Country Facts – Norway
This information is provided to offer guidance to those seeking to live and work overseas. For more information we recommend that you speak with your national government Foreign Office (or equivalent).
Norway Country Guide
Norway - the so-called “land of the midnight sun” - has been blessed with a wealth of natural resources. On the one hand, Norway’s mountains, glaciers and fjords represent some of the most dramatic scenery anywhere in the world. National Geographic has labelled the Norwegian fjords as the world’s top tourist destination in response, and a visit to Norway without experiencing this breath-taking geography is surely a missed opportunity.
On the other hand, Norway also benefits from large reserves of oil and natural gas that has helped it to become a global player in the energy market. Having carefully managed these resources over the last few decades, Norway has managed to become the largest provider of oil outside of the Middle East. Understandably, as elsewhere in the world, this has created huge wealth for the Norwegians.
Today, Norway boasts one of the highest per capita incomes anywhere in the world thanks to this wealth trickling down to all areas of the Norwegian economy. As with so many other wealthy countries however, this affluence comes at a price. In Norway, the cost of living is considerably higher than most other nations, meaning that while earning a good salary in Norway is relatively easy, actually holding onto that money is a wholly different situation.
While it is tempting to merely describe Norway as cold and snowy this would be disingenuous to the country. It does indeed experience more snow than many other countries thanks to both its latitude and its altitude but this is no bad thing.
The Norwegian architecture combined with heavy winter snowfall can turn the country into one giant picture postcard, complete with picturesque villages nestled into sleepy valleys topped by snow-capped mountains. For the romantic at heart, Norway can be a paradise of stunning views and beautiful walks; an experience to warm even the coldest winter evenings.
That said, while the higher mountains can retain snow right throughout the year, Norway can enjoy some surprisingly balmy temperatures during the summer months. While winters may dip to 40 below freezing, temperatures in July and August regularly top 20 degrees and sometimes even more. Therefore visitors should not be surprised by the type of summers normally reserved for countries far further south.
It’s fair to say that Norway is a country of stark contrasts in terms of temperature. If warm, sunny summers and cold, snowy winters sound like the perfect seasons for you then Norway is sure to impress. It offers, to many people, the perfect seasons where one can enjoy barbeques and beaches all summer, followed by skiing and open fires in the winter.
One final distinction worth knowing is that it is typically the north and east of the country that receives the most winter snow, so should be of greater interest to passionate skiers. In contrast the south and west tend to be milder and experience their precipitation in the form of rain rather than snow. For those who find the biting cold of winter just a little too much, it’s worth being aware of this fact, thus enabling one to escape from the worst of the weather if desirable.
Norway has a long and illustrious history, though is arguably best known as the original home of the Vikings. This highly successful sea-faring nation was one of the original colonists, taking over much of the extreme northern hemisphere including the Faroe Islands and the most northerly parts of Britain.
Today, while the empire may have shrunk, Norway maintains great pride in its ocean-going heritage. Much of the diet is seafood and Norway is one of the few nations that still catches whales on a regular basis, claiming that it is part of their culture, no matter how distasteful the international community may find this.
Rather like their climate though, Norway is a country of contrasts when it comes to their culture too. Nobody could accuse them of being backward-facing; indeed to many people Norway is now one of the most progressive countries in the world.
They were, for example, the first country to adopt strict policies giving rights to indigenous people. In Norway, the native Sami people have been blessed with reforms on land and on laws, that aims to help protect their heritage and include them in future national decisions. It is also worth noting that Norway was also one of the first countries to introduce anti-discrimination laws for homosexuals and to permit same-sex marriage.
It’s fair to say, therefore, that Norway is in many way the poster child of modernism, having slowly created one of the most democratic and inclusive nations of all.
Back in the early 1800’s Norway formed a union with Denmark and Sweden that became known as the Kalmar Union. Rather like the entities that make up the United Kingdom today, these close ties helped to ”cross pollinate” culture and language between these three Scandinavian nations.
As a result, while Norway maintains its own language, there are distinct similarities between it and other Scandinavian cousins. It is now entirely possible for individuals from different countries here to carry on a conversation in their own respective languages, and for all parties to understand one another.
One particularly interesting aspect of the Norwegian language is that it actually consists of two distinct versions. Bokmal is the more popular of the two and is used by the vast majority of the country. A secondary version, spoken by little over 10% of the population is known as Nynorsk.
Ever since the Second World War, a broad range of languages have been taught in schools. This means that while not an official language, many of the younger generations speak excellent English. German, French, Spanish and Russian are also frequently taught in schools, creating a broad range of possible languages one may speak while in Norway.
Driving in Norway can be a true pleasure; long, wide roads with stunning scenery can make driving here an experience like no other. The size of the country also helps to make driving here enjoyable, simply because the roads are typically quite empty and one need not worry about traffic jams and other annoyances except in towns and cities.
Driving here is easy enough; visitors from within the EU may drive legally using their existing license. In contrast, those from outside the EU will find their driving license is only valid for the first three months of their visit. After this time it must be exchanged for a local driving license.
The Norwegian rail system is enviably clean, reliable and timely though, as with so many other things in Norway, public transport is expensive. Sadly, there is little that can be done about this, apart from car-sharing when the opportunity arises.
It should come as no surprise with Norway’s wealth and infrastructure that they offer free universal healthcare to all residents, all paid for through a comprehensive social security system. The healthcare system in Norway is world-renowned, causing the United Nations to rank Norway as first place in its Human Development Index (HDI), an annual statistics that takes into account income, education and life expectancy.
Expats should receive similar levels of care to Norwegian nationals once they start to pay taxes in the country. Until that point, or for shorter-term visitors, a European Health Insurance Card will grant you free access to emergency medical treatment if needed.
Note that the coverage offered by an EHIC card is limited to emergency situations. Additionally you should be aware that in Norway almost all dental surgeries are privately run and consequently are not covered by either an EHIC or, for long-term expats, the healthcare system.
As a result, visitors to Norway are advised to invest in some form of complete health insurance policy in order to help control the expenses should dental treatment become necessary.
According to the World Bank, Norwegians benefit from the 4th highest per capita income anywhere in the world. This wealth has also had another knock-on effect; namely that living costs in Norway are generally far higher than other European nations. A meal for two in an average restaurant regularly top $100 so visitors should be aware of these costs in advance.
Norway has yet to fully join the EU and so has not adopted the Euro. Instead, Norway maintains their own currency known as the Krone.
One intriguing fact about Norway is that it’s generally agreed that they lead the world in electronic banking. The vast majority of banking transactions occurs online. As a result, while physical banks may be found in larger cities, their opening hours are typically quite inconvenient due to their relative unpopularity. On average banks in Norway close mid-afternoon and are closed all weekend.
Schooling in Norway is compulsory between the ages of 6 and 16. The education system is highly regarded around the world and welcomes students from all walks of life with free tuition. Even more impressively, Norway also offers free college and university education. Understandably this means that Norway has one of the highest levels of further and higher education anywhere in the world.
This free education applies both to Norwegians and those from other countries. Expats with children will therefore find Norway to be one of the most attractive countries of all from an educational standpoint.
That said, the vast majority of schools teach in Norwegian, which can be a difficult language to learn from scratch. Expats may therefore want to consider one of the private English-speaking schools for education, though check for the costs before making any final decisions.
Food & Drink
With its past dominance of the seas during the age of Vikings it should come as no surprise that seafood can rank highly on menus in Norway. Being one of the last remaining countries that actively hunt whales, this can often be found on the menu in restaurants.
One interesting observation about Norway’s cuisine (or should that be healthcare system?) is that they were recently the first country to ban energy drinks like Red Bull. Health concerns over their caffeine content was the primary motivator so visitors are advised not to try entering the country with such beverages for risk of having them confiscated.
Generally speaking, Norway is a highly conformist and community-focused country. As a result, crime rates are some of the lowest in the world. Whether in the larger cities like Oslo or smaller alpine-type villages you should generally be very safe from crime.
The biggest risk one takes in Norway is when out exploring the countryside, where avalanches are possible. If in doubt, check local news reports for danger spots, follow established footpaths and let other people know where you are going before you venture out into the snowy mountain ranges.
Lastly, be certain to take care if driving in winter as snow and ice can make road surfaces slippery. Pay particular attention to more rural areas where there is less chance that roads will have been properly cleared and/or gritted.
Places to Visit
Visitors to Norway will never be short of sights worth seeing. Benefitting, as it does, from both great natural beauty and a long and illustrious history, means that one can enjoy a wealth of man-made - as well as all-natural - experiences. We have of course already mentioned the Norwegian fjords without which a visit to Norway would never be complete, but what are the other key places to visit?
Norway is one of the best places in the world to see the Northern Lights. Whilst it is possible to see the Northern Lights from September right through until late March, your best possible chance is in December or January. Here the particularly cold, clear air seems to increase the frequency of sightings. Northern Norway and the Svalbard Islands are generally the most reliable locations from where to see the jaw-dropping light show.
Heddal Stave Church
This incredible wooden church is unlike anything you have ever seen. The best possible description would be that it has the appearance of a gothic fairy castle made from timber, though it really has to be visited in person to appreciate just how unique and special a place this really is.
Built in the 1200’s, Akerhus Castle and Fortress is situated in Oslo. It was built by King Hakon as a military garrison to protect the wealth of Oslo from foreign invaders. This imposing building can make for a fascinating glimpse of Norway’s ancient history. During the summer months a number of festivals take place here too; and represent an excellent way to immerse yourself in true Norwegian culture.
No visit to Norway’s capital city of Oslo would be complete without a stroll through Frogner Park. While it is the largest park in Oslo by a large measure, the main reason for visiting is the plethora of sculptures on display here. And, for lovers of art, Norway’s world-famous Vigelandsparken - or Sculpture Park - is only a short walk away. Attracting over a million tourists a year it is one of Norway’s most popular attractions of all.
For more information on moving abroad visit www.gov.uk/knowbeforeyougo.
Of course, if you’re planning on travelling to Norway please ensure you have adequate expat travel insurance.