Norway has it all, doesn’t? Happiest people on Earth, a yearly Nobel Peace prize to hand out, a low unemployment rate, high gender equality, paid parental leave, red cabins in the woods facing the fjord, clean water and air. My goodness, what are we doing still here, we should all move to Norway!
Calm down. There is no perfect place. There are great reasons to move to Norway (quoted above was a non-exhaustive list) but there are also very rough parts to living here.
Like everywhere else, people have different lives, based on your job (or lack of), your family situation, social network, financial situation etc.
Here is a list of questions you need to ask yourself to figure out whether it is worth it to move here FOR YOU:
1- What lifestyle will you have?
Moving to Norway can mean a lot of different things, and people have very different lifestyles since the country is very long, stretches from Northern Europe to the Arctic, has mountains and islands, snow and sand.
If you move to a village in the north of Norway prepare not to see the sun for 3 months every year, and possibly deal with snow in May, seeing reindeers going to work. But also getting stuck eat home for days because of a snow storm. Living on an isolated island means a lot of wind, a very small community you have to get along with, and also possibly being cut from the world when weather gets rough. Living down South means having accessible beaches, but quite Christian conservative communities.
You could also live in Trondheim, Norway’s main student city, or in Oslo and have access to an Opera, multiple museums, many immigrant communities and even stand up theatre in English. You can live in a wooden hut in the woods alone, or in Oslo’s posh neighbourhood, and those two lives are still in Norway but madly opposite. So, the main question: which lifestyle do you want to have or will be possible with the conditions in which you are moving?
2- How much money will you have?
Remember life is very expensive, and it has become even more expensive in the past year with prices of everything from food to rent rising dramatically. However depending on where you live, renting a place ranges from 600 EUR per month (for a house in a village) to 3500 EUR for a flat in Oslo per month (for a family in a nice area). Read Guide to a Cheap Life in Oslo, Norway and beyond
Then you need to add electricity (that’s how they heat homes here), food, going out, travels, kindergarten/school (it costs around 300 EUR per child to send them to kindergarten and same if you want them to stay at primary school after 1pm – they finish early so schools have after school activities). If you have kids, think bigger flat, as well as a budget to buy them the right clothes usually when seasons shift. Winter gear for kids is necessary since they go out a lot in kindergartens/schools. You might also need money to go back to see your home country. If you live in Tromsø it will be more plane tickets to pay for example. To know more about how much you’ll need check this article. Also remember that whatever salary they offer you, it is most probably a gross figure, meaning you’ll have to take away taxes. Like anywhere else, expenses for yourself alone will be cheaper, but if you are moving with your family of 4 and intending on living on one salary, I’d recommend not going too much below 1 million NOK per year. (that’s what many people make with 2 salaries).
3- Do you like Urban life or Nature?
Norway can be paradise if you like skiing, swimming, sailing, taking snow out from the front door and cycling. Moving to Oslo is the most urban life you will get. So you go down from there in terms of urban life if you are moving to a smaller city such as Bergen, Trondheim, Tromsø or Lillehammer. How the Concept of Norwegian “Friluftsliv” Can Save Your Life
There are fantastic things about Oslo: the fjord is accessible, with its islands to swim and bbq every summer. The forest is also accessible by bus or metro, and there are skiing slopes all over the place. But Oslo does not even have 1 million inhabitants, so if you think Oslo is a capital city as vibrant as London you are wrong and you will be greatly disappointed. The variety of bars, food, theatres, schools and so on is getting better, but no where close to capital cities like Paris, London or (don’t even think about it) New York. We are on a whole other scale here. Read my blogpost: Has Oslo Become the Coolest Capital City in Scandinavia?
4- Do you mind rain in the summer and a dark long winter?
Let’s be honest here, 100% of the pictures of Norway you see online or in magazines are either highly photoshopped or taken on one of the 5 sunny days that month in that area. Or both: taken on a sunny day and photoshopped. Sure, nice weather does exist in Norway, but as my father would say, summer was a Tuesday this year and I missed it I was at the hairdresser.
I have experienced 4 degrees in the middle of July in Northern Norway, buckets of rain in August in the South of Norway as well as 23 degrees in the Lofoten islands bathing in Caribbean-like blue waters.
Bottom line, if you love being in your flip flops and shorts all year long or even just a few months per year, it’ll get rough for you. In many cases, including my own, the cold isn’t really an issue, but the darkness in the winter is very hard. Having just a few hours of daylight, and then sometimes the daylight being masked by clouds, over the weeks make you miss the warmth of the Sun SO MUCH. Read 10 Nordic tips to Keep Warm during the Winter
There is a reason Norwegians go to Syden every winter when they can.
5- If I move with kids, do I have spots in schools/kindergartens?
Moving with kids or without makes a huge difference in the decision you are making. It is just that children require a whole other level of logistics. Will you have a spot in kindergartens or schools for them? Kids get a spot from they are one year old here, but you need to apply before the 1st of March to start in August (and other rules). Most importantly, since parents here have in total around 1 year of parental leave, it is impossible to find a kindergarten for kids who are younger than 10 months old. You’ll need a nanny, but those aren’t that easy to find either and the sector is not regulated. See The 8 Rules of Raising a Kid in Norway
To apply for a kindergarten you also need an address in Norway, and a temporary ID number. It is possible, of course, but just saying it is more logistics. School starts mid August in Norway and kindergartens open 1st of August, so you’ll need to take that in consideration when deciding when to move.
6- Are you planning on learning Norwegian?
Last but not least, what are your short and long term plans regarding language? Norwegians do speak English, very well actually, but it is not their native language and life happens in Norwegian here. Newspapers, television, discussions around the lunch table at work, discussions with teachers at school, talks with the administration. Sure most of them will make an effort, but if you are staying more than 2 years I’d really advise to learn the language asap. Read Is Norwegian Hard to Learn.
If you are planning not to, then you need to be prepared to live in a bubble with other foreigners, reading newspapers not written for locals, and not understanding everything happening around you. How to Learn Norwegian (or Die Trying)
7- Do you have the right to be here?
Last but not least, make sure you are coming on the right visa, do not extend your stay etc. Depending on where you come from, rules vary a lot, check the Immigration office udi.no.
If you have a job all the administrative stuff should fall into place, but if you don’t have a job when getting here, stricter rules apply.
I am in no place to tell you whether it is a good idea for you to move here, but I hope these questions will guide you to make the right choice for you and your family!