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A PhD Student's Guide to Living in Austria

by Dr Nathalie Mather-L’Huillier

Did you know Ferdinand Porsche, who started the eponymous car company and designed the first Volkswagen, was Austrian, as was/is (nobody is really sure!) Arnold Schwarzenegger. Beautiful cities, amazing landscape, and being a safe and peaceful country are some of the attractions of Austria. As it happens, Austria also boasts one of the lowest unemployment rates in Europe, which seems to be at odds with the fact that most Austrians work a 40-hour week or more! All in all, not so bad for a country yet to be fully discovered as a study abroad destination.

Settling in

During the early stages of your PhD, you’ll be guided by your graduate school, supervisors and other PhD students. If your university has an international office (highly likely), then they will provide a range of advice and resources to help you settle in at your university and in the city. Your university’s branch of the Austrian Students' Union will also offer support to international students.

Cost of living and budgeting

The Vienna University of Economics and Business (WU in short) offers a handy table for your budgeting. These are estimates based on living in Vienna and of course any budget depends on your lifestyle as well as where you are studying (large cities tend to be more expensive).


Other than student accommodation in your university, finding a place to live from abroad can be difficult. You won’t be able to see the accommodation, cannot be guaranteed of the standards of the accommodation, and won’t be able to sign the lease in person (a requirement in letting agencies). This is why many students make temporary accommodation arrangements for the first few weeks after their arrival. Once on-site, finding a place to stay (unless you have a student accommodation) is much easier.
Your longer-term accommodation options are:

Student housing (halls of residence and dormitories)

Universities in Austria do not often have accommodation for students. Instead, non-Austrian students can apply for student accommodation in student residences managed by the OeAD Housing Office (a subsidiary of the Austrian agency for international mobility and cooperation in education, science and research). The OeAD manages a range of properties with different kinds of accommodation which will range from €250-400/month. Accommodation of this type is in short supply so you are advised toapply as soon as possible via the OeAD database.

Before your application for housing is considered you will have to pay a deposit of €75, so make sure you send enough funds to cover the full deposit and the transaction fee charged by banks (if you are outside of Austria). Some universities have negotiated a quota of rooms for their own students so make sure you mention at which university you are going to study when applying.

Privately-managed student dormitories are also available. For a list of those in the city of your choice, check your institution’s website.

Staff accommodation

As a doctoral researcher on an employment contract, you may have access to staff accommodation on a short- or long-term basis. Not all universities have such an offering so check with them directly.

Private accommodation

Sharing accommodation
This is a popular option amongst students in Austria, not the least because it provides a lower cost option than renting on your own. The National Students' Union database provides a good overview of rooms available in shared accommodation (information available in German only). Other sources of information are also available online, such as Easy WG or WG-Klick (also in German only).

Renting on your own
This can be an expensive option. Not many privately-owned properties are rented directly by the owner, which means that you should expect to pay an estate agent's fee. This is generally equivalent to two - three months' rent in addition to two-three months' rent as a deposit. Most apartments are rented out unfurnished but if you happen to find a furnished flat, you will probably have to pay an 'Ablöse' (a one-off payment). The duration of a lease is usually between one and five years.

You can find adverts for apartments in Austrian newspapers, their websites and specialized portals (most of them are available in German only).

Visa and immigration

Residence permits

Students who are not EU/EEA citizens have to apply for a resident permit (type D) if they intend to stay for more than six months. The process is similar to other Schengen (European countries) and should be applied for before moving to Austria. Depending on the country you come from, you may be able to gain entry into Austria on a tourist visa and then apply for your residence permit during the visa-free period. You will need evidence that you have the financial means to support yourself during your studies and that you have adequate health insurance. The OeAD, the Austrian agency for international mobility and cooperation in education, science and research, provides a wealth of information on how to apply for your student visa.

Registration on arrival - everyone

In Austria, everyone has to register with the authorities where they live within three days of arrival. These registration offices are municipal authorities, equivalent to a town hall, called Magistrat (in cities) or Gemeindeämter (in smaller places). Your registration must be kept up-to-date so you will have to inform the Magistrat if you move house or leave Austria for good.

To register you need:

  • Travel documents (and residence permit, if applicable).
  • Birth certificate.
  • Marriage certificate and/or proof of academic titles as appropriate.
  • Registration form (Meldezettel) which the registration office will provide. This has to be signed by your landlord and yourself.
  • €20 fee.

Additional registration requirement for EU/EEA citizens

Nationals of EU/EEA countries and Switzerland, who are staying in Austria longer than three months have to apply at the competent municipal authority for a document called 'Anmeldebescheinigung' within the first four months of their stay. This is done at the Magistrat and is required in addition to the registration at the registration office. You will receive a confirmation of registration for which a fee of €15 euros must be paid. For this, you will need:

  • A completed and signed application form.
  • A valid identity card or passport.
  • Proof of health insurance e.g. European Health Insurance Card, insurance policy.
  • Proof of sufficient finances e.g. by means of a bank statements, traveller’s cheques.
  • Your offer of university admission/proof of enrolment.

Working rights

If you are an EU/EEA citizen then you do not require a working permit for during or after your studies in order to undertake paid work in Austria. For students requiring a residence permit, there are limitations to the number of hours you can work during you studies.

Conditions for post-study work may seem complex but essentially you are allowed to stay for six months after graduation to find work in Austria. Once you have graduated, you can apply for a residence title ('Rot-Weiss-Rot – Karte'), providing that you are in employment and earn a gross salary of at least €1,998 each month.


The currency in Austria is the Euro (€) which is the common currency of 17 out of the 27 member states of the European Union (it makes life much easier if you are in a border area or if you are travelling within continental Europe).

As a doctoral student and if you are in receipt of an Austrian scholarship or employment contract you will need to open a bank account in Austria. Your bank at home may have branches in Austria so it is worth checking if you can make arrangements to open an account with your bank before you leave.

Alternatively, there are several banks operating in Austria and the types of account they offer are not that different. Account holders will be charged a small quarterly fee just for having an account and a debit card. You may therefore wish to opt for a student account which carry lower fees. Although beware of the age limit! The maximum age for most student accounts is between 27 and 30; if you do not fulfil this condition, you will need a regular bank account which will be more expensive. To open an account, you need to visit the bank branch in person. Make sure you have the right documentation with you, including your passport for identification purposes, a proof of address and proof of enrolment at your university.

In Austria debit cards offer a quick and easy, cashless payment system for smaller sums of money such as lunch at university cafeteria, parking fees etc.. All you have to do is transfer some funds on the card's quick chip, which you can do at ATMs and banks. Some universities have also adopted quick-compatible systems so you’ll be able to use it for printers and copiers. But treat this option as cash as it is unprotected in case of the theft of your card.

Healthcare insurance

In Austria, everyone has to have healthcare cover, as medical expenses can be very expensive. For doctoral students on employment contracts, it is automatically included. If you are from a country of the EU/EEA, or from another country that has an agreement with Austria on healthcare, you are covered in Austria (for EU citizens make sure you have your European Health Insurance Card – EHIC, with you). Citizens from other countries are normally insured if they have a residence permit.

You may have to have temporary or emergency insurance to apply for your residence permit, if that is the case, check with your university what providers are available locally.

Transport and going around the country

Austria’s central location in Europe offers additional options for travelling around the region, or within Austria itself. The transport network is well established and cities’ public transport options include trams, metro, trains and buses so it is easy to get around in and around Austria.

About one fourth of the population of Austria lives in the capital, Vienna, so you would expect the city to be well equipped to cope with its population, and it does. A few years back, Salzburg, the birthplace of Mozart, underwent a complete uplift in honour of the 250th of the birth of its musical genius.

Austria as a whole is a beautiful country which boasts cultural and historical cities as well as an amazing landscape. Ski resorts offer a fantastic provision of winter sports. Actually, 62% of Austria's total land area is covered by the Austrian Alps. Europe's second highest peak in order of prominence, Großglockner (3,798 metres)  is located in Austria along with another 13 peaks above 3,000 metres. The Krimml Falls ('Krimmler Wasserfalle'), near Salzburg, are Europe's tallest waterfalls, reaching a height of 380 meters.

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