This means that if you earn, for example, €12,000 a year netto (after expenses and deductions), € 11,000 would be tax-free, and the remaining €1,000 would be taxed at 20 per cent – you’d pay € 200 income tax for the year.

The income tax is after other social contributions that pay for compulsory health insurance, social payments, and pension funds.

Many Austrians have tax advisors

A tax advisor is not the same as an accountant. For many people, the thought of paying someone to assist with their tax return may be strange – it might seem like something only millionaires do.

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

But it is relatively common practice in Austria, as advisors support their clients to pay according to the law, but no more than what they need to.

“An important rule is to consult in advance so that there is time to make adjustments. It is often too late, but even in these situations, we help reduce the tax burden a bit through, for example, tax refunds.” Kratochwill says.

Taxes can be filed in three years

And audited even later than that.

In Austria, you have from one to five years to file your income tax (even longer if you do it through a tax advisor or in exceptional cases like during the pandemic), depending on your case. However, Dr Kratochwill advises against taking advantage of the long filing periods.

“The main thing an expat should keep in mind is to do it the right way from the beginning on and not start thinking about it after three years”.

In a country with a complex tax system, knowing your earnings and expenses, having your finances documented, and storing those files is crucial. And because tax audits can happen up to ten years after the filing (tax advisors will tell you to keep your documents for at least that long), Austrians know to keep their files for a very long time.

READ ALSO: Five things you will find in (almost) every Austrian home

This is why you will often see shelves full of binders in your local friend’s house – they are storing that receipt for that English class they took five years ago.

Do as your Austrian friend and save yourself some trouble in future years by saving your papers now.

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