For members


Why is cash so important to Austrians?

Austria’s love for cash payments can be seen through the saying “Nur Bares ist Wahres” (only cash is true), which captures a prevalent sentiment across the country. But why, in a digital age, is Austria so keen on cash payments?

Why is cash so important to Austrians?

Unlike Scandinavia, the Benelux countries, Italy, Greece, Ireland or the UK, German-speaking Europe remains keen on cash. 

For a number of historical reasons, cash is still king in Austria, Germany and much of Switzerland – or at least until the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Austrians love to carry large wads of cash around to make all kinds of payments – just one of many similarities your average Austrian has with gangsters and hip-hop musicians.  

Austria loves cash so much that it tried to make a right to cash payments part of the constitution in 2019. 

READ MORE: Austria’s love of cash in poll campaign spotlight 

While the effort ultimately failed, it showed just how much Austria is enamoured with coins and paper money.

How widespread is cash usage in Austria? 

A pre-pandemic study showed that Austria are the kings of cash, with 83 percent of Austrians using cash regularly, compared with 75 percent of Germans and 71 percent of Swiss. 

This is compared with card leaders such as Sweden, where cash is expected to disappear completely by 2030. 

As recently as May 2021, prominent Austrian figures have publicly pushed back against EU efforts to cap cash payments at €10,000

Finance Minister Gernot Blümel emphasised the national preference for cash payments – no matter what was being purchased. 

“We will not accept a creeping abolition of cash”, Blümel explained, saying that cash was “still the most important and preferred means of payment, especially in Austria”.

A look inside the average Austrian's wallet. Photo: ARMEND NIMANI / AFP
A peek inside the average Austrian’s wallet. Photo: ARMEND NIMANI / AFP

Why do Austrians love cash payment so much? 

There are a number of reasons Austrians still stubbornly prefer paying by cash. 

One is freedom – i.e. the freedom that comes from not having to rely on a bank, funds transfer, a card, a card payment system or even your smartphone battery staying charged enough to pay. 

According to Alexander Hahn from Austria’s Der Standard newspaper, cash means you can go it alone. 

“In contrast to deposit money in accounts, which is used for electronic payments, citizens do not need service providers such as banks, who keep account registers in the background, for custody or transfers.”

READ MORE: Drug dealer makes off with €100K of Austrian police cash

Another is anonymity. 

German-speaking Europe is sceptical of any system which allows payments to be tracked, i.e. with the risk that this information could fall into the hands of governments, private companies or even your partner (does your wife really need to know how much you spend on ice cream?) 

It’s one reason why pre-paid card schemes for public transport have tended to fail at the first hurdle in German-speaking countries. 

According to Hahn, Austrians don’t want people seeing what they spend their cash on. 

“Many citizens generally appreciate this, but especially when it comes to buying unhealthy stimulants such as tobacco or alcohol. The payment platform Paysafe reports that 51 percent of Austrians do not like to give their data when paying.”

A final reason is control. 

Austrians feel that cash payments give them a lot more control over what is being bought, rather than online payments and direct debits. 

The value of cash is driven into Austrians from a young age when they are given pocket money, which experts argue build an emotional bond with cash and encourage financial responsibility. 

While paying in cash can make you think twice about spending as you realise you are quite literally making your wallet lighter, paying with card “makes spending easier”. 

How has this changed in the pandemic? 

The number of domestic card payments increased by 20 percent in 2020 in Austria, rising from 900 million payments to 1.1 billion, according to Payment Services Austria (PSA). 

In the same period, foreign card transactions also increased in Austria in 2020, crossing the 1.2 billion mark for the first time. 

Contactless and mobile payments are also experiencing a dramatic rise in Austria. 

Similar trends have been observed in Germany and Switzerland, leading many to ask whether the shift is set to become permanent. 

Concerns over the cleanliness of cash and a desire to avoid trips to the ATM have been flagged as major reasons for the change. 

The number of cash withdrawals from ATMs in Austria fell significantly, from 137 million to 100 million in 2020. 

Contactless payments increased by 34 percent in 2020 compared to 2019, according to PSA. 

READ MORE: Could coronavirus end the Swiss love affair with cash? 

In March 2020, Austria also made it easier to pay with contactless cards by increasing the maximum amount to be paid without entering a pin from €25 to €50. 

Retailers pushed for the change in a bid to reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission and the limit looks to remain in place for the foreseeable future. 

According to the PSA, the card is here to stay, even when and if life returns to normal after the pandemic. 

Harald Flatscher, Managing Director of PSA, said “the steady upward trend also shows how much the use of the card has become part of people’s everyday lives.”

What will happen after the pandemic? 

There are however signs that the trends might be temporary. 

While 2020 saw an increase in card payments, it actually saw a decrease in the amount spent overall, which could suggest it is only a temporary trend. 

Analysts suggest that despite similar shifts in Germany, cash is likely to experience a resurgence if and when the pandemic ends. 

Another big change is the lack of tourist traffic, making it hard to determine if any shift is actually permanent.  

READ MORE: Could coronavirus end Austria’s love affair with cash?

Security issues around card payment remain a major concern in Austria – and this is unlikely to change significantly as a result of the pandemic. 

Writing in Austria’s Der Standard, Muzayen Al-Youssef outlined the concerns of many Austrians when pointing to the traceability of card. 

“Transparency also has consequences. Think, for example, of so-called credit scoring, in which the creditworthiness of a customer is calculated based on the available data,” he said.

“If you drink too much alcohol, in extreme cases you could suddenly no longer finance your own apartment.

“Does a bank really always have to know when – and, by the way, where – its customers bought sex toys, alcohol or cigarettes?”


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For members


Do foreigners in Austria have to carry ID?

The short answer is yes—as a foreigner in Austria—you need to both have ID and generally carry it with you. But the police are bound by certain rules as to when and in what circumstances they can ask you for it.

Do foreigners in Austria have to carry ID?

Foreigners in Austria have one obligation that Austrian citizens are exempt from—the requirement to carry identification in Austria. This requirement is in place for any non-Austrian in Austria, so it binds other EU citizens and non-EU foreigners alike.

Depending on the circumstances, Austrian police can ask you to produce identification to verify your identity.

Although Austrian citizens don’t technically have to carry ID, many do anyway in the form of national ID cards. These cards are smaller than a passport, but as they identify the bearer’s nationality as Austrian—foreigners obviously can’t get these. There’s a few acceptable forms of ID you can carry as a foreigner though.

The first is perhaps the most obvious—and cumbersome. You can simply carry your passport with you. Of course, carrying such an important and expensive document with you that’s also larger than standard wallet-sized ID might not be preferable.

However, your residence card is also an acceptable form of ID to carry in Austria—and probably a little more convenient than your passport.

If you’re an EU citizen, you can also simply carry your national ID card with you—if your country has one.

One document that won’t count with Austrian police—should they decide to ask you for ID—is a driver’s licence. Unlike in some countries, where a driver’s licence is an acceptable alternative to a passport for ID, a driver’s licence does not carry the same legal weight in Austria.

All this basically means that if you don’t have a residence card in Austria—either because you’re a tourist or you just arrived and are waiting for your residence card—you may technically have to carry your passport with you.

READ ALSO: How Austria is making it easier for non-EU workers to get residence permits

When can the police ask me for ID in Austria?

The good news is that Austrian police have stricter conditions placed on them than countries like France for example, where police have a great deal of latitude to require people to produce ID.

An Austrian police officer can ask for your ID only in certain situations.

A generic image of an Austrian police car seen in Vienna. Photo: ALEX HALADA / AFP

Austrian Police face tougher limits as to when they can ask you for ID than police in many other countries do. Photo: ALEX HALADA / AFP

First, the officer can ask you for ID if they have reason to believe that you were involved in or witnessed a dangerous act that puts public safety at risk. They can also ask you for ID if something illegal has taken place at your place of residence. Unlike countries like France, simply being in an area where a lot of crimes happen or having the police suspect that you might be about to commit a crime isn’t sufficient grounds to ask for your ID in Austria—even if you’re committed a crime before.

The police may also ask for your ID if they are actively searching for a missing person or escaped prisoner—for example—and want to verify people’s identities as part of that search, or if a public emergency requires them to identify people.

One place where Austrian police can ask you for ID at pretty much any point is at an Austrian airport.

Other than that, police generally cannot arbitrarily ask you to produce ID in Austria. Obviously though, certain service providers can ask you for ID for administrative reasons—such as for picking up an parcel or voting in certain elections.

What happens if I don’t have my ID with me?

If you don’t have valid ID with you and the police have asked you to produce it for a valid reason, be prepared to lose a bit of your day. They may take you to a police station to establish your identity, or accompany you home to get your ID if you’re close by to where you live.

If you don’t possess a valid form of identification at all as a foreigner in Austria, you can face a fine of up to €5,000.

READ ALSO: Visas and residency permits: How to move to Austria and stay long-term