Banking, Money and Taxes in Norway
Most financial transactions are carried out with a debit card issued by a local bank. Cash is becoming rare in this highly technological society. Cheques do not exist, and are considered archaic. Online banking is very common, and is used for just about any transaction you can imagine. Also, mobile banking is becoming commonplace. It can take some time for expats to master, especially as the systems are mostly in Norwegian.
It is vital for expats to open a local bank account if planning to live and work in Norway. In order to do so, you need a national ID number (personnummer). This national ID number, which every resident and citizen must have, is necessary to get paid, pay taxes, open a business and receive social benefits such as medical services, unemployment compensation and parental leave. If you plan to stay in Norway for more than six months, you have to register at the National Population Register (Folkeregister) in order to apply for a national ID number. It consists of 11 digits: your date of birth, plus a 5-digit personal code. Bring your passport and residence permit. You will have to fill in the form titled “Notification to the National Registry (NR) of move to Norway from abroad”.
If you are not yet a resident, you can receive a temporary number at Skattetaten, the Norwegian Tax Authority. A D-number (dummy number) is a registration number for foreign nationals in Norway who are not yet registered in the Norwegian Population Register.
The main Norwegian banks are DNB NOR, Fokusbanken, Postbanken, Nordea and Sparebanken (a chain of independent franchises that are grouped by county). Nordea and DNB NOR have English websites. Banking doesn’t carry high costs. There are nominal fees for ATM use and other transactions, but you normally don’t need to have a minimum amount in your account for personal banking. Rules differ between banks concerning fees and costs.
It is easy to open a chequing and savings account. The process is fast and simple to receive a bank card, with carries your image and other necessary information on it. It can be done within a day. The important thing to remember is to bring your passport and a passport photo, and take a queue number when you walk into any bank (or any pharmacy, post office or bakery), so you don’t wait in vain. Banking hours are generally 8am to 3:30pm, and the earlier you go, the better. You will find that once you have your bank card, you may never again need to set foot inside a bank branch. There just isn’t a need to, and in the depths of winter, that can be a very good thing!
Once you have your bank account and ID, you may find that security is rather lax compared to back home. Sensitive information can be given over the phone with just your name as identification. Norwegians are by default trusting. Honesty is a strong value, and people take you at your word.
The Norwegian currency is the Norwegian Krone, or NOK. It has become much stronger in recent years, and is quite stable. Inflation is at 0.8 per cent (2012 figures). Credit cards are accepted, but most Norwegians use their bank card for cash purchases, and credit cards are not as common as in other Western countries. Getting a credit card is easy as long as you have a bank account, but Norwegians don’t use them too much unless they have major purchases. However, credit cards – local and foreign – are accepted almost everywhere. Eurocard, MasterCard, VISA, American Express and Diners Club are the most common.
It’s true – taxes are very high in Norway. You cannot pay for a strong welfare state without taxing the population. But you may be pleasantly surprised to find out that they are not necessarily as high as you feared. Tax rates range from 28 to 47.8 per cent. (Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Sweden have higher rates). Standard personal tax is 28 per cent (24.5 per cent for those living in the northern provinces of Finnmark and Nord-Troms). Taxes go toward public services such as healthcare, hospitals, education, transport and communications. Thanks to the strong Norwegian economy, you can rest assured that you will receive free healthcare, education, pension, paternity leave and employment benefits if you live in Norway.
The Norwegian tax year begins on 1 January. Remember that even non-Norwegian expat residents are taxed on their Norwegian income. Non-residents (expats) in Norway are considered class 0 taxpayers, and taxed at a rate of 28 per cent. Special rules apply to those who have lived in Norway less than six months, and foreign citizens are given a discount on taxes for the first two years of residence in Norway.
Norwegian residents are taxed on their worldwide income, but there are double taxation agreements with the UK, the US and other countries. Corporate tax is a flat 28 per cent, and bonuses at work are taxed at 50 per cent. Capital Gains tax is 28 per cent. VAT (Value Added Tax) is 25 per cent for most purchases, 14 per cent (food and drink in shops), and 8 per cent (transportation). The good news is that you won’t be taxed if you win the lottery. You can obtain more information from your local tax office (ligningskontor).
Your employer in Norway is obliged to deduct tax from your wages before you are paid. Once you have found employment in Norway you are responsible for obtaining a tax card from the local tax office. Your employer and the tax office can help you with the process. They will provide all necessary information on how to apply and what you must enclose with your application. The tax card states what percentage of your income you must pay (based on your salary). If you start working without a tax card, your employer is obliged to deduct 50 per cent tax. This is generally more than would be deducted from your wages. If you have paid too much tax, your taxes will be recalculated and you will receive a refund in the spring or autumn of the following year, when the tax assessments are completed.
Declaring personal taxes is quite an organised, systematic and simple process. Once you are in the Norwegian “system”, you will receive a tax declaration with the tax authority’s details and estimates of your income, assets and debt. You must file by April 30, unless you ask for an extension. Filing taxes can be as simple as reading through the summary page, agreeing, signing it and sending it in. If you don’t agree with the assessment, you can make corrections with supporting evidence and send them in before the April 30 deadline. Taxes owed must be paid by the last day of May, in order to avoid incurring interest. If you are employed, your company accounting office will give you the documents you need and advice or answers to any questions you may have.
Filing taxes can now be done online as well. You may receive the documents in the mail and fill them out in print, but it is faster and easier (once you understand the process) to do it online. For this you will need an Internet connection, various codes and passwords, and a cell phone. Many online services like to send information via SMS. As of 2010, changes to tax law mean that you don’t need to do anything once you receive your tax declaration, as long as you agree with the assessment. If you do not file your tax form or make changes to it, it will be assumed that you agree and no more will be expected of you.
If you are a business owner, you must register with the Central Coordinating Register for Legal Entities (Brønnøysund Registret; brreg.no/english), and contact your local tax office to determine the amount of advance tax that you should pay. If you are a foreign businessperson, you must contact the Central Office for Foreign Tax Affairs (Skattetaten; skatteetaten.no/en/International-pages/Toppmeny---Engelsk/Adresses), in order to determine the amount of advance tax to pay. Find more information, consult the Working in Norway section of this guide.
Anyone doing business in Norway must inform the tax authorities of their income, wealth and deductions. You do this by completing the tax return you receive in March/April in the year following the income year. If you are a foreign businessperson, you will receive your tax return from the Central Office of Foreign Tax Affairs (Skattetaten) in February. A paper copy of the tax return for businesspersons must be submitted by March 31, or it can be completed online by May 31. Once you receive your tax return, you may appeal the assessment if you think that it is incorrect. The tax settlement notice arrives in October.
If you are self-employed, an entrepreneur or own your own business, you will find taxes a lot more complicated and challenging. In this scenario, it’s a good idea to find a Norwegian tax accountant to help you through tax season, and the regular intervals at which you are required to declare revenues and taxes to the government. More detailed information can be found at skatteetaten.no/en/international-pages.
You can find local tax advisors in Norway through an online search, or by contacting one of the big accounting firms. If you choose the latter, be prepared to pay higher rates. This website lists the names of tax accountants and advisors in Norway: legal500.com/c/norway/tax
Finally, more detailed information for UK citizens can be found at norway.org.uk/Embassy/faq/tax.