How to be Legally Viennese

Making your stay as a non-EU citizen to Vienna long-term is a big step, with plenty of paperwork attached. But if you plan ahead, you‘ll have your ticket to the good life Vienna residents enjoy.

So, you have fallen in love with Vienna. No surprises there; the enviable quality of life, and the Gemütlichkeit, that oh-so-Viennese term for slowing down, leaning back and taking it easy.

Not so fast.

The pretty picture comes with a price tag, the currency of which is paperwork. But you’re in luck. Metropole has put together the rundown of options available to make you a legal Viennese expat. This list is just a primer, and much more information is available at the institutions cited to the right.

Wiener Alma Mater

Becoming a student is one of the easier ways to go native. Vienna hosts more than 20 universities and vocational schools. Bachelor’s degrees will keep you legal throughout your enrollment. And you can work for up to 10 hours a week with a work permit (Beschäftigungsbewilligung). Enrolling as a Master’s or PhD student is also a way to stay legal, giving you time to find your career footing before you enter the job market. As a Master’s or PhD student you can get a work permit for up to 20 hours per week. After graduating from an MA program or higher at an Austrian university, companies have six months in which hiring you is significantly simpler. The job hunt can take much longer, so start looking well before your final exams.

It is also possible to work as a freelancer or independently without a work permit, but for anything you earn over € 730 annually, you must report your work to the tax authority, or Finanzamt, even though your income will only be taxed after €11,000 per year. Before trying your hand at this, make sure you do your research and be advised properly. Resources include the Chamber of Labor (AK or Arbeiterkammer) and the Founder’s Service of the Chamber of Commerce (Gründerservice at the WKÖ or Wirtschaftskammer Österreich). Take a look under “Multilingual Information” to find what you need to know in English.


Be determined, friendly, and resilient. Vienna is worth it.


Artists Wanted

Vienna, the home of the Burgtheater and State Opera also has an Artists Visa (Künstler-Aufenthaltsbewilligung). These apply to musicians and artists who can prove sufficient income and contracts compensating them for artistic and creative work.

Make Yourself Irresistible

If you are beginning a job search in Austria from scratch, there are specific job-seeker visas, which have a limited time frame and require your physical presence while looking for work. However, if you find employment, then you can apply for a visa as a “skilled worker in shortage occupation, other key worker, highly qualified worker or self-employed key worker” (Schlüsselkraft, Sonstige Schlüsselkraft, Besonders hochqualifzierte Schlüsselkräfte, Selbständige Schlüsselkraft).

If you can be categorized in any of these four segments, you are eligible for a Red-White-Red card. In this case the company that hires you has to be willing to meet the income requirement (as it changes every year, check the website) and prove that you are the best for the job, citing your qualifications and language skills. This can be difficult, and often prevents employers from even bothering with such visas. As a 3rd‑country national (non-EU citizen), you better be twice as good as the rest.

For these jobs there are four ways in. You can be lucky enough to practice a profession that the Austrian government deems as having a “shortage of eligible laborers,” such as engineers. Secondly, you have to outperform anyone the Public Employment Service, or Arbeitsmarktservice (AMS) considers eligible for your desired position in the company. A third path is if you are self-employed and your work provides a clear benefit to the Austrian economy, either by creating new jobs, transferring new knowledge to the local market, investing oodles of money, or your company is of “considerable significance” for the region. These terms may seem vague, but that can work in your favor. The fourth path is for highly qualified workers, which will give you a six-month job-seeker permit based on a point system, where you receive points for the level of your education, the field (preference is given to mathematics, informatics, natural sciences or technology), your previous salary, language skills, research and innovation activities and other qualifications. If you think you fall in this category, the website has a handy points calculator to help you see if you are qualified to apply.

For Love or Visa

Lastly, if you moved here for love with an EU citizen, a civil wedding now will make all of your legal woes go away. This is a path that many couples choose. A quick and dirty civil wedding gets the bureaucratic ball rolling ahead of an eventual “real” wedding, a few months or even a year later, to celebrate your commitment with family and friends.

In many a Facebook group, there are blue-eyed posts asking for advice about how to move to Austria to join a significant other. The posters often assume that they can teach English or wait tables, which are not really legal options while getting their paperwork in order. Marriage is often not yet a topic of discussion in their relationship. The wave of disheartening comments drowns out any illusion of moving to Austria as an easy and fun adventure.

The Long and Short

It sounds difficult, because it is. But it’s not impossible. If you are in Vienna, the Magistratsabteilung 35, or MA35 for short, is the Viennese office where you submit your paperwork. If you are not based in Vienna, then check your nearest Municipal Authority, Bezirkshauptmannschaft, about when and where you can submit your paperwork, which often can be quicker than in Vienna itself.

Ask anyone who has moved to Vienna without the help of diplomatic support and they’ll tell you at least one horror story about the MA35. But don’t be discouraged; if you are organized and prepare your documents well in advance, it will make your experience much easier. Be determined, friendly, thick-skinned and resilient. Vienna is worth it.


Laws frequently change, and can differ depending on your citizenship. For the most recent information, visit

The Vienna Business Agency has friendly and helpful staff who provide specific advice and information

As a student is an excellent resource for information regarding your legal stay and work possibilities while you study.


Catherine M. Hooker
Catherine M. Hooker was Head of Communications at Metropole from 2015 to 2018. She holds a MA in international relations and also contributes photography to Metropole.Photo: Visual Hub

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