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The downsides of moving to the Austrian mountains

Many people move to the Austrian mountains with idyllic thoughts of a simpler life surrounded by nature, but what is the reality? The Local’s Hayley Maguire, who has spent four years in Tyrol, explains what you need to know.

The downsides of moving to the Austrian mountains
Living in the Austrian mountains is a dream come true, but not without some challenges. Photo by Stephen Seeber / Pexels.

Living in the Austrian mountains is a dream come true for many people – and with good reason.

The Alps are a natural playground of mountains, lakes and forests with lots of space and fresh air to enjoy.

The standard of living is incredibly high with a world-class healthcare system and a strong focus on work/life balance.

But life in the mountains is not without its challenges, such as long winters, difficulties with learning the local language and a slower pace of life.

If you’re considering moving to the Austrian mountains, here are a few downsides you should be aware of.

FOR MEMBERS: Six things to expect when you move to the Austrian mountains

Everything is expensive

If you move to the Alps after living in an expensive city like London or Paris, you might think living in the Alps is cheap, or at least comparable to other European locations. 

But don’t be fooled – living in the Austrian mountains is not cheap. In fact, it’s really expensive.

While there are plenty of free outdoor activities to enjoy (hiking, running, cycling, cross country skiing), everything else seems to come with a premium price tag, from food to rent and petrol.

According to the comparison website, local purchasing power in Innsbruck in Tyrol is 15 percent lower than in Vienna. 

To break it down even further, groceries in Innsbruck are six percent higher than in the capital, restaurant prices are almost 19 percent more expensive and petrol prices are seven percent higher.

The result is a beautiful place to live but one that will certainly make your bank account work for it.

READ MORE: Cost of living: 45 ways to save money in Austria

You need to learn German – and dialect

Austria is officially classed as a German-speaking country, but the reality is most Austrians speak a dialect

In the Alps, locals either speak a form of Alemannic, which originates from Switzerland, or a variation of the Austro-Bavarian dialect that is prominent in large parts of Austria.

Dialects then vary further between provinces and districts, sometimes to such an extent it can sound like a different language.

Essentially, Austrian dialect is a spoken language, not written. This means if you go into a restaurant, the menu will probably be in German. Or if you have to fill out an official form, it will be in German. But the people working in the restaurant or local government office will probably speak dialect.

This can cause confusion for people hoping to practice their German skills – especially when language schools in the Alps teach Hoch Deutsch (High German), which is rarely spoken by local people. 

However, life is made a little easier for English speakers as many people in Austria have a high level of English-language skills – especially in bigger cities and tourist areas.

The solution for many international residents in the Austrian mountains is to speak a mixture of German and English (otherwise known as Denglish), with a few dialect words thrown in – depending on the area.

Austria: Just how good does your German have to be to gain residency and citizenship?

Rear view of Man sitting on rope bridge looking at Mountain landscape. Lonely man enjoying the view from Schlegeis Stausee (Schlegeis Lake) in Tyrol, Austria. Man looking at Schlegeis glacier and beautiful blue lake in the mountains of Tirol, Austria.

The job market is limited and salaries can be low

The Alps region of Austria is mostly made up of small towns and villages with a couple of bigger cities like Innsbruck and Salzburg. This means the job market is limited when compared to Vienna, Graz and Linz.

For many people that move to the mountains, this can result in making a career change or working on a freelance basis and working with companies remotely.

But for those that do choose to find a job locally, it’s worth nothing that many districts in the Alps have some of the lowest wages in Austria.

For example, a 2021 salary report by StepStone showed the average gross national salary in Austria for full-time work was €52,000. But in Tyrol the average salary was €49,028 (apart from in Innsbruck where the average salary was €51,700). 

One of the reasons why salaries are lower in Tyrol is because only 47 percent of people in the province work full-time all year round. This is due to high levels of tourism and hospitality jobs with many hotels and tourism businesses shutting down temporarily between the winter and summer seasons.

This has an impact on people’s earning potential, which is something to consider when moving to the mountains. 

FOR MEMBERS: Can I work for my foreign employer as a self-employed person in Austria?

Be prepared for lots of tourists in the winter

According to the Tyrolean government website, around five million people visit Tyrol each year and there are more than 340,000 beds available in hotels and holiday accommodation.

The only exception to the tourism boom was the winter of 2020/2021 when the industry shut down due to Covid-19 and the subsequent restrictions. For the first time in decades, locals enjoyed skiing and snowboarding on almost empty slopes and there was excited talk of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience the region without tourists.

In reality though, the Alps need tourists for local economies to thrive, and most businesses welcomed back winter tourists with open arms in late December 2021.

For local residents, it meant a frustrating return to traffic jams, full car parks and busy ski slopes, but it’s all part of the experience of living in the mountains.

The weather is extreme

It’s well known that the winter season in the Austrian mountains is long and cold with lots of snow. But many international residents end up being surprised at just how warm the summer months can be.

It’s not unusual for temperatures to reach the early 30s in the peak summer months of July and August, often followed by thunder storms in the early evening. 

But in the recent years the weather has become quite extreme.

A prime example is from July 2021 when torrential rain flooded the city centre of Kufstein in Tyrol and the river Kothbach burst its banks in Salzburg causing damage across the city. And in March 2022, forest fires were reported in Tyrol after several weeks of dry conditions, despite thick snow still coating the mountains.

It’s also not uncommon for snow to fall on the mountains for a couple of days in August before the temperature rises again and it’s back to bikini weather.

The trick is to always keep a pair of sunglasses and a warm jacket close to hand, so that you can be ready for anything.

READ ALSO: Six of the best things to do in spring in Vienna

Moving to the Austrian mountains is still worth it

Despite a few drawbacks of living in the Austrian mountains, the lifestyle is still worth it.

Yes, residents spend a lot of money on rent and daily living essentials, but being able to access hiking trails, natural lakes and ski resorts without having to travel more than makes up for it.

Just be sure to do your homework before relocating, learn some German and don’t be afraid to connect with other internationals living in the mountains. They can help you to navigate the local culture and provide tips on the best places to live.

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Wild weather in Austria: How to protect yourself during summer storms

With violent storms becoming increasingly common in Austria, here’s how to protect yourself (and your home) this summer.

Wild weather in Austria: How to protect yourself during summer storms

Storms are a regular occurrence in Austria during the summer months, but the strength and frequency seems to be increasing.

Overnight on Tuesday, June 28th, both the Pöllinger and the Treffner rivers in Carinthia burst their banks causing widespread flooding, mudslides and damage across the region.

Reports on Wednesday morning said the villages of Treffen am Ossiacher See and Arriach (Villach-Land district) were still metres under water and several people had been rescued from the deluge.

READ ALSO: Who to call and what to say in an emergency in Austria

According to ORF, emergency services were still struggling to reach some areas and there were unconfirmed reports of missing people.

A Tweet from Unwetter-Freaks said: “Bad pictures from #Arriach in #Kärnten , which was hit by several storm cells last night. According to ORF, the place is currently cut off from the outside world and cannot be reached by the emergency services.”

Earlier this week, rural areas in Upper Austria were also hit by storms (overnight, June 27th) bringing torrential rain and hail the size of golf balls, which caused extensive damage to crops and grassland in the key agricultural state.

READ ALSO: 23 essential articles to help you navigate life in Austria

The Klaus reservoir had to be drained of 200 cubic metres of water to avoid flooding and trees were brought down across the province by wind gusts – some up to 91 km/h.

The Kronen Zeitung reports the storm caused damage to around 16,000 hectares of agriculture land, with insurers estimating the cost to be up to €6.5 million.

One Tweet showed the size of the hail on Monday night and read: “In the night we had ‘light’ hail.”

Storms then hit the region again on Tuesday night leading to a lightning strike on a hay barn in the Mühlviertel and the flooding of an underground car park in Linz.

With the summer season far from over and the possibility of more wild weather in the coming months, here’s how to stay safe during storms in Austria.

FOR MEMBERS: When and where to avoid driving in Austria this summer

Check the weather report

It might sound obvious, but checking the weather forecast should be at the top of the list of summer storm preparations.

Unlike in the past, weather reports are now typically reliable, and apps like Bergfex and Accuweather are well-known for providing detailed forecasts and weather warnings.

However, long-range forecasts can change quickly, so if you’re planning a camping or hiking trip, be sure to check the weather between 24 and 48 hours before to avoid being caught out.

Additionally, the Österreichischen Unwetterzentrale (Austrian Severe Weather Centre) has regular updates about storms and weather forecasts for Austria and users can sign up for email and SMS notifications.

Stay indoors

According to the organisation, Die Helfer Wiens (The Helpers of Vienna) one of the biggest risks during a storm is being hit by a fallen tree or flying debris.

For this reason, they advise people (and pets) to stay indoors during a storm and close all windows and doors. 

If staying in a tent or campervan, it’s also a good idea to seek shelter in a building (if possible) until the storm has passed.

However, if you are outside during lightning, the Austrian Red Cross says the best approach is to crouch down into a ball to reduce the amount of contact you have with the floor.

READ MORE: How to keep your apartment cool in Austria this summer amid rising energy prices

Stay away from the cellar

Cellars and underground car parks can quickly become flooded during heavy rain – as seen in recent storms in Upper Austria and Carinthia, and last year during violent storms across Austria.

Flash flooding can happen quickly (the clue is in the name), so stay away from cellars and underground spaces during a storm and call the emergency services if you suspect a flood in your home.

Remove plants and furniture from balconies

Having plants and flowers on a balcony is a lovely way to brighten up an outside space, but they risk being damaged during a storm.

To safeguard your pots and lovingly-planted flora, move them inside – especially during a thunderstorm with strong wind gusts and lightning.

The same applies to any outdoor furniture that could be damaged by wind or hail, like cushions, decorative objects and sun umbrellas.

Park cars under shelter

Hail is one of the leading causes of dents to bodywork on cars and damage to windscreens, both of which can be costly to repair.

If hail is forecast during a storm, park a car in a garage or under shelter, if possible. 

If strong wind is expected, then avoid parking a car under trees as debris, or even the tree itself, could end up landing on the vehicle.

FOR MEMBERS: EXPLAINED: How Austria banned everyone from the forest for 123 years

Don’t go into the forest

Whether walking or driving, the best advice is to stay from the forest or areas with lots of trees during a storm.

While sheltering under a tree can protect from rain or hail, lightning or strong wind can bring down trees. This makes the forest a dangerous place to be in a storm.

But if you do find yourself in the unfortunate position of being in a forest when a thunderstorm hits, stay away from low branches and tree trunks and crouch down low. Place any walking sticks or metal poles away from you and stay away from metal fences.

Avoid risky activities

Certain outdoor activities are especially hazardous if there’s a lightning storm. 

Any activity in an open area or that puts you into contact with water or metal is strongly advised against. So that means fishing, swimming, boating, cycling and golfing are out until the storm is over. 

Keep torches and candles ready

Power cuts are common during storms, so keep a stock of candles and torches ready in case you end up without electricity for several hours.

It’s also a good idea to have a portable USB charger to make sure your phone doesn’t run out of battery during an emergency.

Who to call in an emergency

These are the numbers to call if you need help from the Austrian emergency services during a storm.

122 – fire service (Feuerwehr).

133 – police (Polizei).

144 – ambulance (Krankenwagen or Rettungswagen).

120 – ÖAMTC emergency breakdown service.

123 – ARBÖ emergency breakdown service.

140 – mountain rescue.

Finally, 112 is the single European emergency number, whose operators will direct you to the relevant services. This number can even be called on a locked mobile phone without needing the pin.

Find out more with The Local’s guide on who to call and what to say in an emergency.