Is it still worth it to live and work in Norway?

A Frog in the Fjord: One Year in Norway Book

Since I moved to Norway, foreign friends have come and gone. Students, people with short contracts, people who can’t stand the cold and the rain. People who meet someone and want to try other countries, travellers.

But it is really in the past 2-3 years that I’ve noticed a pattern of people leaving despite a well established life here. Foreigners with good jobs, often with kids in Norwegian schools and kindergarten and a good network around them. They often own a home, wherever they live in Norway, and sometimes they also own a company. They’ve lived here for 6 or 8 or even 15 years.

They leave for good. Not a vacation or a “break” to live somewhere else for 2 years and come back to Norway. They get their kids out of school, resign their jobs and sell everything.

When they managed to buy a place, they leave with quite some cash and can then buy themselves a nice, a very nice place wherever they are moving to. Sometimes they haven’t managed to buy property, and they leave with less money. Moving away comes at a cost, even when moving “home”. It irequires a lot of logistics to move children to a new school, find a new home, find two jobs, reach a balanced economy etc. Yet they risk it all. It means people make an assessment as to where it is best to live, and despite economic problems hitting many of our home countries, they still think it’s worth it.

What is happening? Has Norway become so unliveable for foreigners?

In my 14 years in Norway I have heard all the possible complaints about this country. It is unfriendly, cold, rainy, dark in the winter, the health system is slow, the education system does not expect enough from children, the food is terrible. And the great things. It is a democracy, there is freedom of expression, breathtaking nature, clean water, clean air, subsidised kindergarten and a worklife balance like nowhere else. Strong labour laws. Good wages too. Although that argument has been less and less present in discussions.

Unless you are a refugee, if you come to Norway you are in one of two categories. The first one where you are highly skilled and can find a well payed job in an office for example. The second one where you have to do low skilled jobs. Reasons to have a low skilled job vary. You might be highly skilled with diplomas which aren’t recognise in Norway, or you have a good qualification but don’t speak Norwegian, or you are in competition with Norwegians on the job market. Then you end up delivering food for Wolt, or being in jobs where employers don’t always respect labour laws, let alone pay you a living wage.

Internations published recently its annual report on where so-called “expats” have the best life. I have dug a bit in the methodology they use, and expats in their definition is not someone who is a Westerner, they actually mean immigrants, wherever they come from. However three major weaknesses here: they only need to interview 50 persons in a country for the country to make the survey. In Norway they interviewed 100 immigrants, which is far from being representative of immigrants in this country. Another weakness is that the persons they interview are not representative in proportion of the immigrants present in a country (for ex. there are more Polish people than American people in Norway, and that should be represented in the group interviewed). There is no info in Internations as to where the interviewed people come from. And lastly, they don’t include refugees in their survey. Lastly, only 53 countries make it in the survey, not representative of all countries in the world. One needs to keep in mind Internations is a company trying to have more members in the “expat” community to make money, it is not a research institute.

Knowing this, one can look at the results of the survey with a pinch of salt. In this survey, Norway arrives next to last, with Kuwait being a worse place for foreigners to live. Foreigners who were asked why they don’t like it here answered among other things the unfriendliness of locals, challenges with the health system and lack of access of public transportation. They also mention worklife not being that good.

A more proper study, called EXITNORWAY by OsloMet, looks at why 30,000 foreigners leave Norway each year.

From what I hear, there is undoubtedly a financial aspect to foreigners staying in Norway or not. When we leave our home countries, or another country we’ve been living in, to come to Norway, there has to be a good reason. Some find a Norwegian partner and are lured into living here where “it is so much better to raise children”. Others have job opportunities here. But most of us  come here with no network, no language skills, and no family who can help us with repairing our home, taking care of our kids, lend us their family cabin. First generation immigrants are always at a disadvantage, wherever in the world, so there has to be something else in it for us.

Often that thing that makes us live abroad is money, career, or love. But in the past year, the NOK has been devalued drastically. When I moved here in 2010, 1 Euro was worth just above 6 NOK. On 31st of May this year it hit 12 NOK for 1 EUR.

For those who send money home or who travel to see their family, it is a brutal change. Life has also become much more expensive for everyone in Norway, and the disposable income one is left with it not that substantial. SSB (Statistics Norway) has shown that foreigners earn 18% less than Norwegians in average. With less network, foreigners also have less job opportunities and have more expenses (renting because access to property can takes years, just think of Norwegians having grand parents around while others have to pay baby sitters, paying for every night in a cabin when others have access to free family cabins, no inheritance to buy a home etc.). When single, or living with one wage for a family, the financial situation can become very tight.

The flat structure in Norwegian companies, which is praised by many, also becomes a hindrance. High-skilled workers know they can be paid the same salary or even more in a country where life is cheaper, because the gap between their salary and the lowest paid person is much bigger than in Norway. Their disposable income then increases.

Life has become harder for Norwegians too, and many friends feel that society is more closed than before. When surveys show that even Norwegians are less happy, how can we expect foreigners to be more happy?

My latest friend to leave is French. She called me a couple of weeks ago to break the news. Neither her nor her partner have found a job where they are going, in the French area at the border with Switzerland, but they have family closeby, and prospects of earning 2 or 3 times the salary they get in Norway just by living in France and working in Switzerland. One of the reasons for leaving, among many, is getting help with everyday life with their kids, but also the prospects of buying a place in Oslo or around having disappeared with high interest rates.

If prospects of a comfortable life are so much lower for high skilled workers, this could become a problem for Norwegian companies needing these skills to grow their business. But in the meantime, some of us are still here, holding on to what we love about this country and hoping that the current challenges will pass, and not grow.

29 thoughts on “Is it still worth it to live and work in Norway?

  1. I think one of the main factors is also that we moved here expecting to build a community. A community of friends and maybe family who would be around to help each other and look out for one another. After many years here, we come to the realization that you are pretty much on your own. Norwegians will stick with other Norwegian friends and it´s not so easy to find “friends” willing to fill that social void. If you are ever sick or in need, this is a society that is well set up for social services to step in and provide services required, but it doesn´t make up for the lack of “village” that is needed to feel like you have people around whom you can count on in case anything happens. That has been the most disappointing part of my life in Norway. I am utterly alone with my kids ever since my Norwegian spouse passed away. None of our Norwegian relatives feels any obligation to stop by or ask how we are all doing. They all assume that we are taken care of and of course we are. But it always feels like winter here and it´s not just the weather.

    1. As Norwegian who lived in several countries I have some thoughts on this blog. The foreigners – like myself in Australia and USA is separate from family and it comes to a time when moving makes sense. Not moving FROM but to a something. Life stages change one’s desired location. I did not leave Spain, USA, Australia, Norway, Sweden and in a future Germany because it became worse or a disappointment but because of changes in my needs and family. USA was the only I felt relief to leave and I miss the others.

      I assume the priority of others change in similar ways

      The part on a permanent winter in social climate- it tells you did not understand the culture and expect it to work like home. Or?

      My Norwegian folks are caring about others privacy and don’t drop in unannounced or invited. I had guests booking a hotel nearby because they Felt I was not clear they should stay in my home. Heck this were my parents who wanted not to be to BRY and save me from the chores of linen laundry etc.

      That is not permafrost, it is practical concerns.

      Then when one need something with one’s Norwegian friends and relatives and SAY somethin. So when I said please I need support relatives dropped what they got and took care of me. We have lifelong loyalty to those we see as family and friends and it needs to be triggered- speak out. If not people leave you alone in the best of intentions.

  2. Very good observations. Just this month we moved back to Canada, for several of the reasons you mentioned. Over seven years in Norway, the benefits of living there (for us, mostly novelty, access to travel around Europe, and career advancement/freedom) had begun to be outweighed by the costs of living in Norway (comparatively low wages, crappy apartment, distance from family, perpetual outsider status). In Canada our careers will take a hit, but we will “have a place,” both literally (we can finally afford to buy property!) and socially/psychologically. I have zero regrets: Norway was great to us. But seven years was the limit.

  3. I am glad you addressed this on your blog, as I have been seeing articles about this survey going around in the Norwegian news, and of course in expat discussions in various places. It’s an interesting topic for many, for sure!

  4. Merci pour vos articles. J’aime beaucoup. Cela me ramène à mon année passé en Norvège. J’ai beaucoup aimé. Lors de mon PVT, impossible de travailler et il était presqu’impossible de faire du bénévolat car les Norvégiens font énormément de bénévolat. J’avoue avoir eu une belle expérience culturelle, de belles rencontres avec les Norvégiens grâce au bénévolat de la Croix Rouge et le club de Rugby d’Oslo. Comme le dit si bien notre club de rugby montréalais “vainqueur parfois, amis toujours!”

  5. Instructive thanks. It kind of felt the same in London actually with Brits. I wonder if Germany is the same ?

    1. America is special in that regard. Most communities are made up of people who came from ‘somewhere else.’ Not so in Norway.

    2. I am a Norwegian expatriate in Germany and was in also in Spain USA Australia Sweden- and even in Norway moving back after 13 years and with a foreigner husband.

      There is little difference in the small minds in any country.. and much similarities in the open mind. Where one locate inside a country makes a lot of difference.

      It is near meaningless to talk about better and worse countries. One need to find the right village within.

  6. A really good examination of the subject. Very interesting! (And a perfect Vigeland statue for the topic!)

  7. Good article – i’ve lived in Norway for most of my adult life but still feel Other. The trap some of us find ourselves in is the ‘it’s safe, it’s comfortable…give it a few years more and perhaps it will get better’….

    If i had a ‘do-over’ knowing what i know now, I would not have bought my children up here without a family, community and societal support. Yes, the early childcare is subsidised (see earlier trap), but it’s hard to teach kids your values if they differ from the majority, especially when you need to be authentic to yourself. The system literally gives kids the final say so in their future at an age they aren’t even allowed to vote, marry, join the army etc. The system doesn’t, however, do any type of risk assessment on the long term consequences of the child’s decision. I’ve witnessed family situations where the parents split up with the migrant parent is relegated to be a bystander or observer in their child’s life. Not many migrant parents have the money or energy to go through the court circuit but i suspect if more of these cases reached Strasbourg there would be a greater awareness of the challenges faced in Norway with systematic discrimination and lack of expertise of transcultural issues in the judicial and child protection services. I find it hard to comprehend how children can compete globally given there appears to be little discipline, motivation to excel, or any hunger or passion (for the main part).

  8. I felt exactly the same, down to almost every detail, when I move out of the UK.
    I moved back to Norway after having lived in London for 15 years, feeling about that place the same way as you are describing Norway in your article.

  9. I find it great that whining foreigners are making they way out of Norway. We don’t need you, as a matter of fact. Have a nice life and don’t ever come back.

    1. This is an easy thing to say, and racist people love to complain about foreigners bringing crime into the country, but the fact of the matter is, immigrants boost birth rates, start new businesses, and become workers who contribute to the economy. Countries that don’t have them start to die.

      Look at what’s happening to Japan right now, and what’s starting to happen to China. Falling birth rates, thousands of schools, hospitals and other businesses closing down. Abandoned homes everywhere, Men having to leave the country to find women to marry. That’s what happens to countries that are (for whatever reason) inhospitable to foreigners.

      If this is the attitude that most Norwegians have when faced with the very real difficulties faced by immigrants, good luck to Norway as a country.

  10. Thank you for sharing this. We are leaving Norway after 6 years, mainly because of social isolation and feeling financially constrained. We have our dream jobs here, but middle-upper income families are not lifted up by the benefits of state the way lower-income families are; rather, we are pushed down taxed to death. Despite good jobs, we could never buy a house here. It’s too bad.

    1. Taxed to death. Rest In Peace.

      I Norwegian lived in USA and the tax on our income was similar in percentage as in Sweden and Spain ( Norway was lower) and with none of the services that comes tax- funded. Aka we earned more on the paper but had less end of month than in nations mentioned.

      Ah… meant your tax money give life to unfortunate people? Their death doesn’t happen. I have friends in Norway that survived thank to tax money saving lives. Not so much in USA, people in same scenarios die young and in my friends case would have been at birth.
      The society have invested money in her well-being born prematurely and blind. So even she could travel to foreign countries and work and be an independent adult. Regardless of parents bank- accounts.

      Thank human social thinking.

      Comes at a cost, but being cheap monsters is not long term and bring fears.

      So go abroad and get a baby with challenges and maybe find yourself challenged to when other want not contribute.

      Good luck.

      1. Norway, situated atop a vast pool of oil and boasting a sovereign-wealth fund worth a quarter-million dollars per citizen, redistributes tax revenue to its own insular, white, blue-eyed, privileged population, neglecting the other 99.9% of people on Earth. Yay for Norway, such a noble country. Slow clap.

      2. All valid points, but it’s allowed to criticise, and Norwegians don’t like to be criticised.

      3. So Americans pay equal taxes, but get less in return? I wonder where that money goes? Perhaps it pays for global security and allows oil-rich Norwegians to spend their money on more selfish, nationalistic pursuits.

      4. It goes to spending for so-called American interests.
        Those sometimes are lined up with other nations and sometimes not.
        American military activities has brought more war than peace in modern history.

        I live in Germany and the us military present there get PAID if they contribute in any way and they get costs refund. That’s what they did after ww2 as well, charged for their “help”

        It’s business as usual.

        Other costs in USA is marketing and propaganda, in and out of the territory.

        Trying to be the parent figure in the world and have the control and POWER that comes with it costs money.

        Their indulgence or paranoia.

      5. Herregud, I really find it funny how fragile Norwegians sense of exceptionalism is to criticism. Seriously, you’re just confirming these observations. Basically one should be “grateful” to be living in Norway. If you’re unhappy, suffer in silence 😅. Ridiculous!

  11. I moved to Norway in 1991, as a refugee. I speak four languages and understand seven. All my degrees are from Norwegian and Australian universities. I am fluent in Norwegian as well.
    Norwegians have changed a lot during the last ten years. The negative trend has accelerated since the confrontations with Russia and a more destabilized world. The average Norwegian has become more like a Turk and an Arab: Nationalism, racial extremism, religious (Christian) extremism, CORRUPTION at all levels in the government as well as the private sector, a health care system that has failed and is getting worse, not to mention environmental vandalism and anarchy.
    What you see on the news is not positive. Loads of Cocaine, arms, and low-quality food being imported to the country is just the tip of the iceberg. Norway is in decline on all levels. It is impossible to live a life with dignity and self-respect without being part of a semi-mafia organization. Yes, 85% +++ of all positions listed go to friends and like-minded individuals. Apartheid is what describes the current state of Norway. I would not be surprised if Anders Behring Breivik becomes a Prime Minister candidate. All hope is about to vanish.

  12. Norway doesn’t suffer from nationalism. This country suffers from nationauthisme. It is unlike any place I have ever lived or travelled to. Maybe Japan, but I have never been there.

  13. I have been living here for 5 years now, and I wouldn’t go back to where I come from..
    For me pretty much everything people say in the comment doesn’t really make sens. ( not everything) for instance if you can’t afford a house in Oslo, you wouldn’t either in Paris !
    Or other example, it’s been super easy to built my little company part time in Norway, compared to the challenge it is in many other countries.
    For the community I ONLY have Norwegian friends.. it’s not hard, it take a bit of time to know them. And the “friendship culture “ isn’t the same, but you will have great friends !

    It IS another country, you can’t work your way up expecting it to work like where you come from. Accept the new stuff. Or well.. go back home.

  14. While the survey may have its errors, it is without a doubt that more and more foreigners living in Norway are expressing dissatisfaction. My deepest disappointment has been as a result of my experiences in Norway not quite matching what I had read online. It is almost as though the country is continually marketed as a paradise on earth and is far removed from the experiences of what it is like to live here, especially for foreigners. The country continues to be acclaimed for its excellent welfare state and yet my experiences with the healthcare, education and some service delivery systems have been very bad. Not to mention the problem with difficulty with obtaining work as a foreigner in this economy. I also concur with some points made above about a lack of establishing community in Norway as a result of the culture of indifference and individualism in Norway. The knee-jerk response of “well then go back home” is a very good example of this. While I do not believe countries should roll out red carpets to foreigners, let’s not forget however that in terms of the economy foreigners are mostly beneficial for the recieving countries.

  15. I think this was a very interesting article! I wonder if it is a disadvantage to be an expat, just because you always keep an eye on the grass on the other side of the proverbial fence, to see if it is greener. You always compare your current country to your home country and your current life to the one you could have had at home. By keeping part of your culture (as you should!), you can never assimilate 100% in a culture like in Norway where very few have mixed cultural backgrounds.

    I also think the financial aspect that you raise, is very important. I know that I will not stay forever in my current country, because the salaries will always be lover than in Norway, the gender equality worse, the work-life balance worse and there are sports and hobbies I can’t do here because there is no proper nature. For now my interesting job compensates, but I’m not sure the next one will. And then I’m going back home.

  16. Understand, adapt, presist, evaluate, try again, change

    Language is cruciall when living in any country, it makes it infinitelly easier to make your new home. Learn Norwegian fast, and eagerly, it will pay enormous dividends later.

    Study and learn culture. Understand that nothing is set in stone. You can find community and re-shape cultural dogmas, bend them to your values. Seek companionship, don’t stop. If you talk with people honestly, they will mostly understand you.

    Show interest to life! There was a reason why you came here. Capitalise on your interests, share them with others, organisations, common activities. Be socially engaged: go on events, read newspapers, do sports, it’s a lot of fun when you have something to share. Laugh, love and enjoy!

    If you have no desire to change and be better, you won’t stand a chance, hence you would be disenchanted and leave Norway. But as any place in the world you have to do your homework and grow as a person.

    If you don’t like it, it’s ok, leaving is the easiest option. Try to think about why you chose moving here in the first place, why you maybe fell in love with the country? If these reasons were copromised by a bitter reality, think if they were realistic? If you seek things which are absent here, you can restructure, find substitutes.

    Any, as you think, “objective hindrances” are mostly solvable, don’t let small roadblocks stop your happiness. If you don’t invest energy in your own happiness here you won’t find it anywhere else.

    You might think, that I’m as a student write advice to you “adults”, but let’s be real we are all kids at heart, we long for our former home in different ways, and try to find unreasonably easy ways at life. The truth is that making changes is hard, but it’s the only thing we can do to countinue living without regrets.

    Try it, if it’s seems impossible, it isn’t
    “Where there’s a will, there’s a way”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.