Some people think they can just pack up their gear and move to Norway.  They think that once they get a cosy apartment they will find a good job earning lots of money, make great friends and live happily ever after.  All I can say about this is: hmmm.

Over the past couple of years I’ve been watching several new blogs from people who have suddenly decided to make Norway their new home.  But alas, it doesn’t take them long after moving to Norway to realise their mistake – their dream of a new, exciting life in Norway hasn’t quite turned out.  Not only that, they often return to their old country beaten, jobless, and in a great amount of debt.

As I am a ‘survivor’ of Norway, I thought I’d share a real outlook on what it is like to move to Norway.  Hopefully this will expose some of the misconceptions for ‘new-movers’ so they can make better choices.  This is not a pessimistic view but a ‘preparing for the worst, hoping for the best’ point of view.  But remeber there are always two sides so after reading this one check out the other side with the post: Why Live in Norway

Why people choose Norway
Below are some of the seemingly positive benefits of living in Norway and factors that help people decide on Norway.  However, be very, very careful on basing your decision to move to Norway on them.  They are not always what they seem:

Moving to Norway for Social Benefits:

Some people want to come to Norway because they think the government will support them with social benefits.  However, in Norway, the attitude is that everyone is a worker and pulls their own load.  Even though this is a ‘socialist’ country, ‘equal rights’ has gone far beyond ‘rights’ and many choices are hindered to try and make everyone ‘equal’.  If a Norwegian has to work for their food and keep, so do you.

Social Welfare/National Insurance Scheme
Some people become a little excited about the Social Welfare System in Norway.  They think they will receive good benefits freely especially if they want to have kids here.  However, there are many conditions on Welfare and unfortunately this information is generally only in Norwegian.

  • Unemployment Benefits
    For Job Welfare/Unemployment Benefits, (meaning you have lost your job and want to claim financial support), you need to be a resident (meaning, at least, holding a Residency Permit), have worked for a certain period of time (normally a year in a full time job), earning a certain amount of money and paying tax, before you can claim.   Unemployment benefit only entitles you to a percentage of your previous wage and after a year you are cut off unless for good reasons like injury.  After a certain period ‘on the dole’ you are required to attend job seeking courses.   NAV, the national job centre, can even choose a job for you – cleaner, garbologist, waiter – and you are also expected to up and move anywhere in the country for any job otherwise you can be cut off from unemployment welfare payments. Now all these ‘benefits’ are dependent on your Permit status in Norway and many ‘new-movers’ do not qualify.

Child Welfare Benefits

  • Maternity/Paternity Leave
    For maternity leave you will need to have worked for a period of time (at least a year) earning a certain amount of money before the birth before you can claim maternity leave benefits.  This also applies to paternity benefits.  These benefits will be a percentage of your normal taxable income paid by your employer.   However, in general, Paternity Benefits are based on the mother’s income which is usually less than the father’s income.  ‘New-movers’ who haven’t worked for at least a year or paid tax are not entitled to such benefits.  Also, ‘new-movers’ may be in breech of some Permits (because they have stopped work) and will be required to return to their home country.  If you have not worked in Norway for at least a year then you cannot claim any maternity or paternity benefits.  Also, this benefit is dependant on your Permit status in Norway and many ‘new-movers’ do not qualify.
  • Having A Baby for Permits and Welfare
    I’ve seen some ‘new-movers’ (especially students) think that as soon as they get in the border they will have a baby to help them stay in the country.  They think their new born will be a Norwegian citizen.  However, this is not the case.  Children born in Norway to non-Norwegian citizens do not automatically become Norwegian citizens.  They will hold the citizenship of their parents home country.  Only when one of the parents is Norwegian can a child be born Norwegian.  So this method of having a baby to try to stay in the country and claim benefits is not feasible.
  • Birth and Child Benefits
    All babies born in Norway receive at least kr. 30,000 to be claimed only in the first year, and only if the mother is currently unemployed and has not had employment the previous year.  All babies receive just under kr. 1000 a month.  If you are a stay-at-home-mum/dad another kr. 3000 or so from 1 years to 3 years is given for home care.  This cuts off at 3 years because you are expected to put your child in childcare and you are expected to return to full-time work.  These benefits are for all children with parents who hold at least a Residency Permit status. Note: These benefits are for the child and is nowhere near enough to live on.  The child’s other parent is expected to work and support the family, or if you are separated, will have to pay child maintenance.  The Social Welfare system will support maintenance if the other parent isn’t working but this is very minimal.  And of course, these guidelines only apply if the ‘new-mover’s’ Permits allow for such benefits.
  • Medical Benefits
    Medical benefits are granted to all residents of Norway but as a ‘new-mover’ this is conditional on your entry to Norway.  Each person is expected to pay up to kr. 2000,- a year in appointments before the ‘free’ Medical Benefits kick in.  If you do not have a social number you will have to pay for your own medical fees. To get all the medical benefits you need to be a contributing member of the National Insurance scheme, meaning you earn enough money and have paid tax for at least 12 months.  Children and pregnancy related medical appointments are free.  Dentistry is not covered under the National Insurance Scheme and usually range between kr. 600-1000,- for general consultations.  NOTE: A good amount of people get depression during the dark season and insomnia during the light season.  This problem is not really addressed in Norway.  Mental health is only recognised if a person has a serious condition such as autism.  There is generally no services for anyone to see a therapist for emotional or life issues.
  • Pension Benefits
    The basic Pension Benefits from the government (for retirement) are granted to those who are Settlement Permit/Permanent Permit holders, meaning you permanently live in Norway.  (To get a Settlement Permit you must have lived in Norway for three years and attended at least 300 hours of Norwegian Classes.)  Norway will only grant a basic pension from the time you have lived in the country.  The rest of your pension will need to come from the other countries you have worked/lived in.  If you have worked in Norway you will be granted more according to your average wage.  The basic pension is similar to a students income.  This is one of the reasons many Norwegians retire to Spain to try and stretch their money further.  There are so many Norwegian retirees there that the prime minister even goes there to campaign.  If you want things like a car, good food and a nice place to live you will need to work to add to your basic pension.

Moving to Norway for Wages and Work Conditions:

Some people read about how high the wages are in Norway and get all droolly.  In Norway a bottom end wage is about kr. 240,000,- For most countries that seems a lot but in Norway you can just scrape by on that for one person.  The poverty level is considered below kr. 215,000,-.  A comfortable wage for a single person would be about kr. 300, 000.  A beginner teachers wage is about kr, 320,000 – 350,000.  Higher than that you need to be in management, business, computing, oil, or have at least a Masters Degree.  But what ‘new-movers’ don’t consider are the money drainers – you need to consider the cost of living in Norway:

  • Tax in Norway
    Tax is very high in Norway.  It needs to be in order to provide all the great Social Welfare Benefits.  The lowest tax you will pay if you have a kr. 250,000 p.a. job is 36%.  That is over a third of your wage gone to the tax-man.
  • Accommodation in Norway
    A one bedroom apartment in Oslo to rent is at least kr, 72,000 p.a (about US$14,000 p.a).  It can be very difficult to find a place to live unless you are willing to hand over the money.  (Even students have to spend months in university bunkers until they can find a place to live.)  The other thing about renting is that you are often expected to pay three to six months rent up front and when you leave it is normal to give 3 months notice.  This can make moving costly and sometimes frustrates life if you get a job in another city.  Rent doesn’t usually include utilities if in a separate apartment.  Heating costs, especially in Winter, will suck up a lot of money and can equal 20% of your rent.
  • Food in Norway
    Norway has to import a lot of food and the import taxes are outrageous.  In order to save money you have to learn how to eat like a Norwegian otherwise you will be spending a fortune.  Simple everyday items are very pricey – capsicum/sweet peppers can be kr.50-70,- per kilo in the winter which is about US$10-14.  Eating out is certainly a luxury.  One large pizza at a restaurant is on average kr.250,- or about $50.  A large MacDonalds meal is around kr.120 – thats about US$20 for a (squished) burger, fries and coke.  Food will be one of a ‘new-mover’s’ killer costs.
  • Transport in Norway
    To get anywhere in Norway it costs a lot of money.  Catching a bus for a day can at least set you back kr. 50,- ($10).  It is easy to walk but you will not survive the Winters unless you ski/sled everywhere.  Because Norway is long and has a lot of mountain ranges it is essential to fly from city to city.  Buying a car in Norway (kr.250,000,- for a basic new station-wagon is about $50,000) has very high taxes and don’t even think about buying one in a cheaper country and driving it over as you will also be lumped with import taxes.
  • Work Conditions
    Work conditions are very good in Norway.  The general hours are 8am to 4pm, Monday to Friday.  It is rare to get overtime.  You are expected to socialise, are pressured to join the union and generally have to take your holidays in one big lump during Summer.  If you don’t speak Norwegian you will usually be under contract to know the language by a certain time which is very hard to do as everyone will just speak English to you.  I know of a few university lecturers that are finding this extremely hard and are worried about their future employment.
  • Moving to Norway Unemployed
    A lot of ‘new-movers’ think they can get a job after they have moved to Norway – very bad idea.  If you do not have your Permits in place you are unemployable.  Usually if you do not know fluent Norwegian you will not be employed unless you are a specialist in your field.  Being a ‘specialist’ means that there is no one in Norway that can do what you do.  However, if you do find an employer to employ you without your permits you will likely have to leave Norway to get your full-time employer to take all the necessary legal steps for your immigration and that usually means you cannot enter Norway until your employment application has been approved by UDI.  However, UDI has been trying to make the process quicker and there are some exceptions.  If employers don’t follow these rules then they could pay hefty fines for ‘illegally’ employing you.  You can never expect to just ‘walk’ into a job here in Norway.

So as you can see, ‘new-movers’ will need to be financially stable in order to wait out the gaps – it is good to have at least six months worth of moving-to-Norway-savings.  Even if you are employed from the get-go you are likely to wait a month before you get your first full pay check as most wages are paid monthly in Norway.  You cannot get paid unless you have a bank account and you cannot get a bank account if you don’t have a social number.  To get a social number you have to be approved by UDI.  Quiet often this domino effect straps people for cash.  A few employers provide financial relocation packages and a short term place for you to stay but this is only for certain employees.  If you want internet, a phone, cable, you have to play the waiting game.

Moving to Norway for Free Education:

Education is certainly an attraction to moving to Norway as schools and universities are State run which are free.  The other schools are generally ‘international’ or ‘cultural’ in which you can pay through the nose.  Even though university is free, practically all undergraduate courses require you to have passed Norwegian at high school level.  There are subjects that don’t require Norwegian but 99.9% of bachelor courses have core subjects that teach and exam in Norwegian.  This is because every course requires a pass in core philosophy, which is a Norwegian language subject.  However, you do not need Norwegian language for Master and PhD programs – although for some study areas you will be limited in choice.

Even though education is free, living is certainly not.  Most Norwegian students have to take a loan out from the government to pay for living expenses unless they can still live with their parents.  The loan is equivalent to the cost of a university education anyway – and in Norway that is a big debt!  At least kr.80,000 per year (US$17,000) and when you consider the poverty level wage is kr.215,000 it is evident that families struggle greatly when a spouse studies.  However, a lot of ‘new-movers’ do not qualify for such support.  If you complete the course some of the loan is turned into a grant.  People who can apply for student loans are: Political Refugees, those married to a Norwegian Citizen, Family Reunification Permit holders, children under 19, those who have had full-time employment for at least 24 months and those who have already studied in Norway with their own finances for at least three years.  This sounds all fine and dandy but then you have to pay the loan back with interest.  If you plan to one day move back to a cheaper country (like Australia) you can almost guarantee to be paying the loan back until you die.  Only richer countries like Norway will enable you to pay off your loan in a decent time.

Moving to Norway for the Stats:

Some ‘new-movers’ decide to live in Norway based on international statistics found on wiki.  Although ‘stats’ seem to give you a good idea of the country they can also be deceiving in terms of real life.

Human Development Index – Standard of Living
Some people don’t understand what the ‘Human Development Index’ really is.  As Norway has one of the highest indexes in the world people often think life is more luxurious than other places.  But what the Human Development Index really looks at is: how many people per capita is educated, how many people per capita live to a ripe age and the quality of income and healthcare services.  This index has nothing to do with the lay idea of ‘standard of living’ which actually is perceived as quality of living judged by lifestyle, convenience, richness and happiness.  In fact, the US, UK, France, Australia and Canada practically have the same ‘colour’ index of ‘quality’ as Norway.

However, the ‘qualities of living’ in Norway are different to the other countries with the same ‘standard of living’ colour index.  In general, most normal produce needs to be imported and therefore fresh food tends to be second class.  There is not much fresh meat available – a lot of things are still frozen or canned.  Practically no organic and it is really hard for diabetic diets.  In a lot of cities and regions facilities are at a minimum, for example, there are long waiting lists for children activities (Lilu has been on a waiting list for two years just to do a baby gym class).  A fair amount of teachers are unqualified because there aren’t enough in Norway.  (And I know what you are thinking, ‘Job! Job! Job!’ but to be employed as an unqualified teacher you have to speak Norwegian at an advanced level.)  Norway is not big on ‘convenience’ – shops are closed on Sundays, there is no such thing as 24 hour shopping, over Summer a lot of businesses run at half mask (don’t even think about getting cable at this time) and regular transport schedules reduce dramatically,  limited food products, limited speciality stores and products (such as maternity wear, books, shoes etc), very limited customer service, limited activities (no rugby football, baseball, cricket or netball – not seen even on TV), extreme limit of employment options (no fashion gurus, mobile dog washers, landscape gardeners, wrestlers,  – people who make life fun), no real ethnic restaurants or food – just Norwegianized versions, no ethnic celebrations or festivals, and the list goes on.  Now, of course there are always exceptions, one-off here and there, and I am certainly not talking about Oslo, but most of the rest of the country.  Consider Norway as a bare minimum English or American country town with 50,000 people and you will get a good idea of the conveniences, services and offers.

Social Health Index
Social Health doesn’t have anything to do with physical or mental health.  It’s related to the health of the country in terms of: the rule of law, equality in the distribution of wealth, public accessibility of the decision-making process, and the level of social capital.  These standards are in most top western countries but the two that are controversial in Norway to the international arena are:

1. Norway is a Social-democratic society.  Norwegians are constantly told they are rich and therefore are expected to give more.

2. Feminism is at its peak here so much so that it is frowned upon for women to take on traditional roles such as ‘home-maker’.

Environmental Performance Index
This index refers to the quality of drinking water, sanitation, pollution, disease etc.  Norway is a Western country and has all the normal performance features as other Western countries but the reason why it does particularly well in this index is because of population.  Norway has less than five million people spread over the land.  The largest collective population is in Olso city with only 5oo,oo0 people.  Most of the environment is untouched because of continuous mountain ranges.  It is closest to one of the most ‘purest’ places on the planet – the Arctic.  This has a relatively large impact on the index’s stats as it is only indexed according to the norm of other countries such as the US and UK which don’t enjoy such low human footprints.

Moving to Norway for Lifestyle:

‘New-movers’ have heard a lot of rumours about the Norwegian lifestyle.  Norway is certainly a breath taking country to live in when it comes to scenery.  It is also famous for healthy outdoor activities in the Summer and Winter seasons.  But one thing is always overlooked by ‘new-movers’ when it comes to ‘lifestyle’ in Norway and that is the ‘social living’.  Norway can be a lonely place to live if you are used to big cities, lots of people and English speaking.  When you move to Norway you can’t rely on Norwegians to help you out, become your friends, give you advice or even talk to you.  Norway is very hard on single ‘new-movers’, however, couples and families can have a slightly easier time.  All activities are in Norwegian, all courses are in Norwegian, all National broadcasts are in Norwegian, all theatre, all newspapers, all websites, all information is in Norwegian.  There are no community celebrations accepted except for Norwegian traditions and holidays.  If you do not know Norwegian you can become isolated from society very easily.

A lot of ‘new movers’ who are used to the sun find the long dark Winters particularly hard and even Norwegians get depression.  During the dark season Norway lives indoors.  It is often sludgy, slippery and very wet on the walking paths and streets and the amount of work that is involved in daily life just to get somewhere – trudging through a metre of snow, very slippery ice paths, no footpaths, darkness, sweeping cars for a metre of snow every day – can make a lot of people stay indoors.  Many strategies need to be followed to survive the Winters like drinking fish oil, exercising every day and getting out of the house every day.  Even Oslo has a long ugly Spring and requires some getting used to.  If you are not a nature-loving, active person who enjoys the cold and wet then Norway certainly isn’t the place for you.

What you need to move to Norway:

The first thing you will need is a backup plan.  If you want to move to Norway you should have at least two of the things below (one being either a good job or money):

A good job
Work will give you much needed money and social contact.  It is the only way to survive in Norway.

A good Norwegian family
The support of family is vital in Norway.  A Norwegian family can teach you how to live, how to eat and how to be happy.  A Norwegian family makes life so much easier.

Language
Knowing the language will give you much better employment options.  You will be more accepted in society and be able to communicate with everyone.  It will establish you in your new life and you won’t have to go through, the sometimes unpleasant, ‘immigrant’ stage.

Education
Having at least a Bachelor Degree will be very beneficial.  Employers these days look for people who have Master Degrees.  Your education is vital to good survival in Norway.  If you are uneducated then expect to get jobs in child care or cleaning.  Even people with Bachelor degrees work these jobs because their chosen degree doesn’t qualify them for Norwegian jobs and they do not know the language.

Money
If you have a good amount of savings that you are willing to use then it is much easier to move to Norway.  Do not come to Norway unless you are financially stable and can support the family you bring with you.  If you do not have a job, a good amount of savings – a years worth of living expenses x 2 (for Norwegian value) to support everyone will be a great help.  Life can be very hard for new movers if they don’t have a jobs.  It is also very hard for a family to live off one income.  A three bedroom house/apartment will take about 50% of your wage.  Add in the 36% tax and there is not much to play with.

Climate Adaptable
If you like the darkness and not seeing the sun or not having sun-warmth for 6 months of the year, then Norway is the place for you!

Still interested in moving to Norway?
If you still want to live in Norway after reading all the above then there are some other qualities that you will need to be a survivor of Norway.  You need to be resilient.  Physical life in Norway is a lot harder than other countries.  Just walking to the shops here will be twice as much effort – through snow, ice, long grass, hills etc.  You need to shrug off all nuances of discrimination and racism.  Norwegians don’t care for immigrants who complain and in fact, immigrants have developed a bad reputation as complainers.  You need to enjoy your own company, especially if you move to Norway by yourself.  You need to know how to physically look after your health because health services are very minimal.  You have to learn the language whether you want to or not, whether you have a talent for it or not.  You have to adapt to the Norway system of doing things.  Going against the grain, complaining and thinking your way is better will only frustrate you.  You shouldn’t get angry or ‘smart’ or bossy or be a know-it-all otherwise you will alienate yourself.  If you are ready to be pleasant, humble, carefree and no bother than you are ready to be loved by Norway.

An example of a new mover surviving Norway: me!

(The first time.) I moved to Norway with post graduate education in a field where Norway doesn’t have these type of qualifications in their workforce so I was considered highly educated and employable.  It also helped that I was a self-starter and initiated projects.  I had a strong Norwegian family base with a Norwegian husband.  I didn’t know the language but my Norwegian family helped me greatly with language and culture.  Even though I didn’t have a job when I came to Norway my husband worked full time in a good job and could support me.  As soon as my residency was accepted by UDI I found employment.  I have lasted a lot longer than the people in my Norwegian language immigrant class.  Most of them have packed it in and gone home.  I was very active in the community, dedicating my time and talents, and created a good network of associates and friends.

Norway is one of the most wonderful places in the world.  The people, culture and landscape are captivating.  If you are willing to sacrifice much, then there are great rewards.  Norway is certainly for those who like change, challenges and earn their stripes.  Anyone can fall in love with Norway.  The trick is to get Norway to fall in love with you.

The stat information above was correct at publishing.  Of course, there are always exceptions to the rules, differences from place to place, and changes.  This post is in reply to many emails we receive about immigrating to Norway.  This post is about giving a personal overview for people who want to know how it really is to move to Norway.

Part two of this series: Why Live in Norway