Before moving to Norway, we read a lot on the All-Knowing-Internet about the cost of living in Norway. If I were to sum up the internet’s opinion of the cost of living in Norway, I would use one word: expensive.
So, it wasn’t a surprise to us when we got here and things were pricey. They weren’t quite as out of control as we expected, but it certainly isn’t cheap to be here. Food and transportation costs what it actually costs to travel and eat, minus the American subsidies and addiction to cheap everything that we enjoy without really understanding just how cheap our stuff is.
But, there were some expenses involved with moving here that we didn’t really anticipate. Today, I’m giving y’all a breakdown of what it cost us to move to Norway.
First, it’s probably worth knowing the exchange rate, even though I’ve converted all our costs into dollars. Norway uses the kroner (NOK), and $1USD is equal to (as of the day I wrote this, Sept. 12th) 8.15NOK. On Sept. 11th $1USD was worth 8.20NOK, so the exchange rate moves around a little bit.
Our expenses started when we were back in America. First, we had to book plane tickets. We searched around for a few weeks, and finally decided to buy two one-way tickets, Denver to Oslo, from Iceland Air. The website required us to purchase the tickets in British pounds, so we spent 827 GBP for two tickets, or approximately $1200USD.
Next, we had to organize our visas for legally stay in Norway. Americans are allowed an automatic three-month visa to travel in the Schengen countries. After that, you need a visa of some kind to remain in those countries. My university actually hired me as a PhD student, giving me the rights and privileges of being a regular university employee (which is awesome, and the USA should totally pick up on this). Thus, I had a work contract and was able to apply for a ‘skilled worker’ visa to live and work in Norway. For Americans, this visa carries the price tag of 3700NOK, or approximately $453USD.
Rob, being my legal spouse, was most easily able to apply through a ‘family reunification’ permit. His visa cost 5900NOK, or approximately $723USD.
We knew we would have to apply for permits, but neither of us had any idea how expensive residence visas are until we had to put our credit card numbers in. It definitely set us back a lot further than we had planned for. We both began to feel extremely grateful that we had savings from our readjustment allowances and jobs prior to Peace Corps.
Once we arrived in Norway, we were met by my fantastically generous and welcoming colleague (and his wonderful family). We had a place to stay and eat during our first week in Oslo, which was a huge money saver and culture shock absorber. But, we still had to travel in and around Oslo and we occasionally ate out. Public transportation, exceptional though it is in Norway, is also more expensive than I thought it would be. Within the immediate Oslo area, a 24-hour pass was 90NOK, or about $11USD (per person). You had to take at least three rides on the metro (or bus, or train) to make it worthwhile, so we only bought the day pass once. The rest of the time, we traveled outside the metro area or only took two trips per day, but those daily trips added up quickly. All in all, I think we probably spent about 600NOK, or about $72USD, on transportation (for two) in Oslo.
Meals were also pricey, as are most ‘convenience’ foods here in Norway. A sandwich can cost $8-12USD. A coffee, $4USD for a small latte. We probably spent $150USD (combined) during our week in Oslo exploring the city, buying a few groceries, and eating out.
When we finally arrived in Lillehammer and moved in to our apartment, we needed to purchase a few small things to round out our furniture and bedding situation. But, we have extremely kind and generous landlords who not only let us move in and live rent-free the last two days of August, but they also drove us from Oslo to Lillehammer for free, bought us new furniture and bedding (which I guess is fairly common in Norway), and mounted new lights for us. They’ve also been exceptionally kind in letting us pay the deposit (15,000NOK, or about $1,839USD) in September instead of when we moved in (so I could receive a paycheck first) and being patient while we waded through the mess of attempting international wire transfers from our American bank to their Norwegian bank just to pay our first month’s rent (7,800NOK, or about $951USD) .
Side note: American banks are so abysmally far behind in their technology and policies that it is next to impossible to wire money to an international bank unless you are there, in person, at the bank where you opened the account! We were very lucky that my parents A) still live in my hometown where my account was originally opened and B) are exceptionally kind and generous and were willing to front the rent money and wire it while we transferred money via online banking back to them. The American banking system isn’t just ridiculous, it’s also dysfunctional. /endrant.
To compound the costs, there was also the ‘wait factor’ of being new to the Norwegian system and not having all the proper numbers and documents to be able to do basic things like open a bank account or register as a student at my university. Norwegians use a national ID number (like our social security number in The States), and this number is tied to absolutely everything you do, from getting a student access card to your work building to opening a bank account. Thus, before I could get paid and cash checks, I needed to have my work permit approved and number assigned. This is a subject for a different post, but because we didn’t have access to my paychecks until the day this post was written, we were making all our purchases from our American bank accounts. Thus, having savings wasn’t just a nicety, they were a necessity.
So, let’s sum all of this up.
$453 (my work visa)
$723 (Rob’s residence visa)
$72 (transportation in Oslo)
$150 (eating out/miscellaneous in Oslo)
$1839 (rent deposit)
It cost us about $5588USD to move to and get settled in Norway. While this is an approximately estimate and doesn’t include regular purchases we would have made anywhere (like the cost of my bicycle to get to work, groceries, bedding, etc.), I think it’s fairly representative of the realistic costs for two people (in our visa categories) to move to Norway.
Looking back, I realize that these costs really aren’t that astronomical considering that we moved abroad and are paying for two, but it was a lot of cash to shell out within one month while neither of us were collecting steady paychecks.
Now that we’re here and I’ve received the first half of my first paycheck (they can only pay me the first half in ‘cash’ until I have a bank account (still waiting for that ID number!), after which everything will be direct deposit), the financial pressures have been somewhat lifted. We still accidentally spent $30 on a towel the other day when we ‘mis-read’ (a.k.a. didn’t know how to read) the Norwegian sales sign, but we’re figuring it out!
So, moving to Norway is expensive, but not unreasonably so. Still, I would caution anyone who is thinking of moving here to plan adequately for the financial realities of living in one of the world’s most expensive countries. Even if you have a job waiting for you, as I did, it can take weeks for all the proper pieces to fall into place before you can collect your paychecks. Having savings is important, and I highly recommend doing your research a little better than we did concerning visa costs, etc.
Otherwise, we’re loving our new life here in Norway. Rob is learning Norwegian with daily classes and I’m settling into my new job as a well-paid PhD student. It’s not often you get a chance to live the dream, and for us, that chance is priceless.