14 Things To Know Before Studying in Austria

14 Things To Know Before Studying in Austria titlecard

Austria attracts thousands of international students every year. Many of them participate in exchange programs like Erasmus, but some also come to study for a full degree.

Most students have incredible experience living and attending universities in Austria. Nonetheless, do your research before you pack a suitcase to study abroad. There is a list of things you need to be aware starting from applying to arriving in Austria.

This article explains 14 things every international student in Austria should consider.

1. Austrian education is free

Outside a Glass-covered Austrian university

If you are interested in studying in Austria, the good news is that higher education is free, even for foreigners. The Austrian education system is state-funded, so even students from EU/EEA countries can get a quality education without paying hefty tuition fees. 

Public universities are free of charge for EU/EEA students, and citizens of all other countries pay only a small fee of 726 EUR per semester. Universities of Applied Sciences are even more affordable, with a semester contribution of 379,36 EUR. In that case, all students pay the fee, regardless of nationality.

However, at the Universities of Applied Sciences, everyone must pay 379,36 EUR per semester, which is still a very low price for the quality of education Austria offers.

Remember that most Bachelor’s programs in English have high tuition fees; however, there is a good chance to find a free English master’s program. You may consider private universities, which are more costly; semester fees can be as high as 10,000 EUR.

Besides, exchange students can apply for Erasmus funding to finance their stay in Austria. The additional cash will make your student life and studying at an Austrian university for an all-around relaxed and enjoyable experience.

Some of the best and free universities in Austria are:

  • University of Vienna 
  • University of Graz
  • University of Innsbruck
  • Anton Bruckner University
  • University of JOANNEUM
  • MCI Management Center Innsbruck
  • Medical University of Graz
  • FH Vorarlberg

What are the best courses to study in Austria? Read this guide!

2. Cost of living in Austria

Rent, food, health insurance, and leisure time activities are expenses students must be prepared for. As an international student, you will spend around 950 EUR to 1,200 EUR per month for a moderate lifestyle.

That means renting a room or a studio in an Austrian city, cooking most meals, eating out a few times a week, and traveling on weekends.

Renting in Austria is expensive; you probably won’t find a room under 400 EUR per month; 450-500 EUR is the typical rate. Studios start from 500 EUR per month.

Groceries are also pretty costly in Austria compared to other countries. To save money, you can shop at discounters like Hofer or Lidl. Austrian brand Spar is also quite affordable.

Everyone must have health insurance in Austria. You must purchase coverage unless you are from an EU/EEA country.

The cheapest health insurance is the private oneCare Austria, which costs less than 60 EUR per month. Other private insurance providers offer coverage from 100 EUR per month, but you will get better services. Public insurance will cost a similar amount, but not everyone is entitled to it.

Free time activities can be free. It’s all up to you and your lifestyle. Alcohol isn’t expensive in Austria, you can get a beer for 3 EUR, coffee costs the cost, yet eating out can be pricey. Expect to pay between 15-18 EUR for the main meal.

Besides, you can use a student card for several discounts, such as a yearly or monthly public transport ticket, gym, cultural events, museums, etc.

3. Vienna has the highest quality of life in Europe

People riding a coach drove by horses

For ten years, Vienna has been awarded the city with the highest quality of life in Europe and the world. This ranking considers various factors, including quality of education, crime levels, recreation options, environment, purchasing power, and even climate.

In fact, Austria ranks above the average in income and wealth, jobs and earnings, housing, health status, well-being, personal security, social connections, environmental quality, and education and skills.

Quality of living is essential when choosing a city to study abroad. There are also over 130,000 students in Vienna, making it a fantastic place to live. It’s ranked 11 in the most recent Best Student Cities index.

Moreover, Vienna has a rich cultural heritage, so it’s a top-rated travel destination. If you want to be in a truly multicultural environment, the capital of Austria is a place to be. Most students are happy to study in this cultural and financial megapolis.

However, the rest of Austria is also great for living as a student. Innsbruck, Graz, and Salzburg are all incredible cities. You should at least visit them. Besides, the universities of these cities host various educational and recreational events all semester, making meeting other students easy.

Learn how to study in English in Vienna by reading our detailed article.

4. Don’t mix Austrians and Germans

Person wearing a cowboy hat and holding a pint of beer

Some people might think Austrian and German people are the same. These countries have very similar histories, traditions, languages, food, etc. But Austrians will throw a stone at you if they hear this statement.

They are proud of not being Germans. Somehow, Germans don’t have a good reputation in Austria, although they are accepted in society as anyone else.

It’s important to realize that Germany and Austria are two different countries, as are people. Austrians have their own traditions and distinct culture.

Austria is located more down in the south; hence, people are more relaxed, chilled, and warmer. They appreciate family over work, which also makes them different from Germans.

Furthermore, there is a significant difference between Germans from the North and Austrians. It’s like comparing a Swede and an Italian.

5. Culture is everywhere

Horse statues outside a palace in Austria

Culture has an immense meaning in Austria. For instance, Vienna has fantastic opera, fine art, music, galleries, theaters, and stunning architecture. Austria is home to many well-preserved UNESCO World Heritage sites. For example, the entire Old Town in Salzburg is one of them.

The student card will give you discounts for most cultural attractions, so be sure you take advantage of it.

Viennese Baroque architecture is the most impressive in the country, with its palaces, cathedrals, and museums. Vienna is the capital of classical music; both locals and tourists enjoy listening to some compositions of Beethoven, Klimt, and Mozart.

This city has incredible museums and some fantastic music venues – including the world-famous Vienna State Opera House, where thousands of visitors flock each year to see world-class musical performances.

Another aspect of culture you will notice while living in Austria is coffee. This beverage is loved and consumed by everyone. You will see people drink it all the time, everywhere. They even have coffee machines on each corner of the city, especially in public places.

Furthermore, Viennese coffee houses are very unique. They are considered cultural and historical sites, loved by locals and tourists alike for providing a space for discussions or reading a newspaper.

In the past, they were visited by intellectuals, artists, and philosophers during the 19th century, so coffee houses developed a reputation for being cultural hubs where great minds would gather.

In the wintertime, the Christmas market is where people meet for a cup of warm Glühwein (mulled wine) and spend after-work evenings or afternoons on the weekend.

You will fall in love with these fairy tale events. Almost every small and large city hosts a Christmas market from the end of November to Christmas Day.

6. Nature is incredible

Woman hiking on a mountain trail

Mountains, lakes, and forests are hard to avoid in Austria. It’s a big part of local life here; people love to spend weekends, summer, and winter days in nature. The most popular activities are hiking, skiing, snowboarding, cycling, and mountain biking.

The River Danube also offers fantastic spots to spend free time. Besides, the Mediterranean Sea is also not far away; you can reach it by car.

Thanks to the geographical location, the nature of surrounding countries is not less beautiful than Austrian. You can easily visit Italy, Slovenia, Hungary, Germany, and Switzerland.

On the other hand, Innsbruck is a perfect place for students who want to embrace all kinds of outdoor sports. You can go hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, paragliding, skiing, and snowboarding – mountains located just 5 minutes away.

Another good destination for outdoor lovers is the region of Vorarlberg, which is located on the border with Switzerland; hence, the Swiss Alps are waiting for you. Moreover, it also has a border with Lichtenstein, which invites you to discover many beautiful spots.

Even if you’re studying in central Vienna, you can take a short train or bus ride to the next mountain, lake, forest, or vineyard.

While studying at an Austrian university, you will have enough time to swim in the picturesque lakes or spend the weekends hiking in the Alps.

7. Finding accommodation isn’t easy

Interior of a cozy apartment

If there is one drawback of studying in Austria, it’s related to housing. There are just not enough accommodations to meet all the needs. Be prepared to invest time and money in the apartment search.

Ultimately, you will compete with many other people for one apartment. The private flat will cost you at least 500 EUR for a studio, and a room in a shared apartment will cost 400-550 EUR per month.

If you are coming to Austria as part of the Erasmus exchange, the university might provide you with a dormitory, but not always. In fact, most universities don’t even have on-campus housing.

The best option for an international student who wants to socialize and understand locals will be a shared apartment (Wohngemeinschaft/WG) or even a house.

In Austria, it’s the most common type of accommodation for students and is used by young people and already working individuals.

Generally, in smaller cities, people prefer to live in detached houses rather than in apartments, making searching for a room even more difficult.

Accommodations in the capital city are expensive but still relatively affordable compared to other popular places, e.g., Paris. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Vienna’s city center is 846 EUR, while you would pay 963 EUR for the same flat in Barcelona and 1,194 EUR in Paris.

Do your research before you come to Austria so you won’t spend much money on hotels or Airbnb while looking for long-term accommodation.

8. Learning some German is advisable

Wheels of a bicycle
“Me trying to learn German on the cycling break”

First of all, you can live in Austria without speaking German. It’s perfectly fine, especially if you are here only for one or two semesters. However, if you want to study an entire degree program, learning German is very advisable.

Not because people won’t understand you, but more because of general living in this country. We can’t emphasize enough that you should speak and understand at least some German for full integration into society and a comfortable life.

Usually, you can get by with English, but you will miss a significant part of the living abroad experience. Luckily, many Austrians, especially the younger ones, speak pretty good English.

The country also has a very developed tourism industry, so locals won’t be shocked if you ask them for directions in English. In urban Austria, not just Vienna, you can actually live without German.

But if you decide to move to “rural” Austria, you can get in trouble. Austria is different from the Netherlands or some Nordic countries, where almost everyone can speak good English.

German is essential for your career if you decide to stay and work in Austria. Hence, it’s highly recommended that you learn the language, especially if you plan to search for a job in Austria.

A degree isn’t a guarantee for a job. Most Finance, Marketing, Accounting, Sales, Business Development, and Customer service positions require German language skills.

There are some English-speaking jobs, but you compete for very few job offers and many applicants.

Furthermore, a lot of jobs require German and English language fluency. Also, most of the Bachelor’s courses are taught in German. Only a few colleges offer courses in English, like some Universities of Applied Sciences and a few public & private universities.

If you plan to finish a degree in Austria and return to your home country, then, probably, learning German won’t be that essential for you.

9. You can count large cities on the one hand

Gloomy weather in Austria
“Vienna is the biggest city in Austria”

Austria isn’t a cosmopolitan country. It has just 8 million people, the same as the population of London. You will enjoy quietness and peace while studying in any part of Austria because even the capital, Vienna, is a relatively peaceful city.

If you love hustle-bustle, big city life, then Austria isn’t a place for you; it’s better to look into Berlin, Paris, Budapest, or Madrid. They are all great for international students. It’s just something you want to be aware of.

Largest cities in Austria by population:

  • Vienna – 2 mil.
  • Graz – 440,000
  • Innsbruck – 310,000
  • Linz – 203,000
  • Salzburg – 152,000

10. You can work while studying but only limited hours

Person selling food on a food stall

Earning money while studying is essential for many, but not all countries allow you it. In Austria, international and local students are permitted to work while pursuing their degrees.

However, international students can work only limited hours. It’s up to 10 hours per week if they participate in a Bachelor’s program. Students in Master’s can work up to 20 hours per week.

Moreover, international students can work full-time during the holidays and study breaks.

Austrians and EU/EEA citizens don’t have any limitations, but they usually don’t work more than 20 hours per week; otherwise, there is a risk of failing the exam.

The most common jobs for students in Austria include:

  • Waiter
  • Barkeeper
  • Courier
  • Research assistant at the university
  • Tutor
  • Junior position according to their degree
  • Promoter
  • Various internships

Austria doesn’t have a fixed minimum wage, but usually, it’s at least 9 EUR per hour. Moreover, students from all parts of the world can receive scholarships and grants.

11. International students can stay in Austria after graduation

Compared to many other countries, Austria allows graduates to stay and seek a job for up to 12 months after completing their degree.

In some cases, you can even start a business after your studies. For more information, read this article about how to stay in Austria after graduation.

After you find a job, you can apply for a residence and work permit and live in Austria for up to two years. Later, you can extend your resident permit (if the requirements are met). At the same time, EU/EEA citizens don’t need a visa or permission to live in Austria.

This applies to Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Ph.D. degrees and to all forms of higher education institutions (public, private, University of Applied Sciences).

Your work residence permit (Red-White-Red Card) will be issued for two years with a possible extension. Yet, if your contract is for a shorter period, the visa will be issued in accordance with the duration of the employment contract plus three months.

After this permit, you can apply for a Red-White-Red Card Plus Card. Depending on your case, it can be issued for up to three years. For instance, researchers may get this type of residence permit for three years

While Red-White-Red Card entitles you to work for one employer, the “Plus card” gives you a fixed-term settlement and unlimited labor market access, including self-employment. Hence, you don’t depend on one company anymore.

Finally, after living in Austria on a work visa for five years, you can apply for a settlement permit (PR).

12. You need health insurance

Health insurance is necessary for Austria, and you must arrange it before your traveling date.

Austrian immigration requires a particular insurance policy with at least 30,000 EUR coverage. Such insurance can be pretty pricey, and secondly, Austrian insurance companies don’t issue policies for someone without a residence permit.

Consequently, you must take out private insurance, which can be done online. The most common insurance plan is for exchange students, which is the easiest, fastest, and cheapest option.

Once you receive a student residence permit, you can apply for a regular public insurance plan.

It will cover most medical expenses, treatments, and hospital stays. The insurance costs around 60 EUR per month. You won’t find a lower price.

Private health insurance is often cheaper than public one. For example, students can take out coverage with Care Austria for a very reasonable price. It’s one of Austria’s best insurance for international students and expats.

Moreover, their packages are 100% valid for visa and resident permit applications. I used Care Austria for my application and kept the insurance for the entire three years I lived in Austria. 

Read this guide about health insurance in Austria.

13. Attendance is not mandatory in most universities

Inside a cimputer lab in a univeristy in Austria
“University where I studied – FH Vorarlberg”

In Austrian universities, attendance at lectures and seminars isn’t mandatory in most cases.

Some Universities of Applied Sciences will require some percentage of attendance. However, if you miss many classes, you might not be allowed to take the exam and have to retake the course. So it would be best if you kept an eye on your attendance.

Read more about the difference between Universities of Applied Sciences and Universities.

Generally, each professor will tell you their rules; some might be stricter than others. Often they want you to be present in seminars.

Studying in Austria is very focused on self-education. The university gives you all the basics needed to complete the homework and assignments.

It might differ from education in other countries, where professors still use a very theoretical teaching approach. Their lectures are often based on books you can read later to pass the exam.

Central and West European education combines theory, practice, and research in the best way possible. Practice is the crucial part; you can’t just read a book for it.

Most professors in Austrian universities are from the area they teach about. Either they were employed or did research on this subject. Therefore, they will teach you from their experience, not just the book. That’s also why it’s so important to attend classes.

Besides, missing classes will make your homework more challenging to complete.

Read this guide about the top Austrian universities.

14. You can’t avoid the paperwork

In Austria, you will face the paperwork if you are from a non-EU/EEA country. Firstly, you will encounter it while applying to an Austrian university. The list of documents is extensive, and the time is limited.

Secondly, you will need to get an Austrian visa before you arrive here. It takes a lot of work. For me, it was at least two months.

Since Austrian bureaucracy is strict, your documents must 100% meet the criteria. Otherwise, your paper won’t be accepted, or you will need to repeat the procedure.

Yet, if you stay in Austria for less than six months, you can skip the work; the process is much easier.

And thirdly, you need to apply for a residence permit after you arrive in the country. Consequently, there are three circles of hell of the Austrian bureaucracy when coming here as an international student (from a non-EU/EEA country).

EU/EEA citizens have much less work to do if they decide to study in Austria. They only need to register in the city hall (Rathaus) after arrival; it’s a 5 min task.

The application process for university is more or less the same as in other European countries. However, all school certificates and qualifications must be translated into German or English.

In addition, many Universities of Applied Sciences have interviews and tests as a part of the application process. Therefore, you must travel to Austria to complete them, and only after will they give you a final decision.

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