Living in Norway
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A practical guide to the way of life in Norway
Living in Norway is a great opportunity for outdoor enthusiasts and expats who appreciate Scandinavia’s wilderness. After all, Norway boasts an incredible natural beauty. With the InterNations GO! Guide, you can learn all about life in Norway, including healthcare, housing, education, and more.
Life in Norway
At a Glance:
- The nature and scenery in Norway is undoubtedly beautiful. Expats living here can look forward to summer holidays in the remote fjords and skiing every day during the colder months.
- Urban hotspots Oslo, Bergen, and Trondheim make Norway an attractive prospect for city-loving expats, also offering diverse job opportunities.
- The quality of life is higher than most countries, as a result of a thorough and generous welfare system. Public healthcare is almost free and is guaranteed to cover you once you are living in Norway.
- Although the search for an apartment is difficult, it isn’t impossible! Be reassured that while housing does not come cheap in Norway, it is usually of great quality.
A relocation to Norway can be more than just an exciting professional experience. The country has a lot in store for those who value nature and enjoy outdoor activities like hiking or skiing. Although the climate may be a little rough at times, life in Norway is worth your while.
Norway is particularly famous for its fjords, narrow and steep-sided inlets which have been carved into the land by glacial activity. Expats living in Norway enjoy the highest concentration of fjords in the world, with the longest fjord, Sognefjord, measuring 204 kilometers in length. Despite Norway having the same latitude as places like Siberia, Greenland, and Alaska, the climate here is comparatively mild, due to the warm Gulf Stream, and many wild animals have declared Norway’s fjords their natural habitat.
While the Sognefjord is one of the deepest fjords, dropping 1,300 meters below sea level, it’s the Nærøyfjord and Geirangerfjord which are the most beautiful and popular. They have also been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is not hard to see why, considering that this dramatic scenery is completely natural. If you are planning on living in Norway, any one of the thousands of fjords is an absolute must-see.
Oslo: Norway’s Cosmopolitan Capital
Norway’s capital city, with a population fast approaching 700,000, is just the right destination for those who enjoy the balance of urban hustle and bustle and outdoor pursuits. Located between the large Oslofjord and woodlands, Oslo offers an easy-going atmosphere and an exciting mix of historic and modern architecture, as well as open air art. It is quite easy for expats living in Norway to explore Oslo on foot and stroll from one museum or gallery to the other, or walk right onto the famous roof of the Oslo Opera House.
But don’t let that small-town atmosphere fool you! Oslo is the cosmopolitan business center of life in Norway. It offers a buzzing nightlife, with numerous clubs, bars, and restaurants. For example, Oslo is home to the internationally recognized restaurant Maaemo, the only one in Norway to be awarded three stars in the Michelin food guide.
If you don’t want to choose between urban and rural life, Norway’s capital may be the perfect choice. Expats in Oslo will find it easy to leave the city for some sailing, hiking, or the chance to explore the Oslofjord, such as the popular weekend activity: island hopping. Yet even within the city limits, there are lots of opportunities to pursue outdoor activities, for example, the Oslo Summer Park, as well as Winter Park: Oslo’s largest ski resort.
Bergen: Gateway to the Fjords
If your life in Norway has taken you to Bergen, you will find yourself right at the gateway to the fjords. The city holds a rich cultural heritage and tradition. You’ll be happy to learn that, despite being the second-biggest city in Norway, with 280,000 residents, Bergen does not lack a certain small-town charm. This is mostly due to the old streets and alleyways, the cobbled pavements and multicolored wooden houses. As a designated UNESCO World Heritage City, Bergen’s picturesque area Bryggen is a great attraction, and the old Hanseatic wharf and colorful buildings are a well-known destination in Norway.
From the city center, it is easy to access Mt. Fløyen or Mt. Ulriken, which offer a great view of the city and the surrounding area, whether by the popular Fløibanen Funicular, bike, or the more adventurous option: hiking.
Situated between the Sognefjord and the Hardangerfjord, Bergen truly lives up to its reputation as the gate to the fjords. This is also why Bergen has a well-established cruise port for visitors and expats who wish to explore Norway’s fjords. The Hurtigruten line, for example, begins her voyages from Bergen’s port twice a day. Bergen’s harbor, with its lively outdoor fish market, is a buzzing and magnificent cultural location, so approaching the city by sea is a special and memorable experience.
Trondheim: Center of Technology
The Old Norse name of Trondheim means “home of the strong and fertile ones.” Trondheim has long played a special role in Norwegian culture and ecclesiastical history. Living in Norway’s first capital means living at the heart of Norway’s heritage.
However, Trondheim is also widely recognized as a center for technology; Trondheim has recently become host to the Starmus Science Festival, as well as hosting the annual Technoport conference. Today, it is an industrial and commercial center of trade for Norway, as well as an education and research hub, home to around 30,000 students.
Trondheim is also considered Norway’s center of trade, handling most of the country’s imports and exports. Innovation and new developments are ensured by the extensive research facilities at the NTNU (Norwegian University of Science and Technology). Scandinavia’s largest independent research institution is also based in Trondheim.
Aside from the rich history, contemporary cultural life in Norway is thriving in Trondheim, enjoyed by locals and expats, as well as the large portion of students. Expats in Norway’s first capital benefit from the city’s many events, like Olsok (St. Olavs Festival) in July, with the dramatic Nidaros Cathedral around the grave of St Olav serving as an important historical site for Christianity in Norway.
Tromsø and Svalbard: An Arctic Adventure
The modern city of Tromsø is situated within the Arctic Circle at a latitude of 69 degrees north and is the largest in Northern Norway, with a population of around 70,000. Tromsø prides itself on being the gateway to the Arctic, historically serving as the starting point for many polar expeditions, particularly during the 1900s.
Today, the city is vibrantly multicultural, containing a diverse community with over 100 nationalities, and is bustling with visitors, especially during the annual Tromsø International Film and the Northern Lights Festivals. It is known to be a very lively city with a youthful presence, thanks to the 17,000 students attending Tromsø’s university: the Arctic University of Norway.
Beautiful scenery, steep mountains, and the arched bridge connecting Tromsø to the mainland frame the city. Options for reaching Tromsø include long-distance bus services (as there is no train station), ferry, and flying. If you are an expat craving the more extreme polar wilderness, direct flights from Tromsø will take you to Svalbard, Norway’s northernmost area.
Svalbard, at a latitude of 78 degrees north, is extremely remote: no roads connect the main settlement, Longyearbyen, to the rest of the island. Despite a small population of just under 3,000, some employment opportunities in mining and polar research nevertheless attract expats to spend their life in Norway’s arctic reaches. Upon moving, expats will quickly understand why this archipelago is named Svalbard, which means cold coasts. The coldest temperature recorded in 2017 was -23.5⁰C in March, and the months from November to February are characterized by near total darkness.
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Healthcare in Norway
The Best Country to Live In
Do you value a healthy work-and-life balance? Norway may be the right place for you! The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has declared this Scandinavian country the best country to live in: Norway ranked first place in the Human Development Index 2016. The life expectancy in Norway is higher than ever before — it increased by 2016 to approximately 84 and 80 years for women and men respectively. Public health is excellent in Norway, thanks to the country’s high-quality welfare program.
Norway has introduced a universal, public healthcare system, which is financed by the country’s tax revenues and a national insurance scheme. Thus, healthcare is accessible for all legal residents, reflecting the importance of egalitarian principles in Norwegian society. This may well account for the low poverty rates and the comparatively equal distribution of wealth among the population in Norway, too.
The Public Health System
During the 1900s, the welfare state took shape in Norway: for example, the modern public healthcare system (folketrygden) steadily developed. The healthcare policy is controlled centrally by the government; the system is financed through taxes, social security contributions, and out-of-pocket co-payments, and it is equally accessible by all residents, regardless of their income. With a total annual health expenditure of 8.3% of the GDP (as of 2016), this sector also acts as one of the largest employers in Norway.
In general, the responsibility of providing health services lies with the municipalities. Each municipality is obligated to provide primary health services to its residents, in the form of general practitioners for instance, sometimes known as family doctors. Specialized care, on the other hand, is provided by four regional health authorities responsible for controlling specialized care.
In emergencies, you should ring 113 if you require an ambulance. All aspects of an inpatient hospital visit are free, as most Norwegian hospitals are owned and funded by the state. Expats can also turn to the small number of private hospitals and health centers, of course. As a legal resident, you are generally free to choose at which hospital or healthcare facility you want to receive treatment.
The National Insurance Scheme
As an expat, you can be a member of Norway’s National Insurance Scheme, even if you are not a Norwegian citizen or a national of an EU or EEA member state. To qualify for benefits included under the National Insurance Scheme, it is essential that you are a legal resident of Norway and are planning to stay for twelve months at least. However, even as a non-resident, you automatically become a member of the folketrygden if you have legal employment in Norway.
As a member of the National Insurance Scheme, you must pay contributions together with your taxes. The contribution is usually 8.2% of your personal income (as of 2016), and it will be deducted together with your taxes. Keep in mind that you may not be granted all insurance benefits under the National Insurance Scheme. Some benefits require you to have been a member of the National Insurance Scheme for a while, such as certain disability benefits, which require you to have been insured for three years prior to claiming allowance.
Even if you are not automatically covered by the National Insurance Scheme in Norway, you can apply for voluntary membership. In this case the contribution is based on the level of coverage you would like. This applies if you want to stay in Norway for a period of three to twelve months, have strong ties to Norway, and most importantly, will not be working during your stay.
Going to the Doctor in Norway
It is easy for expats to find a doctor once they are registered in the National Population Register (folkeregister) and have acquired a Norwegian identity number. You will automatically be assigned a general practitioner (GP) by the Norwegian Health Economics Administration (HELFO).
You may only visit a specialist doctor after receiving a referral from a GP, unless you are prepared to pay for a private service, allowing you to see a specialist directly and skip long queues. It is possible to change GP up to twice in one year, and this can be done easily online through helsenorge.no or HELFO’s GP scheme telephone service line: 810 59 500. You can also contact your municipality and ask for available public health services in your area.
In the case of an emergency illness, outside of the general practice hours, either phone the out-of-hours primary care service on 116 117 or, in more serious instances, head to the nearest accident and emergency department.
Expats must note, however, that visits to the GP are not completely free — you usually have to pay a small fee (136 NOK during office hours), with the National Insurance Scheme paying the remaining amount. You are entitled to an exemption card (frikort) once you have paid 2,205 NOK for health services, entitling you to free services for the rest of the year.
Prescription drugs are either free or subsidized, depending on a “white” or “blue” classification: white is completely free, while blue prescriptions require you to pay 15% of the cost.
Housing and Education in Norway
Finding an Apartment: Estate Agents and Newspapers
Most expats living in Norway prefer to rent an apartment or a house, instead of buying one. You can hire a real estate agent to help you with the apartment hunt. Keep in mind, however, that real estate agents often charge a very high fee, and ask yourself if it is in your budget. You can find an agent in your region by contacting the Norwegian association of real estate agents (Norges Eiendomsmeglerforbund). Alternatively, you can simply refer to the Norwegian Yellow Pages or the online company directory.
However, if you decide to do the apartment hunt on your own, there are still ways to go about it. Online resources are usually the easiest and fastest way of finding an apartment. Refer to the real estate section on finn.no for up-to-date posts on available apartments. Most big newspapers, like Oslo-based Aftenposten, have online listings as well. Many smaller Norwegian newspapers will also have apartment listings online.
Hurdles and Costs
Top destinations for both Norwegians and expats naturally include the big cities like Oslo, which offer varied employment opportunities and larger cultural opportunities or events than small towns or rural areas. Cities are trendy and constantly developing, while still offering the nature and peace and quiet at a short distance away. As a result, rents have increased significantly in Oslo, Stavanger, and Bergen, and it has become harder and harder to find a place to live. To illustrate, an average monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment in these cities totals 10,200 NOK, 8,440 NOK and 8,460 NOK respectively.
Many experts also mention the quality of housing as a reason for the high rents. After all, the construction of most houses is quite solid and very well insulated. Most rooms are also equipped with excellent heating, due to the low temperatures. It is the high living standard and the demand for high quality that causes rental prices to rise. However, in big cities it is high demand that raises the rents — more people want to move there for jobs and a more buzzing lifestyle.
While you are on the apartment hunt, you will find that the closer you are to the city center, the more expensive housing will become. It is also common for apartments to be rented extremely quickly, due to the number of applicants.
In terms of universal schooling, Norway can look back on a 250-year history. Universal schooling was introduced in 1889 with seven years of compulsory education. In 1969 this was increased to nine years and in 1997 to ten years of schooling.
Kindergartens and pre-schools in Norway are optional and must be subsidized by parents. Schooling begins at age 6 and is comprised of primary and lower secondary school, and an optional upper secondary school for ages 16 to 19. Other voluntary education options include vocational schools or folk high schools (folkehøgskoler).
All schools adhere to the national curriculum, which includes subjects like Norwegian, Mathematics, Religion, Physical Education, English, Music, Science and the Environment, as well as other compulsory subjects. Learning a second foreign language, choosing in-depth language studies or practical project work is also part of the curriculum.
Students can choose whether they take in-depth language studies in Norwegian, English or Sami. The history and culture of the Sami people is taught as well to familiarize children with the heritage and culture of the Sami community.
Upper secondary education, for ages 16 to 19, is dominated by general studies or vocational education and training, both lasting for three years. Vocational training leads to a craft certificate after two years in school and one year in service training. General studies, on the other hand, is the road to receiving a university admissions certification. It is also possible for adults to enroll in continuing education programs for a fee, which is not uncommon in the Norwegian education profile.
Despite Norway’s excellent state-funded education system, you may decide to send your children to a privately run international school instead. This can be a smart move if your children are in their teens and/or are not fluent in the Norwegian language. Norway also has private schools at every educational level, which is a good option if you have young children who do not speak any Norwegian.
However, keep in mind that most international schools charge hefty tuition fees — Oslo International School, for example, exceeds 200,000 NOK in annual fees. Some well-known international schools in Norway are:
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