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 new 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. In the meantime, here are my tips and tricks that will have you navigating Vienna’s kindergarten system like a pro.
What is a kindergarten?
“Kindergarten” is the term used to describe what most English speakers would call day care or nursery school. I have also heard the terms crèche, KiGa, and “Kindy” used. While “Kindergarten” is also used universally to describe the arrangement where an organization cares for your child in the year(s) prior to attending school, technically, “Kindergarten” is for children ages 3-6 (pre-school). The term for day care for children ages 1-3 is “Krippe” or “Kinderkrippe”.
Some facilities only offer Kinderkrippe (taking only 1–3-year-olds). Some only offer Kindergarten (taking only 3–6-year-olds). Others offer both.
At what age can my child start?
Most kindergartens only take kids 12 months or older because most mothers’ take “Karenz” (state-subsidized parental leave) for 12 months. 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. This issue is further compounded if you live outside of Vienna, as it is far more common for day care to start after your child is 18 months old.
Also, some kindergartens will not take a child until they can walk, and most kindergartens are not equipped to care for a child that is bottle fed or actively nursing during the hours of care or is still eating jarred food.
There is an alternative childcare solution known as a “Tagesmutter,” but that is a topic for another post.
Can my child go to a Viennese kindergarten?
Yes! But, there is one magical thing that you will need. Without it, the doors to Vienna’s kindergartens will remain closed: a Kundennummer from MA10.
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.
1) Go to this website and fill out the “Kund*innen-Nummer online beantragen”
Sidenote: this process used to be a bit more complicated, but sometimes COVID has its upsides, online registration with MA10 is one of them.
How do I enroll my child in a public kindergarten?
First, you need to know that there is an annual cycle to getting a kindergarten spot.
Most open 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 begins in November-ish).
For example, in my daughter’s case (born in June 2015), I wanted her to start kindergarten in the September following her first birthday (so, September 2016). To do that, I needed her kundennummer and had to register with the City of Vienna in the fall of 2015 (when she was approximately 3 months old). 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 spot in a public kindergarten, 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 Family Network, 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 kindergarten’s 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 day care needs until you find a spot. Specifically, employing a nanny/babysitter and/or a Tagesmutter.
Are some families given preference over others?
Public kindergartens give preference to families that have two employed parents. Being self-employed or a consultant can be taken into consideration, but you must 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 consider 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, and, 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.
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. Costs for food, supplies, and any additional outings (like trips to the Zoo) are not subsidized.
For example: at the private kindergarten my children attended, we pay for supplies like paper and crafts (approximately €20 per month) and their meals (produced on-site, with fresh ingredients every day). The costs associated with meals is also dependent on how long each child is at kindergarten each day: will they be there for breakfast, lunch and afternoon 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.
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.
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.
This blog post was originally posted on www.benallyperanteau.com as Finding a kindergarten in Vienna — Christine Benally Peranteau Photographer.
Christine Benally Peranteau an artist, philanthropist, and a lifelong volunteer. In addition to being a Class Agent for the Dartmouth College Fund and co-Vice Chair for Women of Dartmouth, she has also served the Vienna Family Network as an Internal Auditor, the 2015 May-June Baby Group coordinator, and Americans in Vienna group coordinator.
Professionally, Christine is a strategic fundraising and organization development professional. She has 20 years of experience fundraising at international organizations, non-profits, and higher education institutions. Currently, she works at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Vienna, Austria.
When not working or volunteering (or writing informative blog posts!), Christine spends time exploring Vienna with her husband, two children, and her cat. She is an avid reader and a sometimes knitter.