We often focus on the great sides of Norway on this website, and while Norway is a pretty great country, it’s important to not get rose-tinted glasses and be under the impression that Norway is perfect.
You will run into all sort of new issues if you decide to move to Norway, and there are definitely many downsides to living in Norway.
This article is all about these downsides to living in Norway. So while this might feel like a pessimistic article, many of the below downsides are worth keeping in mind if you consider moving to Norway.
So, let’s just cut straight to it and look closer at some of the things most people agree are the biggest downsides to Norway.
1) It’s very expensive in Norway
It’s a bit of a cliche, but it’s also the truth. Norway is incredibly expensive compared to most other countries. Cost of living can be OK, but entertainment and things like that will cost you. The things you need are cheap, but the things you want are expensive.
If you do like most Norwegians and make your meals at home, food, shelter and the things you need can be fairly cheap. However, eating out, going to a pub, visiting a zoo, riding a taxi or other non-essential things are often incredibly expensive.
The good part of this is that wages are typically high enough to account for it. So if you move to Norway to get a job you will be fine.
However, if you come to Norway to study while getting money from your home country or plan on moving to Norway while living off an internet business, as a digital nomad or anything like that, you will really feel how expensive everything is.
A decent salary in many countries might not even be enough to find you an apartment to rent in Oslo, so be prepared to bring in a decent sum of money if you want to move to Norway.
The high cost of living is one of the main concerns for people who are planning on moving to Norway, and I can totally understand their problems with it.
Here are some tips to make your stay in Norway a bit cheaper. You can save a lot of money in Norway if you keep your wits about you when buying things, but the overall cost will still be pretty expensive compared to most others places in the world.
2) There is a lot of darkness during winter
While most people are able to learn to deal with the cold in the winter, the darkness is something else. Even where we live in the south-eastern part of Norway, the sun is only up for 3 – 5 hours during the winter. This can be pretty taxing on the mind, and it’s dark when you leave for work, and dark again before you get home from work.
The further north you are, the darker it becomes. When you cross the polar circle, there are a certain number of polar nights. Polar nights is a phenomenon where the night lasts for over 24 hours, so in other words, the sun is never up! This means that it’s dark as night all day long, and you won’t see the sun for a few days.
Most Norwegians cities don’t have polar nights, and the biggest city with polar nights is Tromsø with its 49 polar nights every year. Towns very far north like Hammerfest have 59 polar nights, while Longyearbyen on Svalbard has 113 polar nights! Imagine not seeing the sun for over 100 days..
Many people experience winter depression, both with and without polar nights. This is when they feel depressed during winter, and it gradually fades away when the days begin to be longer and the sun is up for a few more hours each day. People who have never experienced regular depression might even get this winter depression when there’s so much darkness over a long time period, so be aware of this phenomenon.
The good thing about the the polar lights is that they also give you a great chance to see the northern lights! So there’s even a pro to this downside.
3) It can be difficult to get to know people
Norwegians are notoriously difficult to get to know, and many foreigners who move to Norway learns this the hard way. Finding new friends can be painstakingly difficult, and even smaller social interactions can be rare at times.
Even foreigners who considers themselves extrovert and outgoing can have lots of trouble finding new friends or meet new people in Norway, since Norwegians won’t be open to talk to strangers in most social settings.
If you want to get to know people in Norway, the most common method for doing so is to partake in different types of recreational activities and hobbies. There are plenty of clubs all over Norway for all types of different interests, and these are pretty much one of very few arenas where Norwegians are open to get to know new people.
There are some areas to help out with meeting new people in Norway, and most of the bigger cities have Facebook groups where they invite foreigners into social circles. However, I still definitely consider the fact that meeting new people in Norway is suck a pain to be one of the downsides many foreigners experience when moving to Norway.
Also read: How to make friends in Norway.
4) The tax rate can be painful
Norway has a very high tax rate, and it feels very bad to part with such as huge amount of money for most people, especially when you are used to paying a much lower tax on everything. Not only will you have to pay a big income tax up to 45 %, but you also get to pay tax for everything you buy in the form of VAT.
The tax is usually deducted from your paycheck before you get it on your bank account, so luckily most of us don’t have to save up money to pay taxes. That said, business owners will have to take care of this by themselves.
There are definitely high taxes in Norway, but there are also many benefits you get from paying them. The taxes are used to fund free education, sick leave, paid parental leave, health services such as public hospitals, and other social benefits.
PS. don’t be too scared of the potential 45 % tax. Most people pay something closer to 30 % tax on their income.
5) It is pretty cold, and the weather is unpredictable
If you’re moving from a country located further south than Norway, you will likely have a bit of trouble adapting to the weather. While everyone can tell you how cold it can get, it can be a bit difficult to really grasp how this will affect your daily life.
You will need to learn to dress for the weather, and you will get to know how cold even houses can be when it’s -20 C outside. The key for most people is to use wool, which is a real life-hack to survive the cold climate.
The weather will also be very unpredictable, especially during autumn and spring. It can change from warm and comfortable to chilly and rainy in a matter of minutes, and it’s never safe to leave the house without a plan B when it comes to the weather.
Some places, like Bergen, has a lot of rainfall in a given year, and sunny and cloudless days are few and far between. It takes a long time to adjust to this weather if you are used to most days being sunny and warm, and it’s definitely one of the downsides to living in Norway.
So keep in mind that the weather of Norway is much more than just cold weather!
6) It can be difficult to find a job without speaking Norwegian
If you are planning on moving to Norway, one of the best things to spend your time on is learning Norwegian. While most Norwegians are pretty good at speaking English, you will want to learn Norwegian if you plan on staying here for longer than a few months.
It’s far from impossible to get a job without speaking Norwegian, but it will require either a bit of luck, an in-demand skill (with the documents to prove it), or a willingness to accept the “worst” jobs.
You will typically get at the bottom of the list when the bosses are hiring if you don’t speak Norwegian, so spending a few hours every day on learning Norwegian is a great investment.
Most Norwegians will also prefer to socialize in Norwegian, even though you might get hired without speaking it. This applies to both private social gatherings as well as the break room on your job.
There is a bit of an exception for certain skilled workers, especially in construction.
7) It’s impossible to navigate the NAV system
NAV is the public system that is supposed to help you with finding a job, or pay your welfare if you get disabled or are jobless. While NAV is a theoretically great system, the matter of fact is that it is next to impossible to navigate for a regular Norwegian, so it’s even more difficult if you are a foreigner who have permanently settled in Norway. All applications will be met by legal language with lots of references to different laws and regulations, and it takes some skill to understand what exactly they are saying.
So while Norway has a great system that is supposed to take care of people who need help, navigating this system is difficult, and you have to be prepared for a lot of frustration for even the simplest applications. So be aware that you need to navigate this Kafkaesque system if you get sick or injured and can’t work, need help finding a job, or need things like a maternity leave.
8) Petrol and car prices are insane
While most things are expensive in Norway, it’s still worth noting that anything related to a car is worse than you can imagine. Not only are most non EV-cars taxed to a point where they cost a small fortune, but petrol and diesel is also incredibly expensive and taxed high. Add to that high costs of car insurance and lots of road tolls, and you got the recipe for a big expenditure.
Driving and owning a car in Norway is very expensive, and there’s no way to get around it. To make matters worse, the public transportation system is terrible in most towns and cities, so riding a bus is not often a real option unless you want to be late for work 2 – 3 days each week.
The high tax on petrol and cars themselves has made electric vehicles extremely popular in Norway, and over 50 % of all new cars are EVs. While this is great for the climate, most people who buys these do it to save money, and not to save the planet. It’s a win-win situations, unless you can’t afford to pay 500 000 NOK for an EV that is.
9) Norwegian food is often very bland to foreigners
I can’t really tell you much about this since I’m born and raised in Norway, but I often hear that both tourists and foreigners who have moved to Norway find the food here very bland and tasteless. The grocery stores in Norway are generally very small, and have a very limited selection compared to what many people are used to.
This is also true for restaurants. While there is a nice diversity of good restaurants in Oslo, Bergen and Trondheim, it gets pretty bad in most other cities. Smaller towns will most often only have a single take-out place where you can buy pizzas, kebabs, hamburgers and things like that, but lack real restaurants completely.
It’s very common for Norwegians to make their own meals at home, and Norwegians are generally not very good at trying new tastes, so the grocery stores are stuck with the traditional stock.
10) The cultural scene in Norway is often underwhelming
The cultural scene in Norway tend to feel underwhelming for many foreigners who are used to living in cities with a higher population. If you want to see a well-known band playing, the chances are that they will only stop by Oslo, if they will even bother with Oslo on their tour at all.
The same goes for lesser known bands and cultural exhibitions. The only real variety is found in Oslo, and the smaller the city or town, the less cultural scene you will find.
The concert and culture scene is far from non-existent, but most foreigners who move to Norway are a bit underwhelmed by how little variety there is. And it’s also worth noting that culture in general is expensive.
11) There’s import tax if you order stuff from outside Norway
Are you missing food or just some things from your home country? Don’t worry, you can just order them online and have them delivered to your address in Norway. However, there will be a serious tax on it!
When buying stuff from outside Norway, you will have to pay for the items themselves, then tax / VAT on top of it. Some online stores allow you to pay the Norwegian VAT tax directly to their website, but most do not. In these cases, you will get an invoice with 25 % of the value of the item on it, plus a “small” fee of 100 – 300 NOK for the invoice.
This means that items you buy online from outside Norway often end up costing about double what you pay to the website, so it’s best to keep this in mind. Definitely a big downside to living in Norway if you want to buy stuff from other countries in the world.
12) Public transport is a nightmare outside of cities
Many people consider the smaller towns in Norway to be among the best places to settle down.
There are many benefits making a small town your new home, such as easy access to incredible nature. But there are also some downsides to this option of settling down far away from any major city.
One of these problems are the lack of good systems for public transport. Buses are often few and far between, and you end up relying on your car much more than you originally anticipated.
The problem is getting even worse, and there are even fewer buses in the recent years then ever before. So you need to be prepared for either walking, riding a bike or getting a car if you want to live in a small town in Norway.
13) The bureaucracy of moving to Norway is difficult
While most people consider Norway to be a great place, moving here can be pretty difficult for many. Not only are there plenty of restrictions on who can even move to Norway in the first place, but the bureaucracy of getting your new life set up in Norway can be challenging as well.
You first challenge is to get a residence permit, either a temporarily one or even a permanent residency. This often proves to be difficult for people outside of EU or EEA countries, even if you are from the United States. But the fun bureaucracy don’t stop at this!
Now you have to worry about things like getting your Norwegian bank account, getting a National Identification Number and setting up your tax accounts, which are all difficult to navigate for foreigners.
And even after you figure out how to navigate the system, the wait times and queues for everyone bureaucracy related are extremely long.
14) The major cities in Norway don’t really feel like a big city at all
Norway is a country with a low population density, which can even be felt in the bigger cities such as Bergen, Oslo and Trondheim. Because while these are considered to be big cities in Norway, they are actually pretty small on a global scale. Many people from southern Europe or Asia are taken aback by the fact that we consider these cities to be big cities!
So why would anyone want to move to Norway?
We’ve covered a lot of the bad things about moving to Norway in this post, but let’s also not forget that there are many benefits to living here.
Not only do you get almost free health care and university education here, but Norwegians also generally have a high quality of life with a good work-life balance. Most Norwegians are also good English speakers, so it’s often easy to get settled down both in the bigger cities as well as in more rural areas.
There are absolutely many positive things to Norway, and it’s up to everyone to decide if the pros are worth the cons of living in Norway.
Nicklas is the owner and editor of The Norway Guide, and is responsible for most of the content on the website.
He lives in Skien, Norway with his wife and two children. Nicklas is specialized in Norwegian ecology (including Norway’s geology, wildlife and flora) from his degree in Ecology And Nature Management at University of South-Eastern Norway, but has a particular interest in tourism and content creation.
His biggest hobbies are fishkeeping, going on hikes with his dog, and rooting for the local football team.