So You Want to Move to Norway?
A guide to foreigners who want to move to Norway either to study, work or marry.
I keep getting asked about moving to Norway. So, I figured why not write a guide?
I have an American wife who has gone through this whole process and I have lived abroad myself in multiple countries. So I have some ideas of what it is like to come to a new country and what you need to prepare for.
Here are some of the topics I will cover:
- What are the requirements to get a residence permit in Norway? How do I apply?
- How do I find a job in Norway?
- Do I need to know Norwegian to live in Norway? No, but how will only knowing only English limit your life?
- What Norwegian vocabulary should I learn before I arrive?
- Government concepts you should know. The Norwegian equivalent of social security number e.g.
- What part of Norwegian culture is useful to be aware of?
- Things that may work different in Norway than you are used to.
To stay longer than 3 months in Norway you would need to get a residence permit.
How to Get a Residence Permit in Norway
To get a residence permit in Norway you need to apply to UDI. That is the Norwegian directorate of immigration. However remember that most Westerners can stay 3 months in Norway on a tourist visa. In many circumstances you can stay in Norway longer than that while waiting for a reply to your residency application.
What are the Requirements?
To get a permit you need to fulfill one of these requirements:
- Marrying a Norwegian
- Studying in Norway (Got to prove you can finance your stay)
- Got a job in Norway
You can apply for a job from abroad in Norway. If you get it, the company will often help you out applying. However keep this in mind. Unless you are an EU citizen there are restrictions on what kind of job allows you to apply for residency. These kinds of jobs give you a residence permit:
- Completed higher education. For example to work as a nurse, engineer, software developer or any other skilled profession.
- Vocational training such as carpenter or health care worker.
You don’t need to be offered a job from a company of this type. You can also start your own company doing work which require these kinds of skills.
To see more details you could look at the info page for American workers seeking residency to work in Norway: American Job Seekers in Norway.
How to Find a Job In Norway?
So you got a college degree or some vocational training and want to get hired so you can apply for residence permit. Where do you start looking?
- Where to find job vacancies in Norway?
- Finn.no — Biggest job market in Norway.
- Arbeidsplassen — Job listings hosted by the government.
This links to NAV which is a government agency/service which you will become very familiar with if you live in Norway. NAV deals with getting people a job, unemployment payments, sick leave payments, parental leave payments. Basically any payment to you from the government goes through NAV. They are both loved and hated by many.
While a lot of these listings are in Norwegian, speaking Norwegian is frequently not a requirement, so don’t let that deter you when looking for a job. Use Google translate.
Do I Need to Know Norwegian to Live in Norway?
Absolutely not! I know countless people who have lived here for a decade while hardly speaking a word Norwegian. Yet eventually learning Norwegian is clearly a benefit:
- Knowing Norwegians makes more jobs open to you. Government related jobs are hard to get without speaking Norwegian. Also companies primarily dealing with Norwegian market.
- Improve your social life. While Norwegians speak English it sucks being at a party where everybody speaks Norwegian and you cannot pickup what the conversation is about.
- Understand things like public announcements. Maybe there is a problem on the subway line or train. To major hubs announcement will be in English, but not at local stations.
- Navigate your online banking site.
- Make shopping easier. Understand various labels and signs.
- Read various government info. Norwegian friends can often help you out. But it is useful to understand headlines so you understand what kind of info the government sent you. Is it about taxes e.g.?
I can comment a bit on the last part since I have lived abroad without fully speaking the native language. If you are in a very international setting, it tends to work fine with just English. But if you hang out with a lot of natives, they will frequently speak the native language and it can be hard to jump into a conversation.
Norwegian Vocabulary to Know
A lot of beginner material teaching you Norwegian will focus on a lot of things you don’t strictly need to know. You have to assume that almost every Norwegian, even kids speak English. Thus being able to ask for directions in Norwegian isn’t very useful. Just speak English.
Coming to Norway for the first time you will benefit most from knowing how to read signs and labels. You can ask a person to switch to English but sign on the grocery store aisle, will not switch to English even if you ask it to.
Here it is a question of being pragmatic. You don’t need to know the word for chocolate to buy a chocolate bar. But you may be interested in reading what the ingredients of a product is.
Also things like banking and paying taxes is important. You should know some of the more important words. For longer texts you can use Google translate or get a friend to help you. But being able to identify the key words is very handy.
Let me take you through vocabulary for some important areas.
Job Searcher Vocabulary
These will help click through a Norwegian job searching site like Finn.no
- Job — Jobb
- Applicant — Søker, Jobbsøker
- Position/Role — Stilling
- All Positions — Alle Stillinger
- Available Positions — Ledige Stillinger
- Industry — Bransje
- Keyword — Nøkkelord
- Company — Firma, Selskap
- Company name — Firmanavn
- Full time — Fulltid
Vocabulary Which is Useful for a Shopper
I will focus on grocery store stuff as buying food is kind of crucial. You don’t need to buy a Playstation right away.
- Shopping bag — Pose
- Cash — Kontant
- Card — Kort
- Sale — Salg
- Pay — Betale
- Payment terminal — Betalings terminal
- Bread — Brød
- Jam — Syltetøy
- Cheese — Ost
- Mustard — Sennep
- No sugar — Sukkerfri / Uten sukker
- Sweetener — Søtstoff
- Soda — Brus
- Potato — Potet
You are trying to buy meat, but have no idea what the different cuts are called in Norwegian.
- Meat — Kjøtt
- Beef meat — Okse kjøtt / Storfe
- Pork meat — Svine kjøtt
- Chicken — Kylling
- Tenderloin — Indrefilet
- Ribsteak, rib-eye steak — Entrecôte
- Striploin — Ytrefilet
This page has a whole overview of what the cuts for different kinds of meat.
You might want to look at the back of packages to see what they contain. Maybe you are concerned about nuts, how much fat or sugar they have.
- Nutritional content — Næringsinnhold
- Fat — Fett
- Carbohydrates — Karbohydrat
- Sugar — Sukker / sukkerarter
- Dietary Fiber — Kostfiber
- Nuts — Nøtter
- Yeast — Gjær
- Wheat — Hvete
- Added — Tilsatt
- Sodium — Salt
Foods and Packaging You May be Unfamiliar With
When new in a country you can end up looking for a particular product for a long time, because you don’t realize that in your new homeland things are not organized according to the same principles you are used to. E.g. Mayonaise is together with Ketchup and mustard in the Netherlands because the Dutch use it with fries. In Norway it is in the fish section and looks like this:
In the same fish section you will find another popular food in Norway, caviar. It is a popular spread on bread for children.
In Norway caviar is often eaten with eggs.
In fact Norwegians eat a lot of bread. Typically freshly baked whole grain bread. The stuff you put on top of a bread such as a spread, jam or lunchmeat is collectively known as “Pålegg” in Norway.
Here is another thing to be aware of “halvstekt” means a bread is only half baked. A lot of Americans end up buying half baked breads in the store only to wonder why it tastes so funny. So you don’t make the same mistake, this is how the packaging looks:
Keep in mind that in Norway fresh bread is preferred so there is a lot less of highly processed bread which can be taken straight out of a plastic bag and eaten. The only breads you can do that with are burger and hotdog buns.
Internet Banking Vocabulary
It is hard to find banks with English translation. I have American friends who have gotten the bank to translate pages for them or gotten friends to help. But you can get far by just knowing some keywords. I did internet banking in the Netherlands in Dutch without every being fluent in Dutch.
I will swap around here writing the Norwegian word first because I need some more context to explain each word.
- Privat / Bedrift — Switch between internet banking for a consumer (Privat) or a company (Bedrift)
- Logg inn — Login
- Bli kunde — Become customer. Register as a customer for that bank.
- Meny — Menu with services.
- Betaling — Payment
- Bankkort — Bank card
- Mobilbetaling — Payment using your cellphone
- Aksjer — Stocks / Shares
- Sparing — Saving
- BankID — An ID system used for identification. You can get it setup in different ways. E.g. you can use your phone to do two factor authentication with BankID.
- Låne — Borrow
- Konto — Account
- Kontoer — Accounts
- Help og kontakt — Help and contact
- Lukk — Close, e.g. to close a window.
As a new resident you will probably deal with government in a variety of ways. So this is a crash course on Norwegian government services.
All government services tend to be internet based. There are web sites for paying taxes, selecting a medical doctor, checking your medical records, looking at letters from the government etc.
And almost nothing works in Norway until you get yourself a National identity number called Fødselsnummer. You cannot pay taxes, open a bank account, buy a phone or just about anything without this number. So when moving to Norway make sure you get this number as soon as possible.
Health care in Norway is highly centralized. You don’t just walk to a physical office and get a doctor. You pick a doctor online. You can of course visit an doctor office say hi before deciding which one to pick.
- Helsenorge — Here you select your GP, lookup medical results, send him messages, vaccinations etc.
- Altinn — For filling in all sorts of government forms such as tax cards and tax returns.
- Digipost — Digital mailbox. Run by the Norwegian postoffice.
- NAV — looking for a job, unemployed, need money for sick leave, pension, parental leave or need economic advice.
- Tax calculator — Curious what you will have to pay in taxes in Norway? Here you can input expected salary, debt and other details to calculate your taxes.
- Opplysningen 1881 — Akin to the yellow pages. Find companies and organizations in Norway.
What Should You Know About Norwegian Culture?
This is a hodgepodge of things like etiquette. How do you avoid making a fool out of yourself or insult people. What might be Norwegian behavior which doesn’t make sense to you. What behavior would confuse a Norwegian?
How to address a Norwegian
It is worth knowing that Norwegians don’t like hierarchies, bossy people and titles. So don’t go overboard with formalism. No need to use words like “sir” and “madam”. Norwegians like to be addressed by their first name.
This also applies to your boss or your professor. If I was your professor, don’t address me as “Mr. Engheim” or “Professor Engheim.” Just say “Erik.”
Norwegian culture is direct. It is not that Norwegians get offended by smalltalk but if you need something from a co-worker and being smalltalk before getting to the point, they may get confused. Often we do a bit of smalltalk after the issue you needed to address has been talked over.
Talking to Strangers
Norwegians generally interact with strangers in specific contexts such as a club, association, school class, work, sports or at a party. You don’t go up to and interact with people on the street or anything which is not a group activity. Thus if you say hi to a stranger on the street in Norway to be nice, they would get puzzled. They would assume you know them. The exception is when hiking. It is normal to greet people while out skiing, hiking in the woods or the mountains.
Thus getting to know Norwegians can seem hard to someone used to a more social culture. The “trick” in Norway is to join a “Forening.” The closest English translation would be an association, community or club. There are a huge number of these. 1881 which is basically the yellow pages in Norway has an overview over associations and club. You could join a car club like Amcar for people who love classic American cars. Or OJFF which is an organization for hunters and fishers in Oslo. However one of the best known ones is Den Norske Turistforening. It is for people who like hiking and visiting different parts of the country together. They have a list of trips you can join and meet new people.
Norwegian culture is generally quite informal. So while there are rules, it is not quite as complex as say going to Japan. If you know Western culture you should be mostly okay. However it is worth mentioning some things which are different.
Professor Kristin Rygg on Norwegian politeness: Norwegians Impolite? Forget it!
You address people by first name. Using expression like Mr, Mr, Sir, Madam or last name is not common. It would be seen as very old fashion in Norway. People stopped using these types of phrases in the 1970s.
If invited to dinner, you thank the host after the meal with a “takk for maten”, literally “thanks for the food.”
In America when coming to a gathering or party it is common to perhaps just wave a hand and say “hi everyone.” Norway is like many other Germanic countries. It is common to shake hands with everyone you don’t know and tell them your name.
It is not like the Anglo-Saxon tradition of having somebody introduce you. You don’t wait for somebody you know to introduce you to their friends. Instead you take the initiative yourself and introduce yourself.
There is no good equivalent to “please” in Norwegian. You dictionary may say “vær så snill,” but that is rarely use. Instead politeness is expressed by asking for things using words such as “can” or “would.” Don’t phrase a sentence so that it sounds like a demand. My understanding is that this could be common in India e.g. People may write “Send me the pictures.” If you write that you could insult a Norwegian. It sounds like a demand. As if you are ordering the person to do it. Norwegians really don’t like being bossed around.
Don’t offer things like candy to children without asking their parents first. In some cultures giving some snack or candy to the kids of a couple you know may seem like a nice gesture. Doing it in Norway without asking if it is okay first could be seen as rude.
Politeness in Norway is a lot about avoiding bothering people. Thus saying “excuse me,” has a different interpretation in Norway from Anglo-Saxon countries. You only say that if you need people to move out of your way. Don’t say it to announce your proximity or presence, that will just confuse people. The Norwegian way is to attempt to get past people without saying anything. If somebody is blocking you in the shop, a Norwegian may simply stop and pause until you move rather than saying “excuse me.”
This is worth paying attention to. If you notice somebody waiting close to you, make sure that you are not blocking a path.
Unless you know somebody well, don’t ask a lot of favors or offer them. Norwegians don’t like transactional friendships. They like to know that you are friends because you like each others company, not because you are looking for benefits. While it may seem nice to do favors, don’t do too large favors. A Norwegian will feel he/she owes you and have a strong urge to repay you as soon as possible.
A classic case of how absurd this can get is a story about a Norwegian with a foreign neighbor. The foreigner would clear the snow in the drive way of the Norwegian when he cleared his own. A nice gesture. Except this made the Norwegian feel he owed the guy something back. After the foreigner had done this for a while, the Norwegian decided to buy a present to repay the foreigner.
However he made sure to deliver the present anonymously. Why? Because he did not want to make the foreigner think he owed him anything. This story may give you a better idea of Norwegian concepts of politeness. Consequently you don’t want to buy friends too many drinks at a bar. People don’t like to keep tabs on what they owe you. One or two may be okay. However friends going out and buying rounds on each other like in Britain is not common in Scandinavia.
Scandinavians tend to go Dutch. Everyone pays for their meal or you split the bill. This also frequently happens on dates.
Egalitarianism and Feminism
Norway like the rest of Scandinavia has the ideal that women are independent and capable. Thus a couple of tips for the men: Women care more about seeing their views and opinions taken serious than being pampered.
And for women coming to Norway: Don’t get offended because men don’t hold the door open for you. Old school chivalry isn’t really a thing in Norway. Instead men will help you out more with housework, cooking and child raising.
In Norway conscription applies to both men and women. If you have a daughter with Norwegian citizenship, she may get called up to serve in the armed forces when she turns 19.
The egalitarian aspect and low hierarchy aspect also extends to children. You are expected as a grownup to pay more attention to the opinions of children. Physical punishment is strictly forbidden. There are foreigners not aware of how serious this is who have lost child custody. You cannot spank your kid. If you do, you are breaking the law.
Conflict and Anger
Norwegians like other Scandinavians don’t like conflict much and like to avoid it. Heated conversations, yelling and shouting is frowned upon. Don’t try to show a Norwegian that you are being “serious” by getting visible angry and loud. It will have the opposite effect. You will loose all respect. Norwegian culture expects you to be calm.
However don’t misinterpret this to think Norway is like Asia. In Asia there is a far more indirect way of talking. A problem would be more hinted at. Criticism would be implied indirectly. In Norway you can be more blunt and direct about a problem. In fact you are expected to be. Just don’t be an asshole. Normally you can raise an issue without insulting people or putting them on the spot.
Taxes and Wages
A lot of foreigners are curious about taxes and wages in Norway. I forgot to cover this in my first version of this story. So here I am adding some info about this.
In Norway you pay income taxes, but there is no such thing as property taxes. Thus what you have to pay as a citizens can be entirely determined by looking at your income taxes. The government provides a calculator which allows you to calculate how much taxes you are likely to pay: Norwegian tax calculator.
We can to an experiment with a typical salary in Norway. The median income in Norway is 44 150 NOK per month which translates into 529 800 NOK per year. This translates to $60 498 at current exchange rate (Jan 2022). With a debt of 2 000 000 NOK which would not be too uncommon and an interest of 2% you would get a tax of 128 244 NOK. That corresponds to an effective tax rate of 24%
128244/529800 * 100% = 24%
That leaves you with 401 556 NOK to spend or roughly $45 853 each year. We have to consider what specifically you need to pay for because of the Norwegian welfare state there are a lot of expenses you don’t have. Here are expenses you don’t have in Norway:
- Health insurance — This is covered by your taxes.
- College for your children — Higher education is free in Norway but the government pays students a stipend and give the favorable loans to cover living expenses (renting an apartment, buying food). Parents paying for college is highly unusual in Norway.
- Retirement — This is covered by taxes and partially by the company you work for.
If you are interested in getting a better idea of what they pay you in different positions in Norway here are some resources:
- Finanssans — Business magazine giving average monthly salaries for different professions.
- NITO — Interest organization / trade union for engineers and tech workers. They collect salary data from their members.
- SSB — Salary statistics from Norway’s official Statistical Central Burea.
In Norway every employee also has 5 weeks payed vacation from the moment they start working, so you don’t have to set aside money for vacation days, except the very first year you work in Norway. Vacation money is always paid as 10.2% of the salary from last year. Last years salary could have been at a different company, but if you never worked in Norway that would not apply.
This may all sound like a great deal, given that you have probably heard people talking about taxes in Nordic countries being extremely high. However it is the total tax burden which adds up, not the income tax. Remember everything sold in the stores have a 25% value added tax included in the price. That is part of the reason why prices look higher in Norway.
Other things can have much higher taxes. E.g. gasoline is taxed at 6.73 NOK per liter in 2022 according to Norwegian tax authorities. That is $0.77 per liter. It is worth noting that the total price in the US for gasoline was $0.55 per liter. So The total price for gasoline in the US is lower per liter than what Norwegian pay in gasoline taxes. Thus if you are American, don’t bring your big pickup truck over.
Cars are also taxed heavily. If you want to bring a car over to Norway there is quite a lot of taxes on it: Calculate import taxes on automobile.
The way to avoid car taxes in Norway is to buy an electric car. There is a reason why 65% of all cars sold in Norway in 2021 was electric. And this is a rising trend. The last half of 2021, a whole 80% of all cars were electric. In one month 90% of all cars sold were electric.