Some of the first questions people ask when moving to a new country have to deal with time. How long is this or that going to take? How should I prepare myself for the delays and adjustments I will face when moving abroad? No international move is easy, even if you're helped along by a company relocation budget or, ideally, family.
One of the most confronting things about moving to Norway is the system here. It seems that there are procedures for everything, from the ticket you'll take for almost every queue to the ubiquitous fødselsnummer - an identity number given to every person who is resident in Norway for more than six months. Yes, this orderly system keeps everyone in line but it can also prove frustrating for the newcomer. Let me illustrate.
Leaving the hotel where we spent our first couple of nights in Stavanger, a staff member called a taxi for us. We waited about 25 minutes before one finally arrived. But he wasn't 'our taxi' apparently, he just saw us standing there and thought he'd collect us. The cab assigned to us was nowhere to be found, yet the second driver refused to take us. So we stood there with our many bags cluttering the sidewalk while he decided to have his coffee break in front of us and in another five minutes our taxi showed up and the first driver took off.
In another instance, I wasn't home to receive a registered letter from Australia so I took the notice card to the post office, along with my passport, Australian drivers licence and a copy of our lease. Those three pieces of identification were not enough, said the woman behind the counter. She needed something Norwegian and I wouldn't have any Norwegian identification for at least another couple of months. I mentioned that if I had been home when the postman came by, I would have my letter. She smiled and said, yes, with a 'go figure' look on her face. Eventually I pleaded with her to accept the lease as something Norwegian and, though she seemed very conflicted about it, she finally gave me my letter. We then proceeded to joke about the system and had a laugh about how backward it is that a person can rent a house before having a personal number or local bank account. There is no rule against that, but the rules on the back of the mail hold card specifically state that your piece of ID must have a Norwegian identification number on it. That's that.
Note that the criticisms of Norway's system were coming more from the woman. I was mostly explaining to her about how John has been working without a tax number and bank account for the last couple of weeks and how frustrating it is and that I was sorry for causing problems for her. I'm hesitant to criticise the system. Every country has its funny things and I'm pretty worn down by my experiences on the long road to becoming an Australian citizen to even put up a fight anymore. In these situations you have to laugh or cry (and I always choose the former - the latter got me nowhere in the past). Many of the system items are completely understandable, but if you come from countries where companies often bend the rules or make exceptions where common sense acts as a lubricant, this can be frustrating.
So I've prepared this guide so that you can be ready for your adventure in Norway. Many things do happen quickly (maybe nothing is ever fast enough for us these days) and a positive thing to note is that Norway is very up to scratch when it comes to information technology. You can do many things online or even via SMS. Migration to Norway will, however, go much more smoothly if you prepare yourself for these waiting times. Please note that we relocated to Stavanger so timings may vary elsewhere in the country. John migrated as a skilled worker and I can't speak to the timing or any other elements for those migrating under different conditions. Also please note that things change frequently here and this post may only be accurate for the last several weeks. We are not migration agents and this is not legal advice.
How long does it take to get x in Norway, when x equals...
... a job
This depends on many factors and, while people with skilled qualifications are able to come to Norway and look for a job for six months, how long the process would actually take is up to you, your industry and the job market. Speaking with a Norwegian woman last night, we learned that most people do not find a job in six months and don't think about how much it costs to live here in temporary accommodation while they are searching. Norway has a low unemployment rate but remember that if a company is not going to hire a foreigner if they can find a local of the same calibre to do the work. Check out our guide to finding work abroad for some helpful tips.
... a work permit
This is a residence permit that will give you the right to work and live in Norway. You must have a job offer from a company to apply and the company can usually apply on your behalf. The company will not be able to apply for your family members to migrate with you but they can do this once your permit is granted. John's work permit took about two and a half weeks to be processed once they had all of the correct documents and signatures. Visit the UDI website for more information.
... an appointment to get the visa label in your passport
In Stavanger, John's paperwork was handled at the Rogaland Service Centre for Foreign Workers, which meant that he could only get his sticker put in the passport there. You don't need this label to begin work but you do need it in order to travel outside the country and to open a bank account (at least at our bank - see below). It took two weeks for him to get an appointment to receive the label. If you have applied online (or can get the login details from your employer who applied for you), you should be able to make an appointment there.
... a fødselsnummer
This is the big one: an 11-digit number consisting of your date of birth, followed by your Social Security number (not the same as the US social security number, however). Almost everything in Norway revolves around this number, from the tax office to your credit rating to healthcare. Even if you are waiting for the stamp to go into your passport, you can take your permit approval letter to the Skatteetaten (tax office) and they can begin the process of applying for both your fødselsnummer and tax card. You will go onto the folkeregister (the national population register) and receive your fødselsnummer in the mail in about one week. I have heard of this taking longer over a holiday period or when the office is very busy. If you will work in Norway for less than six months, you should enquire about getting a D-number instead.
... a tax card
This is the second most important thing that you need to get started in Norway. The tax card tells your employer how much tax to withhold from your earnings and if you do not provide this, they will take 50 per cent. This should arrive in about one week also by mail, separate to your fødselsnummer (though in our case the person doing data entry input our house number incorrectly so this one got lost in the post). If you do not receive it in a reasonable amount of time, be sure to contact the office again and check on it.
...a bank account
Setting up a bank account will only take about 15 minutes, BUT you must have your fødselsnummer (or D number if you can get one - only some banks will accept this), work contract AND your visa label in your passport. Our bank told us that it would take a week or two for online banking to be set up and to receive the debit card that comes with the account but you can take money out at the branch in the meantime.
Should you find yourself with a bill prior to getting your bank account set up, you'll have to pay it with cash. If the bill says GIRO on the payslip, take it to the post office or any bank branch and they can send your money through the system (for a lovely little fee of 75 or 100 krone respectively). The recipient will have it the next business day.
... a place to live
Luckily you do not need your fødselsnummer to rent a house or apartment. This was one of the first things that we were able to do while we were waiting for John's permit to be approved. But be prepared to provide your work contract to the owner, otherwise he is not likely to consider you. A guarantee from your employer also makes you a little more attractive as a first-time renter in Norway. Mortgages aren't generally given to newcomers so you should plan to have three months worth of rent on hand when you arrive and prepare to rent for at least a year before buying a property. Security deposits are usually two months rent and you'll need to pay for the first month of rent in advance. Most properties in Norway are listed on Finn.
In part two, I will continue discuss the the timings for healthcare registration, visas for your accompanying family, drivers licences, cable television, internet, telephones and credit cards. I will also share some handy tips for migrating to Norway and how to survive as an expat during your first few months here.
Tip: If you're having trouble reading the content of the resource websites provided, try installing a translation toolbar in your browser. I couldn't survive without mine in Norway.
Have you moved to Norway for the first time from somewhere else in the past? Have any tips to share?