The pros and cons of expat life in Vienna

2 June 2017

With its baroque beauty and cultural riches, Vienna is an archetypal European city, and one that always ranks highly for expats. It has topped Mercer's ranking since 2011, and The Economist ranked it second in its 2015 study that looked at 127 world cities. Yet it is a complex picture and if you are considering relocating there, be aware that beauty may be skin deep.

Pros: High quality of life

A report by InterNations notes that 67% of expats in Austria say they feel secure in their current job and are also incredibly happy with the balance between their professional and personal lives. In fact, the report places Austria as second of 67 countries in terms of work/life balance, adding: "Those figures might explain why 32% of expats consider staying in Austria for life." Austria also comes tenth in the league table of earnings versus typical hours worked, with a typical worker in Austria being paid $28.36/hour, according to the OECD. As the capital, Vienna embodies these national qualities: its streets are clean and safe, and it offers expats a highly efficient and extensive public transport system and high-quality schooling and healthcare.

Cons: Not such a warm welcome?

There has been some criticism of Vienna as an unwelcoming city, at least at first. Expat stories abound of spending years living in the city but making few friends outside the expat community. Despite its location and cosmopolitan history, English is not as widely spoken as in other European capital cities. Once (and if) accepted by the locals, you will undoubtedly enjoy it – but it may take a while.

Pros: Cultural riches

If you have an ounce of culture in your soul, you will fall instantly in love with Vienna. The patronage of the wealthy Habsburgs in the 18th and 19th centuries made this city the beating heart of European culture, and home to many of its most noted composers from Strauss and Schubert to Mozart and Mahler. It features street after street of imposing architecture: churches, palaces, opera houses and theatres and of course the famous Viennese coffee shops, as frequented by famous former Viennese resident Sigmund Freud. Revel in the faded elegance of a truly beautiful European city.

Cons: Old-fashioned

The history that has created such a cultural marvel also creates problems for expats who are more used to more progressive locations. Moreover, Vienna is not as commercially vibrant as other European hubs such as London, Frankfurt and Paris. A common complaint amongst expats is that most shops are still closed on Sundays (although this is gradually changing). There is also a surprisingly open attitude to alcohol and smoking that expats may find almost anachronistic.

Pros: Location

Located in the heart of Europe, Vienna is an excellent base for European travel. It straddles Eastern and Western Europe, with close links to Italy and the Balkans on one side, but is also firmly part of the DACH (Germany, Austria, Switzerland) group of countries. Its location, along with its historical importance, has made it a key transport hub enabling easy rail and road access to the rest of the continent. Expats clearly love spending time in Vienna but if they do get bored, they have plenty of alternatives to choose from.

Cons: Long grey winters

Sun lovers, however, may find themselves travelling South whenever they can. Vienna has long, grey winters and daily maximum temperatures in December and January barely creep above freezing. With the Alps nearby, the opportunity for winter sports may offer some compensation, but if you spend a winter in Vienna you will need to either wrap up warm or spend a lot of time in the (very cosy and beautiful) coffee shops. There are worse things to do with your time off.

Summary

The buildings, the culture and the sheer historic beauty are an obvious attraction, and provided you take enough clothing to survive an Austrian winter, there are many things to enjoy in Vienna. It is no wonder the Viennese are so proud of their city – just a shame that it sometimes feels like they’re not that keen on sharing it with everyone else.

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