Money & costs
Compared to other European cities, Vienna is cheaper than London, Paris, Zürich or Rome, similar to Munich, and more expensive than Prague or Budapest. With the exception of ski resorts such as Lech and Kitzbühel, the Austrian countryside is noticeably cheaper than Vienna. Overall, Britons and Americans will probably find things very affordable.
Accommodation will be your most expensive item, but it can be significantly reduced if you use hostels or share in twin rooms and doubles. If you are travelling alone on midrange options, expect to pay about €50 to €60 per night (with breakfast) in a hotel. Prices for a lunch special are around €6 to €9. An evening meal with a glass of wine or beer costs about €15 to €20, while a day pass on public transport in cities averages about €4.50. Museum entry is €5 to €7 in most cases (though many are cheaper and a few €12 or more); everyday toiletries (buy them in a Drogerie or supermarket, not a pharmacy) as well as splurges, blow-outs and luxuries, plus transportation will also need to be budgeted. We arrived at almost €350 for The Big Trip itinerary with side trips by public transport but excluding city transport. Taking these into account, about €125 per day is realistic.
If you’re on a tight budget and choose to stay in hostels, eat cheaply, buy your drinks from supermarkets, and walk rather than use public transport in cities, you should be able to manage on about €70 or €80 per day. If you want to go below that budget level, you’ll need to pick and choose the sights you visit carefully. Students and children get discounts for some museums and activities, and family deals often apply.
Tipping is a part of everyday life in Austria; in restaurants, bars and cafés and in taxis it’s customary to give about 10%. Add the bill and the tip together and hand it over in one lump sum. It also doesn’t hurt to tip hairdressers, hotel porters, cloak-room attendants, cleaning staff and tour guides one or two euros.
Like other members of the European Monetary Union (EMU), Austria’s currency is the euro, which is divided into 100 cents. There are coins for one, two, five, 10, 20 and 50 cents and for €1 and €2. Notes come in denominations of €5, €10, €20, €50, €100, €200 and €500.
In Austria ATMs are known as Bankomaten. They are extremely common and are accessible till midnight, some are 24 hours. Even villages have at least one machine; look for the sign with blue and green horizontal stripes. ATMs are linked up internationally, have English instructions and are usually limited to daily withdrawals of €400 with credit and debit cards.
Check with your home bank before travelling for charges for using a Bankomat; there’s usually no commission to pay at the Austrian end.
With the number of ATMs, the practice of carrying large amounts of cash around has become obsolete. It is, however, worth keeping a small amount in a safe place for emergencies.
Visa, EuroCard and MasterCard are accepted a little more widely than American Express (Amex) and Diners Club, although a surprising number of shops and restaurants refuse to accept any credit cards at all. Upmarket shops, hotels and restaurants will accept cards, though. Train tickets can be bought by credit card in main stations. Credit cards allow you to get cash advances at most banks.
For lost or stolen credit cards, call the following:
Amex 0800 900 940
Diners Club 01-501 35 14
MasterCard 01-717 01 4500
Visa01-711 11 770
Banks are the best places to exchange cash, but it pays to shop around as exchange rates and commission charges can vary a little between them. Normally there is a minimum commission charge of €2 to €3.50, so try to exchange your money in large amounts to save on multiple charges. Banks at train stations often have longer hours, and Wechselstuben (money-exchange offices) – usually found in the centre of large cities or at train stations – even longer, but commissions are often high.
Taxes & refunds
Mehrwertsteuer (MWST; value-added tax) in Austria is set at 20% for most goods. Prices are always displayed inclusive of all taxes.
All non-EU tourists are entitled to a refund of the MWST on single purchases over €75. To claim the tax, a U34 form or tax-free cheque and envelope must be completed by the shop at the time of purchase (show your passport), and then stamped by border officials when you leave the EU. To be eligible for a tax refund, goods must be taken out of the country within three months of the date of purchase. The airports at Vienna, Salzburg, Innsbruck, Linz and Graz have a counter for payment of instant refunds. There are also counters at major border crossings. The refund is best claimed as you leave the EU, otherwise you will have to track down an international refund office or claim by post from your home country.
Before making a purchase, ensure the shop has the required paperwork; some places display a ‘Global Refund Tax Free Shopping’ sticker. Also confirm the value of the refund; it’s usually advertised as 13% (which is the refund of the 20% standard rate of value-added tax after various commissions have been taken), though it may vary for certain categories of goods.
All major travellers cheques are equally widely accepted, but you may want to use Amex, Visa or Thomas Cook because of their ‘instant replacement’ policies. A record of the cheque numbers and the initial purchase details is vital when it comes to replacing lost cheques. Without this, you may well find that ‘instant’ might take a very long time. You should also keep a record of which cheques you have cashed. Keep these details separate from the cheques.
American Express exchange services are run by Interchange Austria. A minimum commission of €5 is charged on Amex cheques in euros for amounts of €50 to €250, or 2% if the amount is above that. For non-Amex cheques it’s €7/12 for €100/250. Amex cheques in US dollars are exchanged without charge. Banks typically charge €7 or more to exchange travellers cheques. Avoid changing a lot of low-value cheques as commission costs will be higher. Big hotels also change money, but rates are invariably poor. Look especially carefully at the commission rates charged by exchange booths; they can be quite reasonable or ridiculously high.