Vienna is a beautiful, multicultural city. There is plenty of history, beautiful architecture, many green areas and everything is nicely connected with its public transport – available for as little as one euro a day for residents who purchase the yearly ticket.
The Austrian capital is constantly topping rankings of best cities to live in, and it’s affordable too, especially when considering the rental prices not only for other European capitals but even inside of Austria.
However, not all is perfect in the imperial city. Here are a few things you should know when moving to Vienna.
It’s not known for its friendliness
While Vienna ranks top for the quality of life, it has also shown up in international and expat ratings as the world’s “least friendly city”.
The Viennese grumpiness is famous even among Austrians, and if you bother a local, they will let you know. However, people are also very private and extend the courtesy of giving you your privacy, which can be confused as unfriendly.
It’s also not easy making friends with the locals, especially if you arrive in the city not knowing anyone to help bridge that connection.
Housing can be expensive – and very difficult to find
Affordable housing is one of the advantages of living in Vienna, but that can be tricky. The ridiculously low rents you hear of are usually because of either state housing, very old contracts, or both.
People who are just moving into Vienna usually can’t benefit from either offer and will end up with much higher rent or taking forever to find an affordable place.
Making matters worse, the moving-in costs are very high in Austria’s capital. You usually pay two to three (sometimes more) months’ rent as a security deposit, then you probably will need to pay for the brokerage fee (unless you are lucky to find one Provisionfrei place) of two months’ rent.
You might also be asked to pay for an Ablöse, which could include furniture or reparations that a previous tenant made to the house.
Finally, first rent is paid upfront, so it’s not uncommon for people to spend almost a year’s worth of rent before ever setting foot in a new place.
That’s not even counting the costs of furnishing a new apartment or paying for bills such as heating and electricity.
They speak German, sort of
Well, duh. Austria is a German-speaking country. Although learning new languages is always a positive thing, German has a well-deserved reputation for being very difficult.
Between the different cases or learning if an inanimate object is masculine, feminine, or neutral, it can be difficult.
Although most Austrians, especially in Vienna, can speak English, they are not known to willingly do so. Many expats have tales of when their Austrian acquaintances decided “they should’ve learned German already”.
When you finally do learn a bit of the language, you also realise that not only Austrian German is different from the Hoch Deutsch you might learn in a course or an online app, the Viennese also have a particular dialect that, while it’s not nearly as complicated as Vorarlberg or Tyrol regional accents, presents its challenges as well.
You might get by with English or a broken version of German for a very long time in Vienna, though, but it won’t be pleasant. And, as mentioned, the Austrians will let you know you are not doing well enough.
Xenophobia and racism
There is no going around this: despite being a fairly historic multicultural city, Vienna still suffers from cases of xenophobia and racism.
The civil group Zara, which works to dismantle racism in Austria, received almost 2,000 reports of systemic racism in 2021. These are not just the countless instances of people suffering in their daily lives with comments and actions in the streets, but allegations of systemic racism, including cases within the Viennese police.
Almost every single foreigner in Vienna will have stories ranging from them being told they were “good immigrants” to cases of physical violence.
(Here’s a link where you can find counselling centres for racism cases)
Austria, and Vienna in particular, is a smoker’s paradise. Only recently has smoking been banned in indoor public areas (and there are still groups trying to bring it back), and people are still very much into it.
You will smell it everywhere, at any time. Taxi drivers smoke inside their cars (though not with you in them anymore), doctors will smoke just outside your door before a house call, parents smoke in children’s parks (some of them even had to add “no smoking signs”), and people still smoke inside their homes with all windows closed – it’s a cold country after all.
And speaking of which…
The weather is insane
Obviously, Austria has cold winters; after all, skiing is the national sport.
But Vienna is a big city, you won’t see beautiful mountain snow scenery here. Instead, there will be Gatsch, that muddy snow that has the power to ruin your day.
Or your endless night, since the Viennese winter is famous for being long and grey, with very few sunny days.
As for summers, they are hot. Extremely hot. The I’m-getting-scared-about-global-warming type of heat. Many Viennese skip town (and country) altogether, especially as heatwaves become more common in Europe.
Bureaucracy and taxes
This can be challenging. Even though Vienna aims to be a more welcoming city for businesses, with expat centres offering free advice to startups, the whole country is founded on bureaucracy.
Things need to be done by mail (even when you want to go online, your government-issued password will arrive in the good old post), most government workers are not even allowed to speak English with you and sometimes reading about Austrian laws and regulations feels like walking into an unbeatable maze.
And then there are taxes.
One of the reasons why Austria can afford such an extensive social system (and it is good: from public transport to social housing, parks, and the many social payments) is precisely because you pay a lot in taxes.
If you are a self-employed person without a company to pay its part into the system, then, well, be prepared to pay up. Social security payments can eat up almost a third of your earnings, and then you’ll still have to pay income taxes.
A small-town vibe
Don’t ever say this to an Austrian, but if you come from a country with big cities, even the capital Vienna (six times larger than Austria’s second most populous city Graz) can feel like a small town.
There are entertainment options, but nothing compared to European metropolises like Paris, London, Berlin or even neighbouring Budapest. New restaurants and bars are not easy to come by, and, notoriously, the country closes down on Sundays (and after work hours).
Since shops and supermarkets are not allowed to open on Sundays, even the busiest commercial streets seem like ghost towns during those days.
Austrians will fiercely tell you this is part of their defence of the quality of life, that workers are entitled to a day off, and that Sundays are for families or going outside. But when you are left with an empty fridge on a Sunday morning, that can be tough to swallow.
It is still worth it
Despite all of this, Vienna is still one of the best cities in the world to live in.
It might be hard to make new Austrian friends, but they will be live-long adventure partners once you do. Finding a place downtown might be tricky, but you can also look around all over the city because the public transport is so good and Vienna so safe that there are really no bad neighbourhoods.
Once you start learning German, it’s easy to see how much fun the language can be. I mean, it’s a language that calls a hospital a “sick house”, an ambulance a “sick car”, a nurse a “sick sister”. It’s like playing with Lego blocks and building something unique. Or being ridiculously specific and describing a feeling like wanderlust or fernweh.
It’s also a multicultural city. About a third of its residents are foreign-born or with a “migration background”. Walk the streets of Vienna, and you will hear languages and see people from all over the world.
The weather is crazy, but nobody enjoys each and every season quite like an Austrian. The city is wholly theirs, and there are several options (free, outdoors, in nature) to enjoy yourself all year round. The small-town vibe makes it so that you can recognise your neighbours, you can ride all over town and enjoy every part of the city or, of course, hop on a bus or train and be in a different country in minutes.
There’s no redeeming quality when it comes to all the smoking or the bureaucracy (and, of course, the racism) – sort these out already, Vienna!