Stay safe in Austria
Austria is one of the safest countries in the world. According to the OECD Factbook 2006, thefts, muggings and vehicle crime are among the lowest in the developed world, and a Mercer study ranks Vienna as the 6th safest city in the world out of 215. Violent crime is extremely rare and should not worry the average tourist. Small towns and uninhabited areas such as forests are very safe at any time of day.
Beware of pickpockets in busy places. Like everywhere in Europe, they are becoming more and more professional. Bicycle theft is widespread in big cities, but practically non-existent in smaller towns. Always secure your bike to a fixed object.
Racism can also be a problem and make your stay an unpleasant experience. As elsewhere in Central Europe, there can be cases of blatant hostile stares; unprovoked interrogations by the police are also not uncommon in big cities like Graz or Vienna. However, racism is almost never seen in a violent form. In the remotest parts of Austria, non-white people are rare. If you see older people there giving you strange looks, don’t feel threatened. They are probably curious or suspicious of strangers and have no intention of harming you. A short conversation can often be enough to break the ice.
Do not walk on the cycle paths (especially in Vienna) and cross them like any other road. Some cycle paths are difficult to see (e.g. on the “Ring” in Vienna) and some cyclists go quite fast. Walking on cycle paths is not only considered rude, but you may also be hit by a cyclist.
Stay healthy in Austria
Austria has an excellent health care system by Western standards. The hospitals are modern, clean and well equipped. Health care in Austria is financed by the health insurance funds, a compulsory public insurance that covers 99% of the population. Most hospitals are publicly owned or operated by the health insurance funds. There are private hospitals, but mainly for non-life threatening conditions. Most doctors’ surgeries are private practices, but most accept patients from the health insurance funds. Many Austrians opt for private supplementary health insurance. This allows them to consult doctors who do not accept health insurance and to stay in special hospital wards with fewer beds (which are often given priority).
As an EU traveller, you can get any form of urgent treatment covered by health insurance free of charge (or for a small token payment). Non-emergency treatment is not covered. All you have to do is show your European Health Insurance Card and passport at the doctor’s or hospital. If you go to a general practitioner, look out if the street sign says “All Funds” or “No Funds”, in which case your EHIC is not valid. Supplementary travel insurance is recommended if you want to see a doctor or visit a specialist department.
If you are a third-country traveller and do not have travel insurance, you must pay the full cost of treatment in advance (except in emergencies). Medical costs can be very high, but are still reasonable compared to the United States.
Austria has a dense network of rescue helicopters that can reach any point in the country within 15 minutes. Attention: Mountain rescue by helicopter is not covered by your EHIC and also not by most travel insurances. If you have a medical emergency in the mountains (e.g. if you break your leg while skiing), the helicopter will be called to rescue you whether you ask for it or not, and you will be charged from €1,000. It is therefore strongly recommended that you take out mountain sports insurance; you can get this from your health insurance fund or by becoming a member of the Austrian Alpine Club (€48.50 for one year’s membership, automatic insurance for mountain rescue costs up to €22,000).
Certain regions of Austria (Carinthia, Styria, Lower Austria) are affected by tick-borne encephalitis. Vaccination is strongly recommended for those planning outdoor activities in spring or summer. Also note that there is a small population of the endangered sand viper in the south of the country.
Tap water in Austria is of excellent and drinkable quality (except in some regions of Lower Austria, where it is advisable to find out about the quality of the water beforehand! ) The water quality in Vienna and Graz is said to be comparable to that of Evian.