As a mild-mannered social democracy, Austria gives its citizens a lot of things for free. But motorways (German: Autobahns) are not one of them.
We have a toll system here, and visitors to the country are not exempt. Not even if you ask nicely.
How do the tolls work?
There are generally no booths or barriers collecting toll payments. Instead, you need to buy a physical or digital toll sticker (German: Vignette or Autobahnpickerl) before driving on a motorway or expressway with a car or motorcycle.
Heavier vehicles (over 3.5t maximum permissible weight, such as buses, lorries etc.) use a completely different toll system.
Option 1 – physical toll sticker
If you enter Austria on a toll road, you’ll get the opportunity to purchase a sticker at the border.
Inside the country, various places sell the sticker, including newsagents (Trafik), petrol stations, the automobile associations, and special outlets of the public agency responsible for expressways and motorways (ASFINAG).
Cars hired in Austria should already have a toll sticker in place – but check, of course.
The cost of a sticker increases in line with inflation. In 2021, an annual toll sticker costs €92.50 for a car.
The vignette actually remains valid for fourteen months: from December 1st of the preceding year to January 31st of the following one. So a 2021 annual toll sticker (once displayed properly) applies from December 1st, 2020 to January 31st, 2022.
You can get short-term stickers, too, if you’re not planning to stay that long. A 2-month sticker costs €27.80, and a 10-day sticker €9.50. Note that these two stickers need to be punched at the point of sale to be valid.
Prices for motorcycles are €36.70, €13.90 and €5.50 respectively.
Here’s an annual Vignette from a couple of years ago:
Where to put the sticker
Clearly display the sticker inside your car windscreen. The authorities recommend you place it near the rear-view mirror or the top-left corner as you face out of the car.
(Don’t throw away the sticker back – you may need it as proof of purchase.)
Motorcycles should affix the sticker to somewhere clean and permanent.
Option 2 – a digital Vignette
ASFINAG recently introduced a digital option, where you pay online and associate a car number plate with your payment. Prices are the same as above. Note that the digital vignettes are not activated straight away (see the website for more information).
No physical sticker is involved – the authorities have a record of your toll payment should they check your car. If buying the 2-month or 10-day option, you also need to specify a starting date.
If you’re unsure if your hired car has a digital toll sticker, check the number plate at the ASFINAG website.
How do I know when I need a Vignette?
The Vignette is required when you travel by car or motorbike on pretty much any motorway or expressway in Austria. These roads should be obvious, but look for signs like the above to indicate you need a toll sticker to travel on this road.
Even if you’re just driving around Vienna, you may still need to buy a Vignette, since expressways and motorways do pass through the city.
A handful of stretches of motorway are exempt from the toll obligation, but none of them are anywhere near to Vienna.
A very few major roads and tunnels crossing the Alps are subject to an independent toll. You can pay the fee in person at the entrance to the relevant section or pay online at the same site selling the standard digital toll stickers. None of these special toll roads are close to Vienna, either, since the Alps only start to the west of the city.
For the fine print of the motorway toll requirements and answers to various other related questions, see the official Vignette page at ASFINAG, which has a full English-language version.
P.S. Many of Austria’s immediate neighbours also have some kind of toll system for cars and motorways, including (at the time of writing) Slovenia, Switzerland, Italy, Hungary, Czechia, and Slovakia.