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Austria explained For Members

Why do foreigners find Austria such a difficult country to settle in?

Rachel Loxton
Rachel Loxton - [email protected]
Why do foreigners find Austria such a difficult country to settle in?
People hike in the Austrian Alps. Joining a Verein is a good way to make friends in Austria. (Image: Sébastien Goldberg / Unsplash)

A survey ranked Austria as the second worst country for foreigners to get settled in. We look at some of the reasons foreigners struggle and give tips.

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Austria is often praised for the high quality of life it offers, with Vienna recently scooping the title of world's most liveable city for the second year in a row. 

READ ALSO: Vienna tops ranking of world’s most liveable cities – again

But surveys also highlight the difficulties that foreigners face while living in Austria. 

In this year's InterNations' Expat Insider Survey, Austria ranked overall in the 42nd spot out of a total of 53 destinations. But there is one area where Austria received an abysmal score - the Alpine country landed in 52nd out of 53 in the Ease of Settling In as a foreign resident category - only ahead of Kuwait.

This is a bit of a trend - Austria has been in the bottom 10 of this category in nine out of the past 10 years. 

READ ALSO: Austria ranked as one of the 'unfriendliest countries in the world'

So just what it could be that makes living in Austria difficult for international residents? 

Dealing with unfriendliness

Here's an area where Austria scored particularly badly. So badly, in fact, that it landed right at the bottom of the ranking. 

InterNations said in their study: "Austrians are considered the unfriendliest locals worldwide, both in general and towards foreign residents in particular (it ranks 53rd for both)".

More than two in five international residents (43 percent) find that the locals are particularly unfriendly towards foreign residents, compared to 18 percent globally, the research found. 

One things to keep in mind is that Austria doesn't really have a culture of small talk like many other places, including the UK and North America.

Austrians are so disillusioned with the idea of small talk that they don’t even normally use a German word to describe it – the English loan word der Smalltalk is used instead.

This lack of friendly chit-chat can leave people feeling alienated. 

InterNations said it was "hardly surprising that 33 percent do not feel welcome in Austria, more than twice the global average (15 percent)".

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TIP: Don't take it personally. When you arrive in Austria from abroad, it's easy to feel disturbed by the lack of small talk and smiles between strangers (especially if you've come from a culture where that is the norm). 

The key is to not let it bother you. So the shop assistant barked at you for not packing your bags quick enough? So what. Maybe you got something wrong when recycling. It's not the end of the world!

So it can be a cultural difference in communication. Instead of ruminating on these encounters, focus on the good bits of living in Austria.  

However, if someone is purposefully rude to you, we recommend walking away. They are not worth your time. 

It's hard to make friends

Given the reputation of Austrians being unfriendly, it's no surprise then that international residents said they found it difficult to make connections with the local population. 

A couple with a dog sit in front of the Cafe Museum in Vienna on February 1, 2021.

A couple with a dog sit in front of the Cafe Museum in Vienna on February 1, 2021. (Photo by ALEX HALADA / AFP)

A massive 58 percent of respondents to the survey said they find it hard to make local friends in Austria (compared to 36 percent globally).

It is tricky making friends in a new country as an adult, and especially in a country where the locals are more closed off. 

But once you get to know an Austrian, they usually turn into a friend for life. So it's worth the wait of sticking with the friendship. 

TIP: Join a Verein! Yes, Austrians love organised activities such as those in a club or association (known as a Verein in German). 

The number of registered clubs in Austria has been rising and there are currently around 125,000 Vereine. 

Whether you're into chess, knitting, hiking, singing or sports, there will be a club for you. It's a great way to get involved and meet lots of different people from all backgrounds.

Plus you'll be integrating into the local culture which will get you brownie points and make you feel more at home. 

READ ALSO: How to start a Verein in Austria

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Learning German is super hard

In general, Austria ranked below the global average for Expat Essentials (41st), and in the 47th spot in the language subcategory. 

Foreigners in the InterNations survey said they struggled with learning German, with 56 percent of those questioned saying they found it difficult to learn - but necessary to live in Austria. According to 45 percent, it's hard to live there without the language

It's no secret that German is a tough one to master, with grammar proving a particularly tricky aspect. 

The Local readers have also said that not being fluent enough in the language is an obstacle to forging close and long-lasting friendships.

TIP: The only way around this is to keep trying. It's said often but the real key to getting comfortable with speaking a language is to simply do it, and not worry about the mistakes that you make.

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Try setting up a tandem partner where you can practice your German in a safe environment. Or go to class (that's another great way of meeting people). 

Learning a language can be hard work.

Learning a language can be hard work. Photo by Nick Morrison on Unsplash

Another way to get familiar with German is to travel. Why not arrange a solo trip to a part of Austria where English isn't spoken widely (hint hint - not Vienna!)? You can get to know a new part of the country while also throwing yourself in at the deep end by speaking German on the trip. And yes, you may also pick up some local dialects which will give you an even greater understanding of the country.

READ ALSO: 'Brutal' - what it's really like to learn German in Austria

Low job satisfaction

Although Austria had a fairly high score in the Working Abroad index of the InterNations survey (it ranked 24th out of 53), there were some aspects that international residents were unhappy with. 

The respondents in the InterNations survey revealed their overall job satisfaction as low, with 19 percent saying they are generally unhappy with their job. 

Meanwhile, 29 percent are unhappy with their personal career opportunities (compared to 22 percent globally), with the country ranking 44th for this factor.

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And just 52 percent said that moving to Austria has improved their career prospects. 

TIP: For foreigners who are still working on their German, it's tricky to move around the job market. But it is possible to find English-speaking jobs in Austria. 

Austria has many international companies, making it a good place for foreign jobseekers. Vienna, for instance, is home to global employers, including the United Nations, Accenture, Microsoft, Google, Boston Consulting Group, KPMG, IBM and L’Oréal. 

Linz is Austria’s second largest economic area and another popular location for international companies, with Borealis, BMW and Siemens all based in the city.

READ ALSO:

Networking and LinkedIn are useful tools. Make sure your LinkedIn profile is updated and complete, as this is where many employers look first. And don't be afraid to network with companies that you have your eye on.

The InterNations survey found that the top employment sectors for foreigners in Austria were IT (14 percent), manufacturing and engineering (11 percent) and education (8 percent). 

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