Oslo, Norway Report of what it's like to live there - 12/04/15
Personal Experiences from Oslo, Norway
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
Have lived elsewhere in Western Europe, also in Thailand
2. How long have you lived here?
3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
U.S. Government assignment
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Apartments in the city, small single family houses in the suburbs - I guess what was most new to us is how many people's "single family house" is actually what we would call a condo, maybe a 3BR flat in a community that is built around a common area. These can be very family friendly but are a little hard to get used to if you are expecting a house. On the other hand, you don't have to do any yard work or snow shoveling. :)
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Expensive. But buy fruit and vegetables anyway! Our best tip was to shop at a big store like an ICA or Ultra on a Saturday afternoon and buy lots of things that were marked down. Having freezer space for those things was a big help.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Hmm... don't skimp on winter attire (including Yaktrax or Katoola microspikes). Winter tires would be cheaper purchased overseas. Consumables?
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Oslo is getting much better food culture, but it's not an international food city in the way that say Copenhagen or maybe Stockholm is. The inexpensive restaurant options are mostly not worth it (think US$20 for a bowl of soup or a baguette sandwich). The expensive restaurants are very good. However, lots of positive trends, more international options... tex-mex, food halls, food trucks, etc. Don't overlook the "immigrant" restaurants in Groenland, for example. McDonald's has the best deal in country with I think a 12 kroner hamburger (not even on the menu).
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
None - we had ants in the kitchen occasionally but I'm not sure we ever even saw another bug in the house
1. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Haha - you can pay about 120 NOK/hr for someone of immigrant background who is looking to make a little money, for something like babysitting or housecleaning. That is legal as long as the person doesn't earn more than something like 5000 NOK/year for the work, if I remember correctly. If you go "white market" through an agency, I think it's twice as expensive. Needless to say, many people get by without domestic help.
2. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Expensive. Plentiful outdoor opportunities, though - gotta take up cross-country skiing, and can buy (possibly junky) equipment inexpensively at school rummage sales in the fall ("loppemarked").
3. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
Ubiquitous - some restaurants don't take cash.
4. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Plenty - the American Lutheran Church is a nice community (it's mostly non-denominational, very international).
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Very little. I had it and used it, but could have done fine without it. Half the servers in town are Swedish anyway.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
You'd need to choose your location carefully - relying on public transportation might work well with the t-bane and even the buses, but some tram lines are not handicapped accessible at all.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Yes, safe. Affordable? If you buy your ticket on board, a bus costs 50 NOK - the exchange rate when we were there meant that was over US$8. But the monthly pass is a good deal. I considered taxis not affordable and never took them. The local/regional trains from the airport are almost as convenient as the airport express train, and are half price.
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
City cars are appropriate. Winter tires are required. We used our car occasionally for a big grocery run, and otherwise only for getting outside of Oslo, whether that was for day trips, hiking, or the occasional driving tour. Rental cars are very expensive. We were glad to have the car, but if you live inside Ring 1, it may be more hassle than it's worth.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. Not terribly expensive.
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
No quarantine, but you need to have done your homework well in advance (following a calendar for shots, for example). Quality care is available, but expensive.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
Yes and no. Honestly, if you are a petroleum engineer or some such, you might be able to write your own ticket, though maybe not in this downturn. I knew people with great skills, including in IT and in international relations, who were never able to get their foot in the door. It helps a lot if you have a tie like a Norwegian spouse, I think, or a degree from a Norwegian school. Norwegians are skeptical about non-Norwegian CVs, at least U.S. CVs.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Lots if you have a kid in a school band, for example, but there just isn't an altruistic kind of volunteer culture in the same way there is in the U.S. If we had stayed longer, I would have looked into doing some kind of volunteer trail maintenance, perhaps, via DNT.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
More casual at work than in the U.S., but not sloppy in public, like sweatpants. Men generally don't wear ties, and women generally don't wear suits. Plenty of high-end outdoor gear.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
No, so much so that it makes it tough to adjust back to the "real world."
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
I can only speak to private health care, but I found the quality at Aleris to be excellent. You get what you pay for? Norwegians have to wait a looong time for non-emergency surgery. I had a great experience with labor & delivery at an Oslo hospital.
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Too cold and dark for me. Winters vary, but we had one winter with 6 months of temperatures hovering just under/around 32F/0C. While it was never TERRIBLY cold (never below -20C, say), that was a long time of being chilly and having to worry about ice and snow on the ground. The other two winters have been much milder, only about 1 month of snow. Regardless, it gets dark by 3:30pm in December and January; if you work an office job, you will only experience sunshine during the week if you go out at lunchtime. Summers are really variable - we had some "balmy" days in the 70sF, but it can also be grey, chilly, and rainy, which can be depressing. Definitely plan for sunshine breaks to places south in the winter and maybe even the summer!
Schools & Children:
1. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
Yes, organized daycare (barnehage) is available for 12 months and up. Can be a little hard to get a slot at your desired barnehage the first year, and babies are only guaranteed a slot from the fall in which they are 12 mos. In other words, if your kid is born in October, you may have to wait almost 2 years, at least if you are picky about location. Our barnehage was comparable to a good (not fantastic!) U.S. day care, but cost less than US$500/month.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Most expats are "lovepats," i.e., married to Norwegians and well-integrated into Norwegian society. Many of them love Norway and many of them don't, due to all the reasons mentioned above (pros are mostly generous welfare for Norwegians, work-life balance; cons are high cost of living, long winters, closed society). In general, though, I would say morale among true expats (those who are not settled permanently in Norway) is low for those reasons.
2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Having people over to your house. Alcohol is so expensive out that people drink at home, for better or worse. Picnics in the summer?
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
The exchange rate was unfavorable our entire stay, and it was just so expensive that we had to adapt our habits a lot. Food and drink are expensive, so if you're used to eating out a lot, you may have to scale back. Norwegians tend to be so reserved, and single friends complained about no one talking to them at bars, except possibly crude drunken propositions at closing time. Something like meet-ups might be a better way to get to know friendly people. Travel opportunities are pretty abundant, though not inexpensive.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Probably - Norwegians like to think of themselves as very tolerant, but they are not necessarily interested in other cultures, etc. - I think many people would dislike having someone with a non-European background next door to them. I had an Indian friend whose Norwegian neighbors always complained about her cooking smells. Tiny Jewish population, no general understanding of Judaism. Probably no gender prejudices - dads share (almost) equally in child care, which is great.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Hiking and camping; seeing natural beauty while touring especially by car; easy access to outdoor life from Oslo; good fresh fish; appreciation of work-life balance; Norwegian and expat friends.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Outdoors. Join DNT and get out into the woods. Take the ferries to the islands in the summertime. Enjoy the long nights in summer.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Nothing. Maybe fresh cod? Everything else is too expensive. Hardly any handicrafts left, and those that are are exorbitantly expensive.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Personal safety is high. Outdoor activities are plentiful and amazing.
10. Can you save money?
Not while we were there - just groceries added up really fast.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
Oslo is a small city. Feels more like a big town. I expected Copenhagen or Stockholm, and it was disappointing in that respect. It's not easy to get to know Norwegians - lots of people are still friends with their childhood friends and don't "need" or want new friends.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes, because it's safe, clean, family-friendly. We did well socially mostly through kid-centered activities - I can see it being much more difficult socially otherwise. I personally would hesitate to go back there or anywhere with such a long winter.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Shorts and sundresses.
4. But don't forget your:
Winter gear. Hiking boots.