The story of one American’s attempt and failure to make a life in Norway.
By the time I moved to Norway, it was at the end of more than four years of planning, saving up money, and adapting plans to changing circumstances.
While my original plan didn’t necessarily pan out, nor did my second, and I’m not sure what happened to the third plan, but finally, the route I ended up taking was what I had always dreamed of doing.
For as long as I could remember I’d wanted to live in Europe. I didn’t have any particular destination picked out until I discovered the mountains, fjords, and cities (and beautiful blonde girls) of Norway.
I ended up in Norway for the first time when I attended a folkehøgskole at the behest of one of my best friends at the time – a Norwegian exchange student I had met while I was in high school. I went the typical route for most Americans and stepped right into college after high school. Turns out it wasn’t really for me – not at the time anyway.
My friend told me about Folkehøgskole and, long story short, I applied and they let me join for some reason! It ended up being one of the best years of my life; I made great friends, had incredible experiences and gained a pretty good grasp of the Norwegian language
While attending FHS I discovered I have a penchant for blondes, one blonde in particular. I fell in love with a Norwegian girl, which just added another tally to the list of reasons why I wanted to move to Norway.
Back to the U.S. and with a goal in mind I dove straight into school, going fall, spring, and summer semesters to get it done as quickly as possible and get my ass across the Atlantic. My original plan was to study English, with an emphasis on teaching English as a second language, then entering into a master’s programme for something similar in Norway along with obtaining teaching certificate over there.
Turns out I don’t much like kids and crushing through a bachelor’s degree in less than three years made me feel pretty fatigued with the whole school thing. So I weighed my options and mapped out a route I could take to finally live in Norway. Less than two weeks after I graduated I was on a plane to Norway.
The Norwegian immigration process
All visa types come with an easy to follow checklist of the materials you need to hand over to the Norwegian government, but for the applicant, this means paperwork a lot of paperwork – especially for anyone coming from outside of the EU/EEA.
This paperwork not only requires time and patience but a great deal of research and effort on the part of the applicant. After researching all my options time and time again, the requirements still ended up changing on several occasions before I got over to Norway – and even once in the handful of days I was there before I handed in my application.
With the applications, you set a date for a meeting to drop off all of your paperwork at either a police station or the special immigration centres if there is one in your city or municipality.
Overall I thought there would be more human interaction in terms of the applications. Everything was done online or by sending in your paperwork at the predetermined centres. I kind of thought they would want to meet with you, interview a bit maybe, but nope, the application does all the talking for you.
The ‘skilled job seeker' visa
My first step in starting life in Norway was to apply for the skilled job seeker visa. This visa is applicable for just about anyone with a degree from a university or more than a few years experience in a skilled trade.
This visa gives you six months to find a job in Norway. Generally, this is a great option for people who are completing Masters or Ph.D. studies in Norway and want to try to find a job in the country after their studies.
This visa also comes with a hefty monetary component. Besides the costs of applying for the visa it is necessary to demonstrate to the Norwegian government that you can afford to live in their country for the six months you’re there on the job hunt – which to them means have upwards of 120.000 Norwegian kroner in your bank account to be granted the visa. Hence the years of saving I did before making the move.
This visa requires that you find a job you are qualified for based on your education and/or work history. So no easy bar or restaurant jobs if you’re from outside the EU for most people.
Skilled job seeker visa: Expectations v reality
To be honest, I was completely terrified. I didn’t think I had much of a chance at finding employment that would fulfil the visa requirements. It kept me up at night for months before I even got on the plane for Norway.
With only six months to find gainful employment, I had to hit the ground running. I reached out to as many ex-pats as I could to ask for meetings and advice, and made a strict schedule for myself that I followed every day for applying to jobs, reaching out to companies, and dropping off my CV pretty much anywhere with an unlocked door.
Turns out my fears were pretty much spot on; a degree in English Writing isn’t in hot demand in Norway. It is possible that I might have had better luck in a bigger city like Oslo, but where I was I had limited options.
Being from outside of the EU/EEA is the real disadvantage, and the fact that I was a fresh-faced kid straight out of college with basically no professional experience didn’t help either.
Self-employed work permit
After six months of a few interviews, friendly meetings, gallons and gallons of coffee, but little luck I went with my backup plan: the Selvstendig næringsdrivende visum, or self-employed person visa.
Turns out the self-employed person visa is one of the most difficult visas to get, according to numerous people that had nothing to do with UDI told me.
The application did require an insane amount of paperwork. From a full business plan and budget to a copy of my University diploma and even a transcript showing the courses I took and the grades I received, amongst a whole host of other required items.
Luckily for me the business I planned on running, being a freelance writer, had essentially no overhead costs, inventory, or anything like that that would have required a lot more work to put together for the application This visa gives the applicant one year to run their business and meet a set pre-tax minimum income of NOK 240.000.
Self-employed work permit: Expectation v reality
I thought the services of a native English writer would be of some interest in Norway. While most Norwegians speak and can write well enough in English, it’s generally pretty easy to tell when someone with English as a second language is writing for a companies website, product, or what have you. I certainly wasn’t expecting to get rich but thought with enough tenacity I could make a living.
The thriving start-up scene in the city I resided in seemed like a perfect place to hone my focus and enjoy my work doing a bunch of different writing. There were also a number of other larger companies, and even a football team, that I thought could use my skills.
I’ve never been much of a salesman, especially when it comes to trying to self-promote as a contractor and convince people that my skills are worth paying a not so paltry sum for.
Read more: The complete guide to moving to Norway
Beyond that, for a kid straight out of college, trying to start a business in a foreign country was incredibly tough. Figuring out how to pay taxes in another country, even dealing with the differences in professional and business expectations of another culture were all things that took time.
Don’t even get me started on trying to accomplish anything in Norway during July. Half the time I’d need to go grocery shopping during the summer I’d walk down the block only to find the doors locked and the lights off, some saint’s day or other that I wasn’t used to or prepared for.
The majority of my first year turned into more of a networking strategy as opposed to gaining clients. Some small jobs trickled in here and there, but I hardly made any money the first year. I was told that UDI would be pretty lenient on the first year of the business in regards to the income requirements, so I focused on making myself known in the business world in the hopes that these connections could turn into clients, or help me in finding clients, later on down the road.
My strategy paid off, kind of. The end of that first calendar year and the first few months of the next gave me some real hope. I had a couple of permanent basis clients that I did work for every month and had several short-term projects lined up with other companies.
I’d made more money in a month than I did in the previous year. Going into the renewal for my visa I thought this would show promise in my company and it would be easy to renew for another year.
The renewal process
That first year in Norway flew by. Before I knew it I was getting bank statements and all the other paperwork together to renew my self-employment work permit.
Renewing a visa is slightly simpler than the initial application. It required a lot of the same stuff used in the original application, just adding in a few things like invoices and bank statements to show your earnings, and writing a letter about your business expectations for the next year.
Based on what I’d heard from other people and online, I thought that UDI would be fairly lenient in regards to the monetary requirements of renewing the visa. Especially as I had proof that the coming year would be immensely more successful. So I went in nervous, but still with some hope.
Nobody likes rejection, even more so when it happens to be in regards to a visa and where you’re going to be living. When I got the letter from the UDI, I think I hid it behind some groceries and let it sit on my kitchen counter for a few days before I had the courage to open it.
The reason for the denial was that I didn’t reach the full income that was necessary for the first year, even though I was well on my way to making that number and showing great progress at the start of year number two.
I wasn’t happy with the decision, obviously. So I went through my options on what I could do to stay and get another chance. I could leave right away, or I could try and appeal the decision at the immigration court.
Appealing the decision
With just about any visa you have the right to appeal a UDI decision. You do this by taking all the same paperwork you had for the initial application and then add a letter stating why you think the decision should be reversed.
In some cases, you can be asked to go in to speak with someone in person but for the most part its just another application process essentially.
I spent several days writing one of the most heartfelt and difficult pieces of writing I’ve ever had to do. Basically, I was begging UDI to let me stay in Norway. I even had a Norwegian friend help me write the letter in Norwegian and provided copies in both English and Norwegian to the court.
I was proud of that letter and really thought my words would have the desired effect of getting the government to give me another year in the country.
Well, shit. I’m sitting in my office one day and I receive a phone call. After I few years in the country, I did the Norwegian by letting the call go to voicemail and then searching up the number that called me on the internet.
Let me tell you all, it’s not a great feeling to have that number pop up as the local municipality’s police department. My heart dropped down to the floor.
I waited a few minutes, walked around the office a few times before I called the number back saying that I received a call from this number. The lady on the other end of the line sounded cheerful, I thought maybe everything would be ok.
Then she changed to short and direct.
“Your visa was denied. You have three weeks to leave the country. Send us a copy of your plane ticket.”