One of the hardest parts of being a parent is leaving your child in the care of someone you trust. This is hard enough when you are in your home country. It is doubly hard when you find yourself in a foreign country where you may or may not speak the language. If you’re struggling to find a kindergarten in Vienna, please know that you are not alone.
I spent six months looking for a place for my son while trying to navigate the seemingly byzantine system and paperwork requirements. Talking with other families, I found that my experience is not unique. The kindergarten registration process in Vienna is complex. But once you understand the system you can master it. So here are my tips and tricks that will have you navigating Vienna’s kindergarten system like a pro.
What is a kindergarten?
In Austria (and other German-speaking countries) “Kindergarten” is the term used to describe what most English-speakers would call daycare or nursery school. I have also heard the terms crèche, KiGa, and kindy used. Technically speaking, “Kindergarten” is for children ages 3-6 (pre-school). The technical term for daycare for children ages 1-3 is “Krippe” or “Kinderkrippe”. Some facilities only offer Kinderkrippe (as in they only take 1-3 year olds). Some only offer Kindergarten (taking only 3-6 year olds). Others offer both. And, to further complicate things, Kindergarten is used universally to describe the arrangement where an organization cares for your child in the year(s) prior to attending school.
What are some differences between Austrian kindergartens and daycare?
Some kindergartens will not take a child until they can walk. Most only take kids from 12 months on. There is an alternative known as a Tagesmutter, but that is a topic for another post.
Most kindergartens are not equipped to care for a child that is actively nursing during the hours of care (e.g. they do not handle bottle-feeding kids well). And for that matter, it can be hit or miss if your child has not yet started eating “regular” food (e.g. they are still eating jarred, pureed foods and/or are still taking a bottle/nursing).
In Austria, there are two parts to what most English-speakers would call maternity leave. “Mutterschutz” (which is mandated as 8 weeks pre- and 8 weeks post-partum) and state-subsidized “Karenz,” which is the time after the maternity leave that a parent stays home with the child. These subsidized payments are made directly to the family over the course of 12 – 36 months after the child is born. This support, as well as the cultural notion that a child is better cared for by one of its parents in the home, is one of the primary reasons it is extremely hard to find a kindergarten (specifically Krippe) that will take a child under the age of one. And, this issue is further compounded if you live outside of Vienna, as it is far more common for daycare to start after your child is 18 months old.
Can my child go to a Viennese kindergarten?
There is one magical document that you will need. Without it, the doors to Vienna’s kindergartens will remain closed. The City of Vienna subsidizes kindergarten for all children living in Vienna. Most kindergartens will not process your application without proof that you have registered your child with the city. How do you prove your child is registered in Vienna? With a Kundennummer (colloquially referred to as a Kindernummer). This key to Vienna’s kindergartens is provided by MA10 (the magistrate responsible for kindergartens and other childcare).
Applying for a kundennummer is relatively easy once you know how. But getting to the “how” information is a bit more complicated, so I will give you the step by step here:
1) Download this form,
2) Fill it out,
3) Submit the form (and any requested documents) either by email or in person to the email address or office indicated here. Remember that your "Servicestelle" is based upon the district you live in.
With my son, I wandered all over the 4th and 5th districts trying to find the correct place to submit the form (turns out my local servicestelle was in the 10th). With my daughter, I submitted everything via email and received my number via post. Since then, the City of Vienna has consolidated many of the servicestelle into fewer, more centralized offices. The process is now much clearer and more straight forward.
How much will it cost to send my child?
There are two forms of kindergarten in Vienna: public and private. Public kindergartens are run by the City of Vienna. Private kindergartens are run by companies (note that a company could mean a family owned business). The City of Vienna subsidizes all kindergartens, public or private. But they only subsidize kindergartens up to a certain amount and for specific things.
So, while many folks will tell you that they only pay €40 a month for their public kindergarten, and you will hear that someone pays €300 a month for a private kindergarten, this does not mean that all public kindergartens cost €40 per month or that all private kindergartens cost €300 per month. In our case, the City of Vienna completely covers the care of our children at a private kindergarten. All we pay for is the food, supplies, and any additional outings (like trips to the Zoo). And, when you register, you typically pay an application fee and possibly a "kaution" or deposit which is approximately the same amount as the monthly fee.
And, when someone says they are paying €40 or $€00 per month what does that mean anyway?
Well, what it typically means is that they are either paying for the cost of food or supplies that is not covered by the city. Essentially, the city covers up to a certain amount per child per month for specific things. If your kindergarten (public or private) is able to operate within this amount, then you only have to cover the costs of food or supplies. For example: at the private kindergarten my children attend, we pay for supplies like paper and crafts (approximately €20 per month) and their meals (that produced on-site, with fresh ingredients every day, and follow a halal observance). The costs associated with meals is dependent on how long each child is at kindergarten each day. In our case, our son and daughter each eat breakfast and lunch at kindergarten. And our son, who stays a bit longer than our daughter, eats a snack. All told, it is about €100 a month for food per kid.
In exceptional cases, the city will also cover some portion of food costs if the family needs such assistance.
How do I enroll my child in a public kindergarten?
There is a whole cycle and schedule to getting a kindergarten spot (especially those at public kindergartens). I will use my own family as an example to outline the process.
Most open kindergarten spots begin in September after your child has turned 1 year old. To secure a kindergarten spot, families begin the process of gathering information, showing interest by placing themselves on the kindergarten’s waiting list and applying for a spot in the year prior to that September (this cycle begins in November-ish).
So, in my daughter’s case (born in Vienna in June 2015), I wanted her to start kindergarten in the September following her first birthday (so, September 2016). To get into that whole cycle, I needed to get her kundennummer and register with the City of Vienna in the fall of 2015 (when she was approximately 3 months old). Because I already had one child in a private kindergarten, I only had to request a kundennummer and then enroll my daughter at the same place as my son. Had I been searching for a spot in a public kindergarten, I would have completed an application between November and December of 2015 and crossed my fingers that I met the requirements to get a spot.
If you are planning on registering for a public spot, you can register for a public kindergarten online at the MA10 Website.
When you register for a public spot you will automatically receive a kundennummer. Notifications about September spots are usually made in March. To continue the analogy from above, I would have heard about a spot in March 2016 for a September 2016 start.
Oh no! I missed the registration period, what do I do?
If you’ve missed the enrollment cycle or do not secure a public spot, don’t despair. There are ways to get your child a place at any time of the year without following the traditional enrollment process. The key is to be persistent, you will soon learn that to get many things done in Austria, you just have to PUSH: Persist Until Something Happens.
My family moved to Vienna in January 2014, after the traditional enrollment cycle had finished, and I needed to find a spot for my son who would turn 1 that June. I literally walked around my neighborhood looking for private kindergartens and each time I found one, I walked inside and simply asked if they had any available spots. On my way to finding my kindergarten, I asked at a few other places and encountered the dreaded “waitlist” response. At one place, it was a 2-year waitlist! But, I also found two kindergartens with openings, and they were both within walking distance of my home.
How do I enroll my child in a private kindergarten?
First, you need to identify a list of possible places:
- Wander your neighborhood,
- Ask your network (the Vienna Babies Club, Woman of Vienna Family Resource group, and other parent groups are a good place to start), and
- Check out kinderdreischeibe.at, a website that lists all the open spaces at kindergartens and Tagesmutter in or near your district.
Once you have a list of places, contact the office and set up an appointment to meet with the staff. As you would with any childcare search, identify whether the kindergarten is a good fit, and once you have 2-3 places that look like they might work, see if they have an open spot.
If at first, they are full, do not despair. You can follow up with them every couple of weeks to see if the situation has changed. I have had friends who were not able to get a spot at first, and then when they followed up later, they happened to call the day a spot opened up. As I mentioned before, you just have to be persistent. I have found that often, a “no” is more like a “not right now.” Use that to your advantage and follow up.
While most kindergartens are filling spaces for a September start, it is not abnormal for a spot to open up mid-year. People change kindergartens for a variety of reasons, so always check back to see if a spot may have come available. It never hurts to at least ask.
And, remember, there are alternatives to kindergarten that can help meet your daycare needs until you find a spot. Specifically, employing a nanny/babysitter and/or a Tagesmutter. More about those two options in the next post.
Are some families given preference over others?
Public kindergartens employ a sorting hierarchy. They give preference to families that have two employed parents. Being self-employed or a consultant can be taken into consideration, but you have to provide documentation proving that you are actively working. Your child will also be given preference if their sibling already goes to the kindergarten. Public kindergartens also take into account the distance from the kindergarten to your family home. (These criteria are actually very similar to the criteria for getting a spot at the more popular public schools—again, another topic for another post).
There are some kindergartens that are very well regarded and highly oversubscribed (the one at Stadtpark comes to mind), wherein, as is typical Austrian fashion, who you know goes a LOOONG way towards getting you a spot.
Since I have not actually gone through the process of registering for a public spot, I cannot speak with extreme authority, but this is the information relayed to me about how it all works. For private kindergartens, I’ve found that introducing yourself and your child in person and regularly checking in with the center helps.
I hope that you have found this post helpful. Please feel free to share it and, if you notice any links are out of date, please let me know so I can update them and keep this information relevant for all those expat parents trying to find the "elusive" kindergarten spot.