Moving to Norway soon? Forget the travel books and blogs; check out this guide to surviving, and thriving, in one of the best countries in the world. As beautiful as the landscape can be, Norway has a reputation for being surprisingly difficult for new arrivals. So, strap on your skis and find out what you need to know if you plan to live in the Land of the Midnight Sun.
One of the world’s best countries to live in, just ask the experts
Norway often tops the list of the world’s best countries to live in. Just why is this so? Is it the high standard of living? Is it the generous welfare state and work conditions? Is it being surrounded by pristine, beautiful, and untouched nature? Well, yes, it is all of these reasons and so many more.
Essentially, Norway is always at the top of these lists because it is a small, prosperous, progressive, and harmonious society. In addition, it has all the conveniences of being a modern European country and possesses a pristine and breathtakingly beautiful natural environment. In other words – it is safe, it is rich, and it is surrounded by nature. For anyone wanting to live in Norway, these three facts underpin life and society here.
Fjords, forests, and few people
Norway is a country of 5.5 million people, thinly stretched on the western coast of the Scandinavian Peninsula. The distance between the southernmost and northernmost points of the country (1752 kilometers) is the same distance as from Oslo to Milano, in the very center of Europe! It is a land of forests, lakes, mountains, world-famous fjords, and a few medium-sized cities.
The three largest urban areas in Norway – Oslo, Bergen, and Stavanger – have a population of approximately 1.6 million between them. However, this is where the hustle and bustle of city life stops. Trondheim, the old capital, is the next biggest with just over 180,000 people, while the #10 largest city in Norway is Tønsberg, with just over 50,000 people.
As such, Norway is sparsely populated. This means that the only time you’ll see a peak hour rush is on a ski lift on Easter…
A simpler lifestyle
If you are wanting a hectic, fast-paced lifestyle that involves dining out, drinking, and clubbing… Then Norway is not for you. The lifestyle in Norway is relaxed and easygoing. Nightclubs, lots of restaurants, and all the other joys of big-city life are only available in the larger cities. If you do visit or live in a smaller city, or town, don’t be surprised if there are no signs of life after 6 PM when the shops close!
This does not mean Norway is ‘boring.’ The Norwegian lifestyle places a lot of emphasis on social activities with a focus on the outdoors. Sunday walks in the forest, weekly camping trips with friends, skiing trips over the Easter holidays, sunbathing, and swimming on the Southern Coast are examples of the nature-loving and laid-back lifestyle.
Receiving (more than) a decent wage coupled with generous welfare and healthcare systems ensures that most people in Norway have a roof over their heads, a healthy body, and a healthy bank account. Therefore, there is less ‘societal stress’ to life. The phrase ‘time is money’ doesn’t translate well into Norwegian, so just take a deep breath, and slow down. Life isn’t a race, don’t you know?
Cutting through the red tape
Norway is a country with a love of bureaucracy. First and foremost, it is a country with a very high level of digitization. Everything is – or will be shortly – available online – from visa applications to booking hairdresser appointments. Dealing with any sort of bureaucratic process is made easier by the fact that all the information is readily available online.
If you want to stay in Norway longer than 90 days, you will need some sort of a visa. This can be for study, for work, for family, or for humanitarian reasons. Citizens from the European Economic Area (EEA) have the right to come and seek employment here.
The best piece of advice for dealing with your visa is to DO YOUR RESEARCH beforehand. The Department of Immigration has a website with a checklist of the documents required for the various visas offered, available in multiple languages. When arriving for your appointment, make sure you are early and have ALL the documents required.
With a small population, thus a small bureaucracy, waiting and processing times can be long, especially in July due to summer holidays. So be patient, and be prepared.
For information on moving to Norway from the Tax Office, click here.
For information on the various visas offered by Norway, click here.
Money, money, money…
Yes, you will definitely need money in Norway. Norway also has the (perhaps) unwanted reputation of being one of the world’s most expensive countries. The currency is the Norwegian Kroner (NOK). The cost of living is high due to high wages caused by a small, and in large part highly educated, population.
If you are considering moving here, there are many online websites to check rental properties, with the most popular one being Finn. Shared apartments are common for students, while most adults here own their own apartment. Keep in mind that many landlords require a deposit (often three months rent) and the first month paid up front – which means four months’ rent to be paid BEFORE you move in.
There is a 25% tax on services which can make getting things done quite expensive. Anything from getting a haircut to a plumber fixing a leaky pipe can be quite costly. Again, do your research as almost every business has its own website.
Meat, alcohol, and junk food are all expensive, which means that dining out is more of a rarity than the norm in Norway. On the other hand, fresh fruit and vegetables are relatively cheap. As such, people often only dine out once a week.
Cash almost does not exist in Norway anymore. Instead, you can pay with your debit or credit card everywhere, and there is no minimum purchase amount. Apps like Vipps can also help you send money to a Norwegian bank account, instantly – useful for when you and your friends have utepils.
Less cars and more eco-friendly transport
Norway really does have world-class public transport. Various governments have not only built adequate infrastructure but, lately, have been prioritizing public transport as a means to combat climate change. Driving can be expensive due to the number of toll charges and (for an oil-producing country) the high price of gasoline.
Buses, trams, ferries, and the subway system are all features of Oslo. Most cities and towns have excellent public transport, especially when compared to other countries like Australia or the United States. The small size of big cities also makes walking a cheap and favorable option.
Norway has a moderate train network which, though it can be quite expensive, is relatively modern, neat, and clean. Many trains have free wifi onboard. Due to its geographic nature, flying is also commonplace in Norway. Currently, there are three airlines covering the Norwegian domestic market. This can be quicker and often cheaper than taking a train.
In the larger towns or cities, people often use bicycles every day. It is not uncommon to see business people arriving to work on a bike. Many students buy second-hand bikes or use a variety of city bike programs. Electric scooters are a relatively new and cheap mode of rapid transport too.
Making friends and fitting in
Norwegians have an unwarranted reputation as being ‘cold.’ Nothing could be further from the truth. However, a small look at their history reveals why this may be the case. They have always been a small population, frequently conquered by their neighbors, and widespread immigration didn’t occur here until well into the late 1960s. However, Norway is a changing country and, due to the high standard of living, Norwegians are very well-traveled. Spanish, German and French are quite well known, and, of course, English is an unofficial second language.
Many Norwegians have a strong circle of friends which they have known since their kindergarten days. Breaking into this circle can be tough – however once you do, you are guaranteed a friend for life. Sport is often a great way to make new friends. Remember that in Norway, sport ranges from the extremely physical (skiing) to the more cerebral (chess). Most cities and towns have sporting and social clubs that welcome new members.
Volunteering and community help are not only a great way to fit in but also to meet friends. Norwegians have a strong sense of community and believe in helping those less fortunate or in need. There are many organizations where you can volunteer and give back to society – for example, the Norwegian Red Cross. Here, you can volunteer to work in a homeless shelter, visit elderly people who are lonely, or even learn Norwegian with fellow new arrivals. You will also be guaranteed to make friends there.
Work-life balance on point
Norwegians, it is said, ‘work to live and not live to work.’ A highly unionized workforce has led to generous working conditions. This includes sick pay, paid holidays, and copious paternity and maternity leave. Everyone is paid a living wage, and employment is highly structured and formalized.
Work is readily available. However, to build a career, learning the Norwegian language is a must. Essentially, you are competing for a job against a bilingual native population that is highly educated. Hospitality is a great place to start as most hotels, restaurants, and bars possess an English-speaking work culture.
Norwegians enjoy generous vacation times, with both Christmas and Easter being important family events. May is also a month full of public holidays, the most important being the national day ’17 Mai’ – 17th May, the Norwegian Constitution Day. In July, the whole country seems to shut down as both schools and government organizations close down and have time off.
An unique culture
Due to a history stretching back thousands of years before the Viking Age, Norwegians have a proud and strong cultural tradition. Gender, social equality, and societal equity are promoted by all forms of government. The respect of law, following the rules, and a high trust of those in public office are held by the public.
Norway is an egalitarian country that can be best be summed up by Janteloven – the Law of Jante. In this law, there is a strong emphasis to conform, to fit in, and to be selfless. Expressions of individuality and personal success are frowned upon, which is why, for a rich country, there is a surprising lack of conspicuous consumption.
The arts are also an important part of Norwegian life. Norwegian author Jo Nesbo greatly popularised Neo-Nordic crime, and Henrik Ibsen is often considered one of the greatest playwrights in history. Cuddling up, on a cold winter’s night, perhaps in one’s winter cabin, and reading a crime book is a favorite pastime.
More than just fish…
Food is also a strong part of Norwegian culture. The rise of ‘New Nordic cuisine’ has helped make Norwegian cuisine known worldwide. Bergen, especially, is the center of a vibrant culinary scene.
Traditional dishes like pinnekjøtt (lamb ribs), lutefisk (dried whitefish), fårikål (the national dish consisting of a casserole of mutton on the bone and cabbage) must be tried at least once. Traditional dishes also vary widely within each region of Norway.
For something more modern, Italian, Indian, and Mexican are popular. The end of the working week is almost always reserved for Tacofredag – Taco Friday. Norway doesn’t have a strong tradition of street food, but hot dogs and kebabs are popular. Candy (especially when eaten on Saturdays) and frozen pizza (Grandiosa) have a special place in every Norwegian’s heart.
The summers may be short, the weather often terrible, the winters long, dark, and cold, the small talk dearly lacking, and let’s not even mention the price of alcohol… However, you will not find a country in the world like Norway.
It has a rich and proud history, unique culture, and stunning natural environments. It is a safe, prosperous, progressive, and modern country that is diverse and tolerant. If you want a good work-life balance, less stress, a simpler lifestyle, and time for plenty of outdoor activities, Norway might just be the place for you.
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