From a thriving economy and top-notch public services, to boundless natural beauty and a wealth of outdoor activities, Norway seems to have it all. In fact, studies by the UN have repeatedly found it to be one of the happiest countries in the world, largely thanks to the combination of its economic and social richness.
Arguably, the only major downside to living in Norway is its notoriously high cost of living. Luckily, this is offset by high salaries, and expats who are keen to save a few kroner can follow the example set by locals and hop over the border into Sweden to do their grocery shopping.
Some expats may find the reserved and somewhat distanced nature of the locals a little cold at first – but with perseverance, local friends can be made, and once the ice has been broken, expats often find that Norwegians offer loyal and long-lasting friendships.
To ease the transition into Norway, this guide contains everything new arrivals need to know, covering practical matters like visas, weather and accommodation, as well as more complex issues like culture shock and doing business.
Norway is an EEA- and Schengen-member state, which allows nationals of countries belonging to these associations (or the EU) visa-free entry for up to 90 days. These individuals automatically have a right to work in Norway, though registration at a local police station is required for stays of longer than three months.
Expats who don’t qualify for visa-free entry will need to apply before entering the country. For a 90-day tourist visa, travel insurance is compulsory and applicants must prove their ability to support themselves financially throughout their stay. To work in Norway, a work visa is required. In order to apply, expats will need to have already secured a job, and their salary must be equal to or above the average Norwegian salary.
As with most things in Norway, housing is generally of a high standard and can be found largely in the form of apartments (leiligheter) or houses (hus). The rental market is competitive but most expats opt to rent rather than buy, at least at first. Foreigners are eligible to purchase property, though, and are advised to do so with the help of a reputable real estate agent when the time comes. Agents can also help in the search for a rental home, and some specialize in rentals.
Rooms in Norwegian houses and apartments aren’t usually particularly spacious – this is often for the purpose of making them easier to heat in the country’s chilly winters. Before signing the lease, expats should ensure that heating systems are available, adequate and in working order. Some landlords may include the cost of heating and electricity in the price of rent but this isn’t always the case, so enquiries should be made for clarification.
The usual deposit is three months plus the first month’s rent, but this can vary. However, by law, the deposit can’t exceed the equivalent of six months of rent. Leases can be for an unspecified length of time but are usually for three years.
The quality of schooling in Norway is excellent, and expats who are legal residents will have access to free public education. Though teaching is in Norwegian, students who aren’t first-language speakers are eligible for special tuition programs to aid the transition.
Private schools are also available. Most teach through a religious lens or use an alternative pedagogic method, and although fees are charged, they’re easily affordable for most. On the other hand, there are also a handful of schools teaching international curricula, which are more expensive but offer a high quality of education and can allow a child to continue in their home curriculum. Most international schools are situated in Oslo. They may be oversubscribed so it’s best to apply ahead of time to secure a spot.
Because of its high latitude, most assume that Norway’s climate is ceaselessly teeth-chatteringly cold. Though the weather certainly tends towards the chilly side, the Gulf Stream along the west coast has a warming effect, which results in a less extreme climate than other cities at a similar latitude. Inland locations such as Karasjok and Stavanger tend to be colder than coastal areas, while Norway’s famous fjords often have their own microclimates which can differ somewhat from the general climate.
Winter, from December to February, typically brings temperatures throughout the country to freezing or below freezing, and snow is common. In summer (June to August), Oslo’s temperature can reach a mild and pleasant 22 °C (72 °F). The North Coast remains chilly, though, with average temperatures in summer rarely rising above 10 °C (50 °F).
Though many aspects of life in Norway will be familiar to Western expats, certain things can take some getting used to – such as “sticker shock” from high prices, not to mention the conservative culture. The Norwegian culture is very much egalitarian and is based around the concept of humility and conformity. It’s wise to learn beforehand about the country’s cultural norms, as any missteps could make one stand out from the crowd – a big no-no in Norway.
Norwegian is the country’s official language and is 99% of the population’s first language. New arrivals won’t need to speak it fluently to get by though as English is spoken by around 95% of Norwegians. That being said, those doing business in the country or taking up a job with a local employer will benefit from being able to speak Norwegian.
With its sprawling coastline and numerous fjords, it should come as no surprise that seafood is one of the staples of the Norwegian diet. Lutefisk – literally “lye fish” – is a well-known delicacy originating from Viking times. It’s soaked in lye water for several days before being cooked. Lamb and game meat, such as moose, reindeer or grouse, are also popular and are plentiful in Norway, thanks to the country’s abundant mountains and countryside.
Norway is very much a Westernized nation, so expats longing for a taste of home should be able to find their favorite foods. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that in a country where even local food is expensive, imported food can be extremely pricey.
Due to heavy taxes, alcohol prices in Norway are among the highest in Europe. For this reason, Norwegians don’t drink particularly often, but when they do they tend to go all out, especially during the festive season. Having a few drinks with a local can be a good way to get to know them in a more relaxed setting.
New Year's Day – 1 January
Maundy Thursday – March/April
Good Friday – March/April
Easter Monday – March/April
May Day – 1 May
Ascension Day – May/June
Whit Monday – May/June
Constitution Day – 17 May
Christmas Day – 25 December
Boxing Day – 26 December
Norway has a well-developed communications industry with plenty of reliable and affordable options for getting connected via mobile and the internet. State-owned company Telenor is the most prominent provider of telecommunications services, with Telia being its main competition. Relative newcomer ice.net offers an alternative to the two dominant providers.
Fixed line subscriptions are on the decline in Norway and mobile phone usage is rising rapidly. Contract and pay-as-you-go mobile options are both available. Coverage is good and it’s easy to access fast internet via one’s mobile phone. To set up a contract, a Norwegian identity number is needed.
Norway has one of the world’s highest rates of internet penetration, with more than 90% of the population having internet access. There are plenty of ways to get online, from home broadband and ADSL to the country’s ubiquitous WiFi hotspots and internet cafes. Connections are stable, fast and affordable.
While it’s not easy to secure a job in Norway, the lucky few that do will find themselves in a strong economy considered to be among the world’s most inclusive and advanced. Though much of Norway’s wealth has been built on the foundation of its significant oil and gas reserves, the government has successfully diversified its economy, with the majority of its GDP now sourced from the service industry. Other strong industries include manufacturing and agriculture.
There are lots of positives to working in Norway, such as the uniformly high salaries, opportunities for career advancement and an excellent work-life balance. While these are great perks, it makes the country a popular destination in high demand – so if expats are offered a job it’s best to grab the opportunity with both hands.
Income tax in Norway is charged at a progressive rate from 0.93% to 14.52%. Foreigners that are tax residents need to pay tax on their worldwide income, while those that aren’t tax residents pay tax only on Norwegian income. Tax residents are those that are in Norway for 183 days or more within a 12-month period.
Though Norway is surely an idyllic place to retire, expats should note that the cost of living significantly complicates the situation. Indeed, even locals often prefer to retire elsewhere in Europe so that their pension money goes further, and it might be a good idea for expats to follow suit. There’s no dedicated retirement visa, so those who do decide to retire in Norway will either need to be an EU citizen or be in possession of a permanent residence permit.
As is the norm in Norwegian society as a whole, the structure of the workplace is flat, and those in higher positions won’t flaunt their status or make decisions alone. Norwegian employers have an inclusive attitude and would rather have an open discussion than tell someone what to do.
Though personal relationships aren’t important in doing business in Norway, presenting oneself as sincere, reliable and trustworthy is an essential part of the process. Keeping eye contact helps to show sincerity, and being on time shows respect.
Norwegian business people communicate directly, deliberately and frankly, and don’t appreciate being rushed while speaking. Meetings generally have an informal atmosphere, though locals tend to get right down to business and don’t usually bother with small talk. Business dress is usually formal but this will vary by industry.
Norway has an excellent public transport system comprising ferries, trains, buses and trams. All forms of public transport can be paid for either onboard or in advance, with the latter being cheaper. Types of tickets include single tickets, travel cards or passes for a day, week or month. It’s feasible to travel by public transport alone, especially in large cities – though in the winter months walking any distance, no matter how short, isn’t recommended.
Though it’s not always necessary to drive in Norway, those who do wish to drive will need to consider the status of their license. Expats from EU and EEA states are allowed to drive on their usual licenses, and those from Japan and Switzerland can easily exchange their current license for a local one.
This must be done within a year of moving to Norway. Those from outside these countries aren’t eligible for an exchange and will have to get a local replacement license within three months. Some nationalities need to take a practical test to do this, while others are required to take local driving lessons as well as the test.
The official Norwegian currency is the Norwegian krone (NOK) which is divided into 100 øre.
The krone is available in the following denominations:
It’s easy to manage finances in Norway and banking services are widely available in English. Expats will need a local bank account to make and receive payments within the country. Reputable local banks include DNB ASA, Dankse Bank, Nordea and Sparebanken. To open an account, all that’s needed is a passport and a national identity number.
Norway has a high cost of living, though it’s still well below that of some other top European destinations such as Zurich, Switzerland and London, England. The good news is that, despite the high costs associated with living in Norway, salaries are designed with the cost of living in mind.
Accommodation can be extremely expensive, particularly in Oslo, and expats will find that most of their paycheck goes towards housing. Groceries also have a well-earned reputation for being especially pricey. On the other hand, living in Norway means that affordable, high-quality education and healthcare is available at a low cost, which saves some money.
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