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10 Things I Learned From 10 Years In Norway

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Packed with advice for new arrivals, one of our former contributors returns to tell us his story after ten years of living in Norway.

A little over a decade ago, while a Bachelor’s student at UC Berkeley, I met a girl from Norway. She was different. She was deeply caring in a way that was outside of my understanding, she was adventurous, she was playful, and for all the things that she was – there was one thing she wasn’t: a quitter.

Hiker gazing out over spectacular scenery in Norway.

She knew what she wanted more than anything… and luckily, that was me. I wasn’t interested in dating anyone seriously (hey, I’m in college, right?) and after years of combat as a US Marine, my heart was neither interested in nor capable of love.

I tried to be just friends with her, I tried to tell her I didn’t want to date, I tried to tell her I wasn’t good enough for her, but she didn’t hear any of it.

So, we dated on and off, and then in the summer of 2013, I finished college and she headed home to Norway. And somehow, she convinced me to come visit (I’ll be honest, she sent lots of pictures of mountains).

We traveled all over the country together, running and climbing and adventuring and somewhere in that process, she started to melt away my insecurities about love. But, I already had plans to say goodbye and travel the world.

As we stood at the train station, she told me “I know that you can’t say it back, but I love you. And I’ll be here waiting for you.” I couldn’t comprehend her courage.

I left Norway and traveled around the world for about 18 months doing soul searching. “Who am I and what do I want in life?” I didn’t come to any clear answers by myself, so instead I focused on trying to find the answer.

I went on a trip as a missionary (I was raised in a Christian home but had too many doubts and questions as a kid), I worked in orphanages, I built schools, I did disaster response work, and I just tried to find anything that would make me happy.

I knew that I couldn’t find happiness inside myself, so I looked for it in reverse – by helping people. More insecurities melted away and slowly I began to realize that it wasn’t money or a career or even dangerous adventures that I wanted most. I wanted love and someone to share the beautiful things about life with.

A move to Norway

At the end of 2014, I returned to Norway. I had nothing but a backpack and some tattered clothes. Katrine and I had kept in touch and I decided to spend Christmas with her, since I was already in Europe. Neither of us knew what to expect.

Dave during his first year in Norway.
Dave during his first year in Norway.

Within a couple weeks, I had decided to stay in Norway and see if this was the woman I was going to marry. I knew that it wouldn’t be easy… I had no network here, limited transferable job skills, and I didn’t speak the language.

The only thing that I did have was a certainty that I wanted to give the relationship a shot. If I could give as much effort, support, respect, and dedication to Katrine as what she had given to me, then maybe love was really possible.

Now, a decade later, we have a life together, three children (with a fourth on the way) and I love her more than ever. It was definitely worth it. But it was not always easy. If you're considering a move to Norway, here are 10 lessons I learned along the way.

1. It is not easy

I didn’t come here looking for easy. In fact, I knew that it would be a long and difficult process to stay here.

Finding work and settling down here has been much harder for me than it would have been in the US where I have family, friends, a professional network, I speak the language, and can easily land a job.

It hurts to be so far away from my parents, especially now that they have grandkids. I also have to work extra hard to find good meaningful work, fit in in social circles, and learn new skills (that first year of learning to cross country ski hurt!!!)

Easy is not a path to fulfillment. Norway is often viewed as this utopian society where everything is just free and taken care of for you and that’s just not the case. It is every bit as hard to survive and thrive here as it is anywhere else.

And if you chose to move here permanently, there are so many hurdles that you are going to have to make it over, and even when you make it over most of those hurdles you’re not done, you’ll have to make it over them again later and it will be even more frustrating.

It is not easy. But it is worth it (love is worth it, anyway. Whether or not the move here is worth it depends upon your motivations and expectations). 

2. Be vulnerable

Life in a new place is hard and lonely but seeking help is a sign of strength. Vulnerability is the only way to fix yourself, improve your situation, make friends, learn, or achieve just about anything. If you come here and try to take on everything by yourself, you’ll drown.

Norwegian friends at Trolltunga rock.
Find your people.

You need community (yes, that can be hard since Norwegians aren’t especially social with new people). Find your people… whatever groups or hobbies or interests you have, there is someone else nearby who enjoys the same thing and bam, there you’ve already got a friend.

Now pick a few more things, find a few more people, make yourself a group, introduce each other to one another, and keep doing it. Share about your life, not just what’s good or sounds nice but what hurts and what’s keeping you down or haunting you. This will allow others to open up as well and that is truly valuable.

We as humans are designed to have community and it is hard to have community when you fake and pretend that everything is just great all the time because it’s not. So, be vulnerable, share, listen, and you will find that life becomes much more understandable.

3. Be disciplined

Moving here will require you to do lots of things that you don’t want to do. Discipline is more important than passion or motivation because both of those things will fade or come and go.

I love what I do for work, but I don’t love it everyday, especially when I’m up early with small kids, I’m tired, I have some must-do tasks that I don’t like, and so on.

There is so much stuff that needs done every day, regardless of how I am feeling that motivation or passion just aren’t gonna cut it everytime. The house needs fixed, wood needs cut and chopped for winter, diapers need changed, the house needs cleaned, laundry needs folded, work needs done, and it always will.

It’s often cold and rainy and you may have to retake a driving test and find a job in a place where you know nobody (and by the way, the job competition is highly educated and driven) and there will always be constant struggles and challenges.

Make the choice to get through them. Make the choice to absorb that pain and enjoy it anyway. Then you will thrive.

4. You can do it

Over the years I’ve had many people ask questions about moving to Norway, how it will be given their specific situation, and so on. Here’s the truth: if you want it, you can do it. You just need to overcome the obstacles in your mind.

River in Trondheim, Norway.
River in Trondheim, Norway.

Take away everything of what you think will be easy – because none of it will be easy. Nothing in life worth doing is easy, as the saying goes. As a friend once told me, “life is whatever you make of it”.

I’m not trying to sound like a life coach or whatever here but the bottom line is this: yes, it is hard to move to and live in Norway. Yes, you can do it if you want it. Yes, it can be a beautiful experience.

While those first 4 tips may seem like common sense or even sound like too much of a pep talk, they actually form the foundation for successfully acclimatizing to any new environment.

Don’t expect it to be easy, seek help from others, work hard and truly believe that you can make it happen. The next 6 tips are more specific to Norway.

5. Understand the legal requirements

Over the last decade I have gotten hundreds of messages from people wishing to move to Norway, or wishing to stay here longer.

Every situation is unique and you will be much better off if you have a good understanding of the requirements for getting the right type of visa or residence permit for your situation.

There are numerous hurdles and laws that are designed to ensure that everyone is treated fairly. By doing your research and planning well, you can save a lot of headache.

Norway family immigration concept image

A great start is to visit the UDI website. UDI is responsible for processing applications from foreign nationals who wish to visit or live in Norway.

6. Plan your move

As Dwight D Eisenhower famously said, “plans are useless but planning is indispensable”.

What this means is that life will almost never follow along with what you plan… there will be obstacles and difficulties and unforeseen circumstances… but the better you plan in advance, the more prepared you will be to quickly meet and overcome these challenges.

It is not easy to move to Norway, whether it be for a relationship, work, or just because you want to live here. You should have plans and backup plans for where you will live, how you will earn money, how you will take care of things such as housing, transportation, insurance, and finances, and so on.

Finding a job can be particularly difficult. For the Americans, taxes and related financial issues can be especially tricky due to laws such as FACTA, PFIC, and others.

In addition, you should try to learn the language in advance by using books or tools such as Duolingo or others. I can tell you from experience that almost nothing is ever “easy” and that planning and being prepared for when things fall through will be essential to success.

There are plenty of Facebook groups, expat groups, Reddit threads, and local support groups to help provide information and support, so find what suits you best and start learning.

7. Acclimatize and adapt

Once you arrive, it’s time to continue learning the language, get active outdoors, learn how the Norwegian culture works, and prepare yourself for the long-haul.

Just the same as if you were going to climb Mount Everest and would take several stops on the way up to adjust, rest, and get acclimated, moving to a new country is much the same.

It’s time to embrace the culture, meet new people, and stay outside of your comfort zone. It is possible to live in Norway without doing these things, but your journey will be significantly harder.

For example, there are many people who move here and do not learn the language, but Norwegian is the business language and probably 95% of the workplaces will speak Norwegian.

International companies will often speak English as the official work language, but Norwegian will still often be used for social conversations. So, the more you learn and the more you adapt, the more successful you will be.

Similarly, there are few places in the world with a climate as unforgiving as Norway. The winters are long, dark, and cold, and the summers are not much better as they are usually long, bright all day, and cold.

Bergen Line train arriving at Myrdal station in the snow. Photo: David Nikel.
Bergen Line train arriving at Myrdal station in the snow.

There is a popular saying “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes”… but I can tell you from experience that this just means you will need lots of different clothes.

I own probably 6 different types of jackets per season, 7 pair of different gore-tex pants, wool clothing in every possible thickness and several drawers full of gloves, mittens, socks, beanies and so much more.

Just being prepared to go outdoors here is an expensive hobby! But it’s worth it and I have gained an immense appreciation for being outside, regardless of the weather, which we have also passed on to our kids.

8. Rest

In case you haven’t noticed by now, if you do the above, you will be EXHAUSTED. There is so much to learn and see and do and plan for. There is so much that you need to adapt yourself to. You will miss home. Add in the constant dark and cold of winter, months at a time of freezing rain, and you have got a recipe for burnout.

I am guilty of being constantly on the go, always seeking new opportunities or adventures and never making the time to be still enough to relax, appreciate the beauty around me, and embrace the beauty of life.

In addition, I’m raising small kids, working, and trying to stay physically active enough to survive the pace of life.

Recently, I have found myself absolutely drained both physically and mentally. I hit the wall. And when I hit the wall, I told myself that I was being weak and I just needed to hit the gym more, work harder, and keep moving forward.

That didn’t work and I realized I really needed to finally rest, catch up on sleep, enjoy a book, and start saying “no” to some adventures. This period of rest (forced rest, since my body was literally shutting down) has been one of the best things I have ever done.

My advice to you: pace yourself, embrace rest, listen to your body, slow down a bit, breathe deep, and give your body and soul enough time to catch up.

9. Make it yours

This is perhaps the most important tip in this article. This experience, this life, this opportunity, all of it is yours to shape and do with as you wish.

A favorite quote that I heard from a friend years ago is “life is whatever we make of it”.

Don’t spend time comparing yourself to everyone else. Find what makes you happy. Listen to your heart. Be thankful for everything in front of you, and remember that even the biggest of obstacles are just a challenge.

Never give up on what you truly want. And remember that you are never alone.

10. Pay it forward

Once you’ve done the above, whether successful or not, use your experiences to help others. People care about your voice, your experiences, and your lessons… even if it may not feel that way.

There is another traveler, adventurer, or love-struck soul, searching for answers on how to move to Norway or how to complete some other complex life challenge. Your lessons and perspectives can be a beacon to others and help them to navigate through the darkness.

A decade ago, I started writing articles about living in Norway. From those articles I have helped dozens of people get jobs, I have made tons of new friends and looking back, I have captured some of the most beautiful and challenging moments of a key part of my life.

When our babies came, I put everything else on hold. I stopped writing, networking, or sharing. I am glad that I focused 100% on family, but it is possible to find time for both and I wish I had stayed more active in the local community.

There are so many awesome, inspiring, and motivating people to meet and to share with. Life is crazy, but we’re all in it together. I promise to keep trying my best to help others on their journey, you promise to do the same.

I hope this article has been useful. If so, leave me a comment below so I know to keep writing.

About David Smith

Dave Smith is a former US Marine and a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley. He is an avid adventurer, backpacker, and volunteer with travel in over 40 countries. Dave moved from the USA to Norway in December 2014 to pursue a serious relationship with his beautiful Norwegian girlfriend.

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7 thoughts on “10 Things I Learned From 10 Years In Norway”

  1. Thank you for your insightful article. I also emigrated from California after working half of my career in the educational system. I met and married a Norwegian citizen who emigrated from S.Africa. We settled in Stavanger where I completed my second half of my teaching career at the International School of Stavanger. We raised a son there who moved on to university in Los Angeles and now works there. We are pensioners now and enjoy returning to California for winter months to visit and care for my 94 year old mother and visit our son. Norway, however, continues to be our home for most of the year.

    Reply
  2. we expand our soul, to do difficult things for love and with love.
    Our family members who stayed at home benefit from our expansion.
    This is a very beautiful article, and I love that it doesn’t mince on the
    difficulties. We have a big dream: are we willing to be that uncomfortable?
    Yes. So, Thank you. My dream is to live in Norway someday, though
    the obstacles seem insurmountable. I still love and nourish the dream itself
    within me, and I practice my Duolingo every day, like Noah building his ark.

    Reply
  3. Thank you for your fascinating article…very well written. I am an 81 y.o. retired photographer, among other careers, as well as an Army vet, living in Oregon, USA. When I was 18, I visited Norway for 9 months in the winter, on a farm near Lunner, Hadeland with my best friend, whose relatives hosted us. I still try to practice my Norsk…my GGF was born in Folda, just NE of Bodø. I realize that I will never move there, but at least I can live vicariously through ohers’ experiences. Thanks again….

    Reply
  4. Hi David,
    This was well done and an excellent summary of the challenges we can meet when we decide to move here. I have no regrets and have been here for 40 years having moved here from New York State. It was the best decision I (we) ever made. I especially like number 10. I am doing that now that I am retired from teaching. I started a new career as a local guide in Oslo! Keep up the good work with your writing, teach and raise your children well!

    Reply
  5. Love this article, you sum up the challenges perfectly. Love your insights and advice,absolutely spot on. Moved here for love too, we have lived in Norway for 5 years now and I still have hard days and suspect I always will, part and parcel of living in a country other than your home country. Have been married to a Viking for over 20 years now, and spent most summers in Norway before moving here permanently from sunny South Africa. Nothing quite prepares you for the weather here and the long dark winters. Nature therapy has kept me sane fortunately and I embrace the outdoors as much as possible. Thank you for sharing your story and paying it forward, do the same whenever I have the opportunity.

    Reply

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