The Dark Side of the Fjords: 10 Reasons Norway May Not Be For You

Norway is known for its high standard of living, generous welfare benefits, and for being one of the happiest countries in the world.

On the surface, this might seem like a great place to live. And while it is, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows.

As with any other country, there are a few downsides to living in Norway. In this article, we will go through 10 of the most prominent downsides to living in Norway.

Getting your residency permit

Whenever you are staying in another country for more than 3 months, you have to get a residence permit. Norway is no exception.

Although the process of getting a Norwegian residence permit is very transparent, as there is plenty of information online. The actual process is tiring and frustrating.

There are different rules and regulations to consider depending on which grounds you are applying for a residency permit and where in the world you come from.

The process is a whole lot easier if you come from an EU/EAA country, as Norway is a member of the EEA. This allows for the free movement of people and labor across borders. 

That being said, you still have to get a residence permit for stays exceeding 3 months, which means you have to jump through the hoops put up by the UDI (Foreign office).

This includes having all the necessary papers in order before registering with the police. You also have to register that you move to Norway in order to receive a national identity number.

While this does not sound that complicated, this has to be done within a given period of time, however, you might not get an appointment whenever it is convenient for you. Also, it can take quite some time for the different offices to process your application.

Finding a job

In general, finding a job in Norway is not that difficult, however, there are factors that can make it difficult, depending on your situation.

One of the biggest challenges for foreigners looking for work in Norway is not being able to speak the language. 

This is especially true if you don’t speak English. However, it depends also on which field you are looking to work in.

It is possible to get a job in most sectors as an English speaker, however, if you work in the government, or healthcare sector, you have to speak Norwegian on a basic level.

The second challenge can be finding a job as a skilled worker. According to the regulation, a skilled worker is someone with one or more of the following requirements:

  • Master/bachelor degree
  • Completed vocational training program of at least three years at the upper secondary school level, for example as a carpenter or health worker.
  • special qualifications that you have obtained through long work experience

As a skilled worker, you can’t just take on any type of job in Norway. The job you are offered must require qualifications as a skilled worker and you must have the qualifications that the job requires.

In addition, the position you are offered has to be full-time (at least 80%) in order to qualify for a work visa. Also, your pay as a skilled worker must not be poorer than what is normal in Norway.

This means that your payment has to be in line with the collective agreement for given industries. In industries without collective agreements, it cannot be poorer than for someone in your occupation in the place you are going to work.

If the position requires a master’s degree, your payment must be at least  NOK 439 900 per year pre-tax. 

If the position requires a bachelor’s degree, your payment must be at least  NOK 407 900 per year pre-tax.

While these regulations can make it more difficult for a foreign job seeker in Norway, they also offer higher protection once you get a job and prevent companies from practicing social dumping.      

Making friends

Even if you consider yourself to be an outgoing and friendly person, making friends and Norway can be challenging.

There are some myths and rumors that Norwegians are shy, challenging to approach, or even rude.

While this is not true, Norwegians are less outgoing around people they don’t know and are more conservative in most public and social settings.

For example, it is not very common for a Norwegian to start a conversation with a stranger on the bus or train. Or sit next to someone if there are other seats available.

The reason for this is that it is considered rude to bother people unnecessarily, and simply letting people be on their daily commute is considered to be polite.

Therefore, your best bet is to approach Norwegians in a setting where socializing is considered appropriate. 

However, you might still be in for a challenge. It can be hard to break into a group of Norwegians as they tend to form smaller, tight-knit groups of friends.

That being said, once you break the ice with them, don’t be surprised if a Norwegian ends up being some of your best friends.

Getting a driver’s license

If you consider moving to Norway, make sure you get a license in your home country before you leave. The reason for this is that getting a license in Norway is very expensive. 

If you have a license, the process of exchanging your foreign license for a Norwegian one is not complicated. This is especially true if your license is from an EU country. 

However, depending on where your license is from, you might have to do a practical driving test before getting your Norwegian license. If you fall into this category, make sure to prepare in advance.

If you fail the exam, you will have to have to obtain your driving license in the same manner as Norwegian first-time applies, which is both times consuming and costly. 

You can read more about using foreign licenses in Norway in this article.

Learning the language

Learning a new language is always difficult and Norwegian is no exemption. That being said, Norwegian is not considered to be a particularly hard language.

This is especially true for English speakers, as both are Germanic languages, a branch of the Indo-European language family.

In fact, 26% of the words in the English language are derived from the germanic languages, which include old English, Norse, and Dutch.

In addition to the words, the grammar and word order are very similar between English and Norwegian. However, many will find Norwegian pronunciation hard to master.

In addition, Norwegian is the preferred language of business and everyday life in Norway. Despite the vast majority of Norwegians speaking English, you are more likely to get a job and make friends if you master the language.

There are several free sources you can use to learn the language. Duolingo, the language learning app, offers a Norwegian course. Also, the Norwegian university of science and technology (NTNU) offers a free Norwegian language course on its website.

While these sources will make it easier for you to learn Norwegian. Learning the language will be frustrating, however, once you master it, it will be worth it down the line.

The higher cost of living

Norway is an expensive country. It has some of the most expensive groceries in the world. The income taxes are also high, ranging from 25-50%. And let’s not forget the value-added tax on most goods and services of 25%.

Despite this, the picture is more nuanced than most people think. 

Norway is big on the concept of paying a living wage. As a consequence, services such as hairdressers, restaurants, and bars are expensive. But traditionally expensive services such as doctors and engineers are relatively cheap. 

This has made income disparities much smaller in Norway than in most parts of the world. And if you are working in Norway, and receive a Norwegian wage, the salary takes into account the cost of living. 

Also, you have to factor in what you get in return for the taxes you pay. Expenses for health care end education are virtually non-existent in a Norwegian family budget.

At the end of the day, the way to look at it is that Norway is expensive when it comes to everything you want, but cheap for everything you need.   

Underwhelming city life

Oslo, Norway’s capital is the largest city in Norway. Despite this, it has a population of just 700 000.

Norway’s second and third largest cities are Bergen at just over 285 000 inhabitants, and Trondheim at just over 205 000 inhabitants.

A city’s population is often proportionate to the cultural and social offerings. And while there has been a greater emphasis on city culture and life in the last couple of decades, Norwegian cities have a hard time competing against other European cities such as 

Combined with a high cost of living which makes Norway expensive in terms of dining out, and going for drinks. Many might find Norway’s city life to be underwhelming.

With that being said, Norwegian cities do offer several unique experiences. For example, you can bring your skis on the metro and enjoy some of the best cross-country skiing some 30 minutes outside Oslo’s city center.

The weather and climate

For some, Norwegian weather is part of the charm. It can be as rugged and unpredictable as the nature it bombards. 

But for most people, there is no getting away from it. Norway is basically a country of two seasons: wet winter and cold winter.

In Bergen in the west, it rains on average for 230 days a year. In the north, the coldest temperature recorded is -50 Celsius. And pretty much everywhere, 20 degrees is considered a warm summers day.

That being said, even the bad weather has an upside. All the rain makes the western coast awash with lush forested green during the summer and provides some spectacular waterfalls

In combination with the cold climate, it provides an abundance of snow in the mountains in the winter, which provides some fabulous skiing for both alpine and cross-country enthusiasts alike.

Food selection

Many who have decided to settle in Norway cite a disappointment in terms of food selection in supermarkets. There are several reasons for this. 

First, the agricultural, food, and grocery market in Norway is highly regulated. As a consequence, the selection of food items such as dairy products and other produce is limited.

Second, Norway has a limited amount of arable land that can only be farmed for limited periods of time and a limited selection of produce due to the climate.

As a consequence, Norwegian cuisine is somewhat limited compared to other countries around the world. 

Third, Norway is located in the far north of Europe, which means it takes a longer time for imported fresh produce to arrive.

While the food selection has certainly improved in the last 10-15 years, you might still find the selection to be disappointing if you come from sunnier and less regulated parts of the world. 

Adjusting to Norwegian society

It is never easy to adjust to a new life in which, especially if you relocate to a new country with other social norms and ways of living.

For many moving to Norway, the combination of a strict, rule-based, and sometimes challenging bureaucracy and the Norwegian society with its social norms is especially hard.

Many find that they lose a lot of confidence which can be a tough blow when it is the exact opposite of what you need when adjusting to a new society.

Despite the challenges you’d face, don’t let yourself get beaten down or let it change the way you are.

Norway has a lot to offer once you break the code. Also, Norway has a lot to learn and adapt from those deciding to make it their new home.

Photo of author


Erik is the creator and editor of Planet Norway. Born in Trondheim and currently living in Oslo, Erik knows the ins and outs of Norwegian History, society, and culture. His idea for starting planet Norway came about when helping his foreign fiance to settle in Norway.