Moving to Norway
Norway often conjures up images of Vikings, fjords and trolls, and traditionally, is best known for its dramatic and breath-taking scenery. In recent years, however, expats have been attracted to Norway for its success as an oil-producing and exporting nation, its high standard of living, and relatively strong job market.
With its 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 wise investment by the government in its national oil fund, it is currently enjoying one of the biggest budget surpluses of any country.
The combination of economic success, social welfare systems and egalitarian policies has led to Norway being voted #1 in standard of living by the UNDP’s Human Development Index several years in a row. Consequently, Norway is also rated as one of the richest countries on the planet, and its capital, Oslo, has been ranked the most expensive city in the world. Expats moving to Norway should bear this mind when negotiating salary packages.
Norway has a population of 4.8 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 570,000 live in the capital of Oslo. Other major cosmopolitan centres are Stavanger (on the southwest coast), Bergen (on the west coast), and Trondheim (on the northwest coast). These four cities make up 25 per cent of the population, or 1.2 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 usually will be prioritised over work life. Parents are allowed to leave work by 3:30pm to pick up kids at school without question.
Any expat moving to Norway can expect to get 'sticker shock' upon arrival. 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 is excellent and varied, with a metro, tram, bus and train system linking all areas of the city. The cost is reasonable. The city is also small enough to traverse on foot, though if you choose to live in a suburb, it will be better, though not necessary, to have a car.
Norwegians, on average, have relatively high salaries, with a median income of 21,330 NOK (2012) pre-tax monthly wage offsetting the high cost of living. The standard of living for both expats and locals is correspondingly very 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, as documents are public, as is tax information. It is easy to find the salary and tax information of any resident, to the dismay of some.
Norwegians, in general, 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 you will witness in most other countries: Norwegians wear their traditional bunad and children parade up and down the main streets of cities waving the Norwegian flag and accompanied by marching bands. There are other sacred traditions, such as going på tur, a national pastime similar to hiking or walking in nature, practicing sports, visiting their hytte or cabins, and heading to the mountains during the Easter break to ski.