Any prospective expat spending a day in this vibrant city to familiarize themselves will be easily able to answer the question, How is Oslo? The answer is immediately obvious as are the reasons why Oslo, Norway’s capital and its largest city remains Europe’s fastest-growing capital.
Flanked by mountains, Oslo is set in a giant amphitheatre with its feet soaking in the Oslofjord an inlet of the imposing Skagerrak Bay which thrusts all the way up to burst out into the North Sea and the sea, while its suburbs spread out and up to meld with the densely forested Marka area.
Living In Oslo
Oslo is a city comfortable with its past and eager to usher in its future as can be seen by its thriving museums, burgeoning foodie movement, dynamic contemporary-art scene and daringly energetic architecture.
It is equally comfortable paying obeisance to past cultural icons such as Henrik Ibsen and Edvard Munch as it is recognizing the achievements of modernist crime writers Jo Nesbø and Anne Holt in propelling its mean streets to the height of Norwegian-Scandi noir fame.
Today, Oslo’s skyline is crowned by jostling cranes, as this rapidly expanding mini-metropolis resolutely remains one of the globe’s greenest cities. Recently, Oslo won the crown of European Green Capital for 2019, thanks to its boasting one of the lowest carbon footprints in the world, excellent public transport infrastructure, a philosophy towards city planning that firmly places pedestrians ahead of automobiles together with a real commitment to public green spaces and sustainable food production.
The city is blessed with a profusion of verdant parks, and the Oslofjord’s waterways and islands remain mere minutes away from the city centre, as are the sweeping expanses of Nordmarka forests with its well-groomed ski slopes.
Oslo Norway Culture
In many ways, Norway is admirably egalitarian and Oslo’s culture reflects the “Jante Law” philosophy. The concepts underlying “Jante Law,” elevate the values of simplicity, equality, humility and respect to the fundamental pillars of Norwegian cultural identity.
Norwegian people are reticent to highlight their personal achievements such as wealth, material goods and intelligence and remain endearingly unimpressed by surface displays of wealth or conspicuous consumption.
Traditionally in Oslo, the local culture values people according to their integrity, respect and honesty without much of the Western cultural approach based on judging others personal and professional accomplishments and standing in the community.
Norwegians are a largely cohesive country with a highly developed sense of national identity nurtured by a wide-spread nineteenth-century national romantic movement and by the country’s experience as it emerged in 1905 as an independent constitutional monarchy.
The small size of Norway’s population at around five million also naturally supports a vibrant sense of cultural identity.
Typical Norwegian Stereotypes
Norwegians are renowned for appearing honest, humble and reserved in outlook and straightforward in their interpersonal relationships. They are uneasy with hierarchies which conflict with their egalitarian instincts.
Translated into the workplace, an expat’s boss is far more likely to ask for their opinion than to give them direct orders. Foreigners often find Norwegians are difficult to get to know initially.
Overall, many native Oslo residents can be wary of strangers but open up once they get to know someone more fully. Once a person has been accepted into a community or social group in Oslo, they often discover they have acquired a friend for life.
In social situations, expats may find Norwegians are not as outwardly welcoming. They are unlikely to greet a new arrival in the street, in the shops, or even in social situations until they feel they know someone and are comfortable with them.
Norwegians place a high priority on spending time with their families, so are more likely to head home after work rather than spending time socializing with colleagues.
Oslo’s Office Culture
Expats often find Norwegian working hours pleasantly flexible and extremely family-friendly. Oslo as the country’s capital, expects its workforce to be productive and work hard during work hours, which Norwegian companies define as from 8:00am to 4:00pm.
On the scarce warm and sunny days during the year, some companies close up at 3:00pm to allow their employees time to enjoy the great outdoors, spend time with their families or to play sports.
Employees with children are routinely allowed to leave the office by 3:30pm or 4:00pm to collect their children from daycare. If one’s children are ill, the parents are also often permitted to stay home for a few days to take care of them. These general rules apply broadly to the public sector and to many private sector organisations.
Oslo Enters The Gig Economy
Starting out as a professional freelancer or gig economy entrepreneur in a new country can be intimidating and very daunting. Starting a business is difficult enough in any environment but toss in a new language, unfamiliar rules and foreign regulations into the mix and even working in the gig economy can prove to be tough, particularly in an alien working culture.
Happily, Oslo is embracing the emergence of the gig economy and is opening co-working spaces at a rapid clip. From one or two brave experiments, there are new collaborative workspaces opening up almost every month.
These shared facilities provide a base for entrepreneurs and freelancers to work out of, collaborate in and get the support they need to prosper.
In a globalised world, Oslo has not been immune to the pressures of large-scale immigration. With roughly five million inhabitants, Norway is a small country globally but has one of Europe’s fastest growing populations.
Today, Oslo’s ethnic and cultural diversity is broader than ever before. Immigration continues to account for the bulk of Oslo’s population growth. Nearly 750,000 of Norway’s 5.2 million residents are immigrants.
That number is expected to soar to 20 percent within 10 years. Their children, with their multi-cultural backgrounds, will also gradually leave their mark on the city.
Oslo’s increasing multiculturalism is drawn from people of Polish, Pakistani, Somali, and Iraqi backgrounds. Together, these immigrant groups now comprise 32.5 percent of Oslo’s population.
More recently, Oslo has experienced a significant increase in immigrants from the Baltic and central and eastern European countries thanks to the well-known generosity of Norway’s social security system.
Oslo, Culinary Capital
In the bleak, frozen wasteland that was once Norway’s culinary scene, a revolution has turned Oslo’s foodie scene on its head.
Once denigrated for its hot dogs and steep prices, Oslo’s gourmet scene is enjoying its very own Nordic makeover. Much to its own surprise, Oslo has emerged blinking, into the sunshine as a fully-fledged culinary destination.
Oslo’s newly discovered self-confidence in its local food movement is based predominantly on serving organic food based on fresh local ingredients sourced from Oslo’s woodlands and fjords.
This love affair with local produce is complemented by a host of seasonal food festivals where Norwegian peasant food makes surprisingly good comfort food.
This delectable change in Oslo’s gourmet fortunes embraces everything from Maaemo the world’s most northerly three-Michelin-starred restaurant with its sleek aesthetic to Bagatelle’s modern art-infused ambience, to Oslo’s rightly hyped neighbourhood coffee vibe to its astonishing obsession with fusion Icelandic-Korean anyone?
Amidst all this shock of the new, Oslo still finds time to celebrate its traditional favourites such as peel-and-eat shrimp and even polse those much-derided hot dogs. The city also has a not very well concealed passion for sushi and pizza.
Lately, Oslo has been mounting a determined challenge to become Scandinavia’s late-night party centre of gravity. Oslo is channelling its inner Seattle to evolve a grungier, wilder, edgier vibe than either Copenhagen or Stockholm.
From its own variant of the Scandi ice bar format to swirling sophisticated cocktails in a chic bar or downing Irish style beers on tap, each bar or pub strives to retain its own local, authentic feel.
Aside from the lure of a beverage or two and upscale pub grub, there are many thriving live music venues, which will happily keep you entertained and distracted until the early hours of the morning. Oslo is defiantly staking out its claims as a city that knows how to have fun.
Shopping, like Oslo’s weather, is not its most compelling feature. Its expensive and little wonder many of Oslo’s savvier residents head over the border to Sweden to stock up on food and other goods at far more affordable prices.
So, while Oslo is not a major Scandi retail destination, residents have easy access to supermarkets scattered throughout the city and its suburbs stocking everything they need.
Weather in Norway
Warning, downer alert! One major issue for those looking to make Oslo their home is the shock of having to cope with seriously cold weather and the long, long, dark winters, particularly if you hail from warmer climes.
About 10 percent of Norway’s population suffers from some type of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) with most recent arrivals finding the winter months tiring and exhausting at best, through to unbearable at worst.
The smart way to handle the wild white winter season is to ensure you dress for the weather, wear proper cold climate clothing, install a sunlamp at home and the office, be sure to indulge in a mid-winter trip to a warmer preferably sunnier climate, and take advantage of Oslo’s excellent winter sports facilities such as skiing, ice skating and sledding and tobogganing.
Living Expenses In Oslo
Oslo’s cost of living is acknowledged as being one of the world’s highest. Oslo itself is recognised as being one of the most expensive cities to live in and consistently ranks higher than many other European cities.
To some extent, higher salaries offset some of these cost burdens, as do Norway’s extensive public services delivered through its all-encompassing welfare state.
Thanks to its egalitarian social system, Norway has narrowed the differential between higher and lower salaries. Executive-level expats often discover that the tax structure does not leave them with much more disposable income than some trade vocations. This tax structure also makes it challenging to save money short-term and many new arrivals discover they need two incomes to survive.
Oslo’s healthcare system is extensive and the government’s healthcare budget is amongst the world’s highest. Residents enjoy a choice of health service provider and all residents enjoy membership of the Norwegian National Insurance scheme. This gives them access to Oslo’s extensive range of healthcare services.
While healthcare is not free, it comes with an annual cap on how much an individual is required to pay for their personal healthcare.
In Oslo, you are likely to discover homes tend to be smaller than in comparable international cities. Oslo’s accommodation skews towards the cosy but functional end of the spectrum, with an eye towards keeping the rooms insulated against the enveloping winter cold.
Housing becomes cheaper the further out one moves from the city. Owning a home provides several tax benefits, so buying is a sound strategy providing you can afford it and you plan on staying in Norway for the long-term.
There is very little that is considered “cheap” in Oslo compared to European prices. Fresh fish and shrimp are more affordable but much of Oslo’s food is imported and there is a 14 percent VAT on food driving up prices. Little wonder, many Oslo residents drive over the border to Sweden to stock up on food staples at a much lower cost. This cross-border industry has become so large that several shopping centres have been built just over the border specifically to accommodate Norwegian shoppers.
Oslo’s public transport is inevitably clean and reliable and extremely easy to use. Oslo is serviced by good metro, tram and bus services. Oslo is connected to Scandinavia and the rest of Europe via an expansive network of long-distance trains, buses, and ferry lines, which crisscross the continent.
The train network from Oslo Central Station covers domestic routes across the country together with international connections to Gothenburg, Stockholm and Malmö.
If you are thinking about buying your own car, you will find this can be quite expensive. One of the challenges facing new drivers in Oslo, particularly those venturing further afield is learning how to drive in the dangerous winter conditions with its layers of ice and snow which routinely blanket the roads.
Expats can use their own license for a year before exchanging it for a Norwegian one. A driving test is mandatory.
Family Life In Oslo
Oslo is a real-world children’s paradise. This makes for happy and unstressed parents. Regardless of where one goes in Oslo, you will encounter children, be it with their barnehage group on the trikk at Frogner Park’s playground, on skis or on sleds in Nordmarka during winter, or enjoying the fresh outdoors air accompanied by their parents, pushing strollers, carriers or on bicycle trailers.
Mothers enjoy access to a full year of maternity leave and there is a very active mothers support network, which meets in local cafés or parks. Sidewalks are often bustling with baby carriages. These groups are laughingly referred to as “Mamma Mafian” or the Baby Brigade when they invade cafés during the day.
Children are very much a part of Oslo’s vision for its future. Consequently, children are well cared for and included in all aspect of social planning, making Oslo is a fabulous place to raise a young family.
The government provides a range of social benefits to families with children. Norwegian society is well designed to care for children, from school through to family life. Oslo is subsequently a very safe city for children.
The city plays host to cultural events for children, ranging from festivals and live theatre to touring museum exhibitions. There is also an extensive range of activities designed specifically for mothers with young children, including “Mommy and me” swimming, dance and yoga lessons at local gyms, together with daycare facilities. Some workplaces offer daycare and even blend children’s playrooms with adjoining offices for working parents.
This emphasis on family is one of Oslo’s defining characteristics. Amongst employers, most employment contracts reflect these values through their excellent maternity and paternity leave policies. New mums are granted 12 months’ paid leave at 80 percent of their salary (or 10 months at 100 percent) plus subsidised childcare facilities.
Little wonder Oslo is recognized as a wonderful place for children as they grow up, with access to higher education considered fundamental for all residents. The majority of Norwegian universities and state university colleges are free even for foreign students and do not charge tuition fees. Subsequently, Norway enjoys one of the world’s highest adult literacy rates.
As Norway’s capital, Oslo is often a new arrival’s first choice of destinations. By far the most international of Norway’s cities, Oslo offers enticing new cultural experiences, one of Europe’s most buoyant foodie scenes and a vibrant cultural life. Today, Oslo’s exuberant architecture is showcasing its claim to international status, while its affordable healthcare, great transport infrastructure and close proximity to nature make for a very relaxed and family-friendly lifestyle, which offsets Oslo’s high cost of living. Did we mention the skiing, kayaking and fishing?