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Are you sure you want to move to Norway?

Bergen funicular viewpoint

The standard of living is high for sure, but there are significant downsides too.

Welcome to the first in a brand new series of posts all about moving to Norway. This series is aimed at those of you out there about to relocate, considering it, or simply dreaming about it.

Judging by the emails I receive on an almost daily basis, there are a lot of you out there!

Norwegian Max airplane flying to Norway

Living the Norwegian dream

It may be a lifelong dream of yours to live in a cabin next to a fjord or in a modern Scandinavian city like Oslo or Bergen, but how much do you know about what life in Norway is really like?

Before you start to explore your options for relocation, I want to be up-front and honest about a few things. Moving to a new country with a new culture is an enormous step, and it pays to be well-informed.

These aren't meant as criticisms at all, but it's important you understand the full picture before making any life-changing decisions.

The weather

Yep, the first thing a Brit will do is complain about the weather!

But seriously, the Norwegian climate takes some getting used to, unless you're relocating from northern Europe, Canada or the northern states of the USA. You've all seen picture-postcard views like this, right?

Sveggen on Averøy

Days like that do exist (in fact, as I'm about to publish this post, it's a glorious 28C/82F here in Trondheim!) but they are the exception, not the rule.

The climate varies hugely around the country. Perhaps the biggest factor being is whether you live by the coast or inland.

Along the west coast you can expect cool summers with occasional hot spells, but rain and windy days will be commonplace throughout the year.

Rain in Stavanger

On average, the city of Bergen experiences rainfall on an astonishing 220 days every year, and Stavanger isn't far behind. On the plus side, coastal areas tend to receive milder winters.

Inland, winters are much harsher with more snow and lower temperatures. The temperature in Oslo can dip below -20C (-4F), with readings below -30C (-22F) not uncommon in rural or mountainous areas such as Røros or Finnmark.

Summers can be surprisingly warm but these spells rarely last for more than a few days at a time. If you currently live somewhere with little or no snow, ice, wind, or you're a sun worshipper, be prepared.

Bad weather clothes

Let there be light

The closer to the equator you live, the bigger an issue this will be for you, but even moving from somewhere as relatively close to Norway as the UK, I experienced problems. What am I talking about? The light.

Long, light summers might sound appealing at first – and they are, they really are! – but after several sleepless nights, you will be cursing the big orange ball in the sky.

Blackout blinds are a must, as is keeping an eye on the time when you're enjoying an evening on your balcony to avoid your body clock getting very angry at you!

Cycling at midnight

In Oslo, twilight is as dark as it gets in the summer, but the further north you go, the more extreme the light. North of the Arctic Circle, the sun doesn't even set, a phenomenon known as the midnight sun.

In the winter, the opposite phenomenon takes some getting used to. During the shortest days of the year in Oslo, the day (measured between the official sunrise and sunset times) is just 5 hours 53 minutes long.

In Trondheim, it's as short as 4 hours 30 minutes, while in Tromsø, the sun doesn't rise at all for as many as six weeks.

The high cost of living

You've all heard the rumours, and I can confirm them. Norway is one of the most expensive countries in the world to move to.

Norwegian kroner

Until you've been for a couple years and are earning and spending in Norwegian krone, sticker shock is a major struggle.

But how much am I talking about? Much depends on your lifestyle, of course. If you are used to eating out, bring a lot of money with you or be prepared to adjust yourself and learn to cook!

Of course prices vary, but here are some example costs, given in USD, EUR and GBP. Just bear in mind that exchange rates may have changed since I published this post!

  • A loaf of bread – $5 / €3.60 / £3
  • McDonalds Big Mac – $8 / €5.80 / £4.75
  • 500ml can of beer from a store – $4.15 / €3 / £2.50
  • 500ml draught beer from a bar – $11.50 / €8.30 / £6.80
  • 1L milk – $2.35 / €1.70 / £1.40
  • 1L unleaded petrol – $2.60 / €1.90 / £1.55
  • 500ml bottled water – $2 / €1.45 / £1.20

Saving money on groceries is a big hobby for most Norwegians. Extreme measures are sometimes necessary, like driving to Sweden for the monthly shop! Yes, really. While not everything is cheaper, substantial savings can be made on beer and meat products in particular.

Friendly relationship between Norway and Sweden

There's even shopping centres that have sprung up just across the border, on the Swedish side of course.

From Trondheim, a daily free bus runs to whisk away students and other thrifty souls over to the border and back again. It's a strange way to spend 4-5 hours, but it's popular!

What all this means is that both you and your partner will need good jobs. In most Norwegian families, both adults work.

If you're single, be prepared for a change in lifestyle, unless you find a well-paying job or already live a fairly simple life.

The Norwegian lifestyle

Some foreigners living in Norway frequently say that the country is boring.

Lillehammer

While I don't agree with that statement, I do understand where they are coming from because Norway is quieter than nearly every other country I've been to.

The focus here is on family and making the most of the outdoors, not partying and drinking the night away.

Embracing the outdoors, in particular hiking in the summer and skiing in the winter (I'm still working on that part!) is key to a successful integration.

Skiing is something of a national obsession, so it'll be well worth your while in learning the sport. If you're a regular at Mo's Tavern, then Springfield is a better choice for you than a quiet city in Norway. Your wallet will thank you.

Johannes Høsflot Klæbo
Johannes Høsflot Klæbo. Photo: Wikipedia (CC 4.0)

Final thoughts

Please don't misunderstand me. Living in Norway is wonderful in so many ways, but don't be blinded by stereotypes and spectacular YouTube videos from the tourism industry.

That is the Norway that's marketed to the tourist masses, and it has very little in common with the day-to-day Norwegian lifestyle.

Understand the full picture before making a decision. Citizens of most countries can visit Norway for at least 30 days with relatively little bureaucracy.

Small farm alongside the fjord

I highly recommend a fact-finding mission first, perhaps in November to experience the wet, wind, and darkness, or February to experience the snow and skiing culture.

It'll be a worthy investment if you are serious about relocating.

For more information check out my brand new podcast, the Life in Norway Show, where you can hear from other foreigners who've made the move.

Still want to move? Then check out our ultimate guide to moving to Norway to start your journey!

Norway Weekly Email Newsletter

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About the Author: David Nikel

Originally from the UK, David now lives in Trondheim and was the original founder of Life in Norway back in 2011. He now works as a freelance writer for technology companies in Scandinavia.

36 Comments

  1. Maybe you can write about child welfare service (barnevernet). There are only few articles written in English on the interenet and so many bad stories. Those with kids who think to move to Norway might be interested to read about it a little bit. Great article by the way.

    1. Hi MissSunshine,

      Please remember it’s usually those with bad experiences that voice their concerns in such matters. While there have been a few bad cases, almost every case you hear about online is the parents/guardians version written in a very emotional state. As a father, Barnevernet is the least of my concerns. They are there to help kids and families that need help, and it will take a good while (years) of bad parenting without any sign of improvement and lots of bureaucracy to get the kids taken away.

      1. Hi Vegard,

        They have double standards – for Norwegians and others. I didn’t have any problems with them but I know people who were forced to leave Norway because they had problems. On the other hand, one mixed family, one of the parents is Norwegian, made the same “mistake” with kid and nobody complained. Anyway, I thought it might be interesting for journalist to research a little bit couse it’s a really interesting theme and it’s not all so black and white.

        1. Yes, I know. In Norway there is so many double standards that it’s chocking. Norwegians take it as norm, as they think the protective rules are for them, not others.

      2. If I was a father, Barnevernet would definitely be one of my concerns. I have a somewhat different view of “helping families” than putting two siblings to TWO SEPARATE FOSTER FAMILIES so that those kids would loose any bond between them in the early age of 2 and 4 (case “Michalakova”).

      3. Sorry but this is ignorant and naive. As a British father living in Norway I have become appalled by Barnevarnet. They have absolute power to investigate, judge and sentence. It’s common for schools or even strangers to report parents without their knowledge. Barnevarnet have the power to then interview your kids, their nursery/ school teachers, doctor all without your consent and without any evidence. Unfortunately they have focused so much on ‘child protection’ that the rights of a family and the parent have been disgraced. This is backed up by any internet search. It’s simply fascist. There is no independent regulation.
        There are also other Communist tendencies in Norwegian society that Brits will find disturbing. If you can deal with these aspects and the fact that a car costs double the price come and give it a go.

      4. Vegard’s reply is very naive. Most Norwegians have extreme trust in the government. They think that Barnevernet only intervenes when there is a good reason……until they discover otherwise i.e. themselves or someone they know are affected. Barnevernet is a real factor to take into account. Their practices are ressemble practices in totalitarian countries. Norwegian bureaucrats believe that there is ONE way to raise a child, and that if you deviate from that – you are an enemy of the people – and of your child.

  2. Hey U, David Nikel,U know i really loved this post, i mean i’m Absolutely crazy about Norway, and i follow all facebook/twitter pages, for sure i really wanna live there, and your post it’s very nice to help us and show the real face of this amazing land of northern lights o/ thank U .

  3. Hi David,

    I just subscribed to your mailing list & looking forward to you new series of posts about relocating to Norway. There are very timely and interesting as I am currently helping a family member pack for a 2 year move to Oslo to attend university and we are trying to gather as much information as possible.

    Have you come across any recommended websites with advice or checklists for students from abroad?

    What department store would you say is the equivalent to a ‘John Lewis’ in Oslo?

    We are also interested in learning how the property market works and the best way to find property for sale.

    Kind regards,

    Fran

    1. Hi Fran.

      Finn.no is the de-facto standard for property sales(and other types of sales). Properties, apartments and houses are all sold on auctions(with very few exceptions).

      Normally the procedure is that you go to an open house viewing, then you arrange the financing and place a bid if you like the house. You might end up in a bidding contest with somebody else, if you are set on getting a specific house, this may cost you.

      -Christian

  4. Great post and excellent blog. I’m, as many others, in phase of relocating to Norway, so I was more than trilled when I ran into your blog.
    It’s really useful.
    Thank you for your enthusiasm and willingness to share your experience with rest of us.

  5. Hi David,

    Thanks for all those great tips. Can you include more information for people (e.g. American Citizens) who want to retire to Norway? I would love to spend 5 months in Norway (summer) and the other 7 in the States.

  6. Me too – I’m with Helen ( but British) and I would love to spend summer months in Norway … how do I find a long rental please?

    Love my weekly dose of an insight into Norwegian lifestyle – it helps my Norwegian lessons enormously when I contribute to the conversation!

    Fiona

  7. I would also like to live in Scandinavia but EU/EEA regulations make that very difficult for any non-Europeans. Does anyone have any helpful hints for me for finding work and getting a resident visa? The work doesn’t need to be white-collar work, just something that can cover the cost of living and paying rent, bills, etc. Also, does anyone know why in the world a Big Mac would cost $8 and a beer in a bar cost $12? It is not even proportionate to the average citizen’s salary. Sounds more like simple greed and exploitation. That’s my take on it.

  8. I’m on a quest to understand the lifestyle and such in Norway since my husband may have a temporary position there for approx 3 years. We are from the United States. Blogs such as yours are most helpful – thank you! I’m curious as to any amendments or additions to your opinion or relevant information in this article as almost 2 more years have passed.

    Kind regards.

  9. Thank you for posting this. I have moved to Oslo with a year old kid to my husband working here. Unaware of the place and lifestyle I am really struggling here. I expected warm welcome here. Anyways following you further. Thank you.

  10. I would also like to retire in Norway, but it is too expensive, food, and rent, (we are on pensions). We just came back from a month long, beautiful, enriching holiday. My parents emigrated from Norway in l926, my mom did get back for her 81st birthday. My dad always wanted to move back, but circumstances got in the way (they had 9 children). I finally at the age of 84 had the greatest holiday seeing what they seen (Bergen) and sad at what they left in comparison to where they ended up Depression Saskatchewan).
    I am content to remember the holiday, and thankful that I felt the link to my parents past life.
    I dream of someday going back, that is why I want to follow your itinerary and dream a little.
    Any one who complains about the rain or the weather, do not deserve to be there.

  11. There’s more to life in Norway than the fjords, mountains, Northern lights and the midnight sun. One moving here must take the good with the unexpected challenges. There is the child welfare rules and egalitarian-ness of cultures especially challenging for those who come from ‘driven’ non-egalitarian societies and even those I have known from UK and US find Norway strange in this aspect. There’s also a lot of tax rules that one must get one’s head around like why eating in is more expensive than taking away, what a wealth tax is (for those who have only ever paid income taxes), why petrol prices hardly reduces. Others are the laws of Jante, supermarket prices, the cost of labour and labour laws for would-be employers and what really prolonged cold weather is ( like how -10C feels) for those from warmer climes.

    1. I was told by other Norwegians that they are not racist, however, many do not like Muslims, ie the religion. From what they see happening in England, France and Sweden(rape capital of Europe) they don’t want the same thing to happen in their country.

  12. Hey , I am currently in high school living in canada and I have recently read this article about how Universities in Norway are free of charge. So I was just wondering about how much money do I need per year to live happily in Norway. By happily I mean open to have breakfast with friends and going to theatres without worrying how much I spend. Hope I wasn’t too late with the comment
    Thank you ?

    1. No one in Norway goes out to eat breakfast. Food, restaurant visits, alcohol is way more expensive than Canada. I think you can find out what you need to live comfortably if you visit the website of your university

  13. Hei!

    I am considering moving to Norway in the future, and I absolutely adore weather that’s a bit on the mild side and rain (God, it could rain every day and I’d be in heaven). I believe you mentioned that the west coast receives a lot of rain and wind, and milder winters. Where would be a good city/town to live where I would have this kind of weather? I also prefer less crowded areas, though I obviously still want to be near shopping centres and the like. I just wouldn’t want to be in the middle of something that resembles the streets of New York City, if you know what I mean.

    Tusen takk!

    (nothing too expensive either – I’m not doing poorly but I’m certainly not a millionaire)

    1. Hi, thanks for your comment. That kind of weather is common in any west coast town: Bergen, Stavanger, Haugesund, Ålesund and to some extent Trondheim. There is definitely nowhere in Norway that resembles in any way New York City… even Bergen as the second biggest city has a population of just a few hundred thousand. Unfortunately, Norway is one of the most expensive countries in the world to live in as an expat, so you really will need to bring money with you until you become established. Good luck with your move!

  14. I want to know two things that I didn’t quite get from your descriptions.
    One: Where were the disavantages
    Two: What do you mean about a “fairly simple life”

  15. Great article. I live in Alaska, it sounds like the weather is about the same as where I live. A lot of people move here and have trouble with the long summer days and short winter days. Also, expensive groceries. Sounds like home to me.

  16. It is funny, because I live in Argentina and if I move to London, I will say the same you said about Norway but about UK. It depends of when you came from and your culture. Probably, Norway is going to be boring for me but also a country full of opportunities and perfections I could never imagine as possible. The same might happen with UK. I would like move to Norway this year, I am applying to UiO. My biggest fear as an expant is how hard it might be to find a job. Weather, well… You have to learn to use appropriated clothes. Your blog has been really usefull for me. Thank you!

    1. I have lived in Norway now for 7 and a half years and I am continually trying to leave. The society is strange here and the weather awful. I just got back from checking out Canada and I think I’m going there next, beautiful nature with warm, outgoing and friendly people. Yes, Norway is beautiful, but the general society is so introverted, unfriendly, dull, I can’t stand it anymore. It is difficult to get a good job unless you are fluent in Norwegian which is almost impossible with the 40 or so different dialects. And yes, the quality of life is good here, but is it really worth it when you are a nobody in a rude and unfriendly society that makes you feel meaningless?

  17. Hi, thanks for your insightful article on Norway. I am a healthcare professional (Optometrist) and i will soon move to Tromso for masters in Public Health. I’d like to know the processes involved in registering as a healthcare professional in Norway.

  18. Hi David.

    Need to know about changes nationality to Norway, did you have any information about it? it’s not about traveling but I want to changes my citizenship.

  19. I’ve been living in UK for last 3 years. And hopefully I’m moving back to Norway. During my time living here in UK I come to understand Norway is such a wonderful place to live in. I love everything about Norway and I miss it. I am moving back in less than 2 months but I hardly can wait. The air, the water, the nature, the snow, the mountains, Oslo…I just love it. And I have to mention I’m not ethnically Norwegian but I am Norwegian and have lived most my life in Norway. I find UK quite boring place. The weather is basically the same. With few degrees up or down. The nature all look the same. Green green everywhere. Sometimes I really like to see a change by season changing..but not much to see. In December there are still roses in the gardens. Which is nice, yeah I’m sure it’s nice but In winter I don’t want to see green grass or red roses. I want to see snow and cold weather. Can’t help it, it’s just blant and none exciting. Not to mention people on the streets.. for a long time I was observing that, there was something different among people in the streets in UK than for instance in Norway.. that I couldn’t put finger on it.. but recently I actually found out what it is…people walking on the streets they are heading towards an UNKNOWN destination!! Yes! That’s exactly the vibe I get. There’s not much zest of life in them. It’s just very very strange phenomenon to me.
    Most department stores in UK are run by old people, which in a way is nice and I appreciate that they give the opportunity to older people to still be a part of the working society and feel positive about life …
    But! I wished that was the real reason. My guess is the reason is going back to the roots of conservatisme!
    And to me the majority of Brits have two main hobbies, one: drinking at the pub, two: listening to their favourite band!
    Which is ok I suppose.. but Boring! Really boring for a none British petson. And there’s something else which still give me a high frequency shock .and that is to take their children to the bub while sitting there and drinking. They even have toys at a corner for small children to play with while their parents enjoying their drinks! Lol sorry my good British people but this one is really a no no . You can’t see it yourself because you’ve grown up with it. But in the eyes of an outsider is just no good activity for children.
    Other than that I like the post is very quick delivering you orders online.
    So yes, Norway is expensive, cold, fewer people, but you feel the energy, you see the life. PS: I’m not talking about the touristic LONDON. No I never lived in London, far far from it. I lived the real rural British environment. And I’m telling you, I can’t wait to get back to my beautiful Oslo and Norway

  20. As mentioned by other people: Norway is a bad place to live for families with children. This country is a totalitarianism. There is no freedom to express own way of thinking, and your own World vision. Welferd autvority mentioned over (barnevern) kidnaps aboit 1500 hildren every year. Reason always is simply, but in deed, there is no reason, based on stupidity, low education, indoctrination and big money.
    The gold time of Norway has gone with the wind, like american dream for years ago.
    This country is really boring and poor not just due to poor people but mentally poor people.
    In this country most of people on willigies burn wood to warm houses. It is stinky on the winter time, polution of the air is increadible.
    They have no money to pay for current to warm houses.
    People are cold and reserved to strangers, having fske smile on the face.
    Increadibly low education level.

    Good for to earn money if you are high skilled, but not to erect family.
    Norway is on the top of countries in Europe in drag caused deaths. Health system is a tragedy, waiting for specialized doctor tskes eben 6 months.

    Actually it is not worth to talk about it. Just to say that politics do not care about people. High taxes up to 54 % of salary, expensive life and poor variation and quality of the food in the shops. Everyday thousand of “reach” norwegian travel to Sweden to buy chiper and better food.

    Good luck in country of slaves, living in the green hous called Norway!

    1. you have a very narrow view of Norway. I take it you have left the country long ago? or are you perhaps unemployed sustained by the genereous wealfare system (financed by all of us taxpayers) that allows you not to work and sit home and moan over the internet? I gather the later is the case….

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