My name is Angela. Myself and my partner moved to Kirkenes in North Norway in February 2009. It was a job offer with his company that brought us here. Before accepting the position, we did as much research on the area as possible and the only thing that was putting me off was the temperature, which can plummet to around -35 centigrade, or worse, in the winter. Having said that, I am not a lover of hot places, I do prefer the cold.
Our biggest challenges for moving abroad were really from the UK side of things. We had pets that we wanted to bring and found that there was so much confusion over laws, that by the time we had any kind of answers from the UK side we had no time left to arrange what we needed to, so we had to re-home our cats. This was a painful experience and would not have been necessary if any UK vet had have known what the correct procedure was for moving a pet to Norway.Attempting to arrange for all services to be terminated in the UK was a nightmare. You’d be amazed at how difficult it is for people to understand that you are going to live abroad, therefore will no longer require a phone line or satellite TV etc. You’ll often be penalized if you’re within a contract. You might also find that most of them don’t really believe you’re moving away! The worst offender for lack of intelligence, believe it or not, was the UK police! We had a speeding ticket 2 weeks before moving, it actually took over 3 months to resolve! They even sent us a letter thanking us for visiting the UK and hoped we enjoyed our time there! They couldn’t understand we were UK citizens and just moved abroad.
Trying to arrange anything for the Norway side of things from the UK was so simple and the Norwegian people could not have been more helpful. Arranging anything in the UK for the UK was nothing short of frustrating. I’d never want to go through that again. If possible, allow as much time as you can to make any arrangements for terminations etc. We only had 6 weeks before we were moving and quite frankly, from the UK side of things, that just wasn’t enough. Everything was made to be as complicated as possible.
Can you tell us something about your property?
It was a challenge trying to find somewhere to live before arriving. Properties were few and far between, and still are. Cost wasn’t an issue as the company would be paying our rent. However, rents and house prices are very high. It’s not uncommon now to expect to pay upwards of 15,000NOK (around £1,600) a month for a small 2 bedroomed apartment. If you look to rent, it is normal to have to pay a minimum of 2 months deposit, plus the first month in rent, up front. Deposits are normally put in to a bank account which is a mutual one between yourself and your landlord/landlady, it’s just a holding account that neither of you can withdraw from until the tenancy is finished. You will also find that the minimum rental contract will be 2 years, unlike the UK where it’s normally 6 months at a time. It is possible to negotiate this though. Normal notice periods are 3 months either side, we also negotiated this down to 1 month.
We used a website (http://www.finn.no) to find property. The site is not in English so you need to click on Eiendom, then Leiemarkedet. Don’t attempt to look at buying a property because unless you’re a permanent resident in Norway, you can’t actually buy a house. We couldn’t find anything suitable to rent though so I attempted to contact the local newspaper Sør Varanger Avis, and one of the reporters kindly sent me a scanned page of the property section. From there, this is how we found our apartment. We did all this from the UK. We managed to negotiate the rent as we did find it was fairly high at that time, compared to what others advertised at. We were only able to negotiate 500NOK less, this was about £50. We have a 2 bedroomed apartment within 1 minute from the town centre in quite an exclusive area.
Our new landlady couldn’t have been more helpful. We didn’t see the property before we took it, the landlady kindly sent us a detailed email and attached the plans and layout. We were able to sign our tenancy agreement from the UK via email, I didn’t feel comfortable moving without having somewhere to live first. A lot of folk tend to come here, stay in the local hotel and then wait until something comes up, but hotels are very expensive. Despite signing the agreement, we still had a 16 night stay in a hotel here before we could move in. This was because all our furniture was being shipped over and would take 2-3 weeks to arrive in Norway from the UK.
Are you employed or self-employed? What challenges did you face in either finding employment or running your own business?
My partner is a Project Manager based at the local iron mine. The mine is owned by an Australian company and so there are many other ex-pats living in the area, most from Australia. Everyone has found it very difficult to find property here as there are more people than houses or apartments. Rents and house prices have risen considerably in the last year simply because of this high demand.
I was self employed before moving here, I run an internet shop, but it’s very simple for me to keep doing this as the site is a co.uk. If I moved it to a .no domain, I’d need to register with the government etc and pay some high fees. The only issue I have is postage costs, they are fairly high.
My site is a type of mail order site. However, I deliberately do as little business as possible since moving. If you are looking to become self employed, you really must study the lawful requirements first. To set up a company, you would normally have to pay the government around 100,000NOK (over £10,000). It must be registered. It depends what you are looking to do. For instance, you can’t be an estate agent unless you spend 6 years at University here and also study law because as an estate agent, you also act as a property solicitor. You need a Norwegian licence to be an estate agent otherwise you’ll be operating illegally. So, definitely do your homework!
What is your relationship like with the locals?
Locals, where we are, tend to be a little stand offish when they first meet you and this can make them appear to be rude. Our town is fairly small with a population of around 6000 people. It seems almost everybody knows everybody. Once you start to make friends though, you’ll find you’re generally accepted by everyone. I’ve often found that people say hello to us and we don’t even know them! But they know us! Language barrier is not an issue, most locals speak good English and are very happy to be able to put it into practice. The local government does offer free Norwegian lessons too.
What do you like about life where you are?
Life here is very peaceful. The crime rate is very low. I’ve only actually seen 3 police cars in the year I’ve lived here and I’ve heard 4 sirens which were all ambulances. The trust factor is astonishing. Our neighbour left a pair of expensive trainers outside for about a week, along with his bike, which wasn’t chained up. His toddler son also left about 10 toys in the children’s communal sand pit last summer, they’re still there now 7 months on. In the UK; they would’ve been gone by the first morning, but not here. Although I’m not recommending this, I personally feel quite happy to go out and leave my front and back door unlocked and I wouldn’t be concerned about it. You’ll find in winter time the majority of drivers leave their vehicles running while they go shopping and the vehicle is left unattended. Do that in the UK and your vehicle will be gone, but not here in this town. What I love the most about this place is how simple everything is. There’s too many things to mention though! The healthcare system is fabulous, I couldn’t fault it and it’s not expensive by any means. I’ve actually cancelled my own international private health plan now.
There’s quite a lot of activity in the summer months by way of live concerts and fetes and it’s all free. In the winter, they sometimes close off the town and have snowmobile races and dog sled races. When the lakes freeze over, they also hold snowmobile contests. It’s a lot of fun. It’s just a completely different way of life with high standards. Norway is brutally expensive on most things, it is the 2nd most expensive country in the world, but the standard of life makes up for that though. I’ve seen the Northern Lights twice now from the comfort of my back garden. So many people from the UK and all over the world pay hundreds for a chance to see them and more often than not it ends in disappointment because the climate has to be just right for it to happen, they’re not guaranteed. We also have some of the most amazing sunsets and night skies here.
What do you dislike about your expat life?
There isn’t really anything I dislike about where we live. I’m not troubled by the freezing temperatures any more. Minus 20 centigrade only feels like around zero or minus 1 in the UK. It’s surprisingly warm despite often having very harsh temperatures. You feel it most when you first step outside and take a breath – you’ll probably cough a few times, it’ll take your breath away. If I had to pick anything about living here that I disliked, I’d say it’d be the dry climate. The condition of my hair and skin are terrible now. You need plenty of moisturizer and a good conditioner. I’ve suffered with a dry throat ever since I moved here. There’s nothing I can do for that though. I’m not so keen on the 24 hour daylight that we have during the summer. It can cause insomnia and I suffered terribly with it last year. I have a picture that I took outside the pub at around 12.30am one night last summer and it’s broad daylight!
I also find that a lot of people complain about tax being 25% of the salary. Although many expats complain about that, even on forums, what isn’t understood or explained correctly is that that 25% also includes your national insurance. Another thing that’s more simple!
What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
I would not recommend attempting to obtain a residency permit whilst you’re still in the UK: you need to go through the Embassy for it and they’ll charge anything up to £250 and take as long as 3 months. Instead, you can go straight to your local police station in Norway, without an appointment and apply directly – it’s free and takes no longer than 2 weeks (you have 6 months grace to apply but I’d say get it done as soon as you can). You’ll be issued with a simple letter stating the length of residency approved. You’ll normally be issued with 1 year on your first application. It could not be easier. You’ll need to then go to your local tax office with your permit and obtain your ID number (similar to a National Insurance number). It’s very simple, no appointment necessary. You’ll need this ID number because you’ll find that you will not be able to obtain services such as a landline, cable TV, even a bank account, without it. I’ll point out that neither of us speak Norwegian but when you need to speak to someone they’ll normally be quite fluent in English and seem not to mind.
You need to be careful when requesting information because it can often be mistaken as an official ‘order’ rather than a simple request. I sent an email from the UK to the local taxi rank to ask how much it would cost to be picked up from the airport and taken to our new home. They replied saying that the taxi is now booked and there will be someone waiting at the airport with a name card, then told me how much it would cost. Although I only asked for a price, it turns out they took it as an order.
We never visited Norway before moving here. It is recommended that you should always visit the place you intend to move to, but we didn’t have the time, hence my vast research instead before coming here. I’d say just always be prepared when it comes to costs of everyday living. Food is not cheap, our average shopping bill for just two people is around £180 a week, in the UK we’d spend £60. Our shopping here does not include meats or alcohol. We visit Finland every 6 weeks or so and buy all our meats fresh from there and buy it in bulk, it’s much cheaper and the 40 minute drive there is mind blowingly beautiful, the fjords, the mountains, wow! I’ll just mention that Norway does not have food restrictions like the UK does i.e.: salt content and sugar content. If you’re not used to the food, you’ll find everything is very salty or very sweet. I’m used to it now but it took a couple of months. I can now understand why Norwegians do not like British food, it must be very bland in comparison!
If you are going to be driving, you must have your licence with you at all times, otherwise you’ll be driving illegally. I’d recommend you study some road law first as fines can be massive and you don’t just get a ticket, they fine you on the spot and if you don’t have cash, they have card machines! So be aware! When driving, unless you’re on a main road (main roads are clearly sign posted), you always give way to the right and I’m not just talking about roundabouts. So don’t be upset if you think someone is pulling out in front of you, they actually have right of way. This is something that scared the life out of me when we first got here. We thought our cab driver was a lunatic pulling out in front of people, but he just had right of way!
Day and night, summer or winter, you must drive with your lights on at all times. That’s law. Also, in around November through until about April, you must change your tyres to studded ones, that’s also law. If you don’t do this, you will be fined very heavily, per tyre (if you’re driving in main cities such as Øslo, you need to pay a toll to drive with studded tyres within the city itself). When it comes to taxing a vehicle, there are two different types of tax. It’s issued as a sticker that you put on your number plate and they come in two different colours. One colour will only allow you to drive with 2 people in the car, the other will allow 4. So, be mindful of what you’re buying otherwise, it can be another hefty fine (colours change every year).
Registering with a local GP is simple. You can do it online through http://www.NAV.no but you’ll need your ID number for this. You can choose which doctor you want from a list. It tells you how many patients each doctor has on their books and tells you whether they are male or female. You are allowed to change your doctor once in each calendar year and again, this can be done online. I needed a prescription and in the UK I had no choice but to have to visit my doctor every 3 months to get my prescription. Here, I wrote a letter to the doctor asking if it was necessary to make an appointment, she called me and asked me what my tablets were for then issued the prescription the same day without the need for an appointment (you have to pay for an appointment). You will be expected to pay for the prescription (which is in the form of a letter and normally around 40NOK, that’s about £4) and then pay for medication at the chemist. Costs vary dramatically. It turned out that my tablets were a lot cheaper than what I would pay in the UK and I received more in the prescription than the UK doctor would give.
What are your plans for the future?
Our plans for the future: We were issued with permanent residency permits in January 2010, we have now just put in an offer on a property to buy and fully intend to live here as long as possible. Neither of us want to move back to the UK. In fact, most people that do come here to work end up wanting to stay and make a new life here and most Norwegians will never consider moving out of Norway. I’m sure that says it all!