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.
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.
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!
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.
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 but 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%.
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.
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!
One of the biggest problems new expats experience is the initial cost of relocating.
Not only is Norway an expensive country, there are lots of up-front payments and charges that you might be unfamiliar with, such as a TV license fee.
First things first, renting a house or a room will usually require a significant security deposit (perhaps one months rent, but three is commonplace) to be paid up front along with the first months rent before you even see a key.
So how much will I need?
Ah, the million dollar question. The answer will frustrate you, because of course, it depends.
Your own cost of living in Norway will depend on your own personal circumstances, family situation, employment, and your lifestyle expectations.
That said, I want to give you at least a starting point for your own research into living expenses. So, here we go!
Cost of housing
Accommodation is expensive in the major cities and especially so in Oslo and Stavanger, but housing does get cheaper the further into the suburbs you travel.
Tax breaks are offered on savings towards a property purchase for those under 35, and there are other tax advantages for home owners, which means many Norwegians own their own property by the time they're in their 30s.
But as mentioned earlier, renting a home is expensive to get started with but is the only option for most new arrivals. Expect to pay 1-3 months rent up-front as a deposit, along with your first month's rent.
A bedroom in a shared house will run at least 3,000kr per month in most cities, with a small bedsit (hybel) from 4,500kr.
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.
Utilities are harder to estimate but they are typically competitive with other countries. We live in an estate served by a district heating system and have been pleasantly surprised by our low energy bills.
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!
Public transport systems in Norway are generally reliable, and a monthly pass can be picked up for around 750kr 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, from the cost of purchasing cars to road tolls to taxation on fuel and perhaps the worst offender, parking charges in urban areas. Even if your job provides you with a company car, you will be spending a lot of money on the 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.
Many people living in Norway collect frequent flyer points to benefit from free flights and other travel deals.
Your food budget
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.
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, and some regular items at much cheaper prices. Fruit and vegetables can be especially good value from these markets.
Eating out is expensive due to the high wages paid to staff, and as such Norwegians eat out 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.
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 relatively expensive things you can do.
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 65kr and 85kr for a half-litre glass, which rises to more than 100kr at places such as airports.
Like most other countries, Norway has 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, while 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.
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.
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.
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.
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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