Moving to Norway
Norway conjures up images of Vikings, fjords and trolls, and is traditionally known for its dramatic and breath-taking scenery. In recent years, however, expats have been moving to Norway for its success as an oil-producing and exporting nation, its high standard of living, and relatively strong job market.
With limited arable land and long coastline, Norway's economy was traditionally fishing and shipping based, until oil was discovered off its shores in the late 1960s. Thanks to rich natural resources, in the form of fisheries, hydroelectric power, and petroleum exploration and production, Norway has enjoyed strong economic growth. Due to the government’s wise investments in its national oil fund, the country is currently enjoying one of the world’s biggest budget surpluses.
The combination of economic success, social welfare systems and egalitarian policies has led to Norway being ranked first in the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Index several years in a row. Norway is also one of the world’s richest countries and its capital, Oslo, is consistently ranked as one of the planet’s most expensive cities. Expats moving to Norway should bear this mind when negotiating their salary package.
Norway has a population of just over 5 million in an area covering 385,155 square kilometres. The bulk of the population lives in the southern half, while the north is sparsely populated. Around 635,000 people live in Oslo, the capital. Other major cities include Stavanger on the southwest coast, Bergen on the west coast, and Trondheim on the northwest coast. These four cities make up around 25 percent of the population, or 1.25 million inhabitants.
Norwegians pride themselves on their egalitarian policies and welfare state. Every person has the right to free medical services (minus dental) and free education. Parents receive a year of paid paternity leave, with the parents splitting the time between the mother and the father. A recent law passed says the father must have three months of paternity leave that can be used up until the child is eight.
By law, employees are given four weeks of vacation, though most employees get five weeks, or 25 days, not including national holidays. Most Norwegian companies offer many benefits to their employees, including company cabins, time off for moving, getting married and sickness. Family is very important, and is usually prioritised over work life. Parents are often allowed to leave work by 3.30pm to pick their kids up at school without question.
Any expat moving to Norway can expect to get 'sticker shock' after arriving. Groceries, clothes and cars will seem prohibitively expensive. This will pass over time, but it is important to do cost of living calculations before signing on the dotted line and moving there.
Public transport in Norway is excellent and varied with metro, tram, bus and train systems linking most urban areas at reasonable costs. Cities are often small enough to traverse on foot, though it might be better for expats who choose to live in a suburb to have a car.
On average, salaries are relatively high which offsets the high cost of living. The standard of living for both expats and locals is correspondingly high, yet saving money can be very difficult.
Salary margins are narrow between blue collar and white collar, or C-level executives. Transparency is also important, with documents and tax information both being publically accessible. It is easy to find the salary and tax information of any resident, to the dismay of some.
Norwegians generally love their country and are proud of their heritage. The Norwegian spirit is best seen on May 17th, the national holiday celebrating the establishment of the Norwegian constitution in 1814 - which, incidentally, makes it the second oldest constitution in the world. It is celebrated with more fanfare than is witnessed in many other countries.
Norwegians wear their traditional bunad and children accompanied by marching bands parade the main streets of cities waving the Norwegian flag. Residents have other sacred traditions such as going på tur, a national pastime similar to hiking, practicing sports, visiting their hytte or cabins, and heading to the mountains during the Easter break to ski.