Everything you need to know about moving to Norway
The Scandinavian countries been attracting attention as a great place to live for over a decade now. Norway, in particular, has been an increasingly popular choice for UK movers planning to live, work or study abroad. Why? Here’s just a few of the ways in which the Norwegians have been turning up on expats’ radar in recent years.
First and foremost, it’s a happy place to live. Norway topped the World Happiness Report in 2017, and has been one of the top 10 ranking countries since 2013. It consistently ranks highly for: freedom, honesty, caring, health, generosity, income and good governance. No wonder, then, that Norway has also been voted ‘best democracy in the world’ numerous times (including most recently in 2020) by the Economist Intelligence Unit in the UK. As if that isn’t enough, it also has one of the most highly performing economies in the world. In 2020, Norway was ranked 2nd in the Legatum Prosperity Index.
Norway is also one of our closest neighbours. It’s a long, thin country wrapped around western Sweden and bordering Finland and Russia on its eastern extremities. Its landmass is 25% bigger than the UK, but it has a population of just 5.5 million people – in comparison with the 60 million we pack in. What does it do with all that space? Well, there are towering glacial peaks and mysterious fjords, combined with a stunning 100,915km of coastline.
If you’re tempted to get to know this amazing country better, then Schepens Guide to Moving to Norway From the UK is written for you. We’ve been working with movers to Scandinavia for decades now, so much of what we’ve included in our Guide is based on feedback we receive from them about relocating to Norway. In a recent survey we asked what kinds of information they would have valued prior to moving. The top 10 areas were:
- Creating a support network and making friends
- Differences between Norwegian and UK culture
- Calculating the cost of living in Norway
- Moving to Norway from the UK
- Getting to know your neighbourhood
- Finding a place to live
- Sorting out healthcare in Norway
- Understanding the work culture
- Laws that may affect me
- The transport infrastructure
Our guide is divided into two parts: Before Leaving the UK and After Arriving in Norway. We cover a number of practical topics, but we’ve also included sections on differences in the way people behave, cultural etiquette and the Norwegian lifestyle. Threading all through is the idea that moving abroad is an adventure. It will change you, and change how you see the world around you. We hope this Guide helps you to enjoy every moment.
Before Leaving The UK
- Calculating the Cost of Living in Norway
- Documents You’ll Need
- Driving in Norway
- Emergency Funds
- Finding a Place to Live
- Language – Do You Need to Speak Norwegian?
- Prescription Top Up Before You Leave the UK
- Removals to Norway
- Local Knowledge – Which Restaurants Tempt You?
- Norway Weather/Climate
When You Arrive in Norway
BEFORE YOU LEAVE
Calculating the Cost of Living in Norway
Most people in the UK know about the high cost of living in Norway, but we don’t tend to have a detailed picture of what specific items cost. Finding out more about how the cost of living in Norway compares with your cost of living in the UK can be helpful when working out your budget for life in your new home.
A useful place to begin your research is Numbeo. It allows you to compare the prices of restaurants, utilities, rent, food in Oslo, for example, and London. The data provided gives you a deep dive into shopping and living in a Norwegian city – and there’s always a few surprises. So Oslo is more expensive than London, except when it comes to rent which is around 38% lower.
Cost of Living Comparison Between London and Oslo
- Consumer Prices in Oslo are 18.22% higher than in London (without rent)
- Consumer Prices Including Rent in Oslo are 6.74% lower than in London
- Rent Prices in Oslo are 39.10% lower than in London
- Restaurant Prices in Oslo are 19.55% higher than in London
- Groceries Prices in Oslo are 50.26% higher than in London
- Local Purchasing Power in Oslo is 0.85% higher than in London
The Numbeo snapshot of prices can be followed up with research on Quora and Reddit. Looking through the questions and answers posted in threads should provide a more personal perspective on managing a household budget in Norway. If you’re not getting the information you want, post the question you want answers to. Often this kind of research connects you with people who have already made the move to Norway and have a wealth of experience to share.
One of the biggest outgoings, whatever European country you live in, are monthly rental costs. The average rental on a 2 bedroom apartment is currently just under £800 per month. Unsurprisingly, the most expensive city to rent in is Oslo where the same apartment will cost £1,025 per month.
Once you have a clear idea of your average monthly outgoings in Norway, you’ll be able to set it against your income to gauge the standard of living you can expect to enjoy in your new home.
Documents You’ll Need
Living in any European city requires huge amounts of documentation, especially if you have a family to organise.
- Passport (must have 6 months left on it)
- Residence Permit for Work
- Birth Certificate
- Medical Records
- Insurance documents
- School Records (for children of school age)
- National Insurance Number
- Marriage Certificate (if appropriate)
- Driver’s License
- Tax Records
- Divorce/Child Custody Papers (if appropriate)
- Adoption Papers (if appropriate)
- Pet Vaccination Records (if appropriate)
With all documentations it’s a good idea to have everything in hard and soft copies. Don’t rely on just one hard copy; take 2-5 copies of each document.
Driving in Norway
If you’re planning to drive whilst you’re in Norway, you’ll be able to use your UK driving license. You don’t have to have an international driving license in addition. If you are planning to live in Norway permanently, you’ll need to exchange your UK license for a Norwegian one.
Exploring Norway by car is highly recommended! There are some classic scenic drives just waiting for you. Just take a look at these mouth-watering possibilities:
- Geiranger-Trollstigen. Definitely for the risk-takers and advanced drivers. There are no less that 11 hairpin bends to navigate on this 104km road through the mountains. This follows an old packhorse track and offers some of the most spectacular scenic experiences.
- Oslo-Bergen. This spectacular road takes you from the east of the country to the west via the Aurland mountain. The route goes via Norway’s ‘King of Fjords’ the Sognefjord through mountain passes and past stunning waterfalls.
- The Atlantic Road. Named as one of the most beautiful drives in the world, this route was opened in 1989. It allows you to explore some of the islands that make up this rugged coastline. There are also 7 spectacular bridges to experience.
When you’re not negotiating those hairpin bends, Norwegian roads are a pleasant experience. Norwegians drive on the right, have a 80km/h speed limit and pay through the nose for petrol as it’s heavily taxed. Distances are far greater than in the UK and in rural areas petrol stations can be 100km apart. It’s a good idea to always carry an emergency supply!
During the winter, many of Norway’s roads are covered with snow and ice for months on end. You should fit winter tyres on your vehicle, drive slowly, and be prepared for winter closures due to accidents.
An emergency fund is one of the major stress-busters when it comes to moving abroad to work, or live. Putting aside a couple of months outgoings means you can stop worrying about what would happen if your first pay check is delayed, or you need to cover medical expenses before your insurance kicks in, for example. Moving from the UK to Norway is – for most people – a step into the unknown; putting some financial security in place can really help.
Finding a Place to Live
You’ll probably begin your search for somewhere to live in Norway before you leave the UK. Alternatively you may decide to stay in a hotel initially, and look for an apartment once you arrive.
It’s worth bearing in mind that competition for rental properties is stiff at the moment and landlords will tend to favour tenants on the ground.
Your first home in Norway is likely to be a short-term rental as this allows you to get the lay of the land. If you live in a neighbourhood for a while, and enjoy the experience, you could then look for a long-term contract which will normally be 6 months or longer. A rental deposit in Norway is pretty steep; it is normally 3 months rent, on top of a month’s rent in advance.
A good place to start looking for rental properties is: https://hybel.no
Language – Do You Need to Speak Norwegian?
Could you move to Norway without knowing a word of Norwegian? Yes. You’ll find that the vast majority of people you meet speak English fluently and enjoy having someone to practice it with. English is pretty much a second language in Norway. You can even fill your tax form in using English!
Given that most people speak English, is there any reason to learn Norwegian? Here’s 3 reasons why doing will make your stay in Norway more fulfilling:
- Making Emotional Connections. Learning a new language means blundering every now and again. Which can be the perfect way to start a conversation, laugh together, or simply accept help. Learning the language helps you to make friends in your new country.
- Improve Your Status at Work. Many businesses are happy to work with non-Norwegian speakers, but not knowing the language limits your potential. There will always be emails you can’t read or phone calls you’ll need to hand over.
- Understand the Culture. As a visitor to Norway it’s easy to skate over the surface of the culture, enjoying it as a tourist. Learning Norwegian allows you to dive deeper, understand the jokes, discover what people’s home lives are like, and spend time with Norwegians.
Prescription Top Up Before You Leave the UK
Norway’s healthcare system is both excellent and efficient, but there can be delays in being allocated a local doctor. If you are on any prescription drugs it’s a good idea to make sure that you have enough to bridge the gap. Most GPs are used to dealing with this particular problem, so they’ll be able to advise you.
If you don’t already have this, you should also ask for a digital copy of your medical records, which you can then pass on to your new doctor at your first appointment.
Removals to Norway
Working with the right removals company will make moving from the UK to Norway seem effortless. Select the wrong company and you’ll find it a tough slog from start to finish. Schepens has been helping people relocate to Norway for a good many decades, so we have created a checklist to help you find the right removals to Norway for your needs.
Questions to Ask When Choosing a Removals Company for Moving to Norway
Removals to Norway is a specialist service so it’s important that the company you choose is experienced in European Removals. Small moving companies tend to come and go – you need a team you can rely on.
Ideally you want a moving company that has built a reputation for removals to Norway. That way you know that they can give you accurate information on customs procedures and have experienced drivers who know Norway’s roads.
A removals company that makes weekly runs to Norway will be able to offer more affordable prices than one that is scheduling in a run just for you. Established movers to the Nordic countries will also be able to offer flexible scheduling to fit in with your moving dates, and full or part load.
Most removals companies will offer you a free no obligation quotation. Make sure though, that this applies to a detailed quote and not just a ‘ball park figure’. A removals quote that accurately reflects the cost of your removals is important when planning your budget.
Be wary of any removals company that doesn’t have reviews. Take a look on their FB page, Twitter account, website or Google My Business page for current feedback. Look out for feedback from people who’ve used their removals to Norway service.
Check that companies offer their movers peace of mind by offering insurance for their goods in transit.
If you’re moving to Norway for a short period of work, you may want to put some of your good in storage whilst you’re away. A removals company that also offers local self storage can save you a good deal of time and effort. Once you arrive in Norway, you may want to put furniture and household items in storage whilst you find somewhere to live.
If your removals company has a fleet of vehicles, and they make regular runs to Scandinavia, they should be able to schedule in a move to Norway with just a month’s notice.
You may want to use a professional packing service rather than packing up your house yourself. Check that this is offered, and that professional packing materials are used.
A move co-ordinator who knows Norway and has experience of managing moves to all the major cities is a real asset. They be able to guide you step-by-step through the process, and offer detailed advice on logistics and customs procedures.
If you’re planning on taking your pet to Norway with you, you should check out the requirements. You may decide to use pet relocation professionals to sort this out for you. They will manage the microchipping and jabs, as well as scheduling flights and managing customs on your behalf.
Moving to a new country is a big upheaval for your pet. Based on their age health and temperament, you’ll need to weigh up whether a move to Norway is in their best interests.
Local Knowledge – Which Restaurants Tempt You?
You’ll spend a few days with you head buried in admin as you plan your move to Norway. So a fun distraction is planning all the nice things you’ll do when you arrive. One of the most thrilling things about moving to a new country is the chance to try a whole new way of eating. Take a look at the local restaurants and decide which ones you’ll try first. TripAdvisor is a great starting point for this kind of research.
The weather varies greatly between northern and southern, or inland and coastal Norway. The coldest areas are – no surprises here – in the north. The coast tends to be more temperate than inland because of the waters of the Gulf Stream.
In Tromsø, to the north of Norway, the snow arrives in October and by December there’s only 1 hour of weak daylight as the sun doesn’t rise. Temperatures range from -25°C (-13°F) up to 8°C (46°F). In Oslo the story is different. There is usually snow from November onwards but temperatures rarely plummet below 3°C (26°F). The big difference is that even in December there are still 6 hours of daylight to enjoy.
WHEN YOU ARRIVE IN NORWAY
One of the first tasks once you get to Norway is to set up your local bank account. It costs nothing to do so but there is a monthly cost for maintaining your account so you may want to do a bit of research before you travel.
There are 4 high profile banks in Norway:
- DNB Bank
- SpareBank 1 SR-Bank
In Norway a bank account is called a bankkonto. It automatically includes an International Bank Account Number (IBAN), which allows you to transfer money for free between other accounts in the Single Euro Payment Area. To open an account you’ll need your passport, proof of your address in Norway, proof of employment and your National Identity Number, or D Number if you’re staying less than 6 months.
For many years now digital payments have been overtaking cash in Norway. During the global pandemic the use of cash plummeted to just 4% of spending. This is in line with the other Nordic countries, all of which are planning to go cashless by the end of this decade. Sweden has already set the date for March 2023 when banknotes and coins will no longer be legal tender.
For now, cash is still accepted in Norway although many shop-keepers refused to take cash during the pandemic. Many Norwegians no longer bother the carry cash, though, and paying for goods digitally is by far the easiest option.
We know about Norway’s fjords, mountains and reindeer but did you realise that it’s also the world’s second biggest consumer of coffee? There’s even a ‘Nordic roasting style’ which delivers a lighter, fruitier taste than commercial coffee.
There’s plenty of opportunity to enjoy Norway’s award winning coffee; independent coffee shops are booming. What you may find surprising is just how much coffee is drunk on an average day. Consumption starts first thing in the morning, continues through many coffee breaks, and carries on into the evening.
The purest form of Norwegian coffee is turkaffe, or ‘hiking coffee’. First locally sourced water is brought to the boil over an open fire. The ground coffee is poured in and allowed to steep for a few moments before serving – preferably through a filter!
Culture shock hits everyone moving abroad to some degree. It describes the process of feeling yourself to be an outsider in a new culture, and having to adapt how you live and behave in order to fit in. Some people thrive on the challenge of adapting. For others it’s uncomfortable and troubling. Truth is, you won’t know exactly how you’ll be affected until you’re living in your new home.
The feeling of culture shock is one of disorientation as you come up against ways of life that are unfamiliar. We all know how frustrating it can be to realise you don’t know how to buy a stamp, or pay a bill in a foreign country. It can feel like you’re a child again, having to learn the basics that were completely natural to you in the UK.
Everyone experiences culture shock differently. It may be helpful to understand it as a journey with distinct staging posts:
This is the bit where it still feels like being on holiday. Everything seems amazing, fascinating and wonderful. You’re enjoying the food, the hiking and your job. There’s no doubt in your mind that this was the right decision and every day feels new and exciting.
The high energy of the honeymoon period settles down after a bit and you realise it’s a bit exhausting to keep doing everything differently. There are symptoms of a growing frustration. You lose your temper when trying to order a takeaway. You find yourself weeping when you’re not included in a social event at work. Everything feels SO hard all of a sudden, and you wonder if you shouldn’t go home.
Human beings adapt – we’re hard wired for it. As time passes you’ll find that you’re coping with more things every day and feeling less lost. Shopping will cease to be stressful, the city will become navigable and you’ll start to get to know people at work. Gradually you’ll begin to find ways in which you belong in your new life.
Accepting things are different from the UK is a great place to be. It shows that you’ve stopped fighting things because they’re different, and accepted them instead. Once you get to this stage you’ll find yourself relaxing and letting your guard down. Yes there are things you’ll never like or accept – that’s the same everywhere. But there will also be a growing list (hopefully) of things you really like about your new home.
Schooling starts at a much younger age in Norway than it does in the UK. From the age of one children are able to attend a barnehage or pre-school, and 70% do. By the age of three 96% of children are attending.
Primary and lower secondary schooling covers ages 6-15. Upper secondary schooling comprises 3 years’ general education or 4 years’ vocational training. There is a choice of public schools which are free, private schools and international schools. Whilst an international school is the most expensive option, children who’ll be attending school in Norway for a limited period will be able to stay up to date with their home curriculum.
If you have a Residence Permit for Work you’ll be able to access the Norwegian healthcare system. It’s paid for through taxes and medical fees up to the equivalent of £240. Beyond that an exemption certificate means that all further treatment throughout the year is free. You’ll be allocated a GP but you have the opportunity to change to another twice in the course of a year.
If you need emergency care or had an accident, you can visit the nearest emergency room. Call 116 117 to find the nearest one.
Making Friends and Creating a Support Network
One of the things that really helps in the first few months is a support network you can go to for nights out, practical advice, and emotional meltdowns. It can feel a bit daunting knowing where to start with building a new friendship group, so we’ve come up with 5 ways to meet people in Norway:
- Find an Expat Group Nearby. Maybe start with this one. Is a simple starting point and you’ll find a group of people who have gone through what you’re experiencing now. You’ll be sure to find expat groups on Facebook. Look in Groups for your city or area.
- Look for a Language Exchange. Learning Norwegian? Then find a conversation partner and meet new people at the same. The larger Norwegian cities have Language Exchange meet-ups. Don’t worry about what stage you’re at, you can choose your proficiency level.
- Get Crafting, or Cooking. There’s loads of Norwegian meet ups dedicated to baking, crafting or the arts. Find one that appeals to you and take the plunge. It’s low pressure socially because you’ll be focused on ‘doing’ so you’ll get to know people over time.
- Volunteer. If you’ve got volunteering experience you’ll know what a great way it is to meet local people from a variety of backgrounds. Find out what’s going on local to you and get involved. It will give you a richer understanding of your city and a group of new contacts.
- Get Involved in a Sport. Whether you love football, hiking, biathlon, ski-ing, or ice hockey there’s loads of ways to get involved in Norway. More than likely, you’ll find that most sporting events involve social drinking and eating.
Experiencing the aurora borealis is big business in Norway, with visitors coming from around the globe to catch a glimpse. If you’re living in the north of Norway you should have plenty of sightings from late September through to March. The ‘Northern Lights Belt’ is located just inside the Arctic Circle and the Norwegian city of Tromsø is considered one of the best places in the world to see the northern light show in its full glory.
Places to Live in Norway
Four of the most popular Norwegian locations for UK movers are Oslo, Bergen, Tromsø and Stavanger. We asked some of our movers who are now permanent residents of Norway, for a snapshot of day-to-day life in each location.
Bergen has a reputation for rain, and it does rain quite a bit. Having said that, there’s a charm to this busy port unlike anywhere else in Norway. First it’s a spectacular setting; 7 mountains crowning the city. Then there’s the Bryggen, where the old docks were originally located. You can spend hours getting lost in the rickety backstreets and enjoying coffee in independent cafes. It’s also the starting point for the Hurtigruten ferry which travels the western coastline every day.
Living in the capital city of Norway is far less stressful than living in London. That’s partly because it’s home to less than a million people, and it has a waterfront which gives the city a chilled vibe summer and winter. Oslo is a young city, and it’s pretty diverse with people coming from all over the globe to work here. It’s also the very best starting point to explore this amazing country by bus, train or plane.
People who live here, natives and expats, believe it’s the best place to live in the whole of Norway. It’s hard to disagree. Stavanger is on the wild west coast, with easy access to some of the country’s most beautiful fjords. It’s home to 3 universities, so the town is always alive, it has a nice urban feel to it, and the nightlife is superb.
Tromsø lies in the Arctic Circle and it’s the most northern city in Norway. Although, to be honest, it feels more like a town than a city. The population is under 100,000 so it’s smallish, easily navigable and a really great place to live. Right in the heart of the winter, when there’s very little daylight, Tromsø hosts an international film festival! It’s really special because people come in from all over the world to be together in the darkest month, watching films.
Public Transport and Commuting
If you’re living in Oslo you’ll find the easiest way to get around the centre is by foot. Like any large city, it sprawls at the edges. There’s a clean and reliable system in place to get you anywhere you need to go by train, ferry, bus, tram or light rail.
Elsewhere, Norway is served local bus services in each city, regular ferries between western cities, trains that run the length of the country, and no less than 50 airports.
The main roads connecting the cities and Norway’s neighbouring countries are known as European, or ‘E’ roads. The quality of the roads makes driving less stressful than in virtually every other European country. The downside is that these have to be paid for, so many of them exact a toll when you use them. It’s a good idea to get your car registered to ensure you’re charged the correct amount.
Any description of sporting passion in Norway has to begin with skiing. There’s a saying that ‘Norwegians are born with skis on their feet’ because of their passionate attachment to this sport. Not far behind skiing in terms of popularity is the biathlon. This is followed enthusuiastically across the country, and the women’s team is particularly successful.
Football is enjoyed across Norway in much the same way as in the UK. Most Norwegians have played at some point in their lives and they offer wholehearted support to the national team, despite its relatively low global standing. Ice hockey has an illustrious history in Norway. It remains enormously popular, and the dramas of the national league are watched avidly each year.
5 Things About Working in Norway
Workplaces may look the same from one country to another, but the way people behave is likely to differ significantly. Not knowing what to watch out for in Norwegian work culture could leave you feeling like you’ve landed from another planet, rather than the UK. Here’s 5 key cultural difference to prepare for:
- Flextime or Fleksitid. The standard working week in Norway is 37.5 hours. So long as you honour the total, employees have plenty of flexibility over when they start and finish their day. You may wish to leave the office early to collect your children from school, which is fine so long as the hours are made up elsewhere.
- Flat Office Hierarchies. The despotic line manager isn’t a thing in Norway. Teams are far less hierarchical than in the UK, and even the CEO considers themselves a part of the workforce. The levelling up isn’t total; there is an innate recognition of seniority and experience, but it’s not formalised in employees’ behaviour towards each other.
- Look Forward to Waffles. Norwegian waffles normally turn up in workplaces on Friday afternoon as an end-of-week treat. They bear no comparison to Belgian waffles and are eaten with jam or sour cream. Each section is in the shape of a heart, and they’re as beloved by Norwegians as muffins or toast is in the UK.
- Workplace Culture is Everyone’s Responsibility. In most British workplaces whether or not you ‘click’ with your team is down to luck. In Norway it’s quite different. A good workplace culture is seen as something everyone actively contributes to. In some businesses the employees eat together a couple of times a week, or make a feature of stopping for coffee.
- Norwegians Work to Live. It would be extremely rare for a Norwegian employee to be expected to pull an all-nighter at short notice, or work through the weekend. A good work/life balance is considered extremely important in Norway. Weekends and evenings are family times and work isn’t allowed to encroach upon them.
Are You Moving to Norway From the UK?
Schepens is a 4th generation family-run business and we’ve been providing removals to Norway for over 100 years now. With all that experience under our belts it’s little wonder that we’re now considered the UK’s leading provider for of stress-free moving to Norway from the UK.
Over the years we’ve moved families, students and solo professionals to Oslo, Bergen and locations across the country. We make weekly runs to Norway so our European removals team is familiar with custom clearance procedures and use the road system throughout the year. It also means that we’re able to offer our movers flexible scheduling, full or part load shipping and affordable prices.
‘Stress-free removals’ means paying careful attention to the experience of moving, from first contact through to delivery of your goods in your new home. Schepens assigns a move co-ordinator to each of our clients. They’ll create a tailored removals plan for you, and manage the logistics of your relocation to Norway.
“Ours was a logistically challenging move from Leeds to Longyearbyen, a town on the remote archipelago of Svalbard, 1000km North of the Norwegian mainland. Unlike many other removals companies, Chris called us after our initial enquiry so he could properly understand the complexities of the move. He talked us through our different options and the shortcomings of each. Our stuff was shipped safely and remained in good condition for a competitive price.”