Before reading this, please read these three key points first:
a) This post has nothing to do with things I do or don’t like about living in Norway. If you’re curious about what those are (which, I love living in Norway, so they are basically all positives), you can find those articles here.
b) This post is not meant for Norwegians, hence the title ‘BEFORE MOVING TO NORWAY’. It is geared for foreigners looking to move here, or people simply looking to travel here.
This was originally written in 2013.
As I approach my two-year anniversary in Norway, I have realized that there are many things I wish I had known, whether it be in a general or specific manner, about Norway prior to moving here. Of course, it would not have changed my plan to move here…it would have just made me more aware.
But fear no more! I, along with Andrea from Inspiring Travellers, are here to share our list of 30 things you should know before moving to Norway. Please feel free to add any others at the end if you’re an expat in Norway or have traveled there for any length of time!
1. ‘Allemannsrett’: This law means that you can pitch your tent or hike anywhere in Norway. Granted, you can’t pitch a tent in the middle of Frognerparken, but anywhere out in nature or mountains that are not private property is an absolute go. I can’t tell you how much I love this right! Hotels and hostels aren’t cheap in Norway, so this gives travelers and locals another way to be out in nature at an affordable cost. I have future plans to road trip up the Atlantic highway in Norway all the way to Lofoten and you can bet that this will be the route I go for the majority of the trip.
2. Salaries: I constantly hear from Norwegians, even when irrelevant to a conversation, “We are so lucky to get paid so well here…that is why everything is more expensive.” This is not always true. Granted, a housekeeper or retail shop worker gets paid drastically more than in the US. But skilled workers with education generally do not (I have found that teachers are one of the exceptions).
I will most likely never make the same salary here that I would make in the US. And that doesn’t even account for the taxes or high cost of living here. If you look at the OECD Better Life Index, you will notice that based on disposable income, the average American makes astoundingly more than the average Norwegian per year. This takes into account a lot of the wealth gaps (to my surprise, there wasn’t as large of a difference between the countries as I anticipated). And with the cost of living being so much lower in the US, your money will go much further than it would in Norway.
This is hard for people to see…especially since many jobs (engineers are an example) are in a much higher demand in Norway than they are in the US or other countries. So while you may get paid very well to be an engineer in Norway, that does not mean that you won’t get paid equivalent or higher in another country… they just have the demand for it in Norway at the moment.
3. Everyone is given a new tax card each year: They are supposed to come automatically, but sometimes you have to order them if you don’t receive them on time. What happens if you don’t turn yours in or are in between the processing of visas and can’t receive one until the visa processing is done? You are taxed at 50%. I am experiencing this right now and trust me, it is BRUTAL. I’m told I’ll receive a lot of it back when tax time comes. Fingers crossed.
4. Food quality is poor: Since they are not part of the EU, they don’t have the same amount of imports as grocery stores in Sweden, for example. And what you do get in the grocery stores is usually very, very poor quality. I can’t tell you how badly I miss a Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods. Luckily, if you’re in Oslo, the Grønland markets can provide you with your foreign needs, at a lower price, and often, with better quality.
My favorite grocery store here for quality is Centra…which I still find rotten food in, but less often than other ones. Don’t let Kiwi’s produce guarantee trick you into believing their quality is superior to any other store’s. I will mention that I have seen drastic improvements regarding food quality since I have moved here. Perhaps the TV2 programs about the poor quality have helped? (Again, this was written in 2013 and has likely changed a bit- I no longer live in Norway, so I have no idea!)
5. Norwegians don’t complain: And if they do, it is very rarely. So, when you do have a legitimate complaint with a company or its services, you will shock the lower level employees because they don’t experience this often. I purchased a sofa from Bohus here in Norway and had some delivery issues with it (it was going to be months late). I was upset, naturally, and called to complain.
The employee who received my phone call was so confused about what to do or who to escalate the call to that I think I frazzled her for days. Luckily, the problem was resolved in a professional and timely manner and I ended up having a superb customer service interaction with Bohus.
6. If you can’t find it here, it could be banned: The Norwegian government is notorious for banning things. One of my favorite Yogi teas is banned here. I didn’t discover this until my friend who works for customs and tolls here informed me that that is why I am unable to find it, but can find every single other Yogi tea here. Red Bull was banned here in recent years, in fact, due to caffeine levels.
A 12oz Red Bull has less caffeine than a cup of coffee. I think it was probably banned for other reasons but the government just told the people it was caffeine-levels related. But on a general note, if you can’t find it…before you go to extreme measures of trying to have a grocery store import it (which I have done), find out if it is even allowed in the country at all. There may be a reason you can’t get it here.
7. Shipping products into Norway is no easy feat: Since Norway is not part of the EU, many places abroad won’t ship here. I have found that you can often get an exception made by speaking with managers, but there have been times I was unable to get that permission granted. In addition, you have to pay tolls and customs on products shipped to Norway that are over about a $40 (give or take depending on currency exchange at the moment).
These taxes can often amount to more than what you paid for the product in the first place, depending on what it is. So I have given up shopping online from abroad.
8. Speaking of taxes…: Tax returns are mostly automated. Take that H&R Block.
9. Healthcare: I haven’t had an opportunity to experience any healthcare here in Norway yet. This is obviously a good thing. I only know what I watch on the news or have experienced with others. Vision and dental are not covered. The healthcare itself is very basic and does not include holistic approaches or natural forms of medicine (chiropractors included). Many of the hospitals look like they were built in 1903.
On the contrary, everyone is entitled to coverage here. I have found that the healthcare here is more expensive for me at this point in my life than what I got in the US because I’m healthy. But, if you’re chronically ill, this is the country for you. Every time you go to the doctor, you must pay around $40, in addition to the medicine you’re prescribed. But, once you hit your cap (I want to say it’s around $500ish), everything is covered for the remainder of the year.
One thing I do notice a lot due to my watching and reading the news here is that a lot of the equipment and practices are extremely out of date. I just saw a situation with a boy having to travel to Germany out of pocket because the heart procedures he was having done were from the 1970s and doing more damage than good. A lot of what is done here is out-of-date, and not just in the field of medicine. Here are two unbiased and informative blogs on the subject (one from an American’s POV and one from a Canadian’s POV):
10. Banking in Norway is awesome: I love the banking system here in Norway. Everything is done easily online, which is the same as the States, but transferring money amongst people is way easier here in Norway. Of course, I’m not sitting in a country of 325 million people… but rather 5 million … but still. I can just type in someone’s bank account number and the money sends, regardless of the bank. Bank account numbers aren’t a private thing here. If you owe your friend $20, you can just transfer them 100kr over the internet. It’s so efficient it makes me sick.
11. Feriepenger: Everyone in the world thinks that Norway gets a month of vacation during the summer and paid to not work. Well, this is very wrong. I, believe it or not, got more vacation time with pay in the United States than I do here in Norway. You see, the month Norwegians are mandated to take off in July, is unpaid. Many jobs and offices close down so you’re forced to not work.
While this is conceptually a nice idea, it sucks for those who need the money and want to work through July. The way people are able to afford a month off without pay is because their company withholds money from the worker’s paychecks every month the year prior and gives them a nice, lump sum of money in June of the following year, aptly called feriepenger. There are reasons I both like and dislike this method. I like it because you get a month of vacation off. I’m a traveler at heart and will happily take off a month unpaid if given the chance.
I dislike it because depending on the job, you are forced to take off even if you need the cash and want to work extra. I also dislike it because it is in July. Who really wants to leave Norway and travel abroad in the height of Norway’s most beautiful and tolerable season?? Give me a month off in December or January and I’d have a more positive response. Also, if it is your first year at a job, you don’t receive feriepenger. So basically, you get to take a month off unpaid.
You better be good at saving and budgeting! When Norwegians tell you they get a month off and tons of money to do so… don’t be fooled. This was money they earned the year prior; it is not ‘free’ money as they will be so inclined to tell you.
12. Conformity Rules: I haven’t talked too much about this in previous posts but really should have. This is the absolute most conformed place I’ve ever been in the world. The girls all dress the same. And if someone claims they have their own style or is an original, this simply means they just have a different color of Converse sneakers than their friends, who will undoubtedly all own the same white high-top ones.
If a trend catches on here…watch out. The summers are filled with girls in unflattering mom-like jean shorts, solid color t-shirt, long, straight box dyed blonde hair, and Converse white high-top sneakers. In the winter, it is all about the Canadian Goose parka (whether it be real or a knockoff) with a fur-trimmed hood. The guys are not much different when it comes to conformity, but it is easier for me to notice on the females than the males since I’m a female myself.
Aside from style, you will also notice conformity in other manners. Skiing is another example. I understand this country is made for skiing and quite frankly, there is not much else to do here, but I swear, everyone does it. There is not a lot of variety when it comes to sports. Sure, you have gyms and some indoor soccer centers, but pretty much just everyone skis. Hey, at least they are active!
13. Everything costs money: Wanna play tennis? Good luck finding a court that you don’t have to pay for! Own a TV? You must pay yearly taxes on it. Fortunately, recycling is free. So is hiking and enjoying the outdoors. There are many things to do in Bergen that don’t necessarily require money, fortunately… so long as you like nature.
14. Norwegians are masterminds when it comes to saving: Americans could use some tips on this. While I think many Norwegians buy and build homes way too young without much money in the bank, the majority seem super good at saving. It boggles my mind and I really need to start learning from them.
15. Getting places is easy, kind of expensive, and will take you often a lot longer than it should: Public transportation in Norway deserves a huge thumbs up. It is incredible. But you know those beautiful fjords? They make getting places kind of a nightmare. Places that should really only take two hours to get to often take five hours to get to because one has to take the long way around the fjord or wait on a ferry to get across. Don’t let maps fool you into thinking places are closer than they are. These kinds of situations tend to happen more in western Norway than the east side.
Transportation here is expensive. Even when I think I am getting a hell of a deal…I’m kind of getting screwed over. To go round trip from Oslo to Bergen (7 hours) via train with the absolute cheapest ticket possible is still over $100. For a 2 minute ride on Oslo’s public transportation system…you will pay around $5. The ‘Flytoget’, or airport train, from Oslo’s international airport to the city center will run a person 170kr, or $30. EACH WAY. There are ways to avoid this, but the average traveler or person new to Oslo doesn’t think about it when they step off of an airplane here.
I have only covered 15 of the 30 on the list! To check out the rest…head over to Inspiring Travellers and see what Norway tips Andrea has shared with you!
Is there anything you think is important for people moving to Norway, or even traveling here, to know prior to their trip/move? Please feel free to share below.
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