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Expat Exchange - 10 Tips for Living in Norway
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Aker Brygge in Oslo, Norway

10 Tips for Living in Norway

By Betsy Burlingame

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Summary: Expats in Norway often have a hard time adjusting to life there. Expats share their tips and experiences living in Norway -- from the high taxes and difficulty making friends with locals to the beautiful scenery and outdoor living.

Learning the Language

"I am still struggling with learning the language. I have a few basics but that is all. I cannot find a course on speaking Norwegian and that has made it more difficult. I tried to find a course on cd that I could learn before moving here but had no luck. The only one I could find was Northern Norwegian and that is very different from the south. There are also many variances from area to area so it is very confusing. I hope to relocate to a bigger town this summer with more opportunities to learn the language better," explained one expat in Kongsvinger.

"Yes. Learned it here. Depending on your visa type, the course can be free. The courses at the universities tend to be better. I've heard good things about Oslo Summer School at the U of Oslo, but never went to it," advised another expat.

The Norwegians

"As for living here amongst Norwegians it has been fine for the most part. The English and Norwegians share the same sense of humour which is a real help. They can appear to be quiet stand offish, which could be interpreted as rude by some. But without speaking the language fluently it's difficult to make any real judgment. The majority of the people I have met have been interested and very welcoming. Only a couple of people have made it very clear they don't like immigrants but that is to be expected anywhere you go," said another expat.

Cost of Living in Norway

"Everything is so expensive you just don't want to buy anything or do anything. It takes quite awhile to get over the sticker shock," warned another expat living in Stavanger.

"My house in Jolster is classed as a holiday home as well but it would be unfair to compare them. I'm quite certain my housing costs are massive compared to the UK. I'd estimate you need four times your UK salary to have the same standard of living in Norway. 38% will go in tax. Staple foods are twice the price. Winters are long and cold and much water is frozen driving up the price of hydro electricity. If you put a value on the time you will have to spend working out if you live in Norway or the UK, dealing with residency and citizen issues, translating documents, dealing with legacy issues from the UK that are hard to resolve until residency and citizenship issues in Norway have been settled (in my case, not settled after 22 years) you need to earn 6 times the UK salary and forget having the time to take a holiday (which would invalidate any claims you might have to living in Norway anyway)," explained another expat in living in Skei i Jolster

"You do need to be prepared for some additional expense. For example (and I realize this won't be the best example for you) a large cart full of groceries for me was about 275 to 300 USD. Here, about a third of a cart of groceries was the same price. The biggest shock for me was the lack of options in purchasing 'cheaper' items. You won't find a lot of crap in stores like in the US. That is to say, they don't thrive on WalMart-quality goods," explained one expat.

"Norway is really an expensive country overall, but at the same time, all of the beauty is outdoors which is free to enjoy! If you enjoy hiking, skiing, fishing, biking, etc. then you will really like Trondheim," said another expat.

Medical Care in Norway

"The medical system. Medical care is very important and I pray that nothing more serious than what we have already gone through happens to us while we live here," said one expat.

"In my case (and this is why I feel I can express my thoughts) I have quite severe asthma. And MY personal doctor here in Oslo (whom I had to pick from a government list) was not available any day or time after 3pm. And changing doctors on `the system´is not that straight foward. So I had to go to an after hour clinic, as I work in a barnehage from 7:30-4:45pm. That cost me 900kr (almost AUD $200). The doctor was unable to prescribe me the proper strength medication I normally take, as Norway has imposed a tiered-strength-of-medication policy. So she could only trial me on the weakest strength. And then suggest I see her another time for a stronger dose (more money for nothing/double handling). Tell me exactly how that is a good, efficient and cheap system? The above scenario does not affect you. But it doesn´t takle a dummy to see that it´s an antiquated process," described another expat.

Having a Baby in Norway

"I hear that if you have a normal delivery without any problems this can be a great place to give birth. However, any hick-ups and you will wish you were somewhere else. Too many bad stories to tell, but my own was a simple c-section. I had 2 previously in the USA and they were a breeze. I seriously don't think the surgeon knew what she was doing. She doubled the size of my incision and the baby was less than 8 lbs - the smallest baby I have had. My recovery was 2 or 3 days in the USA but it was more like 2 or 3 months here. I am glad this was our last child because if it had been the first then it would have been our only. Oh, and I had to have a spinal. It took the man 2 tries to be successful and then I developed a spinal headache that took the nurses 3 days to resolve. Sadly it was a horrible experience for me, but luckily our baby was just great," recalled one expat mom in Norway.

" While I experienced some anxiety during my pregnancy, my overall experience was very positive. Norway has an excellent health care system, though the fact that I would not be able to choose the doctor or midwife, who would deliver my baby, did cause me some anxiety. I gave birth in Baerum Sykhus, outside of the capital city of Oslo. The two midwives who worked with me were wonderful, both spoke perfect English, which was a blessing since my Norwegian was nearly nonexistent. They actually read the birthplan that I wrote and made a conscientious attempt to follow it. The birth went smoothly, I had an epidural as I had had with my previous two births (in the US). Six hours after arriving at the hospital I gave birth to a healthy baby boy. Because there were no complications I had the option of leaving after 6 hours of giving birth or staying in the hospital for up to 3 nights. I chose to stay with my husband and our new son in a family suite for just one night," said another expat mom in Norway.

What to Bring to Norway

"First of all, coming from California and moving to the Arctic we figured we needed to dress for extremely cold weather. I would of left all the California Arctic gear at home and waited til I got to Tromso to buy. Bring normal going out clothes, not the mountain gear you would think to wear, people dress nice here. I wish I would of brought US measuring cups/spoons in order to cook american recipes. Cold medicines are just not as strong off the shelf here," advised one expat who moved to Tromso.

Another expat said, " I brought everything with me and should never have come but here goes: I should have brought a never ending supply of salt 'n' vinegar crisps, branston pickle and sarsons vinegar and should have left at home me, my passport and my career."

"I wish I had brought more clothes, more kitchen stuff like pots and pans(too expensive here) and my skis- they were not cheap to buy! I wish I had left my small kitchen appliances- I brought voltage converters and they are a pain, it would have been easier to just buy Norwegian ones. I would not have brought so many shoes- coming from Houston I have a lot of sandals and heels, both are impractical to wear most of the year," said another expat who moved to Oslo.

Finding a Home in Norway

"Choose a neighborhood close to public transport. It is pricier but well worth not having to walk 20 minutes very 2 in the winter. Be open minded about flats. I have yet to see a place with more than 1 bath and double vanities don't exist. The fridges are small- overall things are smaller and it's important not to let it bother you! We live in the center of Oslo because it is close to the train and bus stations for us to get to work- it also has a great balcony. We also wanted two large bedrooms, and a w/d in the flat which can be tricky to find in older flats," said one expat.

Making Friends in Norway

"I haven't been able to find an organization, club, etc.There are no expat clubs to welcome you or anything of that sort. My child goes to an International school so I have met parents (from other countries) who have become good friends. Norwegians are not easy to befriend if you don't know them through someone else. and from what I have heard northern Norwegians are not as welcoming as southern, so we have that up hill battle as well. Its been really hard to find anything if you don't speak Norwegian," said one expat living in Tromso.

"Orienteering is big here and I had never heard of it before. There are groups that go out twice a week. There are many, many sports clubs you can join to meet people. I met many people through an adult education course on the Norwegian language which also helped assimilate me into the culture. Swimming at the pool Pirbadet is popular for families and those in the 20-30's at the last hour it is open when the rates drop. Hiking in the mountains and skiing (both alpine and cross country) of course are also popular," explained an expat living in Trondheim.

Diversity in Norway

"It's very diverse, however very prejudice towards Americans and color of skin. We have a saying amongst expats here "Norwegians are the nicest most rudest prejudice people you will ever meet. I feel lucky to have white skin cause I pass as Norwegian sometimes, but my friends tell me stories that has never happened to me, nor would I want to be treated as they have," explained one expat.

International Schools in Norway

Depending upon where you are moving or living, there are some international schools in Norway. Read expats reviews of a number of these international schools in Norway - International School of Stavanger, International School of Bergen, British International School of Stavanger and others.

About the Author

Betsy Burlingame Betsy Burlingame is the Founder and President of Expat Exchange and is one of the Founders of Digital Nomad Exchange. She launched Expat Exchange in 1997 as her Master's thesis project at NYU. Prior to Expat Exchange, Betsy worked at AT&T in International and Mass Market Marketing. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a BA in International Business and German.

Some of Betsy's articles include 12 Best Places to Live in Portugal, 7 Best Places to Live in Panama and 12 Things to Know Before Moving to the Dominican Republic. Betsy loves to travel and spend time with her family. Connect with Betsy on LinkedIn.

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Oct 15, 2012 10:18

Interesting read. I lived in Norway for 2 and a half years in the 60's. A friend of mine whose husband was a doctor flew to Canada (before socialized medicine in Canada) to have her second two children delivered. There was a saying in the 60's of educated Norwegians that anyone with enough get up and go have gotten up and gone. In 1962 then only had one ENT doctor in Oslo and thru the US ambassador my friend was able to see him but it was to late as his eardrum ruptured. Now the language. I learned it in 3 months, spoke it fluently and read and wrote in 6 months. Flash cards I used no matter where I went to learn the words. Once you know the language they become very nice people once you get to know them. In the 60's they didn't like Americans because of their know it all attitude but my being a canadian made me acceptable. I would love to go back and cannot afford to. Hope you all fare well there.

Dec 6, 2013 14:09

Hi, I started a group on facebook called imobago (international mother and baby group oslo) 4 years ago. Today it has over 1200 members from more than 46 nationalities. Everyone is welcomed to join our community. It is a great help for expat mums and it is free. In addition I would also recommend the book "Oslo for Mothers" (available on www.imobago.com) for those who have just arrived to the Fjord city or are planning to have a family in Oslo.

Feb 15, 2015 15:50

This article was helpful to me as my husband and I are planning to move to Norway within 2 years. We need lots of help doing so, and are appreciative of any advice on the subject.

Dec 26, 2015 16:47

I've been reading about socializing difficulty in Norway. I believe what might help - free organized perpetual Newcomer's clubs in the large cities. When I moved to a new state in USA (where I'd never previously lived) I joined a Newcomer's club. Various interests for participation provided a means to slowly get to know and develop friendships with like-minded folks etc while also expanding reach of community knowledge eg people and places. I will be living in Sorlandet about 5/12 months a year and if there's interest may try to initiate a newcomer's club.

Aker Brygge in Oslo, Norway

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