Study in Austria: 14 Things You Need to Know Before

With each year Austria attracts more and more international students. They come either for the short Erasmus exchange program or an extensive bachelor’s and master’s degree.

In both cases, students have great experience in Austria. It’s a great destination to be an international tourist. Yet, you need to carefully choose a teaching university and inform yourself beforehand, so your expectations will be matched.

In this article, you will find out 14 must-know things before studying in Austria, which I wish I knew before coming here.

Education is free for everyone

If you are interested to study in Austria the first good news is that higher education is free there. The education system in Austria is state-funded so students even from other than European countries get a quality education without paying heavy 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 this quality of education and life Austria is offering. 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 quite good, but they are costly, semester fee 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 chilled out 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

The cost of living

Rent, food, health insurance, 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, most probably you won’t find any under 400 EUR per month, 450-500 EUR is typical rate.

Groceries on average are costly in Austria to compare 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, 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.

Vienna has the highest quality of living in Europe

For 10 years Vienna has been awarded as the city with the highest quality of living 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 level of quality of living is an important factor when picking a city to study abroad. There are also over 130,000 students in Vienna, making it an amazing place to study and live, currently, it’s on the place 11 in the most recent Best Student Cities index.

Moreover, Vienna has a rich cultural heritage and 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 there hosted a variety of educational and recreational events all semester which made meeting people really easy.

Don’t mix Austrians and Germans

Some people might think Austrian folk and German are the same, kinda same countries, history, language, food, appearance. But Austrians will throw a stone in 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 a clearly distinguishable culture, and it definitely annoys the locals if you group them in with Germany.

Austria is located more down on the south hence people are more relaxed, chilled, warmer. They appreciate family over work, which also makes them different from Germans. There are especially big differences between Germans from the north and Austrians.

Abundance of Culture

Culture is big in Austria, there are many kinds of it such as opera, fine art, music, galleries, theaters, stunning architecture. There are so many well preserved UNESCO World Heritage sites, for example, the entire Old Town in Salzburg is one of them.

The student card will provide you with 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, 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 amazing 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 the special one, 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, and so coffee houses developed a reputation for being cultural hubs where great minds gather.

In the wintertime Christmas markets is the place where people meet each other for a cup of warm Glühwein (mulled wine), spend after-work evening or afternoons on the weekend.

You will fall in love with these fairy tale events. Almost every small and big city organizes it starting from the end of November up to Christmas day.

Spend 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, and 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 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 another 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. Be prepared to invest time and money in the apartment search. There are just not enough offers for needs.

In the end, you will compete with many other people for one apartment. The private flat will cost you at least 500 EUR, 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 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, which makes the search for students even more difficult, only 7% of people live in apartments.

Accommodations in the capital city of Vienna are expensive, but still quite affordable compared with other popular students 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 ahead of time 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

First of all, you can live in Austria without speaking German, it’s perfectly fine, especially in the case of 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 it enough that for full integration in society, a comfortable life you should speak and understand at least some german. Do you really need these awkward situations all the time?

Usually, you can sort of get by with English but you need to understand that you are missing a huge 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 a “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 especially important for your career if you decide to stay and work in Austria:

It’s highly recommended for you to learn German, especially if you are looking forward to finding 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, Customer service require German language skills. There are some English-speaking jobs, but then you are competing for very few job offers and many applicants.

Furthermore, a lot of jobs require German AND English language fluency. Also, most of the courses in Bachelors’ are taught in German. Primarily, only a few colleges offer courses in English, like some Universities of Applied Sciences, few Public and Private Universities.

By all means, if you can learn some German before you come, that’s great, but if you don’t then try to learn as soon as you arrived, there are plenty of opportunities at the university of language schools.

If your plan is just to finish a degree in Austria and go back 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 of 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.

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

Biggest cities in Austria:

  • 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 the studies is essential for everyone, but not all countries allow you to do so. In Austria, international and local students are allowed to work while pursuing their degrees.

However, foreign 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 are allowed to work with a work permit up to 20 hours weekly.

During the holidays and in study breaks international students are permitted to work full time.

Austrians and EU/EEA citizens don’t have any limitations, but they normally 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 normally it is 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

Compare to many other countries Austria allows graduates to stay and look for a job for 12 months after finishing university. And thanks to new labor market regulations, international students are permitted to work and start their business within the country after they finish their degree. For more information read my 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 they want (of course if requirements are fulfilled). It relates to none European students, EU citizens don’t need either visa or permission to live in Austria.

This applies to Bachelor’s, Master’s, and PhD degrees as well as for 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 also issued for a period of one year.

While Red-White-Red Card entitles you to work for one employer “Plus card” gives you fixed-term settlement and unlimited labor market access including self-employment. Hence you aren’t depending 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 personally was struggling a lot with this.

So basically the Austrian immigration office will want you to have an insurance plan which covers all possible services, and it’s first is super expensive and second, no one Austrian insurance company wants to take you because you don’t have a residence permit yet.

But here absurd thing is that basically you need this insurance to receive a permit and insurance requires having a permit already. 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 received a student residence permit you can apply for a regular state insurance plan. This will cover most medical expenses, treatments, and hospital stay and costs around 60 EUR per month. You won’t find a cheaper price.

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

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. 

Attendance is not mandatory in most of the universities

“FH Vorarlberg”

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

There are some Universities of Applied Sciences that will require some percentage of attendance and if you missed too much you might be not allowed to the exam and will have to take the course again. So be careful with this.

Overall each professor will tell you his 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 which you can read later and this is all you need to pass the exam.

Central and West European education is a combination of 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 missing them as much as possible.

You can’t avoid the paperwork

If you are from a country outside of the EU and EEA you will face lots of paperwork. Your first experience will be application to Austrian university, the list of documents is large and time is limited.

Second is you will need to get an Austrian visa before you arrive to 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 will be less than 6 months, you can skip a bit of work by applying for a visa C or D, the process is much easier.

And thirdly you need to apply for a residence permit after you arrive at your destination. These is three circles of hell of the Austrian bureaucracy, I still worry each time about possible questions for an additional paper when extending my permit.

EU/EEA citizens have fewer concerns about documents when they decide to study in Austria. They only need to register themself in the city hall (Rathaus) after arrival, it’s a 5 min task. Application prozess for university more or less the same as in their home country, however, school certificates must be translated to German or English.

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

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