Main Religions: Christianity (Evangelical Lutheran, Catholicism), Judaism, Islam.
The Kingdom of Norway is Europe’s northernmost country, sharing a long eastern border with Sweden and with Finland and Russia to the north. The capital of Oslo lies close to the border with Sweden and is the most densely populated area with around one million inhabitants. Norway is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, known for its spectacular landscape of soaring mountains and rugged coastline broken by vast fjords, glaciers and island clusters. It is also the richest nation in the world, thanks partly to oil and gas exports. Although not a member of the European Union, Norway is an EEA partner with close links to the rest of the continent.
Norway has a liberal egalitarian culture, with a commitment to equality and fairness at all levels of society. The Law of Jante (Janteloven), a philosophy posed by the author Aksel Sandemose, which describes how Norwegians should behave (by putting society ahead of individual needs and not boasting or being envious of others), is deeply entrenched in all aspects of Norwegian culture and life. Although outward-looking and progressive in their attitudes, Norwegians are also very patriotic and fiercely proud of their unique cultural heritage and independence. This is evidenced in the many national holidays and ‘flag-flying days’ held throughout the year.
The Norwegian landscape influences every aspect of leisure, with hiking, skiing, canoeing and fishing among the most popular activities. Football also has a passionate following – the fact that some Norwegian players have been snapped up by the English Premier League is a source of national pride. The majority of Norwegians spend the summer months in cabins and houses near the fjords or overlooking the many white, sandy beaches. Parties, picnics and barbeques to celebrate the Midnight Sun and enjoying the ethereal Aurora Borealis are also popular summer activities. Such events can be vast (and raucous), with large numbers of even the most distant family members gathering to celebrate through the long sunlit nights. For more on the tourist attractions Norway has to offer, see ‘100 Best Things To Do In Norway’ at Jen Reviews.
Food and drink
Traditional Norwegian cuisine relies on fresh produce from the mountains, lakes and sea, with fish and game being an integral part of the national diet. Norwegian cuisine is protein-packed and considered to be very healthy. Breakfast is one of the main meals of the day and comprises smoked or pickled fish, cheese, eggs, meat and traditional rye bread, which is also eaten at lunch as open sandwiches. Dinner is eaten between 4-5pm and popular dishes include meatballs (kjøttboller), boiled or dried fish and boiled potatoes with a number of delicious sauces and pickles.
Coffee is by far the most popular drink and Norwegians are the second highest consumers of coffee in the world, after Finland. Beer and wine are the most popular alcoholic drinks, as well as Akvavit, a strong flavoured spirit produced across Scandinavia. However, the purchase of alcohol is subject to strict laws in Norway.
Norwegian is the most widely spoken language, followed by Sami, spoken by the approximately 40,000 indigenous Sami people resident in Norway. Norwegian is a Germanic language and has two official written forms – Bokmål and Nyorsk – which can make the language rather complex for new learners. However, nearly 90% of Norwegians speak English fluently, as well as a high level of Swedish, Danish, German and French.
Accents and dialects
Norway has a rich pattern of dialects that are broadly divided into four groups (eastern, western, central and northern). Dialects are unique to each region and differ according to grammar, syntax, vocabulary and accent. Norwegians themselves may not even understand some words from a dialect outside of their region. However, as most Norwegians speak English proficiently, new expats will not be expected to learn dialects, which are mainly spoken at home and in community settings. Standard Norwegian is used in public and professional arenas.
Its northern location, sharing the same latitude as Alaska, Greenland and Siberia, means that Norway is a cold country. However, thanks to westerly winds, Norway’s climate is much friendlier than people realise. Northern Norway, with its Midnight Sun in the summer months and no sunshine at all during winter, differs greatly from the southern areas, which have a more moderate climate. In winter (December to February) temperatures can drop to between -15°C and -40°C in northern areas. Summer temperatures can climb to around 30°C in the north (due to the midnight sun) and 20°C in the south.
Safety and security
Crime rates are extremely low in Norway and police do not carry guns. Tourists have reported incidents of pick-pocketing in Oslo and Bergen but Norway is still considered one of the safest places in the world in terms of violent crime and robbery. Alcohol-fuelled crime has increased in recent years but figures remain low as the sale of alcohol is strictly regulated. Culturally, Norwegians have a reputation for impeccable honesty, so incidents of being ripped off in shops or restaurants are almost non-existent.
Norway has an excellent education system and the level of general education among adults is considered to be one of the highest in the world. Education is compulsory between the ages of 6 and 16 and is divided into primary school and lower secondary school. This ten-year compulsory period is known as ‘grunnskole’. Following grunnskole students can choose to continue their education at upper secondary school, where they will aim to meet the requirements of admission to university or to leave education with a vocational qualification. The different municipalities are responsible for the provision of education and schools in their area. Education is free for all children in Norway, up to and including university.
The academic year is divided into two semesters; Autumn (mid-August to December) and Spring (January to June). State school holidays comprise a week in the autumn, a fortnight at Christmas, a week’s winter holiday in February, and around a fortnight at Easter. Schools in Norway also have a compulsory ‘Ski Day,’ when children and teachers take to the hills and forests on cross-country skis. The school day starts at around 8.30am and finishes at 2pm, when pupils are encouraged to play sports and engage in outdoor pursuits and clubs.
Norway has a well-regarded higher education system comprising eight universities, nine specialised institutions, 25 university colleges, two national academies of art and a number of private higher education institutions. The highest-ranking institutions are the University of Oslo and the University of Bergen.
Higher education is fully funded by the state in Norway, which is now one of the few European countries to have retained a system of ‘free education for all.’ Of the Nordic countries, Norway stands alone in offering free higher education to all students, regardless of nationality. Both home and foreign students are also able to apply for help with living costs through the Norwegian State Educational Loan Fund.
Norway was one of the first countries in Europe to adhere to the Bologna Process, implementing a two tier system comprising three-year undergraduate degrees and two-year Master’s degrees. Tuition is in Norwegian although a wide range of courses across all disciplines are now taught entirely in English. A PhD in Norway takes at least three years to complete and is fully funded – the majority of doctoral students receive a monthly salary. To find out more about admission requirements consult the Norway Universities and Colleges Admission Service.
Norway is committed to investment in research in order to develop its strong knowledge-based economy. The country’s geographical location offers unique opportunities in marine research, environmental sciences, energy and health and attracts scientists from all over the world. The Norwegian government also invests heavily in medicine, materials science, biotechnology and communication research programmes. The Research Council of Norway – an agency of the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research – is responsible for awarding funding to universities and individual research programmes, as well as advising on research policy.
Primary and Secondary Education
All children are entitled to 13 years of free education, ten years of which are compulsory between the ages of six and 16 (known as ‘grunnskole’). Schools are divided into:
Primary School (barneskole): from ages six to 13
Lower Secondary school (ungdomsskole): from ages 13 to 16.
Upper Secondary School (videregående skole): from ages 16 to 19. Upper secondary school is optional and is separated into academic study for those who wish to attend university or vocational study/apprenticeships for students who wish to enter the workforce on completion of their education.
There is no formal kindergarten period in Norway but preschool, nursery or day care (barnehage) is offered to children aged 0 to 5. Compulsory education is free in Norway but parents are required to pay a monthly fee for their children to attend preschool, which can be lower in state-run centres. Norwegian preschool places great emphasis on play-led learning and children spend much of their time outdoors, in all weathers.
According to Numbeo’s annual Cost of Living Survey, Norway is the fourth most expensive country in the world. Rents, food and alcohol are particularly pricey and it is not unheard of to pay up to NOK 17,200 (£1,600) per month for a studio apartment in Oslo. However, newcomers can take comfort from the fact that the typical worker earns a higher salary (average NOK 33,500/£3,101 per month) in Norway than in any other country in the world, which helps to mitigate the high living costs. The most expensive areas to live are Oslo, Bærem, Stavanger and Bergen with living costs being lower in rural areas. Tourist areas near Norway’s fjords in the west of the country are very expensive and should be avoided long term.
The majority of Norwegians own their homes so the rental market is fairly limited, with most lettings agents catering to tourists and short-term lets. Consequently, suitable rental properties can be difficult to find in places like Oslo, Bergen and Stavanger. Prospective expats are advised to search for property online at sites such as at Finn or through newspaper classifieds before re-locating to Norway. Despite the soaring costs of property in Norway, purchasing a home can sometimes work out cheaper than renting long term. There are no restrictions on foreigners buying property in Norway and house purchase depends on mortgage eligibility.
A deposit of up to six month’s rent is required at the beginning of your tenancy agreement. The landlord is required to put the deposit into an interest-bearing account until the tenant leaves the property.
Property taxes are imposed by each municipality and are calculated according to the value of the property. Tax rates range from 0.2% to 0.7%, depending on the municipality. Local taxes for refuse removal and maintenance – the equivalent of ‘council tax’ in the UK – are generally included in your monthly rent.
Norwegians use electricity rather than gas to heat their homes and there is a broad range of companies to choose from. Usage is at its peak during the harsh winter months, and, depending on the size of the property, new expats should be prepared for an eye-wateringly large bill at the end of the winter period. Water costs are kept low and tap water is safe to drink in Norway. Fast and reliable broadband is available in even the remotest areas and companies such as state-owned Telenor offer combined mobile and broadband packages.
The basic cost of utilities (gas, water, electricity, refuse) for an 85m² city centre apartment is around NOK 1,623 (£150) per month. Broadband, phone and TV packages start at around NOK 330 (£30) per month.
A mandatory TV licence fee of NOK 2,729 (£252) is imposed on any household with one or more televisions. The fee is used to fund the state-owned Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (Norsk rikskringkasting – NRK).
Healthcare and medical costs
Norway’s healthcare system is ranked 11th in the world by the World Health Organisation. Although health provision is heavily subsidised by the state, all residents over 16 must contribute through a graded national insurance scheme, whereby patients pay for healthcare through taxation and extra fees for visits to the doctor and other treatment up to a capped limit each year. When the limit has been reached all healthcare is free of charge for the rest of that calendar year. Expats of any nationality are required to pay into the national insurance scheme after being employed in Norway for more than one year.
Norway offers a wide range of shopping options, from high end department and homewares stores selling trendy Scandinavian furniture to smaller artisanal shops offering anything from jewellery to reindeer skins. However, everything comes at a price in Norway and a shopping trip can be prohibitively expensive. In terms of supermarkets, the biggest chains include Coop and Centra and budget outlets such as KIWI (German discounters Aldi and Lidl have yet to gain ground in Norway). Alcohol is especially expensive and anything stronger than beer can only be purchased from the state-owned alcohol retailer Vinmonopolet.
A sales tax (VAT) of 25% is added to most goods and services in Norway. A reduced VAT rate applies to food, transport and a range of other items.
Rent 1-bedroom apartment in city centre – NOK 9,651.92 (£893.20)
Rent 1-bedroom apartment outside city centre – NOK 7,473.08 (£691.57)
Price of apartment per square metre in city centre – NOK 48,195.00 (£4,460.01)
Price of apartment per square metre outside city centre – NOK 35,223.75 (£3,259.64)
Norway is an expensive country where a mid-range restaurant meal with wine can set you back NOK 800 (£75) per head. It’s therefore a good idea to cook and entertain at home, buying groceries from inexpensive supermarkets such as Rema 1000 or KIWI. Another great way to save money is to follow the lead of 99% of Norwegians and take your own packed lunch (matpakke) to work, as buying sandwiches from shops and kiosks can cost at least NOK162 (£15) per day.
Driving is a great way to take in Norway’s wonderful scenery and roads are well maintained and congestion-free. Norwegians are known for their adherence to rules and driving is no exception –flouting of the strict traffic laws is punished by heavy fines. There are few motorways outside Oslo and most of the country is connected by a series of dual carriageways. Speed limits are 110 km/h (70mph) on some motorways and dual carriageways but are restricted to 80km/h (50mph) on the majority of roads. In built up areas the speed limit is 50km/h (30mph) but can be as low as 30km/h (20 mph), so it’s a good idea to always be aware of road signs indicating the speed limit where you are.
Drivers from EU/EEA countries are permitted to drive in Norway without exchanging their licence. Those from outside the EU must exchange their licence by taking a practical exam after a year’s residency in the country.
It has been said that taking a taxi in Norway is one of the world’s most expensive ways to travel. Taxis are privately operated and can charge what they like. For example, tourists have reported paying NOK 1000 (£92) for a 25km (15 mile) journey in Oslo. To cut costs, avoid taxis altogether and take advantage of Norway’s efficient, and cheaper, bus and train network.
Buses and coaches
Norway has an excellent public bus network which connects all cities and rural areas, offering a cheap way to travel. You can buy your ticket on board or purchase one-day or weekly passes from all bus and train stations. Inter-city coaches are also a comfortable and cheap way of getting around. Coaches are operated by private companies, the largest being Nor-way bussekspressen, which covers most of the country. Discounted tickets can be bought in advance online or at bus stations.
Norway has around 3,000 km of railway track, stretching from Oslo in the south up to above the Arctic Circle in the north. Norwegian State Railways (NSB) operate the modern train infrastructure, which includes efficient local trains as well as fast trains with sleeper compartments connecting all Norwegian cities and beyond to neighbouring countries.
Many train journeys offer breathtaking views of the Norwegian scenery. These include the 371 km (231 mile) Bergensbanen between Oslo and Bergen, which has been voted one of the best train rides in the world.
Trams and light rail
Oslo is the only city in Norway which has a metro system – known locally as the ‘T-Banen’ – which consists of six lines and 100 stations. The cities of Oslo, Bergen and Trondheim all have light rail/tram networks offering an efficient and cheap way to get around. Tickets for all metro and light rail networks can be purchased in railway and bus stations, where you can also buy discounted travel cards for use on all public transport in each city.
There are 50 passenger airports in Norway, the largest and busiest being Oslo International Airport, which connects the country with hundreds of destinations around the world. Domestic air travel is well served, even in the most remote areas, however it is expensive and those hoping for a cheaper journey should utilise the excellent train network instead. The national carrier is Norwegian with SAS and Wideroe also operating domestic and international flights from Oslo.
Other ways to get around
Norwegians are a seafaring people and, in a country where some fjords make car travel impossible, travelling by boat is a necessity rather than a choice. Car ferries and undersea tunnels carry passengers where roads cannot go and many people have to travel to work by ferry. A fantastic way to see Norway is to take a cruise with Hurtigruten, which operates ferries and steamers up and down the stunning coastline, offering glimpses of the elusive Aurora Borealis along the way.
Norwegians typically work Monday to Friday and are supposed to do no more than 38 hours a week. However, many employees work longer hours, with some offices opening at 6am and often not closing for the day until 6pm. Employment laws surrounding parenthood are generous in comparison to some countries, particularly in terms of paternity leave. By law, a new mother must take nine weeks of paid leave after having a baby, while the father must take 14 weeks paid leave before the child’s third birthday. Norway has a family-oriented culture so bosses are usually understanding about the need for parents to take paid leave days.
Depending on the profession, most workers are entitled to at least 25 days paid holiday per year in Norway. By law, employees must receive paid days off for national holidays with those receiving higher pay (usually double time) if they are required to work on the day in question. Norwegian employers are generally sympathetic to providing time off to workers for religious holidays, even if they are not nationally recognised events. The Sami tribe for example, have their own celebrations which do not fall into the official national holiday calendar. However, it is not uncommon for Norwegian bosses to allow paid time off for any workers who acknowledge such events.
There are ten public holidays in Norway regulated by law as well as several – including Mother’s Day and Father’s Day – which are recognised by some regions. Seven of the national holidays are religious and the date can vary each year depending on the lunar cycle. There are also some ‘Flag Flying Days,’ such as Liberation Day, which is not an official holiday but flags are flown from public buildings and homes.
Public holiday dates2019
New Year’s Day: 1st January
Mother’s Day: 10th February
Maundy Thursday: 18th April
Good Friday: 19th April
Easter Monday: 22nd April
Labour Day: 1st May
Constitution Day: 17th May
Ascension Day: 30th May
Whit Monday: 10th June
Father’s Day: 10h November
Christmas Day: 25th December
St Stephen’s Day: 26th December
Visas and eligibility
From January 1st 2010, Norway introduced a new Immigration Act which streamlined the process of applying for work and residency permits into one permit. The law also introduced the Early Work Start which means you can now start working in Norway before your application for a residence permit is granted.
As a rule of the new Act, parents must also prove they are able to support their families financially in Norway. Because Norway falls within the European Economic Area (EEA), jobseekers, students and professionals from other EU/EEA countries can stay in the country without a permit or visa for up to three months. After this time a residence permit is required and expats of any nationality must sign the National Register (Folkeregisteret). For more information, consult the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration (UDI).
Norway has a reputation for being one of the most taxed countries in the world, with the tax burden being almost four times that of Hong Kong. VAT is also very high, sitting at around 25%. Tax (or Skatt), comprises VAT, income tax and social security contributions and is collected by central government. The tax year runs from January 1st to December 31st and is managed by the Tax Administration or Skatteetaten. In general, the combined rate of tax is around 27% on all taxable income while higher salaries can be taxed an additional 12% above certain thresholds. The good news is that there are some tax reliefs on offer for expats, often including a reduction in national insurance contributions. For example, expats staying in Norway for less than two years can receive a 10% deduction on some taxes.
The welfare state is a generous safety net in Norway, if certain criteria are met. Sickness pay is especially generous, with employees receiving 100% of salary for up to a year. Unemployment benefits are available for those who register with the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration (NAV) but the recipient must prove they are actively applying for jobs. Expats can also request that rights in other EU/EEA countries are transferred to Norway. EU/EEA citizens who come to Norway can claim sickness benefits if they are working in the country. For expats who have contributed to the national insurance scheme, family benefits such as child benefit are available.
The pension age in Norway starts at 62, which is lower than most Western countries. However, many Norwegians work in some capacity until they reach 67. To be entitled to a full pension, you must have lived and worked in Norway for 40 years. The amount of pension reduces depending on the number of years not working and living in the country. Due to the high cost of living in Norway, many pensioners choose to retire abroad, where even the Norwegian minimal state pension (Minstepensjon) can stretch further than in their native country. The amount a person receives as a state pension is determined by their earnings in their working lives. To find out how much you are entitled to, check with your local NAV office.
The Norwegian Association of Disabled (NAD) acts as the voice for people with disabilities. Norway is committed to equality for all workers, regardless of their disabilities. Therefore, workplaces and schools are encouraged to provide wheelchair access and employees are treated with respect and dignity. The influence of the NAD is significant, with the group having over 15,000 members, 250 branches and a youth organisation. The rights of disabled people are also enshrined in the Anti-Discrimination and Accessibility Act.
Norway has a sophisticated and flourishing economy which relies on the country’s abundance of natural resources and heavy investment in telecommunications technology. Like other aspects of Norwegian culture, business structures adhere to the Law of Jante, whereby fairness, equality and teamwork underpin all corporate activities. Organisations therefore have a very flat structure, where every worker’s opinion and input is valued equally.
Norwegian managers are seen as coaches or guides, rather than authoritarian figures. Decisions are generally made by management but only after a consensus has been reached with staff. Being deferent to superiors is not the norm – to a Norwegian this behaviour would be seen as a trust issue and would make most managers feel uncomfortable. Indeed, challenging an ineffectual manager in a transparent way through open channels is commonplace in Norway. Norwegians are known for their honesty, so if there is a problem then it will be discussed at all levels of the business until a solution is found.
Business in Norway is generally conducted in a friendly, open and informal atmosphere. Titles are quickly dispensed with after the first meeting. Managers are almost always addressed by their first names and it’s important that everyone feels at ease and part of the team.
Norwegian workplaces are relaxed and flexible. However, Norwegians are also very goal-oriented and like to get on with the job so that they can get home to their families. Attempting to impress the boss by working long hours or being over-competitive would be viewed suspiciously. Norwegians are considered to be quite reserved and public displays of anger are rare. Teamwork is paramount in all business settings so it’s a good idea to show that you can work collaboratively with your Norwegian counterparts.
Business attire can be quite casual and jeans and t shirts are acceptable in many workplaces. More ‘formal’ professions may require men to wear a smart suit, shirt and tie and women either a trouser or skirt suit. Whatever the industry, it’s a good idea to be prepared for the extreme winter weather when leaving the office by investing in sturdy shoes and padded outerwear.
Norwegians value their personal space and a handshake is the accepted greeting in a business setting. Touching or hugging would be considered odd and is usually reserved for friends and family.
Punctuality is highly valued in Norway and there is an unspoken rule that you should be on time. However, most workplaces allow for flexible working (called ‘flexitid’) where workers are expected to be in work between 10am and 2pm. If you have family commitments or are late due to a personal situation you will not be reprimanded – most managers are very understanding of people’s family commitments. If you are going to be late, it’s a good idea to call ahead, particularly if you are due at a meeting.
Meetings are generally informal and everyone is given an opportunity to speak. Norwegians like to get to the point, so meetings don’t generally veer from the agenda or involve much small talk. However, reaching a consensual decision on the topic at hand is very important in a Norwegian business setting, so meetings tend to go on until everyone is happy with the outcome.
Norway is considered to be a class-free society and there are very few rich people and very few poor people. Any competitive behaviour or attempts at one-upmanship would therefore be frowned upon. Norwegians are also very patriotic and do not take kindly to being compared with their Scandinavian neighbours.
Most business is conducted in Norwegian. However, most people speak a very high level of English and can switch between languages in the presence of foreigners. Learning a few Norwegian greetings and phrases will help you to break the ice.