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The Cost of Living in Norway

Cost of living in Norway

It's known as one of the world's most expensive countries to visit, but how much does it cost to actually live in Norway?

The first questions on the lips of almost everyone considering a move to Norway are always the same: How much does it cost to live here? Is it really as expensive as everyone says? Does a beer really cost $12? What's a good salary? How much money do I need to live on?

You get the idea. These questions are simple, and understandable, but the answers are unfortunately not so simple.

An expensive country, sort of

The short version is that yes, Norway is an expensive country. But the truth is far more complex than that.

Trollfjord in Northern Norway
Norway is beautiful, but pricey

To be more precise, Norway is an expensive country to visit, because of exchange rates. If you come here to live and work, you'll be earning in Norwegian kroner and spending in Norwegian kroner.

This means you should stop comparing prices with your home country as soon as possible! Instead, compare prices to your salary, and look at what's left over at the end of the month. Basically, it's time for some good old-fashioned household budgeting!

After you've fully adjusted into the economy, you may be pleasantly surprised at how much disposable income you have even on what might at first seem like a modest salary.

High salaries

Generally speaking, salaries are higher in Norway relative to other countries, particularly at the lower end of the pay scales even though there is no national minimum wage.

This means you have more money in your pocket to pay the higher prices, leaving things a little more balanced. It also explains why service-heavy industries in Norway are so expensive – think restaurants, bars, anything involving a significant human cost.

However, senior management staff tend to be paid the same, or even less, than their foreign counterparts. Basically the range of salaries is narrower in Norway. Bear this in mind if you are considering working in Norway for a foreign employer!

Norwegian krone coins

Regardless of the relative cost of living, it will take you several months at least to overcome sticker-shock on the price of things such as groceries, meals out, and of course, alcohol.

Some people never recover from the sticker-shock, and can be seen returning from trips to their home country laden with food-packed luggage. And of course, Norwegians love to shop in Sweden for meat and alcohol.

Consumption taxes

MVA, or merverdiavgift, is a form of sales tax or VAT applied to goods and services purchased in Norway.

MVA is applied to the vast majority of goods and services. Unlike in the USA, the tax is always included in the price you see for consumer goods and services. For business-to-business transactions, prices are listed exclusive of MVA.

The standard rate of MVA is 25%, the same as the other Scandinavian countries. It is the highest rate in Europe apart form Hungary at 27%.

Shopping mall at Leirvik
A typical Norwegian shopping centre

A lower rate of 12% is applied to various items such as food, public transport, accommodation, and cinema tickets. Certain items such as health services and education are exempt from MVA.

As a consumer you don't really need to concern yourself with which items fall into which category, because the price is always inclusive. However, it's good to understand that this tax is one reason for the high price of goods! You'll see the base price and MVA broken down on your receipt.

Duty on alcohol is extremely high, and increases with the strength of the alcohol. That's why spirits are prohibitively expensive, compared to beer which is just expensive. More on that later.

Relocation expenses

One of the biggest problems facing new expats is the initial cost of relocating. Because these costs are so high, newcomers are often the loudest objectors to Norway's cost of living. Not only is Norway an expensive country on an ongoing basis, there are lots of up-front payments and charges that you might be unfamiliar with.

A Norwegian credit card

To begin with, renting a house or even just a room will usually require a significant security deposit. This will be one month's rent as a minimum, but can often be as high as three months.

It's also important to understand that this is not the same as rent! It's an amount of money you get back once you've moved out and the landlord has checked you haven't caused any damage.

With a month's rent usually needing to be paid in advance, that means you could be required to stump up the equivalent of four months rent before you even see a key, then you'll have to pay the regular monthly rent just one month later.

So how much will I need?

Ah, the million dollar question. Or perhaps that should be the million kroner question? The answer will frustrate you, because of course, it depends.

The biggest impact on your personal cost of living in Norway will of course be your family situation. Are you just supporting yourself, or are you supporting a partner and children?

But in addition to your personal circumstances, an often overlooked factor is your lifestyle expectations. Something I see time and time again with newcomers is that they don't adjust to a Norwegian lifestyle quickly enough. That's not to say you have to adopt all the habits and customs, of course!

But if you're used to buying lunch every day instead of making your own, you'll run up an unnecessary expense very quickly. Adapting to the Norwegian model of matpakke (a packed lunch) will cut your costs immediately.

Anyway, now it's time to talk numbers. I think I've made the point well enough that your own expenses are going to be very personal to you, but I do want to give you a starting point for your own research. So, here we go!

The cost of housing in Norway

Rental accommodation is expensive in the major cities and especially so in Oslo and Stavanger. However, housing does get cheaper the further into the suburbs you travel. If a much smaller town suits your needs, you'll find drastically lower prices.

New neighbourhood in the winter

Tax breaks are offered on savings towards a property purchase for those under 35. So even if you're not planning to buy anytime soon, it's worth looking into these savings options from the moment you arrive, if you are under 35. There are other tax advantages for home owners, which means many Norwegians own their own property by the time they reach 30-35.

But as mentioned earlier, renting a home is the only option for most new arrivals. So, here's an idea of what you can expect to pay.

A single bedroom in a shared house will run at least 3,000kr per month in most cities, with a small bedsit (hybel) in the region of 4,500-6,000kr. This is typically the basement of a larger house that has been converted into a self-contained apartment. You see this a lot in student cities such as Trondheim.

A one-bedroom apartment could cost you anything from 7,500 to 12,500kr or even higher depending on how close to a city centre you are. For a family-sized apartment or house, expect to pay more like 12,500kr-20,000kr.

As mentioned previously, budget for the equivalent of 1-3 months rent up-front as a deposit, along with your first month's rent.

Utilities are harder to estimate but they are typically competitive with other countries. We live in an estate served by a district heating system, something that's very common in Norway. As a result, we've been pleasantly surprised by our energy bills.

Transport options

If you're going to be living in a city, consider very carefully if you really need a car. I have never owned a car in Norway and enjoy the financial benefits of that!

Local buses in Oslo, Norway

Public transport systems in Norway are generally reliable. A monthly pass can be picked up for around 750-800kr in most cities. If you live, work and play in the same city, this will save you a lot of money over time.

Everything about driving is expensive. It quickly adds up. The cost of purchasing cars, road tolls, taxation on fuel and perhaps the worst offender, parking charges in cities, are all reasons that I choose not to drive or even own a car. Even if your job provides you with a company car, you will spend a lot on associated expenses.

Flying is the most common method to move around the country as the terrain makes driving, buses and trains slow. SAS, Norwegian and Widerøe all offer well-developed route networks to all parts of the country.

With advance booking, fares of under 1,000kr are the norm between the major cities, although these can rise substantially around one week before departure. Trains between the main cities run a little more than 1,000kr, but as long as you book a couple days in advance you'll find much lower fares. Typically, advance fares can be booked for 300-600kr. Check out Vy for the latest deals.

Many people living in Norway collect frequent flyer points to benefit from free flights and other travel deals. If you have a job that requires you to travel around Norway frequently, it's well worth taking advantage.

The cost of food and groceries in Norway

The lack of variety in Norwegian supermarkets is a constant source of frustration for expats in Norway, as is the price of certain basic goods. Yet not everything is expensive. Fresh fish and in particular salmon is cheaper than in many other countries.

Cost of restaurants in Norway

A lot of food is imported into Norway and as such, expensive. Dairy and agriculture is closely controlled, which drives up prices of everyday items like milk and butter.

Many enterprising expats have set up foreign supermarkets in the major cities, which provides the opportunity to buy items otherwise unavailable in Norway. Prices are often much cheaper here, and in particular fruit and vegetables.

Again, returning to the topic of expectations. If you're used to eating out regularly, you might need to prepare for a lifestyle adjustment.

Eating out in restaurants is expensive due to the high wages paid to staff. This applies even to—and especially so—the lower end of the scale such as fast-food restaurants. As such, Norwegians eat out far less than many other Europeans. We are a double-income family with no cars and no kids, and we still only eat out once per week.

Expect to get little change from 1,000kr for a two-course meal for two with a drink in a reasonable standard restaurant. A single course Indian, Chinese or Thai meal can run 160kr-225kr in many places, and is almost always the best value option to eat out. If you're a fan of eating out, many foreign restaurants offer special lunch deals that are pretty good value.

How much is a beer in Norway?

For some reason, I get asked this question by my fellow Brits more than by any other nationality! Well, the rumours are indeed true, buying a beer in Norway is one of the more expensive things, relatively speaking, you can do in Norway!

Celebrating Norway's National Day in a very British style, with a beer on our balcony.

Every bar will always have one standard lager (Dahls, Hansa, Ringnes) on tap, which usually depends on the city. You're likely to pay between 70kr and 85kr for a half-litre glass, which rises to more than 100kr at places such as airports.

Like most other countries, Norway has also discovered a love of craft beer. Depending on the brand, you'll be paying 80kr-125kr or even more for a 0.4L glass. Cheers!

Beer in supermarkets is much cheaper, but still a lot more expensive than you'll be used to. A half-litre can typically costs from 25-35kr, but you are limited to beers with a strength of 4.7%. To buy stronger beer, you'll need to head to Vinmonopolet, the state-run off-licence. Or, remember to buy it from the duty free next time you're passing through the airport.

Healthcare

Despite rumours to the contrary, Norway's healthcare system is not free to use. Everyone pays for doctor's appointments and prescriptions, but only up to an annual limit of around 2,200kr.

Healthcare travel

Once you hit this limit, services are free. This system is designed with fairness in mind, so that everyone pays their share but if you fall seriously ill, you won't have the stress of figuring out how to pay for treatment.

Once you've finished with a doctor's appointment, you pay for the service. Most surgeries have automated machines which you are expected to use before leaving. If you forget, you'll get an invoice in the mail with a surcharge.

You can read more about the healthcare system in Norway here, including who gets access and how it works. If you are just visiting Norway, check out our advice for tourists.

Sports and entertainment

This is an enormous category so perhaps unsurprisingly, the cost of activities varies hugely.

If you are going to be living on a tight budget, do as the Norwegians do and get outdoors. Once you've shelled out for some quality gear, hiking is a bargain and you can enjoy one of the best things about the country – the spectacular scenery – while keeping fit.

Hiking to Trolltunga in Norway
Hiking in Norway. Photo: Mathias Jensen / Unsplash

If spectator sports are more your thing, tickets for most top-tier football matches in the country can usually be found for 200kr. That's much cheaper than England's Premier League, but the standard is of course not the same.

As for evenings out: Cinema tickets last time I checked were about 140kr, while an escape room runs 350-450kr per person.

Some final thoughts

I hope this article has helped give you a feel for how much it really costs to live in Norway. It really does come down to personal preferences and expectations.

Norwegians generally make the most of ‘free' activities such as hiking, eat out less than many other nationalities, and – and perhaps this is the most important point of all – live in households where two people work full-time.

If you move to Norway intending to live a typical American or British lifestyle, you may find Norway's reputation as an expensive country is just the beginning…

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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.

11 Comments

  1. I had to laugh at an old 1953 English film (Laxdale Hall) that I recently watched.The statement by a politician in that film may or may not be applicable to Norway. He said ‘I am opposed to scenery-it makes people lazy’

    1. enjoyed that comment Mr ‘Fjeseth’ !
      Being English myself and having lived in Norway for four years. Not your atypical beer drinking Brit or Scott with his ponies. I have lived and worked a few countries from the Middle East to Africa and Asia. A controlled ‘pride, in the fact, that i adapted quickly to new cultures based on an open mind and flexibility. So. imagine the surprise when i found myself in a tiny Spar supermarket one not so tropical day. The mini Spar with a a handful of ‘natives’ in standard ‘uniforms’ of checked shirts and those day glow- TeleTubby jackets . I could hear the food freezer compartments humming in the silence. The squeaking wheels and’ chingle’ of the shopping trolley seemed to be intrusive and draw unwanted attention. Never had i felt so out place. Rather like Scott with his ‘lille’ ponies. This was the back yard of Norge. The frozen fields of Telemark. Extraordinary landscape.

      More X TRA-ordinary was the first taste of culture shock in my mid forties. One summer’s day after four years, the same cashier lady in the Spar said: ‘Godag’ to me. Well, you can imagine my delight. That really was progress

      A certain English writer from the 1940’s wrote: ‘Norway is a country where the sun never sets, the bar never opens and the whole place smells of herring.’ (as we know the sun does set – very much so in Winter. (Silly man.) My own brand of English humour along with cultural identity, often was ‘lost’ like Scott and his ‘lille’ ponies in the snow. i now live in Indonesia!

  2. Mr. Nikel’s column about the cost of living in Norway is succinct and informative. The clarity of his prose and his comprehensive treatment of the subject provide a primer that a first-time visitor (which I hope eventually to be) would do well to print out and carry as with a vade mecum. I admire Norway for its success in making modernity together with democratic governance adapt to its unique culture, without sacrificing the essence of either. The Nordics and Norway in particular are for me the proof of concept: goodwill, pragmatism, and a fidelity to democratic precepts create a polity in which nearly everyone feels included and valued.

      1. You really have to take the prices on face value and not keep comparing it or using the IS equivalent. You need to do your own homework. I’ve been coming to Norway since I was 16 and he has given a great all round view of the cost of living in Norway’. Although I’ve got a good one. Get your winter gear in Feb at the outlets as they are cheap and awesome. I enjoy getting around Melbourne in winter with all my Bergans gear on!! So warm!

  3. My quiet, studious (American) son is interested in moving to Norway for university in the next year or two. He’s attracted to its clean environment, Happiness rating, and progressive attitudes. Wondering what kind of reception (liberal) Americans are getting there these days? Is our current president ruining it for all of us?

    He’s learning a little Norwegian but hopes for at least some classes in English, and is likely going to study Physics and/or Chemistry, with an aim to go into sustainable engineering.
    Thank you.

    1. Why would an American Liberal want to move to Norway, especially one who disagrees with our current President.
      All our president wants is Border controls and an immigration policy similar policy to Norway. Maybe your son wants the freedom to speak his mind in the USA and Live without the diversity he so agrees with. The photos of Norway are extremely White and Im not talking about the snow.

      1. the fuck are you talking about? i AM Norwegian. and, did you just compare trump to norway? honest question, have you even been to norway? a large chunk of norway’s population is from the middle east and around there. we simply can’t let so many people in due to “FRP” the Norwegian republican/liberal party. they hold a little piece of the Norwegian parliament, “Stortinget”. and we are definitely not bloody obsessed with border control. jesus

  4. This article is “city oriented” but pretty much correct in most aspects.
    ‘Been here on Norway for 3 months on a temporary assignment as a Sr. level engineer from a US owned division of a Norwegian company. Although I add GREAT value to the company and my skills are sorely needed here they would/could not pay me an equivalent salary as back in the states. 15-20% less. My wife who is an art teacher and doesn’t make much in the US could double her salary here and both incomes would be better than in the states but that would take a year or so of her having to learn Norwegian at 50. So, I unfortunately had to decline. ‘Really sad about it. Wonderful place!

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