What makes Austria a unique country to travel to?
Austria is a highly developed, stable democracy with a modern economy. Tourism is an important pillar of the Austrian economy and facilities are widely available.
Austria has one of the lowest crime rates in Europe, and violent crime is rare. However, crimes involving the theft of personal property do occur. As such, most crimes involving U.S. citizens are crimes of opportunity, involving theft of personal belongings. Travelers are also targets of pick-pockets who operate where tourists tend to gather. Some of the spots where such crimes are most frequently reported include Vienna’s two largest train stations, the plaza around St. Stephen’s Cathedral, and the nearby pedestrian shopping areas (in Vienna’s First District).
The U.S. Embassy receives reports of theft and pick-pocketing on public transportation lines, especially on those lines coming into and out of the city center. Secure your personal belongings and always take precautions while on public transportation and in public places such as cafes and tourist areas.
Don’t buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal to bring back into the United States, but by buying them, you may also be breaking local law.
While traveling in Austria, you are subject to its laws. While you are overseas you do not enjoy the same rights and privileges that you have in the U.S. If you do something illegal in your host country, your U.S. passport won’t help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It is very important to know what is legal and what is not, since foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different from our own. Criminal penalties also vary from country to country. There are also some things that may be legal where you are traveling but illegal in the United States. If you engage in sexual conduct with children or use or disseminate child pornography in a foreign country, you can be prosecuted in the United States.
Persons violating Austrian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking illegal drugs in Austria are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
Arrest Notifications: Based on the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, bilateral agreements with certain countries, and customary international law, if you are arrested in Austria, you have the option to request that the police, prison officials, or other authorities alert the U.S. Embassy of your arrest, and to have communications from you forwarded to the Embassy.
The official language is German. Linguistic minorities include Turks, Slovenes, Croats, Slovaks, Hungarians, and Czechs.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
There are an adequate number of hospitals available in Austria. Local hospitals will not settle their accounts directly with American insurance companies. You must pay the bill to the local hospital and later claim a refund from the insurance carrier in the United States. Medicare payments are not available outside the United States.
The Austrian Medicine Import Act generally prohibits the import of prescription drugs into Austria, with two exceptions:
Travelers residing outside the European Union are allowed to carry with them (as part of their personal luggage) drugs and medicines, but only a quantity the individual requires during the course of the stay; and,
Travelers, while staying in Austria, may receive drugs and medicines for their personal use by mail. The quantity is limited to the length of their stay in Austria and must never exceed three packages.
We recommend you have either a prescription or written statement from your personal physician that you are under a doctor’s care and that the medicine is necessary for your physical well-being while traveling.
Public health in Austria is excellent. Community sanitation in Vienna meets or exceeds that of most U.S. cities. Disease incidence and type are similar to the rest of Europe and the United States. At the present time, air pollution is not a major health problem in Vienna.
Safety and Security
Austria remains largely free of terrorist incidents; however, like other countries in the Schengen area, Austria’s open borders with its Western European neighbors allow the possibility of terrorist groups entering and exiting the country with anonymity. U.S. citizens are reminded to remain vigilant with regard to their personal security and to exercise caution.
Austrian intelligence experts have registered increased radicalization of immigrant Muslim individuals and of small conspiratorial groups, as well as intensified use of the Internet as a propaganda and communications platform.
Every year, a number of avalanche deaths occur in Austria's alpine regions. Many occur when skiers/snowboarders stray from designated ski slopes. Leaving designated slopes to ski off-piste may pose serious risks and may delay rescue attempts in case of emergency. Skiers and snowboarders should monitor weather and terrain conditions, and use available avalanche rescue equipment. Avalanche beepers (transceivers) are the most common rescue devices and, when properly used, provide the fastest way of locating an avalanche victim, usually enabling authorities to begin rescue operations within minutes. Climbing, hill walking, and mountaineering involve a level of risk with a danger of personal injury or death. While the number of people requiring rescue in Austria remains steady each year, there has been a marked increase in air evacuations since July 2013. Alpine rescuers are increasingly concerned about the growing number of people participating in mountaineering activities without proper preparation and planning; people participating in these activities should closely monitor weather and terrain conditions and contact local tourism offices or mountain guide associations for information on trails that are tailored to individual skill levels. Also, it is recommended to buy special leisure insurance. More information, including safety tips, is available on the Austrian Alpine Club website http://www.alpenverein.at/portal/service/mitgliedschaft/index.php To call for an emergency, dial 144 (Austrian Red Cross) or the European emergency number 112.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in Austria, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. Road conditions in Austria are generally excellent. During the winter, however, roads in alpine areas may become dangerous due to snowfall, ice, or avalanches. Some mountain roads may be closed for extended periods and tire chains are often required. Be extra careful during the heavily traveled vacation periods (i.e., December-February, Easter, and July-August). Be alert when you drive through autobahn construction zones, particularly on the A-1 East/West Autobahn. Reduced lanes and two-way traffic in these zones have resulted in several deadly accidents in recent years. Traffic information and road conditions are broadcast on the English-language channel, fm4, located between 91 and 105 FM depending on the locale.
A U.S. driver’s license alone is not sufficient to drive in Austria. You must also get an international driver’s permit (obtainable in the U.S. from the American Automobile Association and the American Automobile Touring Alliance) or by an official translation of the U.S. driver’s license, which can be obtained at one of the Austrian automobile clubs (OEAMTC or ARBOE). This arrangement is only acceptable for the first six months of driving in Austria, after which all drivers must obtain an Austrian license.
Austria requires all vehicles using the autobahn to display an “Autobahn Vignette” highway-tax sticker on the inside of the vehicle’s windshield. The sticker may be purchased at border crossings, gas stations in Austria, and small “Tabak” shops located in Austrian towns. The fine for failing to display a valid autobahn vignette on the windshield of your car is EUR 120 (approx. $ 150 08/2013 exchange rate) if paid in cash and “on the spot”. For more information, please see http://www.asfinag.at/maut/vignette
Austrian autobahns have a maximum speed limit of 130 km/hr, although drivers often drive much faster and pass aggressively. The use of hand-held cell phones while driving is prohibited. Turning right on red is also prohibited throughout Austria. The legal limit for blood alcohol content in Austria is .05 percent and penalties for driving under the influence tend to be stricter than in many U.S. states.
It is mandatory for cars on Austrian motorways and highways to leave an emergency corridor, even when no emergency vehicle is approaching. When traffic stops, create an emergency corridor in between the far-left lane and all others to the right; vehicles should also be using the shoulder. For more information, please click here. Failure to comply carries a fine of EUR 2,180 (approx.$ 2,700)
Between November 1 and April 15, the use of winter tires is mandated by law. All-season tires comply if they carry the “M S” mark and have at least 4 mm of tread. In addition, local police may require snow chains in heavy snow. Failure to comply with the law results in a substantial fine and the suspension of the cited vehicle's use. Insurance is deemed void if a vehicle that is involved in an accident between November 1 and April 15 is not fitted with winter tires.
Tourists driving rented vehicles must ensure that the vehicle is equipped with the proper tires and pay close attention to the provisions of their rental contract. Many contracts prohibit drivers from taking rented vehicles into eastern European countries. Drivers attempting to enter countries listed as “prohibited” on the car rental contract may be arrested, fined, and/or charged with attempted auto theft. Austrian police are authorized to hold the rented vehicle for the car rental company.
Emergency roadside help and information may be reached by dialing 123 or 120 for vehicle assistance and towing services (Austrian automobile clubs), 122 for the fire department, 133 for police, and 144 for an ambulance. The European emergency line is 112.
Austrian Federal Railroads (Österreichische Bundesbahnen) offer excellent railroad service to all major towns of the country and also direct connections with all major cities in Europe. Trains are well maintained and fares are reasonable. There is also an extensive network of bus lines operated by the Austrian Postal Service (Österreichische Post). All major cities also offer excellent public transportation services.