You might be desperate in your own country, or you just want to try your luck with setting feet in this promised land of richness, but before giving up your life and buy a one-way ticket to Norway, please read this article to have a broad overview on how job-finding and starting life goes for non-Scandinavian job-seekers in this beautiful, but challenging country.
Let’s start with the language.
Speaking English is not enough here
Don’t think for a minute that just because everyone speaks good English you will find job easily without speaking Norwegian. According to linguistics English is a Scandinavian language, and I can assure that it’s really not a big deal learning Norwegian (passed intermediate exam 8 months after moving here). But if you don’t have the willing to do so, then consider moving to the UK or US, because English is not enough here. I met some ambitious (however not particularly realistic) people who thought that they will find something with not even being able to speak English. They lived up all their savings and went back to their country moneyless. Unless you are expert in a narrow engineering field or you are an IT professional, you will be asked to speak Norwegian.
Low unemployment rate -> Easy to find job? Nope
It might be that the unemployment average in Norway is as low as Google shows you, but that doesn’t mean that it will be easy to find work for you, the Foreigner. It is estimated that while official unemployment rate in Norway is around 4 %, unemployment rate among foreign-born is three times higher. That might sounds still low (12% c’mon that’s nothing), but there is a thing I had no clue before coming here: the competition of Swedes in the job market that you will face for pretty much any job. Why it is such a big deal? Because they speak the language.
But I want just a simple job like fruit-picking, dish-washing, cleaning etc…
So many foreigners put a lot of hope in getting jobs that doesn’t need much of education like bar- or restaurant jobs, fruit-picking, dish-washing, cleaning etc. But the discouraging truth is that for these type of work you will face the competition of Norwegian students and thousands of Swedes who migrate to Norway because of the high unemployment among the younger generation in Sweden, and employers will choose them first over you because they speak the language. Before you start blaming Swedes over you not being able to find work in Norway: it’s not their fault that you don’t speak Norwegian…
It is important to understand that speaking Scandinavian languages in workplace makes just everything much easier for the employer. Once because the work language is Norwegian in most workplaces. Also: they don’t have to translate all documents to English and keep track of updating 2 versions of everything. Moreover: if the workplace has Scandinavian clients/guest, they — understandably — also like to speak their mother tongue in their own country.
Disclaimer: I love Swedes. They are cool people who make fascinating things like Sürströmming, great music and such. I totally understand why employers prefer someone who speak Scandinavian, I hope you get it too.
I’m a skilled migrant, looking for office jobs
IT and engineering are relatively easy in any country to get job without speaking the local language. Here too. After a bit of networking you should be able to find work relatively easily with bare English and nothing more. But still, don’t be surprised if you face difficulties. While many companies lack skilled workforce, they turn down skilled migrants if they don’t speak good Norwegian. In international companies also. (happened with friends).
As of anything else than engineering and IT: you have near zero chance without speaking good Norwegian.
Also consider: Norway is a small market with limited possibilities
I added this after an interesting talk with an economist who pointed out another discouraging fact about Norway. You might think Norway is huge, but it’s a country with only 5,5 million inhabitants. There are more people living in London than in Norway. Five million people makes a tiny local customer base for a country.
When it comes to export it is mainly fish and oil. In the oil sector highly skilled engineers are needed, but that’s pretty much all. (Here you can read more about what Norway is exporting, if you are interested in more)
Furthermore Norway is a country where only 3 percent of the land can be cultivated and agricultural production is well covered by small local farmers.
What does all this mean for you, the jobseeker? If there aren’t many things produced in a country that means there aren’t many jobs for you. Simply.
Some more difficulties you will most likely face: Your Name
If you have a Scandinavian name employers assume you speak Norwegian, Swedish or Danish. To make their own life easier they choose Scandinavians first. Here is a study that researched how hard is to get job with foreign name:
And another one researching employer´s willingness to hire foreigners: http://www.newsinenglish.no/2012/11/09/norwegian-firms-called-racist/
If you still want to come and work here, you have to face awful bureaucracy. Without job contract you are not allowed to open bank account, nor to claim tax-card. The lack of these things will make it even harder to find job.. I met companies who simply didn’t want to deal with me because of not having these. So to wrap it up: you need a job contract to claim social number, tax card, and open a bank account, but employers don’t want to hire you if you don’t have these… Catch 22.
Also, be prepared that handling any paperwork will take loooong time. I waited 6 weeks to get my social number that they handed out to me hand-written on a yellow post-it. My friends with degree in health care waited YEARS to handle all the paper-works in order to practice here as doctors.
You might know that everything is insanely expensive in Norway, and you have to survive till you get your first salary, that will take a while. Don’t come without enormous amount of savings!! What do i mean under “enormous”? Lets start with…
Rooms/month in shared apartment starts from 5500 NOK in Oslo (count it to your own currency). If you don’t like to share and prefer living alone, that will cost way more: a small studio starts from approximately 9000 NOK/month. (Prices are updated: 2020) You will be asked 1- 2 months deposit too.
So you will need 1-2 months deposit + being able to pay the rent for several months till you find job…. Well, do the math how much minimum saving you need in order to not end up on the street.
Not talking about the fact that Oslo is not a city where it is particularly easy to find place to live. It might happen that you call a Norwegian room-advertisement and they tell you that the room is already rented out, then just by curiosity you ask a Norwegian friend of yours to call the same number — and he/she will be invited for a show. True story by the way, and happened with more than one friends.
I really don’t want to go into mud throwing and citing over-generalisations about Norwegians. I lived with super nice Norwegians, my landlady was Norwegian, I have Norwegian friends and I met amazing locals. It’s just these kind of things tend to happen when you look for housing.
Cost of life in general
Everyday-life things priced reasonably. I was following my spendings in 4 different countries for one month each to see how much I spend on what. Compared to my monthly salary (full-time job) percentage-wise Norway came out the best: I spend around 5 % of my monthly wage on food here. I must mention that it is because I shop cautiously, cook at home rather than eating out, I don’t smoke and put a hard-fast strict limit on alcohol consumption. If you start eating out, partying and if you are smoker that will raise your costs drastically. Alcohol and tobacco is heavily taxed and strictly regulated. Want an estimate? I would say that if you can live without booze and smoke, and you take the effort of cooking at home, and eliminate some luxury then 1500–2000 NOK/month should be enough to eat nice, simple meals still. You ask ten people they will give ten different estimate for this. I’m just telling my own experiences.
Being jobless for months in Norway is not fun. To avoid it you can try staying in your country and applying jobs online on finn.no, the biggest job-board of the country, but don’t have much hope that anyone will call you back. Read before why.
I know of course some people who had easy time in finding work (IT professionals or engineers typically), but 9 out of 10 friends of mine struggled a LOT setting foot in Norway.
Once you settle down it’s a great place. I love living in Oslo! Lot of things to do, interesting people, great activities, awesome working conditions. I just want you to be aware of the difficulties before you take a big step.
Still want to come to Norway? Here are some great, free online learning materials to learn Norwegian.
Update 2020: Because of coronavirus Norway ended up with record high unemployment rate. Many businesses are closed or operating with limited capacity. That makes it even more difficult to find a job. I recently lost my job and faced that for each job I applied several hundred people also applied.
Recently lots of job possibilities opened up in agriculture. Agriculture works are only in the countryside, and they are officially the lowest payed job in Norway, way below anything else.
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About me: I moved here in 2012 to try my luck. I spent 2,5 months, hanging out posters offering simple services, walking into places and applying for work in restaurants and hotels. I also spent considerable amount of time with networking and sent circa 100 applications online for positions that are relevant for my education. I found job at the end via volunteering. I wrote this post to prevent you to go through that much of a struggle what I went through.