The Economics of Moving to Norway

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What am I doing here? It is so expensive and I am already out of money. I came to Norway to be with my girlfriend after living in Barcelona for almost four years. I still have my apartment there, and I only came here with some camping gear and far too few clothing items. I don’t know… I didn’t really think about or overthink this one. And here I am some 200 kilometers above the arctic circle with pair of destroyed Vibram Five-fingers and some clunky leather boots that are more home to the city than the mountainous country I am standing in.

Welcome to Gratangen, Norway. A municipality with just over 1000 inhabitants. The closest village, Årstein, is a bridge walk away from the municipality’s administrative center and home to some 200 people. There is a small grocery store, a retirement home, a dry cleaner, and a hotel/RV campground. Just up the road is a fish abattoir (slaughterhouse), where they process the local fishermen’s catch. There are a lot of these small waterside complexes in Norway as it is said that they are important for the local economies of the villages that spread across the fjords and bays. Fishing and its products make up around 8 percent of the economy of Norway and in 2018 some 4 million tonnes of fish were produced at a value of 10.8 billion USD.

My girlfriend is a nurse here in Årstein and works at the retirement home. She is here as most foreigners are, for the money, as Spanish wages are almost unlivable and Norway’s socialized system has a lot more money for such things as elderly care, education, and the like. However, Norway brings some all to familiar feelings I had about the USA–both good and bad.

For one, the wilderness here is immense and beautiful. While I have only been here for less than a week, I have had the amazing opportunity to explore the Lofoten Islands. The forests and landscapes here have been incredibly well preserved with little to no plastic or garbage lying about. The trails here are also well kept considering the amount of water pouring out of everywhere, and the ability to more or less camp wherever you want. The small coastal villages are quaint and tidy with beautiful traditional houses and centers that were once almost entirely based on fishing and are now taping into the global tourism machine. Despite these pollution heavy industries, the waterways remain free from garbage, and the water is almost perfectly transparent. Lofoten is also famous for its white-sand beaches that if it weren’t for the cold weather, it would seem like a tropical paradise. Rising sharply from the Norwegian Sea Lofoten’s granitic magmite mountains scrape at its constantly changing skies. The island mountain chain features dense foliage-covered bases ranging from shrubs, grasses, and flowers to forested areas representing a mixture of downy birch and Rowan with sparse patches of non-native spruce plantations from generations past.

This unique and lush-green environment brings me fond memories of the Pacific Northwest in the USA and one of my favorite places in the world, the Olympic National Park. Norway is also home to native salmon fish species, a widely known and appreciated species across Europe and the rest of the world. This is yet another interesting and delicious similarity to my once home state of Washington.

After arriving in Norway it doesn’t take long to recognize the extreme amount of wealth here. There are more Tesla vehicles here than I have ever seen, even though 50 percent of Norway’s exportation comes from oil and gas and remains second only to Norway’s service industry in terms of GDP. However, gas prices are extremely high in Norway despite domestic production being around 5 times that of its consumption. Our little excursion to the Lofoten islands cost us over 200 USD for a full tank of gas in our rented Honda Passport. This blew my mind. However, I guess with lower electricity prices and enough intelligence within the government to move away from gas and oil domestically, it only makes sense to allow such prices to push the population to electric alternatives. Beyond this, the overall cost of living remains 23 percent higher in Norway when compared to the USA, however, the average income is also higher by 19 percent at 84,090 USD a year compared to that of 70,430 in the USA. In terms of Purchasing Power Parity, Norway remains about 3 percent lower than the USA, according to WorldData.info. Moreover, to provide further perspective on these flawed yet indicative numbers we should consider the wealth distribution. This too has been measured by the Gini Index which ranges from 0 to 100 where 0 is perfect equality and 100 is perfect inequality. In terms of the Gini index, Noway is by far and away much more equal with a 27.6 compared to the USA at 41.4.

This may very well be where the similarities end and the differences begin between Norway and USA. According to the Legatum Prosperity Index (LPI) which accounts for 9 factors including economic quality, business environment, governance, personal freedom, social capital, safety and security, education, health, and natural environment, Norway is ranked 2nd in the world. Public education in Norway is also one of the best in the world according to US News and is ranked at number 6. US News has also ranked Norway as number 7 in the world for public health care. These are two main things that drew me to Europe originally, as I personally and professionally align with societal equality. To me, social equality and sustainability are paramount to the eventual environmental protection and stewardship of our earth and its resources. At the heart of social equality are fundamental human rights. This largely requires four things: Education, food, health care, and housing. These fundamental rights, while not perfect in Europe, are much farther advanced in terms of being accessible to all–and by and large the reason I choose to live here. As part of my life goals, I want to be a part of the betterment of humanity. I want to contribute to society and work to achieve social sustainability goals that can give way to an economic structure that isn’t at odds with our environment. While food and housing in Norway are still pretty far out of reach in terms of affordability, They do remain comparative in terms of PPP with other well-developed nations, making Norway a perfect place for those people that enjoy colder climates, like me.

I am new here in Norway. I feel vulnerable and out of place. I am once again in a foreign land that speaks and thinks in foreign ways to my own. Maybe this time is not so different as that of Latin-based countries that, in my experience, tend to show much more emotional and social dependence. I didn’t come entirely for myself to this place but for a chance at love and with an eye on the opportunities it might bring. I have done my research. I have seen the beauty this place has to offer, and I am excited for what might come from my experience here. skål