This (long) post was a lot harder to write than I thought. It isn’t that Norway isn’t a great place to live but everything I found that is great is based on my own value systems. So, to get a well-rounded impression of why it is ‘great’ to live in Norway, I hope that all the readers will add the things that have made it worthwhile for them to leave their family, friends and country to make Norway their home.
Addressing the Do You Really Want to Live in Norway arguments – there is an opposition in all things:
Norway has a strong welfare system. Social welfare is a safety net for many people. If anything happens such as unemployment or sickness, it is reassuring to know that you can get help if needed. Living in a place that has a strong welfare system gives extra security or peace of mind, especially for those who are from abroad. Just knowing that it is there makes the decision to move to Norway much easier. Everyone has access to child benefits, unemployment benefits, pensions, maternity/paternity and medical benefits no matter their wage or social status. Another good element is that the Norwegian welfare system is very supportive of pregnant women and children. (All medical care is free for pregnant women and children.) It also supports parental leave (although at the moment this is currently being reformed.) The health care service, even though sparse, is one of the best in the world. In fact, Norway this year has been voted the best place in the world to give birth.
Wages and Money
Wages are very good in Norway but they are comparable to living expenses. Even though living in Norway is expensive (Oslo is usually the most expensive city in the world to live according the the Most Expensive City index) buying abroad is a delight. Norway has certainly embraced internet shopping. A book that you buy for kr.9o (US$18) in Norway you can buy for around kr.36 (US$7) in the UK including shipping. However, Norwegians are careful not to import anything greater that kr.500 as the import taxes are outrageous. Items kr.500 or less are not taxed on import. It is also very noticeable how far the Norwegian crown goes when traveling or on holidays. Norwegians travel to Europe for weekend shopping sprees and regularly cross the border to Sweden for cheaper items such as alcohol, cigarettes, meat and chocolate. Your money goes a lot further in Norway if you live like a Norwegian. Many Norwegians have backyard green houses or gardens and it is a typical lifestyle to hunt natural food such as moose and deer. Picking berries and mushrooms is a seasonal activity for many Norwegians and can even work as a good source of pocket money. Another bonus for immigrants from poorer countries is that when Norwegian crowns are sent back home to support family it goes a lot further.
Tax in Norway
Tax in Norway is very high. As Norway has a strong welfare system workers have a higher tax rate than many other countries. It is expected that the rich give to the poor. This is because Norway is considered a ‘socialist’ country. Socialist countries want everyone to have the same (the same education, the same work and the same money). This is particularly good for people ‘up-grading’ to Norway. It might seem a negative for the rich, however, they are entitled to the same support and welfare conditions as the poor. In this respect, Norway’s social welfare system is fairer than other competitors such as Australia, Canada and the UK.
However, the great thing about the tax system in Norway is that everything is done for you. If you have an employer there is no need to lodge your own tax form as the government does all the paper work (for free) and sends you a copy. If you agree you don’t do anything, if you don’t then you can take things further. For a person who doesn’t like doing taxes this is a great service. However, it also means that government agencies talk to one another, sharing your information. In a place like Australia this is considered an invasion of privacy as you are not in control of your personal information. This means in Australia you have to communicate to every government service separately to get or give information. As Norway is a ‘socialist’ country, when you are in the system everyone can find you. For example, I didn’t need to give my details to the hospital when I was in for having a baby as they just acquired it from the midwife clinic in town. Also, when registering my child’s name, mine and my husband’s details were already cited on the form. Since being in Norway having all my information available to authorised services has made life so much easier (especially when I don’t speak the language or know the systems in Norway). This certainly will sound scary to some but if you don’t have anything to hide then it is very practical.
Accommodation In Norway
Accommodation in Norway is expensive. However, because of the harsh climate, housing must be of a high standard. (Of course, there will always be quality differences but we are talking generally here.) Living spaces have double glass windows to keep out the cold and have good heating. Houses are clustered together to reduce amenity cost. This also means that yards are very small and fences are rarely used. However, many of the features of a Norwegian house may not be as glamourous (it is very rare to have swimming pools, landscape gardening or gazebos) but it is a practical way to live with the Winter and large amounts of snowfall. Other climate features of Norwegian housing include wooden panels, small windows, small rooms, fire places, vinyl or wooden floors, wooden structures and framing, heaters under windows, floor heating, no ceiling lights (as lamps are expected to be used) and living space with sharp arched ceilings. If you are used to big open spaces, lots of windows and outdoor areas, a Norwegian house will take some getting used to. When the look and features of a Norwegian house is understood then the quality can stand out. Buying a house in Norway takes a lot of money and generally requires two incomes. However, it is common for houses to have at least one apartment attached to rent out to supplement expenses.
Food in Norway
Food is expensive in Norway especially if you eat out or have a fresh food diet. The trick in dealing with food prices is to eat like a Norwegian. Norwegians eat homemade meals. They eat a lot of potatoes, swede and carrots, soups and stews, open sandwiches and cheaper meats like pølser and salami. Eating beef steaks and fresh salads everyday can put a strain on the budget. The other cheaper way of eating in Norway is seasonally. Fresh items are much cheaper when they are in season. Also, Norwegians still hunt and gather. As mentioned above, fishing, hunting deer and moose, collecting seagull eggs, berry picking and hobby farming for produce is common in Norway. Buying frozen products is still very popular but there are good reasons for this. It is easier to transport, has a lower risk of spoilage and can last longer especially when smaller communities only buy small amounts. But there are also culinary reasons. For example: In countries like Australia sheep can graze outside all year and be slaughtered at any time. In Norway during the Winter, sheep stay in barns and cannot eat fresh pastures (because the ground is covered with five foot of snow). As it is well known that lamb is best in flavour and texture when it has had a season on the mountain pastures, all slaughtering is done in Autumn when the lambs have come down from the mountains. The excess if frozen to ‘lock in the flavour’ rather than having sub-standard flavours of fresh meat other times of the year. At the moment Norway is on the verge of developing its food variety and quality. TV cooking shows are on the rise and Norway’s national romanticism for traditional food is being challenged with fresh, exotic and imported produce. There are new quality assurance groups popping up like Nyt Norge and Økologisk that strive to give the consumer Norwegian made food. A the moment Norway at the moment has a lot of potential in the food business.
As stated in Do you Really Want to Live in Norway, working conditions are very good. It is mandatory for workers to take five weeks holiday a year. There are also many public holidays through out the year (especially in May) and many perks like traveling for seminars and workshops. Work hours are generally 8.00-16.00 and all businesses are closed on Sundays except for convenient services or tourist and entertainment venues. Vacations and free-time is very important in Norway. There are good job opportunities for those who are educated. As Norway is trying to run like a normal Western country it doesn’t have enough qualified people to function. Therefore Norway has a large workforce poached from other countries to fill in the gaps. Education, oil, shipping, computing and technology, medical and service industries are large employers of international workers. Because Norway lacks many services and conveniences there are many opportunities for entrepreneurs. It is easy to set up a small business, be self employed or work as a freelancer in Norway. This doesn’t require any language skills at all and there are even funds from municipalities for such ventures.
Education is free in Norway. Even university is free for all. This is certainly a bonus when living in Norway. However, at the moment Norway is ranked 6th in the world on the Education Index when it comes to. However, it is ranked 23th in Maths below Poland, Korea and New Zealand. Free education by no means means good education. It is said that because Norway is a socialist country it spends all its education money on trying to catch up the slower kids so everyone gets the ‘same’ education. This means that there is no care for smart kids – they are not encouraged to excel. It seems that this is because there are not enough teachers to go around. There are some private schools and some ‘free learning’ schools that claim to nurture the individuals needs and also a few English-speaking schools for immigrant children. These schools are only found in bigger cities. With this said, it is always up to the individual to push themselves in education, which is certainly not a bad thing. If a student wants to excel, Norway will not stop them but will still give them the same free tools as everyone else to do so.
However, all of the above aren’t the real reasons to live in Norway.
As mentioned in Do You Really Want to Live in Norway, it is ‘quality of life’ that is a major deciding factor when it comes to choosing Norway over any other country. I will admit, a lot the value of living in Norway is about its potential. Norway tries hard to be better – harder than most countries. Even though right now it fails in a lot of areas, Norway’s strive to become the best place to live is what draws a lot of people to the kingdom of the North. I find that many of the reasons to live in Norway are for the long term benefits. You have to live here first, usually for many years, before you are rewarded. These are just some of the things that, if not made me move, have certainly made me stay in Norway:
There is a Slow Movement creeping up in the world for people who like life as a fine wine – to take a long time and be savoured. However, this slowness is an everyday thing in Norway, so if you like to take your time and enjoy life then you should move to Norway:
In the modern world time is priceless. Everyone wants wants it and those who have it don’t have enough. More time is what you will find you have in Norway. The regular shops aren’t open on Sundays, neither are a lot of cafes, bakeries or restaurants. There are a few here and there but these are rare or have a season of Sunday openings for tourists in the Summer. There is no such thing as 24 hour shopping. Regular stores close by 3pm, businesses by 4pm, shopping centres by 8pm and supermarkets by 10/11pm. There aren’t as many busses or trains, you spend more time waiting and on Sundays most transport doesn’t start til 11am. In Tromsø it is common to see tourists in the city stuck on a Sunday wandering around looking in the windows of dark shops wondering what to do. This slows down life dramatically. Suddenly you have more time because there is no time to pop down the shop or to get a paper or to have breakfast in a bakery. All of a sudden there is time to read that book or to go for a hike or to paint the house. Time is something that Norwegians have more than most other Western countries. Time is treasured as a Norwegian past-time.
Traditionally Norwegians houses were built small to retain heat in the cool Winters. Nowadays it is popular to have lounge rooms with open plan living. Even though the space inside is getting bigger, the space outside has always been a wilderness. Just outside the door are forests and lakes, mountains and fjords. If not, then they are just up the road. It is easy to go somewhere and be the only one in the park or on the beach. There is good distance between cities and towns. The people of Norway are spread out along the countryside. It is typical to see a string of houses along the longest fjord or a tiny glow of light between the mountains from an airplane. Norwegians enjoy distance and aren’t afraid to be the only ones on an island. Peace and tranquility is something that is in abundance in Norway and so is enjoying your own company.
Even though Norway has a cold climate most leisure activities are outdoors. Snow sports in the Winter and water sports in the Summer. All unorganized sports and activities seem to be about getting out in nature. Kayaking, mountain biking, sailing, ice fishing, snow mobiling. Going swimming at the pool and having saunas are usual weekly activities especially in Winter. Many people play indoor sports such as volleyball, soccer and even frisbee. It is common to play on a sports team from work. Even though the water is usually too cold at the beach for a dip it certainly doesn’t stop people from BBQing, sunbathing or playing volleyball. Municipalities even encourage people with community competitions – in Tromsø we have an activity called Ti på Toppen (Ten on Top) which is a photo competition that encourages people to go hiking up ten mountains to take pictures. The best part of all is that all this leisure isn’t saved up for the holidays, it is an every day thing. It can be because of the time and space of Norway.
Capacity is about how much one can do in a community. In every community there are activities and events going on all the time – festivals, exhibitions, seminars etc. In large cities, (we are talking 2,000,000+ here), there are so many activities that you can’t know all that is going on, let alone go to them all. This makes life very fast. (I can’t remember what this is called or the study behind it, so please feel free to name it below) but when a person has too many choices they are pulled in many directions and therefore can miss out on a lot. Having too many things going on in a community can be very frustrating and unsatisfying, and causes an overload in a modern life. There is a long term study about this modern societal hazard in Melbourne Australia (I don’t know the results yet) as there are so many events and on-goings clashing and overlapping. It is not until you live a slower, simpler life such as Norway that you realise this overload happens. In Norway most cities are around 100,000 people (Oslo is only 500,000). This means that there is never an overload of festivals, activities and events. There can be times where there is nothing happing in the community. To some this might sound boring but I must say that Norwegians have an amazing talent in relying on their own ability to entertain themselves. People who live in modern cultures just have to go outside to be entertained. Norwegians make their own entertainment. They are more active in their lives than those who allow outside forces to entertain them. Rather than opening the paper and seeing what’s on to entertain you, Norwegians most often do not have this luxury. And even though there is not much to choose from it doesn’t mean Norwegians go to everything that is on. In fact, in Tromsø a couple of years back Paul McCartney played to a third filled stadium. It wasn’t that there isn’t enough people in Tromsø to fill the stadium (as every Sunday football it is packed to the brim), Tromsø just didn’t want to go. My point is that Norwegian have more power to cover their choice of activities and events because they don’t need to be entertained. Therefore they don’t get overloaded with society’s offers and have more time to themselves. As an Australian, it is really refreshing to be entertainment-empowered. Back home I was always bouncing from community festival to film festival to food festival all because it was on and I had gotten into the habit of being a ‘socialite’ and ‘up-to-date’. In Norway, it is nice not to do anything rather than go to every festival and event, and some of the best times of the year is when there is nothing on in the community at all. (This might seem like a odd point ‘For’ living in Norway but while in London or Sydney I felt life was going so fast that I wasn’t living. As mentioned above I have written this post from my own perspective.)
It is a well known fact, especially amongst Norwegians, that Norwegians a pretty healthy people. It is largely because of the INconvenience of Norway – there are only two fast food places (MacDonalds and Burger King) which are only in certain cities; there is a lot of snow in Winter so it takes so much more energy just to walk anywhere and food prices are very high so no one can afford to over-eat. There are also many cultural habits that help keep Norwegians healthy too. In Norway a swig of oil a day keeps the doctor away. Kindergarten children are kicked outside to play come rain, hail or snow (which I think establishes the love for the outdoors). It is fun to get around in Winter to work or school on skis or sleds. And during the Summer the sun is up til all wee hours of the night and it is common to see Norwegians still out and about jogging or roller-skiing. The health of Norwegians is obviously influenced by their active lifestyle. Their diet, which consists of a large amount of fish, is also a great contributing factor. Health is also relative to environment. Norway has very clean water and fresh air. There is a strong recycled waste program and because of the health care system Norwegians get things checked out before they become a major health problem. Norwegian’s don’t often get skin damage by the sun such as wrinkled, sun spots and freckles (although there are a few women around who look like leather bags from bathing in solariums all Winter). Norwegians are taught the tricks of the trade in living in a cold climate to prevent problems such as using cold creams and wearing wool. The general health of Norwegians is very noticeable when you come to Norway. It can be a little intimidating if you have come from a sunburnt country but also very intriguing to find out their secrets.
It is no doubt that the nature of Norway is one of it’s most prized possessions. I’ve heard many people say that they nearly cried the first time they saw the mountains and the fjords. Norway is one of the great beauties of the world and is certainly a place that can give great joy by just walking outside. The climate is very cold and snowing in the Winter, but ever so beautiful. The summers are mild but bright. The landscape dramatically changes in each season which is a delight. If you don’t like nature then Norway isn’t the place for you but if you love it you will be in heaven.
I come from a new country so for me it is lovely to live in a place that is so rich in history and tradition. I’m fascinated by the Vikings and their runes. I enjoy the Sami culture and love learning about the herding life. I love to hear stories about the Nordmen and the superstitions and traditions in farming and fishing. I am humbled by how Norway survived the world wars and by the tales of Finnmark. Having bunads and royalty and heritage horses and rock carving and cream cake is all very exciting and has fulfilled my expectations of living in a different country. Customs and culture can be a tough nut to crack, sometimes even disheartening, but other times heart-warming – it is all in the adventure of being an outlander.
Norway is a great environment to raise a family. It has very low crime, free health and education and the government focuses on opportunities for children. The family unit is very important in Norway. Not so much the extended family as in other countries, but parents and children seem to be close knit. Most families have one or two children. Parents give a lot of time to their children, taking them out into the wilderness and teaching them about the land and the weather. Even though parents are quick to put their kids into childcare (as they want to continue with their own careers) they think the quicker their children adapt to society’s rules and customs the easier their life will be. However, many Norwegian children are very placid and controlled. They don’t get too excited and they aren’t energetic. The do not care for mingling with new people and are intimidated by confident (and loud Australian) children bounding up to them wanting to play. It is common to see parents playing with their children and participating in outdoor activities. You’ll often see parents putting toddlers on sleds which are strapped around the parents waist for Winter hiking trips. Parents are involved in kindergarten activities and also attend community events. They take their kids on holidays – Southern Europe, US and up to the mountain cabin at Easter. Kids are trusted by their parents (and parents also trust the community). They are free to play without supervision in parks and on sledding hills. Parents support their kids in out of school activities. From Norwegian kids there are no public displays or outbursts, (I’ve never seen a tantrum yet in a shopping centre). I’ve never seen a parent and a kid have a disagreement. There is no yelling or screaming. No public discipline. (In fact, there was a new law passed last year that parents are not allowed to smack their children.) It is very nice to have a culture where kids are not yelled at or smacked, especially in public. When kids reach their teenage years they are naturally given a lot more independence. Especially in rural areas, teenagers leave home to go to high school. When they leave the nest teenagers live their own lives and when become parents themselves in turn focus on their own family unit.
Learning other languages is a very important part of Norwegian culture. Just knowing Norwegian enables them to understand and speak Swedish and sometimes Danish. They have a better grasp of German and can easily pick up other European languages, particularly Spanish and Russian. Sami is taught in many schools as a first language and so is Ny Norsk on the West Coast. English, of course, is their major foreign language focus as much of Norwegian society is becoming reliant on English.
Living Next to Other Countries
This opens up wonderful opportunities of learning about other cultures and peoples. Many people from around Europe come to Norway for work or holidays. It is also wonderful to have so many countries close by to visit.
Living in the Country
I’ve always been one of those people who have dreamed to live in the country but I have always lived in the city. It was too hard to live in the country because it was too easy to live in the city. However, in Norway, practically everywhere is the country. Most cities are miniature and are supported by agriculture. Oslo was the first capital city I had lived in under 3 million people. Just a twenty minute drive out and your can hit farmland. Even though Oslo has most of what other bigger cities have, most of the people in Oslo seem to have come from a small country town. The Norwegian population is very spread out which makes for small communities. It certainly makes it hard for things to be convenient but much easier to live the Slow Movement. At first I was scared to live in such small places but now I wouldn’t have it any other way. The life is certainly not for everyone but most small cities has ‘one-of-each’ so you can survive if you are a hard-core city fan. However, you can guarantee that all Norwegian cities are ‘cities with benefits’.
Health and Safety
Just a quick mention – It has been wonderful to use common sense to live life here in Norway. It has taken me a little to get used to but I can just walk around a hole or step over a cord without the government writing a book on how I am supposed to do it.
My Personal Reasons for Wanting to Live in Norway
I have many layered reasons of why I am living in Norway. Most of them are because I want a better life and opportunity for my kids and family. Now when I say ‘better’, I mean that Norway is better than any other country for me to live in to fulfill my hopes and dreams. (It certainly doesn’t mean I am dissing Australia. Australia is a fine place to live, especially if it can make your achieve your hopes and dreams.) But here are just some things why I choose to live in Norway:
- I live in Norway because I have a most wonderful Norwegian family. My family life is all I could ever ask for. My immediate family is young and happy. We love each day we spend together. My extended family is the best I could ever ask for. I am very lucky in Norway as my extended family is very close. We are a larger than normal clan (Moose is one of five) with parents, children and grandparents, uncles, aunties and cousines who all interact and spend time together. We see each other several times a year and all meet up at Christmas. Every couple of years all our family from all over the world meet up in Finland for a reunion. This is all unusually Norwegian. My kids and I are so blessed to be in such a Norwegian family like this.
- I live in Norway because I want to give opportunities to my kids that I never had. Living so close to other countries and cultures. Weedender trips to the southern Europe. Skiing holidays and lots of nature loving activities. My children will grow up in a multi-language society and will learn a handful of languages (at least three fluently) and dialects and be exposed to many more. Norwegians live very close to nature and because of my family my children experience farm life. Because of the Norwegian outdoor culture my kids will grow up in a healthy active enviroment.
- I also live in Norway to give my kids what I had when I was growing up. Back home in the 70s there was no fear of your children playing outside in the yard by themselves or even street cricket with the other neighbourhood kids. Outdoor activity is what we did all day, every day. (I was six when the first Atari video games made their way into homes.) Even though Norway is up with all entertainment technology, kids are out and about playing in the snow, sledding down hills and having fun building caves. This is something I really enjoyed from my childhood (that you just can’t do in most Western countries of the world now) and I want my children to have that joy and freedom too. In Norway they have it.
- I live in Norway because I feel a lot more appreciated for the work that I do. As a dance teacher and theatre practitioner, it was hard to make a career in Oz as the Arts are not appreciated. Even though the Norwegain Arts inductry only survives because of government money (like Oz) there are so many positive opportunities and inititatives that are about nurturing artists and enabling them to pass on their craft to the rising generation. Especially in Northern Norway my craft is needed and for once it is nice to be valued for my choice of career.
- I live in Norway because of the lifestyle – it is slow, peaceful and nature-loving. Simple activities are treasured here like going berry picking or salmon fishing. The balance of video and technological entertainment is healthy, not excessive. Nature and seasons are highly valued and the attitude is to make the most out of it every day.
- And if I didn’t put this in I would have some explaining to do: I live in Norway because of my wonderful husband. When you are an international couple you always have to choose where you want to live. Since Moose had already experienced English-speaking culture which enabled him to understand who I was, we decided to live in Norway so I could get to know him as a Norwegian. It is true that the more you learn about someones culture, their origins and family, you get to know them much more too. I always think that when I will look back I will see these years as the time I fell in love with Norway. But really these are the years I fall deeper in love with my Norwegian.
As you can see, Norway wouldn’t suit everyone, just those who want a carefree family life with a healthy lifestyle and amazing natural beauty. This post has been written by a city girl from Oz so, of course, there are so many other great reasons for living in Norway that haven’t been focused on here (human rights, civil freedom, equality, animal rights, and the list goes on). Norway is different for everyone, sometimes she is perfect and other times her Viking warrior comes out and destroys hope. If anything, you need to give Norway time before you can reap the rewards. I’d say it is good to give Norway at least five years before deciding if she is right for you. Just like lapskaus or bløtkake, it needs to sit for a while before serving and will always be much nicer the next day.