Whether driven by a desire to reconnect with their heritage or seeking a higher standard of living, Americans continue to look towards Norway to chase the Scandinavian dream.
Moving to Norway is relatively straightforward for citizens of many European countries because of EU freedom of movement rules. Although Norway isn’t an EU member, its membership of the European Economic Area (EEA) opens up this possibility.
For American citizens, the process is more difficult, but it’s far from impossible. According to official Statistics Norway data, more than 10,000 American citizens lived in Norway as of March 2023. Of those, approximately one-quarter live in the capital city, Oslo.
Immigration is an intricate field with numerous considerations. Here are five common pathways for American citizens seeking to relocate to Norway. For full details on these five pathways plus other options, consult the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration (UDI).
The number one route to residency for most people without family connections to Norway is to obtain a work permit. But this is more complicated than just applying for a job vacancy.
That’s because you aren’t just competing with the 5.5 million other residents of Norway. You’re also competing with hundreds of millions of people from across Europe, for whom Norwegian employers have a much easier route to hire.
Citizens of any EU/EEA country do not need a work permit to work in Norway. In contrast, for a Norwegian company to hire an American citizen, there’s a lengthy work permit application process in the way including minimum salary requirements.
While there are always exceptions, to realistically receive a job offer as an American, you will need to be working in an industry suffering a workforce shortage in Norway, or have significant skills and/or a substantial profile in your industry.
Unlike many popular “work abroad” locations, native English language ability is not much of an advantage, as all Norwegians of working age are fluent in English to varying degrees.
This also rules out much of the ‘teaching English as a foreign language’ market that is not so big in Norway. That being said, international schools are popular, and teachers of other subjects are sought from around the world.
One possible route in to Norway is if you already work for a global company with operations in Norway. This is especially relevant in the oil and gas, energy, ICT, and maritime industries. In these circumstances, putting your name forward for an internal transfer is likely to be your easiest route.
Once you have experience working in Norway on your resume, it will become easier to find other positions.
The advantage in a transfer within an international company is that in the majority of situations, English will be the working language. Learning Norwegian will be essential should your stay become a long-term one, but the lack of expectation upon initial hiring is a big benefit.
Given the relatively high proportion of self-employment in the U.S., starting a business may seem an attractive option. However, once again, EU regulations put a significant barrier in the way.
European citizens are able to register as self-employed in order to move to Norway, but everyone else requires a work permit—and the requirements to obtain one are strict. This also only applies to self-employment. Resident permits are not automatically available to those starting a Limited Liability Company.
Applicants must have educational qualifications relevant to their proposed business, and be able to prove expected business profits of at least $28,000 in the first year. That may not appear a high bar, but it must be met within the first year or the work permit will not be renewed.
Finally, the county you intend to move to also has its say in the decision. Input is sought on whether the skills are required in the area and if the estimated income is realistic. This means that obtaining a self-employment work permit can be easier in more remote areas such as Northern Norway, as opposed to large cities like Oslo or Bergen.
Study In Norway
The recent introduction of tuition fees for non-EU/EEA citizens has seen the demand for university places among foreign students drop substantially over the past year. This means it’s now a little easier than before to win a place at a Norwegian university, but it’s more expensive.
Norwegian universities offer a wide variety of Master programs taught in English, from general topics such as Engineering to Scandinavian specialisms including the University of Oslo’s Ibsen Studies and many Arctic-related topics at the Arctic University of Norway in Tromsø.
If that’s not a barrier, studying in Norway is one of the easier ways to obtain a residence permit. It will generally be granted on submission of a confirmed place at a Norwegian university.
While the residence permit is only valid during the period of study, the time spent in Norway should make it easier to find future employment and therefore gain a work permit.
Relationships & Family Immigration
If you’re in a long-term relationship with a Norwegian citizen or a non-Norwegian legally residing in Norway, you can apply for a family immigration permit, even if you’re not married.
This process is often used by partners of people who obtain a residence permit in Norway, but it is also used by people who have lived together with a Norwegian in another country.
Both parties must be over the age of 18 with a plan to live together in Norway. If the couple is not married and does not have immediate plans to marry, then they must have lived together for at least two years, or be expecting a child together.
There are many other sub-categories of the family immigration permit, for example, people who had a Norwegian parent when they were born. However, it isn’t enough to just have Norwegian heritage.
Plan A Longer Visit First
Before committing to relocation, it’s a wise idea to plan an extended stay in the country, even if you’ve visited before.
Stay somewhere off the tourist trail and at a less popular time of year, and you’ll get a more realistic appreciation of everyday life in Norway rather than the tourist experience.