By Sandra Larriva

Norway ranks as one of the best countries in the world in which to live: most people are honest and kind, city life is safe and relatively quiet, education and health care are free. If you are a new arrival, though, the integration process can be arduous and it may be awhile before you can fully enjoy Norway in all its glory.

One of the main challenges to life in this first-world nation, in my opinion, is the lack of diversity in some arenas, something I went into in my previous post. Here, I will mention a few more unexpected challenges to be aware of.

1) Understanding Trust

“The whole country runs on trust,” says Sean Percival, author of the book “The Loud American: Working With Norwegians. “Government officials are trusted, tax records are public.” (All tax records, that is: yours, your boss’ and even the prime minister’s. Imagine having access to Donald Trump’s tax returns without having to go through the Supreme Court!) Norway’s trust-based system is laudable and something every nation should aspire to. Not knowing the rules of the game, though, could get you in trouble. It’s helpful to understand how agreements are made, when to expect an invoice in the mail, etc.

“Norwegians are notoriously allergic to overly verbose contracts and extensive legal agreements,” says Percival. “Digital signatures are widely accepted. I have received contracts that don’t even require a signature,” he adds.

Moreover, some contracts don’t even require a contract! In other words, verbal agreements can be legally binding.

Let me give you a few other examples of how this system can be confusing:

a) In both the U.S. and Mexico, you cannot buy anything online until you’ve entered your credit card information. In Norway, you don’t need to enter payment info in order to enter a payment contract. I received a “faktura” in the mail after having browsed through some gym memberships on, completely unaware that I had made a purchase. (I was later able to cancel it after speaking to a few customer reps).

b) Similarly, someone could carry out a service for you and bill you later via a faktura, so always make sure you establish the terms beforehand. I once consulted a lawyer by email on something I considered to be very straightforward and it cost me several thousand kroner.

c) In the real estate world, you can bid for a home via text message. If your bid wins, you are legally bound to purchase that property or pay hefty penalties. In other words, don’t drink and text unless you have millions of kroner to spare.

While the concept of buying a home at the push of a button may seem very foreign to some, the truth is that you are required to enter your bank ID in order to register as a potential bidder. This may seem as casual as entering your phone number or your email, but in reality your bank ID is considered a secure electronic proof of identity and is as legally binding as a hand-written signature. Any time you are asked to enter your bank ID, be sure to check for any terms, conditions and/or agreements linked to that process.

For a more detailed report on buying and selling a house in Norway, click here.

2) Understanding Drunkness

Some say that there are two types of nordmenn: the sober Norwegian and the drunk Norwegian. Learning to navigate between the two is an important skill.

“When Norwegians are sober, rigid norms frame their social interactions,” says Julien S. Bourrelle in his book “The Social Guidebook to Norway 2: Friendships and Relationships.” “If you do not obey these unwritten social norms, you may easily end up not succeeding socially,” he adds. “This changes with alcohol and the contrast can be shocking.”

I’ll provide a few examples:

During the day, I have been vigorously honked at for minor traffic “violations” (i.e. standing at a crosswalk for a second too long or unintentionally blocking the way while trying to find myself on a map). Fast-forward to any Saturday night and it’s a starkly different picture: I’ve seen men unapologetically relieving themselves meters away from the king’s castle to the surprise of no one but me, or young women sitting smack in the middle of Bogstadveien, simultaneously laughing and attempting to put on their shoes, as a growing line of cars watched silently and patiently.

What to do with this information? Not much, actually. It’s just helpful to understand that Norwegians’ introversion and knack for following rules can turn on its head when alcohol is involved. Some of the rules that do remain in the drunken world: You will be denied entry to a bar or will be removed from it if you are considered “too drunk” (i.e. the silent kind who stares into the void and is, most likely, on the verge of throwing up). Also, Norway’s tolerance for drinking and driving is almost null so when in doubt, do not get behind the wheel (in Norway or anywhere else). Some people will choose not to drive the morning after they drank just to be safe.

3) Understanding Work Culture

If you work/will work with Norwegians, there are a few differences you’ll need to understand.

“Some think that Norwegians are lazy because they go home at 3pm,” says Percival. “But they’re super efficient; they start early, they have a short lunch, they don’t do small talk, and they leave early without saying goodbye.” Americans, on the other hand, “will work 8-10 hours a day but one of them will be spent talking about Game of Thrones,” he adds.

Another reason why Norwegians leave the office early is because they can! In previous jobs, both in Mexico and the U.S., leaving the office before the clock struck 5:30pm was frowned upon, however silently.

Norwegians value family life greatly and office life reflects that in many ways. Far from being frowned upon, it is common for parents to leave early to pick up their children at school (or to go to the hytte) or to bring their children to the office.

Finally, business life in Norway is rather non-hierarchical, which means that the decision process is a lot more democratic and the pressure to perform isn’t as high. The latter is also supported by the fact that it is a lot harder to lose your job in Norway once you’ve passed the initial trial period.

For a more detailed description of life in the Norwegian office and all of its intricacies, read “Working with Norwegians” by Karin Ellis and/or “The Loud American: Working With Norwegians” by Sean Percival.

Lastly, some say that one of the biggest challenges to life in Norway is connecting with Norwegians. Fortunately, I’ve had a very different experience, and I’m not the only one. Several of the sources interviewed for this piece agree that if you’re open, Norwegians are too (yes, even when they’re sober). So next time you step into a new day (preferably a sunny day), look up and around you, and smile. You’ll be surprised by what you’ll find.

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Updated: Oct 3, 2019

By Sandra Larriva

If you tell any non-Norwegian that you’ve moved to Norway, they will most likely comment on:

a) The weather

b) The northern lights

c) The high standard of living

If you Google “moving to Norway,” you will most likely read about how expensive life here is or how onerous some processes can be (i.e. getting a bank account, a credit card or a driver’s license).

But what about the other challenges that no one warned you about? I’ll share three here, along with some tips. (Stay tuned; the rest will come in my next post).

Lack of diversity

A couple of friends were surprised when I announced my move to Oslo. “Norway is a very homogenous country,” they warned. Even though that was close to a year ago, I am only now starting to fully grasp the meaning of that statement.

Norway is a “super high-functioning homogenous blob,” says Sean Percival, author of the book “The Loud American: Working With Norwegians.” “Society encourages the good of the collective over any one individual,” he adds, and this has “helped to create the peaceful, modest, and homogenous society of today.”

Homogeneity can mean equality; it can also kill diversity. This is, to me, the mothership of all challenges to life in Norway. [Insert stereotyping warning here] Norwegians are used to doing things a certain way, and they want to keep it that way. In other words, integration – for those with a different set of values, tastes and traditions – will require hard work, even if you’ve traveled the world and speak multiple languages.

Lack of diversity manifests in many ways, which segues into challenges nummer to og tre.

Few options

In his book “The Social Guidebook to Norway 2: Friendships and Relationships,” Julien S. Bourrelle cites three main challenges for foreigners living in Norway, the third one being the food. How can one of the world’s top-ranked countries not have world class food, one might ask.

In Norway, there is “not much competition in just about every industry,” explains Sean Percival. Monopolies abound and “the local sentiment is that products and services of high-quality are best built by Norwegians,” he adds. This paired with the fact that Norwegians “avoid risk at all costs” feeds into what Percival describes as “humble food traditions.”

And humble fashion traditions, humble courier traditions...You get the point. Few options, high prices.

Little flexibility

Part of what makes Norway great is how well-run and safe the country is. That is due, in great part, to a strict set of rules that Norwegians follow to the letter. Learning to abide by those rules can be a long process, but not following them from the start could cost you friendships, a job, your reputation, your dog or even your children.

I’ll give a couple of examples: Dogs have been sentenced to death or killed for as little as having scratched or nipped someone. The Norwegian Child Welfare agency, known as Barnevernet, has been accused of having separated children from their families without adequate justification, prompting an international outcry. Note that this is

a highly polarizing subject you don't want to bring up at a dinner party, but definitely something to be aware of and come to your own conclusions about.

If you’re still with me after that last paragraph, this may be a good time to underline that the perks of living in Norway, me thinks, definitely outweigh the challenges. Nevertheless, challenges we face! Lack of diversity, few options, little flexibility: Three ways of saying the exact same thing: It’s not easy to blend in i Norge!

Here are some suggestions to do so with grace:


Don’t just hang out with people from your own country, connect with the international crew. Ironically, that is how you could make your first Norwegian friend: they could be dating that foreigner who happens to be your friend.

Katy Paus, a strategist at the Norwegian energy company Equinor, moved to Norway in 1985 and has since mastered the art of networking.

“The biggest determinant of life,” she says, “is the richness of the connections you have.” But because “it’s hard to break into the networks that already exist with Norwegians,” she suggests joining your local Chamber of Commerce or expat groups such as Internations or, for women, the Professional Women’s Network, Business Women Oslo and Global Woman Club. Also, want to get better at public speaking? Try Toastmasters.

“If you have a passion, find a group that does it,” she adds.

From doing improv comedy to kneading kanelbolle to making printed circuit boards (PCB), Meetup is your go-to resource. Don’t see what you’re looking for? Start your own!

Facebook is also a great networking tool. It was one of the most, if not the most important tool for me when I first moved to Oslo. Join groups, follow interesting people and go to every. single. event. you’re invited to. You’ve heard of the six degrees of separation? I got my first job in Norway because I went to a party, which led to a lunch, which led to a meeting, with led to another meeting, which led to a job fair, which led to a job. There, six degrees!

Shop Around

Norway may not offer the largest variety of products, but help is on the way! (The times are changing, fast.) Until then:

Support the so-called “international stores” in Grønnland, where you’ll find a range of globally-sourced products at affordable prices.

If you have a friend with wheels, drive to Sweden (i.e. Strømstad) once every few months and stock up on just about anything.

For organic produce, join an andelslandbruk, or community garden. You’ll get to know people, learn to grow your own veggies, and eat healthy.

Turn any international trip into a shopping opportunity; leave extra room in your suitcase and pack it with your favorite goodies.

A final word of caution to online buyers: The price you pay on Amazon or Ebay is never final in Norway. If you exceed 349 nok, shipping included, be prepared to pay taxes at your local post office when your goodies arrive. Use this calculator for an estimate.

Stay Informed

Learn as much as you can about social norms and regulations and whatever you do, never slap or spank your children in public. (Or ever. I am not by any means a supporter of corporal punishment. I do remember being lightly spanked a few times as a kid and understand that in many other cultures, such acts are legal to some extent. Not in Norway, not even a gentle slap.)

See below for recommended resources.

English Language Newspapers/Newsletters

News in English

The Local

Norway Today

Life in Norway (Also follow David Nikel, the author, on

Guides to Working/Studying/Investing/Living in Oslo

Oslo Business Region

Oslo Chamber of Commerce


“The Loud American: Working With Norwegians” by Sean Percival

The Social Guidebook to Norway 1,” by Julien S. Bourrelle

The Social Guidebook to Norway 2: Friendships and Relationships,” by Julien S. Bourrelle

Working with Norwegians,” by Karin Ellis

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Large network does not necessarily lead to better job search chances

Job ad - application - rejection, job ad - application, rejection, job ad - application... many of newcomers in Norway who look for jobs have been through this cycle tens and hundreds of times. With each new application that gets rejected the self esteem becomes lower and lower, sense of self worth and purpose diminishes, and depression starts settling in.

Then you hear the magic work 'networking' - "you need to build your network in order to increase your chances of getting a job, up to 65% of jobs never get announced and are filled through personal and professional networks". Ok then, networking it is. Where can you meet new people that could be relevant for your jobs search? Volunteering is one option, then there's many different networking events on various topics happening almost every day.

If you're anything like me, you won't go. Because you dread the very first question that comes up when you meet new people: "So what do you do? Where do you work?" When I was looking for a job I felt very uncomfortable every time I met a new person and they asked me these questions. I wanted to be honest (and didn't know any networking tricks for more efficient handling of these situations) so I would reply: "I actually don't work, I'm looking for a job" and felt like the biggest loser.

If you're brave and don't mind revealing your job seeker status to new acquaintances, you probably don't have any issues attending networking events. You go, meet interesting people, tell them about your profession and that you're looking for a job, ask for coffee meetings and contact details of other people who could be relevant to your mission of finding work (for these occasions it's good to have your CV polished and up to Norwegian standards - and we can help you with that! Check out our CV writing seminars here).

But sometimes even hundreds of coffees with relevant people won't lead to the result you want - a job. You might feel your network is huge and you know everyone worth knowing in the industry you're interested in but there seems to be some invisible barrier that prevents you from getting what you want. What this actually is is something as intangible as the 'vibe' you give off when you talk to people.

When a job seeker meets a person they would like to get a job out off, there is a power imbalance in the relationship working against the job seeker. The new acquaintance has something the job seeker wants out of the relationship, and the more they want it, the more it shows. It's a bit like in romantic relationships - the more you want a partner, the more desperate you come across, and more unattractive you become for the other person. And no amount of self realization of this phenomenon and all the attempts to control this can ever fully remove this slightly 'needy' vibe.

Yes, I know it's not fair. Yes, I know it's

hard to feel empowered when you just want to quit the whole Norwegian adventure. But fear not! There are ways to get your confidence back and give off 'good vibes' instead, even when you don't feel on top of your game. So how do you do it? Read below:

1) Fake it til you make it

At our recent event co-hosted with Diversify where we spoke about showcasing your skills for the Norwegian job market one of our speakers, brilliant Nada Ahmed, shared her experience of appearing more attractive to potential employers. In spite of being in a low place, Nada appeared engaged and active by creating a lot of content for her professional social media accounts, recording videos, writing articles, and sharing pictures from relevant professional events. This led to companies perceiving her as a capable professional.

2) Start your own project

This might sound counter-intuitive: why start your own project/organization/company when you just want a job? The truth is starting your own thing will make a huge difference to your job hunt. Firstly, you're going to map out your own internal resources, passions, skills, and abilities, to figure out what it is that you want to do. This way you'll become more aware of the unique abilities you have and everything you can contribute with, and you'll become more confident. Secondly, executing on your idea will allow you to engage in meaningful work, increase your self esteem, bring in some money, and showcase what you're capable of to potential employers.

Next time you go to a networking event you won't be a job seeker giving off 'needy' vibes. You're going to be a proud freelancer/founder/project owner talking about your passion and how you managed to turn your idea into reality.

A friend of mine once told me: "In Norway jobs are mostly offered to those who are employed, if you don't have a job people won't employ you because they think there's something wrong with you." This of course is not true in 100% of cases but there definitely is an element of truth to it. If we create our own 'jobs' - activities and projects - we will show there's nothing wrong with us. On the contrary, we can show all the amazing talents and skills we have!

Nikol Mard

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