Study in Austria: 14 Things You Need to Know Before

With each year, Austria attracts more and more international students. Austria is more popular for short exchange programs like Erasmus, but you can also take an extensive bachelor’s and master’s course.

In all cases, students have great experience in this Alpine country. Indeed, Austria is a fantastic destination to be an international student. Nonetheless, carefully choosing hosting university and informing yourself is essential for the best possible outcomes when studying abroad. This article dives into 14 must-know things any international student in Austria should know.

Education is free for everyone

If you are interested in studying in Austria, the first good news is that higher education is free there. The education system in Austria is state-funded, so even students from EU and non-EU get a quality education without paying hefty tuition fees. 

Public universities are free of charge for EU/EEA students, and Non-Europeans have to pay only 726 EUR per semester.

However, at the Universities of Applied Sciences, everyone must pay 379,36 EUR per semester.  That is almost nothing for Austria’s quality of education and life. I bet you will pay more in your home country.

Be aware that most Bachelor’s programs in English have tuition fees; however, there is a good chance to find a free English master’s program. You may consider private institutions, which are pretty good, but they are costly; semester fees can be up to 10,000 EUR.

Besides free from charge education, exchange students can apply for Erasmus funding to support them while living in Austria. This takes the pressure off financially, making studying at an Austrian university for an all-around relaxed and enjoyable experience.

Best free universities in Austria:

  • Vienna university
  • 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!

Cost of living

Rent, food, health insurance, and free time activities are expenses students need to be prepared for. As an international student, you will spend something between 950 EUR – 1,200 EUR per month for a moderate lifestyle; of course, there is no limit so far you got money.

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

Groceries, on average, are costly in Austria compared to its neighbors. To save money you can opt for discounters like Hofer or Lidl, Austrian brand Spar is also ok.

The cheapest health insurance is the private oneCare Austria, which costs less than 60 EUR per month. Other private insurance providers offer coverages for at least 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 up to your lifestyle, alcohol isn’t expensive in Austria, you will always get a beer for 3 EUR, coffee as well, eating out can be pricey, you are looking to pay between 11-18 EUR for the main meal.

The student card will give you many discounts such as a yearly or monthly public transportation ticket, gym, cultural events, museums, etc.

Want to study in Austria for free?

Vienna has the highest quality of life in Europe

For 10 years, Vienna has been awarded as the city with the highest quality of life in Europe and even in the world. This ranking considers a variety of factors, including standards of schools, crime levels, recreation options, and even climate.

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

The quality of living is an essential factor when choosing a city to study abroad. There are also over 130,000 students in Vienna, making it an amazing place to live; currently, it’s in place 11 in the most recent Best Student Cities index.

Moreover, Vienna has a rich cultural heritage, so it’s a popular travel destination. If you want to be in the international atmosphere capital of Austria, it’s a place to be. Most students are happy to study in the cultural and financial megapolis.

However, the rest of Austria is great for students too. Innsbruck, Graz, and Salzburg are incredible places to live as a student! The universities host various educational and recreational events all semester, making meeting people easy.

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

Don’t mix Austrians and Germans

Some people might think Austrian folk and German are the same. Countries have very similar history, traditions, language, food, people’s appearance, 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, and so 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. There are huge differences between Germans from the north and Austrians.

Abundance of culture

Culture is big in Austria. The city has fantastic opera, fine art, music, galleries, theaters, and stunning architecture. There are 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 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.

The 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 culture you will notice while living in Austria is coffee culture. This drink is the most appreciated one; you will see people drink it all the time, everywhere. They even have coffee automates located on each corner of the city, especially in public places.

Viennese coffee houses are special ones; they are considered to be institutions, 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 gather.

In the wintertime, the Christmas market is where people meet each other 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 big city organizes it from the end of November to Christmas day.

Spending time in nature is important

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.

Apart from this, the River Danube offers amazing spots to spend free time, and only a short car journey is between Austria and the Mediterranean sea.

Thanks to the geographical location, the nature of the neighbors is also very attractive for Austrians; they often go on short trips to Italy, Slovenia, Hungary, and Germany, Switzerland.

Innsbruck, on the other hand, is a perfect place for students who want to embrace all mountain sports, which are even possible to imagine. 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 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, and what else your soul desires. I hope you love skiing or snowboarding because it would be a shame to live in Austria and don’t try it at least once.

Studying at an Austrian university will leave you pretty enough free time, so in the summer, you can swim in the picturesque lakes or spend your weekends hiking in the Alps.

Finding accommodation isn’t easy

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

In the end, you will compete with many other people for one apartment. The private flat will cost you at least 500 EUR, and a room in a shared apartment will be between 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 is the most common accommodation type for students, used not only by young people but also by already working individuals.

In Austria, people prefer to live in detached houses than in apartments, making searching for students even more difficult; only 7% of people live in apartments.

Accommodations in the capital city of Vienna are expensive but still relatively affordable compared with other popular student cities. 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 on hotels or Airbnb while looking for long-term accommodation.

Learning some German is advisable

“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 there only for the exchange semester. If you decide to study a full degree program here, learning German is VERY advisable.

Not because people won’t understand you, but more because of general well-being. I can’t emphasize enough that for full integration into society and comfortable life, you should speak and understand at least some german. Do you really need these awkward situations all the time?

Usually, you can get by with English, but you need to understand that you are missing a massive part of the experience. Luckily, many Austrians, especially the younger ones, speak at least a bit of English.

The country also has a good tourism market, 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 not the same as the Netherlands or Scandinavic countries, where everyone, young and old, can speak good English.

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

A qualification is not a guarantee for a job. Most of the jobs in Finance, Marketing, Accounting, Sales, Business Development, and Customer service require German language skills.

There are some English-speaking jobs, but then 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.

You can count big cities on the one hand

“Vienna is the biggest city in Austria”

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

If you love hustle-bustle, big city life, then Austria isn’t a place for you; it is 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 and by population:

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

You can work while studying but limited hours

Earning money during your studies is essential for everyone, but not all countries allow you to do so. In Austria, international and local students are permitted to work while pursuing their degrees.

However, international students who stay on a student visa can work only limited hours; it’s 10 hours per week if they are doing a Bachelor’s program. Students in Master’s degree programs can work with a work permit for up to 20 hours weekly.

International students are permitted to 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, their studies can be endangered.

Most common jobs for students in Austria:

  • Waiter, Barkeeper
  • Courier
  • Research Assistant at University
  • Tutor
  • Junior position accordingly to the specialization at University
  • Promoter
  • Internships

Austria doesn’t have a fixed minimum wage, but usually, it’s not less than 9 EUR per hour.

Additionally to funds from work, students from all parts of the world can receive scholarships and grants.

International students can stay in Austria after graduation

Compared to many other countries, Austria allows graduates to stay and look for a job for 12 months after finishing university. Thanks to new labor market regulations, international students are permitted to work and start their businesses after they finish their degrees. For more information, read this article about how to stay in Austria after graduation.

After receiving a job, they can apply for a residence and work permit and live in Austria as long as they want (if the requirements are met). It relates to non-European students; EU citizens don’t need a visa or permission to live in Austria.

This applies to Bachelor’s, Master’s, and PhD degrees and to all forms of a higher education institution (public, private, university of applied science).

Your work residence permit (Red-White-Red Card) will be issued for one year with a possible extension. After 2 years of holding this permit, you are eligible to apply for Red-White-Red Card Plus Card; it’s also issued for one year.

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

You need a health insurance

Health insurance is a must in Austria, and you will need to arrange it beforehand. What can be a tricky thing; I was struggling a lot with this.

The Austrian immigration office wants you to have an insurance plan which covers all possible services. But firstly, it’s very pricey, and secondly, no one Austrian insurance company wants to take you because you don’t have a residence permit yet.

But the absurd thing is that you need this insurance to receive a permit, and insurance already requires a residence permit. No way!

So, in this case, you can arrange online insurance for exchange students, which is the easiest, fastest and cheapest option. Just like I did. Once you receive a student residence permit, you can apply for a regular state insurance plan.

This 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.

Attendance is not mandatory in most the universities

“University where I studied – FH Vorarlberg”

In Austrian universities, attendance at lectures and seminars is not mandatory in most cases.

Some Universities of Applied Sciences will require some percentage of attendance, and if you miss too much, you might not be allowed to the exam and will have to retake the course. So be careful with this.

Overall, each professor will tell you their rules; some might be stricter than others. Most common is that they want you to be present in seminars, at least to some extent.

Studies in Austria are pretty much orientated on self-education, and at university, you will get just the basics of what will need to be accomplished on your own.

It’s very different from education in third countries, where professors still use a theoretical approach; hence their lectures are based on books that you can read later, which is all you need to pass the exam.

Central and West European education combines theory, practice, and research. Practice is the biggest and most important part; you can’t just read it in the book.

Most professors come from the area they teach about; either they worked or did research in this subject. Therefore they will teach you from their experience and not only out of books, but that’s also why it is so important to attend classes.

Missing classes would cost you a lot and will make your homework even harder, so avoid skipping the class.

Read this guide about the top Austrian universities.

You can’t avoid the paperwork

You will face lots of paperwork if you are from a non-EU country. Firstly, you will see it at Austrian universities, the list of documents is extensive, and time is limited.

Secondly, you will need to get an Austrian visa before you arrive in Austria. Here all work comes in; I guess it took me at least 2 months to get it done right.

Since Austrian bureaucratie is so strict, your documents must 100% fulfill the criteria; otherwise, your paper won’t be accepted, or you will need to do the procedure again.

If you stay in Austria for less than 6 months, you can skip the work; the process is much easier.

And thirdly, you need to apply for a residence permit after you arrive at your destination. There are three circles of hell of the Austrian bureaucracy.

EU/EEA citizens have fewer concerns about documents when 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 prozess for university is more or less the same as in other European countries; however, all school certificates must be translated to German or English.

In Austria, authorities, doctors, and banks still prefer communication through letters; hence you will find lots of paper in your mailbox.


Anna is an enthusiastic expatriate with experience of living in Germany, Austria and Greece. She shares her passion for living abroad on this website.

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