Starting up in Graz: Everything you need to know
raz is an ever-thriving city and the heart of Styria’s industrial, science and research infrastructure. Graz is among the fastest-growing regions in Austria, offering not only a high standard of living within an ambitious environment but also huge potential for new businesses.
Graz is the state capital of the district Styria and the second-largest city in Austria. With a population of only 331,500, Graz combines all the benefits of a big city (such as many opportunities and possibilities) as well as with the benefits of a small town (such as being able to walk literally everywhere). More than one sixth of the population are students enrolled in one of the eight universities and colleges. This enables the city to skillfully combine tradition with the joie de vivre of students. More than half of the urban area is green spaces; you’re always only a few minutes’ walking distance from the next park. The strongly notable Mediterranean influence, the city’s welcoming flair, and its deeply rooted love of tradition (among many other things) makes Graz an ideal place to live and work.
The locals are generally open-minded and eager to learn about different cultures, to travel and to actively engage in social life, so you shouldn’t have a hard time building a network. According to an EU study, 96 percent of Graz’s citizens love living in the city, and the global platform InterNations ranks Graz as the eleventh best city to live in worldwide.
Before you come
The housing market is good compared to Vienna, so you should find accommodation relatively easy. If you’re spontaneous, spend your first weeks in Graz in an Airbnb while personally checking out apartments. In general (and compared to Vienna), Graz can be quite affordable. Nevertheless, don’t underestimate the costs of living in Austria and make sure you have savings
to get you started. If you’re from a country outside the EU or EEA, you’ll also need a residence permit and work permit for a stay longer than three months, and you’ll need to prove that you have good reasons to move, such as a job offer, studying or training, or proof you have enough money in your bank account to support yourself long-term. The Red-White-Red Card allows you to stay and work in Austria for twelve months. You can find more helpful information about Styria and residence permits at Welcome to Styria.
Graz is among the fastest-growing regions in Austria, offering not only a high standard of living within an ambitious environment but also huge potential for new businesses.
Visas and work permits
If you’re from the EU, EEA or Switzerland, a visa is not required. You must report to the domestic authorities within three months and request a registration certificate, which is issued upon proof that you are locally employed, enrolled in a university, or have enough savings to provide for yourself. Everyone else will need to apply for a visa prior to arriving. This process can take a while, so apply early. The documents required depend on the visa, but you will need proof of a housing arrangement.
If you’re from a non-EU/EEA country, the most popular visa is the Red-White-Red Card. This is valid for two years and issued to applicants with particular qualifications and language knowledge, such as self-employed experts and startup founders. Another option is the EU Blue Card, which is issued to you if you have a job offer that the AMS (Arbeitsmarktservice) is unable to provide a qualified Austrian citizen for. Family members joining you can apply for the Red-White-Red Card, even if they don’t meet the language requirements yet. After two years, both visas can be extended by the Red-White-Red Plus Card, which is issued for another three years. After that (if you did not interrupt your residency), you can apply for a Permanent Residence permit. The Austrian Business Agency ABA supports international businesses in their immigration process and offers information, personal consulting and tailor-made services.
Styrian or “Steirisch” is the local dialect you’ll soon become familiar with. Styrians are proud of their culture and like to celebrate it with excellent regional food and many different cultural events throughout the year. Although people are generally very friendly and open-minded, a certain form of politeness is expected. For example, remember to say “bitte” (please) and “danke” (thank you), and try to be on time. Dressing appropriately is a must especially in business, but feel free to explore a chill but fashionable style. A handshake is appropriate for greetings, while close friends receive a heartfelt hug or a kiss on the cheek. Use someone’s proper title until you are invited to call them by their first name. Austrians have a great sense of humor and are often very sarcastic, so brace yourself for that! Also, don’t be scared to mention you don’t like something: honesty is very much welcome, as long as you stay respectful.
Cost of living
Compared to other Western countries, Austria can be quite affordable. Calculate around €1,300 ($1,550) per month for living expenses. Graz is among the cheaper cities in terms of rent. If you’re lucky, you can find a small room in Graz starting at €250 ($300), while an average two-room (50 m2) apartment may cost between €550 ($660) and €700 ($840). Add around €20 ($24) for electricity and €20 to €80 ($96) for internet, depending on the supplier and speed.
There are different supermarket chains like the affordable Penny and Hofer. Popular supermarkets Spar and Billa both have their own economy-price product lines. Premium supermarkets such as Billa +, Billa Corso or the organic supermarket Denn’s offer a wide range of high-quality brands. Depending on the restaurant, eating out costs around €10 ($12) to €50 ($60). On average, a 0.5 l glass of beer is priced €3.80, whereas you’ll only pay around €1 per bottle in the supermarket.
As soon as you move to Graz, you are obligated to register at city hall for the Meldezettel (address registration certificate). The housing market is good, and you should find an apartment easily. The best websites to search are WILLHABEN, immowelt and ImmobilienScout24. Also check Facebook groups such as Wohnen in Graz or WG-Zimmer in Graz.
Sharing a flat, known as a WG (Wohngemeinschaft) in German, is common among people of all ages. Every apartment by law must have central heating, hot water, a kitchen sink, a stove top, and a shower and toilet. Electricity and gas are calculated based on the size of the apartment and the consumption of the previous year. To rent, you’ll usually need a security deposit equivalent to three months’ rent. Landlords may ask for identification, proof of employment or a Bürgschaft, a document signed by your guarantor. They can also ask to view your visa.
WHO ranked Austria’s healthcare system among the top ten worldwide. If you’re employed, self-employed, a pensioner, claiming unemployment benefits or dependent on someone in one of these groups, public social insurance is mandatory and consists of health, accident, unemployment and pension insurance. This means almost everybody is covered, as you are automatically registered when employed or enrolled in school or university.
You should keep proof of your insurance (your e-card) with you at all times, and you’ll be asked to show it at every doctor’s appointment. If moving to Graz from another country and without a job offer in Austria, you are not automatically covered, so check out local social insurance companies such as GRAWE, ÖGK, Wiener Städtische, or Zürich Versicherungs-AG to find the best option for you. If self-employed, you must register at SVS (Sozialversicherung der Selbstständigen) for social insurance. Note that your social insurance is approximately one third of your monthly gross income.
Starting a company
As a citizen from a country within the EU, EEA or Switzerland, you can set up a business in Austria without any requirements. If you’re from a country outside of those areas, you first need to apply for a residence permit and trade license from the local district authority. The Red-White-Red Card for startup founders is the visa you want. You have to prepare your business plan and give proof of €50,000 ($60,000) investment capital with at least 50 percent equity share. You can then register your business with the Austrian Commercial Register. For that, all required documents must be translated into German and certified by a notary. The Austrian Economic Chamber offers free interpretation services for founders.
Austrian businesses must follow strict recordkeeping and accounting procedures. Annual financial statements and reports need to be drawn up within the first five months of the financial year. Within a yearly general meeting, the statements must be approved by the board and filed with the commercial register by the ninth month. Be careful not to miss any deadlines as there will be fines. Expatica offers a lot of useful information for expats founding a business in Austria. Furthermore, entrepreneurs profit from several options for business support, such as the Austrian Research Promotion Agency (FFG) and Austrian Wirtschaftsservice (aws) and the Economic Department of Graz. Cint also offers support for larger companies.
More than one sixth of the population are students enrolled in one of the eight universities and colleges.
Opening a bank account
Especially since the pandemic started, it is possible to pay by debit or credit card in most places. With a debit card from a local bank, ATMs, called Bankomaten, don’t charge fees. If you have a bank account in another EU country, you don’t necessarily need to set up an Austrian bank account, as salary and insurance can be paid out of or into any other bank in the EU. However, if you are from a non-EU country and plan on staying in Austria for a longer time, and especially if you wish to apply for a mortgage, an Austrian bank account is prudent. To open a bank account, you’ll need proof of identity, residency and employment. Some banks offer free student accounts with low interest charges. The most well-known banks are Sparkasse, Bank Austria and Raiffeisenbank. The arguably best online bank for foreigners and travellers that also provides English online banking and language customer service is N26.
The Austrian tax system is complex and subject to constant changes. You can find the latest information at the website of the Federal Ministry of Finance (Bundesministerium für Finanzen). It is highly recommended to consult a tax advisor. Austria has a progressive income tax system that ranges from 0 percent to 55 percent, depending on how much you earn. With less than €11,000 ($13,155) per year, you are income tax exempt; this goes for employees as well as self-employed. For earnings more than that, taxes start at 25 percent and go up to 55 percent. The social security tax of 18.12 percent is automatically deducted from your monthly salary. The sales tax rate is currently at 20 percent; value added tax can be 0–20 percent depending on the goods and services. Companies that are legally based in Austria are subject to unlimited taxation of their entire income.
Phone and internet
Austrians call their mobile phones Handys. The three main telecommunications companies in Austria are A1 Telekom Austria, T-Mobile Austria and Hutchison Drei Austria. They all offer contract deals for over twelve months as well as contract-free plans. Expect long waiting lines at the companies’ official stores. You can also buy prepaid SIM cards at many supermarkets, but you’ll need to register them with your identity card. Many providers offer discounts if you purchase a phone and sign up for an internet subscription with them. Use a comparison website such as durchblicker to find the best deal for you. Austria’s internet network is fast and far reaching. Connections are generally provided through fixed DSL cables, and some providers also offer fiber optic connections. The biggest internet providers are A1 Telekom Austria, Hutchison Drei Austria, Magenta, Telematica and Bob.
Although Graz is Austria’s second-biggest city, it is still small enough to walk nearly everywhere within thirty minutes. A bicycle is the fastest and most sustainable way to travel. The cycling infrastructure is well developed with many routes, making it the ideal mode of transport. Altstadtbim is an initiative that allows all passengers to use the tram (called “Bim”) for free within the old town. The public transport system connects busses and Bim. An hourly card costs €2.50 ($3.00), a monthly ticket is €54.10 ($65.00) and an annual ticket is €490 ($586). Public transport operates between 04:30 and 23:30 daily. On weekends and before holidays, there is an additional nightline between 00:30 and 02:30. Within the center, taking a taxi costs between €8 ($9.50) and €15 ($18). If you decide to get around by car, there is paid parking everywhere in the city center.
Learning the language
Especially among young adults and in business, you won’t struggle if you don’t speak German yet. When choosing Graz as your business headquarters, however, basic German skills are a necessity. Most websites lack a proper English translation, which can make working a problem. For more independence and better cultural understanding, enroll in a language school, e.g., Deutsch in Graz.
Although the official and written language is German, every region in Austria has their own dialect. In Graz, it is Steirisch (Styrian). The dialects differ in pronunciation and grammar and use different words and phrases. You’ll get used to the dialect over time, but speaking in Hochdeutsch (literally, “high German”) is also absolutely sufficient. Don’t be afraid to try it out. Austrians are used to tourists and will grasp your meaning quickly, even if you don’t know every word. Find a local tutor or tandem partner to increase your learning curve and acquire Steirisch (Styrian) faster.
As university students make up one sixth of the population, you will feel the open-minded and youthful vibe throughout the city and connect with others easily. Find new buddies at the many bars and clubs for every musical taste or while enjoying a cup of coffee at Tribeka. This popular café with four locations is a perfect place to connect with like-minded individuals, as people spend hours here studying and working. In the summer months, the biggest meeting point is Stadtpark, the biggest city park, where you’ll find yourself in a scene that is very similar to a festival: people drinking and partying, bringing their own beer pong tables. If you prefer something a little less crowded, Augarten offers a similar experience but located next to the river Mur and with a public beach. Your group of friends will most definitely grow quickly, especially if you bring beer.
Want to know more about Graz’s startup scene? Startup Guide Graz includes valuable tips, founder stories and expert insights. Order your copy now!
Written by Sarah Kampitsch
Repackaged by Anastasia Ilcov
Illustration by Catarina Serafim