After spending yearly holidays in Norway, Laura and her Norwegian husband finally made the move from the hustle and bustle of New York City to a small town just outside Oslo. The kids are settling in well, and she's loving the small-town life where neighbours climb over fences and the kids can walk home from school with their friends.
Read more about her new life on her blog, Big Little Owl.
Read more expat experiences in Norway or read about the country in the Expat Arrivals Guide to Norway.
Q: Where are you from?
A: I'm originally from New York City -– and I'm a city girl, born and raised. I've lived all over the city, but I grew up mostly on the Upper West Side, and we have lived there, as well as in Brooklyn and Harlem.
Q: Where are you living now?
A: Right now, we are living 15 minutes outside of Oslo, Norway, in a town called Kolbotn.
Q: How long have you lived in Norway?
A: We moved here over the summer. We arrived as a family, and then my husband returned to New York for a month to finish things up at his work and get our affairs in order, as they say. It was a little bit of trial by fire for the first month or so! It's been just over two months now, and I think we are really settling in well.
Q: Did you move with a spouse/children?
A: We moved as a family of four: my husband is a native Norwegian, so that certainly has helped! We have spent month-long vacations here every year since we have been married. We also have two children, one 2.5-year-old boy and a nearly 6-year-old girl.
Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: We moved to give the kids a little more freedom, closeness to the outdoors, and closeness to their paternal grandparents. We felt that if they were going to carry a Norwegian passport, which they do, they should be fully fledged Norwegians. We especially wanted them to learn the language properly and feel at home here. I am trained as a clinical researcher, and my husband works with soccer and talent development, but all that is up in the air. We decided to make the move and knew that everything else would fall into place.
Q: What do you enjoy most about Oslo, how’s the quality of life?
A: I love Oslo, and actually, I love that we live just outside the city. Kolbotn is a lovely community with a large enough shopping centre that you can nearly always find what you need, even last minute (provided it's not Sunday!), and gives us the chance to know our neighbours and kids' classmates in a way that is not common in cities. Our neighbours knock on our door and climb hedges into our yard when they want to play with our kids. It's not something you can easily find in New York.
Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?
A: I miss the FOOD! I miss things I'm used to in the grocery store, and I miss cheap, delicious and nutritious take-out food. But we are cultivating a new bunch of favourite eats here… And I'm learning to make bread!
Q: Is the city safe? Are there any areas expats should avoid?
A: I'm sure that there are areas of Oslo that are less well trafficked than others, especially at night, but I do not get the sense that there are many unsafe areas. In Kolbotn, I feel very safe walking around at any time of day. The main difference from New York is that there are far fewer people… so you are often alone walking around.
Q: How would you rate the public transport in Norway? What are the different options? Do you need to own a car?
A: Public transport is good and clean and largely on time. I am amazed always at the cost of things, but you can easily get around without a car. Bikes are also well used - and Oslo has a community bike programme, so you don't even need to own your own bike to cycle from place to place. Especially in Oslo, you need not have a car, but it's probably a nice thing to have.
About living in Norway
Q: Which are the best places/suburbs to live in Oslo as an expat?
A: I think I'm biased, but I love Kolbotn for families with kids. I also have friends in Lier, on the other side of the Oslo fjord, and they seem to have a wonderful area for families with kids too. I can say that I'm partial to big cities, so I have always dreamed of living in Oslo. We have friends in Pilestredet Park, Frogner, and Bislett, all of whom have young kids and seem very happy.
Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in Oslo?
A: I think the standard of living is quite high here. As for housing: it is about on par with New York, but more expensive in better areas in Oslo. There is a range, as with everything else. The main difference is that outside of Oslo, it is very hard to find rental properties, as Norwegians mostly buy homes.
Q: What’s the cost of living in Norway compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: I find that most things here are expensive – my main gripe is food, because I love to fill the refrigerator with lovely things. But if you are local, you know when to buy things: when they're on sale! And most things you need or want for children can be found relatively cheaply. In fact, we just found Bern bike helmets for the kids for less than half what we paid for ours in New York.
Q: What are the locals like; do you mix mainly with other expats?
A: I love Norwegians, as a rule – that's why I married one! I have found very few expats, but then again I haven't been looking. I am more interested in finding local friends.
Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends in Norway?
A: Luckily for me, that has been very easy, with two young children and some relatives and friends from over the years here. We also connected with some amazing Norwegians while we were still in New York, and many of them moved back to Norway at the same time we did, so we have some friends here from home, as it were.
About working in Norway
Q: Did you have a problem getting a work visa/permit for Norway?
A: As they say, everything takes time. It was a process to apply for working rights, which we did from New York, and then once we moved, we had to apply again here. I finally have the right to work and receive benefits here. For the kids, it was easier because they are citizens.
Q: What’s the economic climate like in Oslo; is there plenty of work?
A: The unemployment rate is astonishingly low, something like 2 or 3 percent. There are so many jobs that to apply for all the ones that interest you is a full-time job itself. I'm not employed yet, so I can't say how the working environment is.
Q: Did a relocation company help you with your move?
A: We did not use a relocation company. We packed our things into a container, got on the plane the following day, and flew by the seats of our pants. Happily, I don't think we made any grave errors!
Family and children in Norway
Q: Did your spouse or partner have problems adjusting to their new home?
A: My husband is Norwegian, so I think it's probably easier for him than for me.
Q: Did your children settle in easily?
A: Our children have settled in remarkably smoothly. Both of the kids have made new friends and are feeling at home in our new neighbourhood. I think they love that they can walk to and from school every day with their friends.
Q: What are the schools like, any particular suggestions?
A: The little guy has had a great first experience with out-of-home day care, and I'm thoroughly impressed with Norwegian pre-school, called barnehage, which is play-based, public day care for children from infancy through six years old, or the start of Grade 1. Our big girl started Grade 1 this year, which has been a perfect stepping stone. I think schools at home are a bit more academically challenging, and therefore her experience has been primarily about learning Norwegian. We are amazed by how fast she is taking to the language and how much of it she speaks… more every day.
Q: Is there any other advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: Special advice? Always load up on alcohol; it's duty-free! Otherwise, you will be schlepping to the Swedish border for a shopping trip! Alcohol is especially pricey here.
~ Interviewed September 2012