2 Gen Xers who joined the wave of Americans moving to Austria explain how it's improved their quality of life and given them a fresh start in their careers
- Two Gen Xers who moved to Austria from the US said they had more freedom and fewer anxieties.
- The move has given the two dads more time to spend with family and travel across Europe.
When Michael Valentine was laid off in 2018 from his leadership position at a robotics company in Michigan, he was devastated.
But after some thought, the 53-year-old decided to move up his retirement plans and relocate to his wife's home country of Austria.
Along with their daughter, the couple opened a women's fashion store in the city of Innsbruck, where everyone gets a minimum of five weeks guaranteed paid leave and frequent holidays. He said he's relieved the nation's work culture was less intense.
"There's a belief here that vacation is something that you have to do for your own mental health to make you a better, more productive employee," Valentine said. "It's a bit of a different philosophy from the US in that when you go on vacation, that doesn't mean you're checking your email all the time or taking phone calls."
Many Americans are moving to Austria recently for employment opportunities and to improve their quality of life. Recent college graduates and 30-year professionals alike told Insider they're are making the move to cities such as Vienna and Linz, a decision that two dads said was well worth the effort.
Some have moved to Austria to fill jobs the Austrian government has listed as "shortage occupations," which include engineers, nurses, and bakers. One estimate puts the number of Americans living in Austria at over 11,000.
"In most countries, it is very difficult to get jobs that they feel like a local could do, and that's a real struggle for folks who don't have degree skills or credential skills," Jen Barnett, a cofounder of Expatsi, which provides services for US expats, said. "It is very notable that they are hiring for entry-level roles that don't require a degree and or an apprenticeship."
Barnett said Austria's high English proficiency, temperate weather, and progressive policies toward women and LGBTQ+ communities had been major pulls. Austria also ranks in the top 10 globally for safety, healthcare, and infrastructure, which Barnett said was "super rare."
For Valentine, it's the relaxed lifestyle, including more time off and access to nature, that makes him happy in his new country.
"I don't have any interest in leaving Austria," Valentine said. "I love America, but I don't miss living in America."
A dad says his mental health improved after 4 years in Innsbruck
Valentine said the move softened years of work-related anxiety. Getting to traverse the Alps, easily travel to Italy and Croatia, and spend more time with his family are all welcome changes, he said.
After studying at the University of Innsbruck in Austria in the 1990s, the Detroit native started a robotics company in the US with his brother, then joined another company in Michigan.
Valentine acknowledged he made higher wages in the US, and the family lives in a smaller home than they could have afforded in the US. In his case, though, the quality-of-life improvements were worth it.
Given Austria's stores are mostly closed on Sundays, he said the family had an extra day to not worry about the shop and focus on enjoying nature.
Valentine initially feared his high-school-age daughter, who was adopted from China, would face discrimination in Austria, he said, but she has integrated well at her public international school. His daughter will be able to attend most European universities for almost free, which he estimated would save the family over $150,000.
As he gets older, he added, being in a country with reliable and inexpensive healthcare has brought him peace of mind. He said one time, he broke his wrist and was in and out of the hospital with a cast in 45 minutes.
He also said his family had cut down on transit costs. For example, they have only one car since public transportation is fast and convenient.
Valentine said the adjustment to Austrian life came with its ups and downs, such as relearning some norms and getting acclimated again to the formalities of the German language.
"It's one thing to be able to go someplace and survive and get by on a day-to-day level, but to get to where you're thriving and get to know people and do things, it's important where you should learn the language," Valentine said.
A dad who lives in a small town in the Alps says the laid-back workweek has made Austria his 'landing spot'
Rick Lewis, an Ohio native who lives with his daughter in a small Austrian town in the Alps, said the country's laid-back lifestyle and work-life balance had led him to decide to stay for the long term.
"For me, it wasn't an economic decision; it was more a life decision," Lewis, who has lived in South Korea, Switzerland, Russia, and the Bahamas for his work as an educator and school administrator, said.
While the visa process and apartment hunt were somewhat difficult to navigate, Lewis said his quality of life skyrocketed as he switched from 10- to 12-hour workdays at previous schools to shorter days with frequent vacation days. Though he works five days a week, most teachers at his school work four-day weeks.
"For a lot of Austrians, they might take an 80% job or a 70% job instead of working full time since they have a kid at home or they have other things going on," Lewis said, adding that many people worked just 20 hours a week across multiple part-time jobs. "It's not that they don't care about how much money they're making; it's about the quality of life in terms of how much they want to work."
The natural beauty of the mountains and the calm but efficient lifestyle didn't hurt, Lewis said. He said he quickly came to know everyone in his town — partly because he always wears baseball hats — and integrated into the community through local festivals and charity events. Though he doesn't speak German, Lewis said there were a handful of other expats living close by who helped each other out.
The more laid-back workweek has afforded Lewis the opportunity to take on extra work with schools in Africa, as well as spend more time with family. He said the freedom to hop on a train or hang out with his daughter was unlike the rigid work environment of the US.
"This is my landing spot," Lewis said. "I'll keep working here until I retire, no doubt."
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