Oslo, Norway Report of what it's like to live there - 12/02/16
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?
No, I have lived in several other cities around the world.
2. How long have you lived here?
3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
The US Embassy.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Oslo is an UNFURNISHED post. Lucky people got gorgeous, spacious apartments in Frogner/Marjorstuen area. Other people got an apartment, a single family home, a townhouse, or a duplex in the suburbs. They were all spread out and we lived among the locals.
The commute varies from a few minutes on foot to 15-30 minutes by public transportation to 1 hour of driving through traffic if you're one of those who are allowed to drive to the Embassy.
Most housing was leased, so maintenance issues were reported to GSO and the local staff had to contact the landlord and wait for the landlord to hire someone to come, which took forever and a lot of nagging on my part. My housing was very old and had numerous maintenance problems. They apparently do not check the places well enough before renting. The local staff could care less about your housing problems. The Embassy assigns whatever they can find just before you arrive regardless of your preferences.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
There is everything you need in Oslo. Norwegians' diet is similar to Americans'. They love pizza, hotdogs, tacos, BBQ, candy, and ice cream. There is not a wide selection of vegetables and fruits.
Groceries cost more than in the US, especially meat and alcohol. Fortunately, we had the option to buy alcohol in bulk from a duty free shop in Denmark (Peter Justesen). That was the only way to afford drinking. Despite the fact that Oslo has been rated the most expensive city in the world, we had low COLA for a long time (as low as 25%), which made everyone at post unhappy.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
I was able to order things as I needed from Amazon. Do bring your own blankets and towels. The welcome kit was horrible. Also bring your favorite DVDs. The Embassy provides a TV but no TV service. Getting my D number (temporary resident number), opening a Norwegian bank account, and having someone from the cable company come to my place took a long time.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Restaurants in Norway are ridiculously expensive. Food was never good enough to justify the price. $20 for a burrito, $35 for a pizza. I never used any delivery services due to the high delivery fees. The cheapest dining options in town are McDonald's, IKEA, and kebab restaurants. Oslo deprived me of the pleasure of dining out. There are not many restaurants to choose from in Oslo unless you live in downtown. I had to walk for 15 minutes from my place to hit one small restaurant.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
There were many bees during summer, which occasionally made it inside the house.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO and occasionally pouch. Amazon shipments usually arrived within a week.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
I didn't know anyone in the Embassy community with household help. Sitters charged around 150 nok/hour.
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?
Credit cards are accepted almost everywhere, but Norwegian bank cards are the most accepted. The bank charges a fee per bank card per year.
4. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
None, but it helps to know some for reading signs and grocery shopping. Post did not offer language lessons.
5. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes. Not all trams are wheelchair accessible and the sidewalks are icy during winter.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
They are safe but not affordable. It costs around $4 one-way to ride the train, bus, or tram no matter how short the trip is. Once you pay, it's good for 1 hour. If you have a family, it easily adds up for a round trip to go anywhere. A monthly pass cost about $80 per month.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Expect to wait well over a month for the Internet to be installed, and don't rely on the Embassy to help you. Depending on the housing, some people couldn't get cable. I paid about $45 for 10mgb. It was noticeably slower than what I was used to in the US, but good enough for Netflix. Customer service in Norway are toll numbers, meaning you're charged by the minute on top of your whatever your phone plan charges. Paper bills cost money. Elect electronic billing to get around this.
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?
There were EFM jobs available at post, mostly for low pay.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Oslo International School Parent Association.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Close to none. Oslo is a very safe and quiet city. Women can walk around alone at night.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
There is a nurse at post. She didn't do much other than helping book an appointment and giving flu shot. You go to private doctors (Volvat, Aleris, etc) and bill your insurance. The quality was fine and the price was similar to the U.S.
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?
The air quality in Oslo is very good.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Summer never got hotter than 82F and mornings and nights were chilly. Norwegians enjoy sunshine as much as possible during the summer and sunbathe in bikinis and BBQ wherever there is a little green space.
Winter is cold, dark, wet, icy, and very long. It didn't even snow enough to make it pretty.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Every Embassy child I knew attended Oslo International School. I think most parents were content. The school is open 9am-3pm, only 180 teaching days a year with various breaks throughout the year. This makes it difficult for spouses to have a full-time job. It's not that teachers are more educated than those in US public schools. I think what helps run the school more smoothly are the ample budget, smaller classes, and lots of parents volunteering.
2. 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?
The process of getting into local preschools seemed like a nightmare, and no one at post was helping the incoming families. Norwegian preschools, which cost about $400 a month, were just OK from what I heard. No one was ecstatic about it. Oslo International School has a preschool for a much higher tuition than Norwegian preschools (cost similar to the US). DOD people could afford it and they seemed to like it.
3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Oslo International School offers many different kinds of after-school activities for a cost. Music lessons at OIS are absurdly expensive. There is no school bus after the activities, so you will need to pick up your child at the school, unless they are old enough to take public transit themselves.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
The morale was pretty low. The local staff acted as if they ran the place. There weren't many CLO events and spouses rarely met each other. Everyone lived apart. CLO at the time was a DOD spouse on a first Embassy assignment. Many Embassy events inevitably excluded family members including the 4th of July Party and the Christmas Party.
2. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Families with small children seemed to have a hard time waiting for months to get a spot at preschool. They can feel isolated. Most couples and singles seemed happy. Oslo is not a global, metropolitan city so it can get boring after a while. Norwegians are not eager to make new friends especially if they know you're an expat. Nothing is open on Sundays, not even grocery stores.
3. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Yes. I believe Oslo is more tolerant than the US.
4. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Norwegians are not explicitly racist but it is easy for one to see that they feel superior to people of immigrant backgrounds and want them to know their place in society. It was disappointing to see little diversity among the Embassy personnel and the Oslo International School faculty despite Oslo having the highest share of immigrants in the country of over 30%.
5. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
You can get Norwegian sweaters, chocolates, trolls, and cheese slicers. Department stores also sell nice pottery, glassware, and silver crafts from Denmark, Finland and other European countries.
6. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Oslo is safe and quiet. You can speak English everywhere, and more than half the cable channels are in English. Norwegians like America and pay great attention to what goes on in the U.S. Norwegian nature is absolutely beautiful.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Maybe not. After 3 years, I was ready to leave for a place with good food and warm people where everything is more affordable.
2. Do you have any other comments?
Oslo is not a family post. CLO was not active, and there was no support for EFMs. People in Norway are not hard working but are entitled. I also found them too naive. You'll find out.