The first thing you do when arriving in Norway is to get a tax card at the Tax authorities. You will not understand anything of what it says, except that everyone in Norway is expected to pay tax, including yourself whatever you will work as here and wherever you come from.
Just so you know, paying tax in Norway is a very serious business. In the U.S most People would have a stroke by looking at how much we are taxed: 36% for almost everyone, less for the poorer and higher for the richer. But in Norway everyone happily pays their tax (except for some FrP voters I guess, considering the Progress Party’s political programme on tax reduction) because people are conscious this is how the State can finance hospitals, schools, roads and other public services. Not paying tax is a crime, just in case you were thinking of screwing the tax authority over. And making jokes about how you screw the tax authorities over, very common thing to brag about in France, is frowned upon in Norway.
Every year around now (March-April) every worker in Norway receives a letter from the tax authority called Selvangivelse. A very obscure Norwegian word for foreigners which simply means “tax return”. The whole point of this paper is to know whether the tax authority owes you money or whether you owe them money. Whether you’ll be able to go to Thailand or to Trondheim this summer. Whether you can buy that MacBook you’ve been dreaming of or just tighten your belt until feriepenger (see below about that).
Unfortunately as a foreigner it takes time to understand what this paper means. The great thing is that the tax authority gives you the choice of receiving this tax return in nynorsk, sami language, bokmål or english. But by default it is sent to you in bokmål the first year, which means that just when you have no idea how the system works, you receive a letter in Norwegian from the Skattetatten with all these numbers in a language you don’t understand either. You are tempted to throw it away but if you remember the word Skatt or are clever enough to ask a Norwegian friend or colleague about it you will quickly find out this is a very important paper. You’ learn later that this paper means either good news or bad news for your bank account this month.
But as a regular person, you just need to verify the numbers (your income should match as well as other items such as what you gave to non-profit organisations and other tax-deductions). You’ll end up looking for that line that says whether you will suddenly get 1.000, 10.000 or even more on your bank account. Or maybe you have to pay them back because something was miscalculated and you actually didn’t pay enough tax last year. All those who bought a house or a flat the year before will annoyingly go around telling everyone they got over 30.000 NOK in tax return. Somehow I always have to pay them back. I heard I can fix this but I can’t remember how.
Although everyone “happily” pays tax, most of us still try to pay as least tax as possible, legally of course. Whole articles give such tips. If you have anything to pay back it’s before the end of May (so one month left from now). Then comes June, where we all receive feriepenger, or what some call “a month without tax”. It looks like the tax authority is offering you a lot of money that month, as you get so much more than your regular salary, but actually they aren’t offering you anything (tax authorities rarely do). You have been paying a little every month to gain the right to paid holidays the year before. So if you’ve started working in Norway in June last year you only paid for feriepenger for half the year and will get less paid holidays that your colleagues.
The other bonus month is December, where we only pay half tax. Well, in our minds only, because the reality of the tax system in Norway is not about giving tax gifts to people. It’s about making people pay the tax of 12 months over 10 and a half months so that it seems like we get more money in June and December. Basically the State saves money for us to spend more on our summer holidays and on Christmas gifts. Hence the nickname “nanny state” given to Scandinavian welfare states like Norway.
I hope I didn’t bore anyone to death yet. I must admit it is very hard to be funny when talking about tax systems, and Norwegian tax system is unfortunately not an exception. However it is a very important concept to at least understand from far away. People study years and years to understand the whole content of Selvangivelse, so being able to read yours is what you should aim for.
On a positive note, remember that we pay tax for a reason: to ensure equality in access to healthcare and education for all in this country. True, Norway could have chosen to be like the U.S, with much lower taxes but also much higher inequality in access to what most European countries see as public services. If you are a multimillionaire and don’t want to pay for health care of all these people, what can I say, move to Luxembourg! No fjords there but you’ll have a great view on all these banks from your balcony.