Reflecting on four weeks in Austria
Almost 4 weeks ago we cleared out our already sold house with the remaining furniture and started to get ready for the permanent departure from South Africa after having lived here for over 20 years. The last few remains were some furniture sold on the day we flew, luggage for the flights, pets which shipped out via PETport and more alcohol than we should have drunk 10 hours before our flight:
Our flight was fairly uneventful. We treated ourselves to the Bidvest lounge (Mastercard customers have free entry) for one last shower and free drinks and snacks. The lounge has always been our go-to place before a flight out, as it is quiet, clean and away from all the hustle Johannesburg airport normally brings with you. Our SA263 flight to Munich was almost empty and we had reserved emergency seats for that extra leg-room:
Munich greeted us with a -7 degrees at 7am in the morning (and it was obviously completely dark). Instead of flying from Johannesburg via Frankfurt via Vienna to Klagenfurt and then traveling with 3 cats, 1 dog, 7 suitcases, 1 guitar-case and 3 back-bags by car a further 80 km, we decided to fly from Johannesburg to Munich and then travel with a hired bus to 4 hours to our final destination.
It turned out that the pets were cleared already at 9am (we expected it to be 1pm) and thanks to our driver, we managed to find the cargo area and were on the way home at around 12pm. We had not even left Munich, when we heard of an accident in Salzburg, closing our route down for 6 hours. Instead of waiting, we took a detour through Tirol, which gave us some fantastic winter scenery:
We made the most of it and stopped a few times along the way and finally arrived home at 7pm with a 2 hour delay, but relieved as we could finally settle.
Mobile Communications in Austria
On the Thursday evening we activated our SIM cards (spusu.at has some insanely good tariffs – EUR 10/pm buys you 21GB and 500 minutes voice per month) and started changing our phone numbers.
Pro tip: CellC is among the few mobile carries supporting WiFi calling on iOS. Once activated on iOS you do not need roaming as you can use a WiFi connection for South African calls and messages (think of it like roaming without the cost). To this day I still have my old CellC SIM in an old iPhone to receive SMS and other notifications.
We have decided to use Spusu.at as they provided the cheapest pre-paid option and their unused data rolls over for another month. There are several other providers such as A1, T-Mobile, Drei.at and HoT. As of 1. January 2019, all new SIM cards require registration (similar to the South African RICA requirement).
Don’t forget to change your 3D Secure and Banking OTP
Months before we left, we changed our banking and 3D Secure to receive one-time-PINs via email instead of SMS. Although this was super-painful (Standard Bank sends OTP as PDF) while in South Africa, it was vital to continue having access to internet banking services when abroad.
At the same time we also deactivated all our 2FA services and security mechanisms relying on SMS OTP. If you are using Authy, have a read over https://authy.com/phones/change/.
The first week – the “Meldezettel” and public transport
We hit the ground running. The first day we organised our “Meldezettel” as every person living in Austria needs to report to the closest government office and register where he/she lives. This information is used for essential services (such as revenue office, your social services, opening a bank account and even when applying for a cellphone contract).
My son was surprised that weeks after registering he received his “e-card” (the Austrian social security card), an invitation from AMS (the Austrian employment service) to explore job opportunities and a call from the Bundesheer (Austrian army) to come for his conscription test.
Public transport is highly efficient and we use a monthly ticket costing €140 per person, which allows us unlimited travel across the province. Once you start working in Austria, the revenue service will also credit you up to €160 per month when using public transport (and the European Union will give you €160 as a “Pendler Euro). This all works quite seamless by filling out a form and registering it with your employer.
The lifestyle and the adjustment from living in the big city
Living in South Africa for over 20 years shapes a person through colleagues being hijacked, frequent smash-and-grabs, armed robberies in malls and the constant worry about the well-being of your loved ones. Add to this economic and political uncertainty and we find ourselves becoming numb and helpless to those issues. The biggest worry was always how brutal and violent crimes in South Africa turned out to be – it was not enough to rob a house, and one could call themselves “lucky” if the family was not murdered or robbed during the ordeal.
The biggest adjustment so far is that the chances of becoming a victim of violent crime in Austria has a very low possibility (especially when comparing to the daily 100 murders and 50 rapes per day back in South Africa). The most liberating aspect of living here is to know that you can walk to your local supermarket 1km away in the dark without a worry. Or not having to worry at a red traffic lights that a smash-and-grab will happen or you will get hijacked.
The South African “normal” is far from normal from the locals. People here do not understand that it is perfectly normal for load-shedding for weeks or that locals burn down government buildings, universities or trains if they are not happy with something.
We have thus resorted to leave the South African life behind as it is impossible to explain within a civilized context. Although this is still a daily struggle, it has certainly subsided and the fear and worry about something bad to happen is slowly disappearing.
It is therefore such a great relief to see that everything just works:
- Most grocery shops open up from 6:30 or 7am and stay open until 6pm-7pm.
- Government facilities are highly efficient. Tasha’s residence permit was ready when we got there and was issued within a few minutes. In addition she got a €700 voucher to complete her A2 exam.
- Taxation is comparable high as in South Africa with the difference that things just work – be it public transport or traffic lights (for the non South African: During my 8km commute to work, I have to pass through 11 traffic lights – in the last year not a week has passed where all of them worked) or that no-one litters.
Although I started work 4 days after we arrived here, we had enough time to soak up some of the Christmas markets, Glühwein, Glühmost and other specialties Carinthia has to offer. We exclusively have used public transport (mostly ÖBB railways) and occasion buses – all of which are reasonably cheap (a monthly ticket to travel across the whole province as many times as you want costs €140).
While settling in, we spent weekends on hikes, did some Geocaching and started developing a routine around recycling and grocery shopping. The market-town Lurnfeld with it’s 2,500 residents requires some getting used to the “small-town” living as everyone knows everyone and our style of living is seemingly “not normal” (i.e. it is supposedly unusual to go recycling on a weekend or evening – no clue how other people do it if they finish work at 5-6pm). Despite it’s small size, the town has 3 grocery stores, a pharmacy, petrol station, several bars and restaurants, two pizzerias and the train-station is a 7-minute walk.
The short four weeks we have been here feel much longer (in a good way) and South Africa has become a somewhat distant memory. Not a day goes by here appreciating the simple things in life, such as taking a walk through the forest, ice-skating or during our outings to run into deer.
It is certainly not easy to give everything up back in South Africa to start over again somewhere else, but many people have shown that with motivation and grit it is possible. We are far from where we want to be, but have found the right place to make this happen. In hindsight we should have made the decision much earlier as our savings are getting a beating with the weak Rand (and it will only get worse) and we would have been much further had we pulled out two or three years ago.
The future here is however bright. Find a job was really easy with plenty of opportunities in the IT environment. My son is currently attending an event with the EYP (European Youth Parliament) and will very soon start his intensive German course at the Alpen Adria University in Klagenfurt. Thereafter he will meet with the AMS (Department of Labour) to discuss career opportunities and then join the Austrian Armed Forces to serve his conscription.
The only thing left to do in South Africa is to complete the financial emigration which we started two weeks ago and convert my wife’s South African drivers license (it is a simple transfer, as South African drivers licenses are accepted in most of Europe).