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Everything you need to know about becoming a freelancer in Austria

Struggling to get your head around Austrian bureaucracy? Here is a comprehensive guide to setting out on your own.

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DIETER NAGL / AFP

Whether you’re in tech, media, an artist or musician or working in a creative industry, it’s becoming more and more common to work as a freelancer these days.

First things first, whether you’re from within or outside of the European Union, when you move to Austria you must register with the authorities. 

Registering

People who plan to become resident in Austria are required to register their place of residence within three days with the competent authority (municipal office or Municipal District Office). You can register (or de-register) here.

EU/EEA Citizens

EU/EEA citizens and their relatives who intend to stay in Austria for more than three months and settle are required to apply for a registration certificate (Anmeldebescheinigung).

Third country nationals

Third country nationals, for example people who are not EEA citizens or Swiss nationals, need a residence permit for Austria when they plan to stay longer than six months.

If you are seeking to live and work in Austria you need a Rot-Weiss-Rot (Red White Red) card, which is issued for a period of 24 months. 

The following groups are eligible for this card. 

  • Very highly qualified workers
  • Skilled workers in shortage occupations
  • Other key workers
  • Graduates of Austrian universities and colleges of higher education
  • Self-employed key workers
  • Start-up founders

General requirements for issuing residence permits

The authorities may only grant you a residence permit if you can prove you have a fixed and regular personal income enabling you to cover your living costs without resorting to welfare aid from local authorities, around €1,000 a month for a single person or €1,500 for a couple. 

If you plan to stay more than a year in Austria as a Rot-Weiss-Rot card holder, you will have to learn German up to A2 level within two years. For those hoping to get permanent leave to remain, including a permanent work permit (Daueraufenthalt),  most people will have to reach B1 level German.

READ MORE: Just how good does your German have to be to gain citizenship in Austria?

Health and social insurance

Health insurance is compulsory in Austria. Every person taking up work, whether employed or self-employed is automatically covered by health insurance and his/her dependants are covered by co-insurance under the health insurance scheme. 

In Austria, while working as a freelancer, once your income exceeds around  €5,710.32 annually you must also pay compulsory health and social insurance SVS (also known as SVA). The SVS has access to your tax return and will send you a bill for any shortfall in contributions.

Paying tax

As a self-employed person you are subject to tax if you earn more than the basic tax-free allowance (Existenzminimum). The basic minimum tax allowance is € 11.000, but it may vary depending on your personal circumstances. 

Registering for tax with the tax office (Finanzamt) is a complicated process. First you need a tax identification number, in order to fill out your tax return. This involves filling out a questionnaire Verf24 via FinanzOnline.

Most people recommend you use a tax adviser to help you with this: it’s very easy to make mistakes, which could get you in trouble, especially if you are not a confident German speaker. 

The tax year in Austria starts in January, unlike in some other countries such as the UK, where it runs from 6 April.

Tax returns should be filed by the end of June for the previous year if you are filing tax online. 

However, if you employ a tax adviser the deadline for tax returns can be extended to February. 

VAT

If your business turns over more than €35,000 per year you may have to charge VAT. This is a separate number to the tax number and will be assigned upon special request at the tax office. 

What is tax deductible? 

While it is possible to save up receipts from work related expenses and offset them against tax, many freelancers find it easier to take advantage of a flat reduction in tax (Basispauschalierung), calculated according to income.

Office costs, training costs, travel expenses, communication expenses, office supplies, liability insurance and SVS payments can all be tax deductible. 

Becoming self-employed in Austria

Identifying the right type of self-employment is the first step to becoming a freelancer in Austria, and there are four different categories:

  • New self-employed (Neue Selbständige)

This includes artists, writers, journalists, lecturers, self-employed nurses, midwives, scientists, self-employed psychologists, psychotherapists  and physiotherapists. In these professions a trade licence (Gewerbeschein) is not required. 

  • Liberal professional (Freiberufler)

This group includes pharmacists, architects and engineering consultants, doctors, notaries, lawyers, veterinarians, accountants and dentists.

  • Self-employed with a free or regulated business licence (Freie/ Reglementierte Gewerbe)

This group includes professionals such as builders, IT workers, commercial agents, masseurs, carpenters, financial advisors, management consultants, insurance agents, insurance brokers and  translators.

  • Independent contractors (Freie Dienstnehmer).

Independent contractors are insured at the Austrian Health insurance (ÖGK) and do not have to worry about insurance payments as these will be covered by their employer.

However, as an independent contractor, you are subject to income tax and you have to also file a tax return every year. 

Business registration can be done at the Austrian Chamber of Commerce or Wirtschaftskammer Österreich (WKÖ).

This is also somewhere you may be able to get help with someone who speaks English.  There is an annual WKÖ fee of €100, plus annual business fees and tourism tax to pay as a freelancer.

Is it worth it?

Being a freelancer in most cases is quite tough in Austria.

Often you pay as much tax and social and health insurance contributions as an employee, but you are not eligible for holiday pay, sick pay or unemployment benefit, depending on which category you fall into.

However, since 1st January 2009, self-employed persons have been able to insure themselves against the risk of unemployment under an ‘opt-in’ model.

If you are an artist or musician, you may be able to find help at the Künstler-Sozialversicherungsfonds or the artists’ social insurance fund.

The KSVF pays subsidies for the social security contributions of the self-employed artists, and can pay subsidies in an emergency.

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For members

LIVING IN AUSTRIA

EXPLAINED: Everything you need to know about camping in Austria

Camping in Austria can be a lot of fun, but what are the rules? Here’s everything you need to know about setting up camp in the Alpine republic.

EXPLAINED: Everything you need to know about camping in Austria

Waking up beside a lake or surrounded by mountains is a dream Austrian holiday for many, but it’s important to know the rules about camping before heading off with a tent or campervan.

As the summer season approaches, here’s everything you need to know about camping in Austria.

Is wild camping legal in Austria?

Wild camping – setting up camp outside of a designated campsite – is generally illegal in Austria. This applies to both camping in a tent or sleeping in a van on the side of the road.

Exceptions to this rule do exist but usually only if the municipal authority grants a temporary exception, for example for a school trip or a youth club activity.

A bivouac (temporary camp without cover) is allowed in the event of bad weather or injury, but planned wild camping in the mountains is illegal. 

FOR MEMBERS: What are the rules for wild camping in Austria?

There are some regional differences though.

In the states of Salzburg, Vorarlberg and Styria there are no laws strictly forbidding camping outside of campsites, but local authorities can prohibit it and take action if necessary.

The strictest rules apply in national parks, nature reserves and special protection areas across Austria, so check before you plan your camping trip that your spot is not located in one of these areas.  

In most cases, if someone is caught camping illegally in Austria it is considered as an administrative offence and a fine can be issued, ranging from €5 to €500, depending on the location.

Camping in the forest

Camping in the forest is prohibited everywhere in Austria by law (specifically Section 33 of the Forest Act). The only exception is when you have the consent of the landowner.

Camping above the tree line

In Upper Austria and Styria you are allowed to camp in the mountains above the tree line, as long as you are outside of pasture areas.

In Vorarlberg this is also permitted, although the mayor of a municipality can prohibit the setting up of tents outside approved campsites if the interests of safety, health, agriculture or the protection of the natural balance as well as the landscape and townscape are “grossly violated”.

In Salzburg, camping above the tree line is in theory permitted, but the Alpine Association recommends groups wishing to camp should contact the nature conservation department of the responsible district administration before setting up. 

READ ALSO: How to explore the Austrian mountains in the summer like a local

Camping in a tent

Camping in a tent is the most common way of camping in the summer and most people pitch up on a dedicated campsite.

Many campgrounds have water and electricity facilities, as well as showers, cooking areas, recreation spaces and even kids clubs. Others have luxury elements like year-round heated pools, saunas, beach volleyball and restaurants.

Campsites are also often located near a lake or at the base of mountains, which means you can wake up to beautiful scenery every morning .

Some of Austria’s top camping associations include Camping Wien, Camping Steiermark and Top Camping Austria.

Camping in a van

Camping in a motorhome is only allowed at campsites in Austria and if someone is caught sleeping in a van in a prohibited area they can be fined.

The only exception is if a driver has to stop and recuperate before continuing driving.

Top camping tips

Austria is packed with stunning natural landscapes, so camping during the summer months is a popular activity – both for Austrian residents and tourists.

For this reason, it’s recommended to book ahead during the peak summer holiday months of July and August, whether planning to camp in a motorhome or tent.

Camping in motorhomes is also becoming more popular at some winter campsites during the ski season, so it’s always a good idea to book in advance.

Additionally, it’s advised to take bug spray when camping in Austria in the summer as insects like mosquitoes and ticks are common in countryside areas.

In fact, tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) – a viral infection transmitted by the bite of infected ticks – is endemic in Austria and it’s recommended to get vaccinated before going on a hiking or camping trip in the country.

The main affected areas for TBE are Tyrol and Upper Austria.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: What is Austria’s ‘tick vaccine’ and should you take it

Useful vocabulary

Campsite – Campingplätze

Tent – Zelt

Campervan – Reisemobil

Electricity – Strom

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