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Expats looking for accommodation in Norway will be happy to know that there are a variety of housing options throughout the country, and generally of excellent quality across the board. Although accommodation prices in Norway can be high (as much as a third or even half of one's salary), employers often provide expats with a housing allowance in their employment contracts. Moreover, expats thinking of moving to Norway with their families can rest assured that – as with all other aspects of Norwegian society – the range of accommodation options available to them will be strikingly family friendly.
The standard of accommodation in Norway is excellent, though expats relocating from countries where houses are typically roomy might be surprised at the relative lack of space in Norwegian homes. Nevertheless, expats can expect comfortable, well-finished, well-insulated living quarters with good heating systems. Expats should ensure that the heating in their prospective lodgings – whether it be gas, electric or a wood-burning stove – works well, because it will be a necessity in winter.
Types of accommodation in Norway
At least during the initial stages of their time in Norway, most expats opt for renting property in Norway. There is a variety of accommodation options to choose, ranging from detached houses (enebolig) and terraced/row houses (rekkehus) to apartments and properties called 'tomannsbolig', which are large houses that have been subdivided for use by two families.
Many of those intending to rent accommodation in Oslo will end up in a flat (apartment), as property prices in the Norwegian capital are high. For those on a tight budget, it is also possible to rent a private bedroom in a shared house (bofelleskap), where the kitchen and other communal areas of the property are shared with other residents.
Furnished or unfurnished
Most rental properties in Norway are unfurnished, but even unfurnished properties are likely to have curtains and fully fitted kitchens, along with an oven, fridge, dishwasher and washing machine. Furnished apartments and houses include everything from furniture to cutlery and crockery in the kitchen. Due to the short-term nature of some expat assignments, many expats opt to live in fully furnished accommodation. For those who choose to rent unfurnished accommodation, it is possible to ship furniture to Norway; otherwise, a good range of furniture stores (including IKEA) can easily be found.
Many foreigners arriving in Norway choose to rent temporary accommodation while they settle in. This gives them the opportunity to research the best areas and suburbs to live in before making a long-term commitment. Serviced apartments and temporary accommodation are more expensive to rent but are fully equipped, with all utility bills included in the rental price.
Renting accommodation in Norway
The process of renting a property in Norway is straightforward – although expats are advised not to pin all their hopes on one specific property, as competition can be quite stiff, particularly in Oslo and other major cities. Expats often elect to have an agency do most of this legwork for them once they've decided on their budget and housing specifications.
Finding a property
Most people begin their search for a rental property via a property portal such as Finn.no and Hybel.no. Properties can also be found through word of mouth by asking friends and colleagues, especially for those who are interested in renting a hybel (studio apartment) or kollektiv (a room in a shared house). Typically, a person attends a viewing and puts their name on a waiting list if necessary, which the landlord of the property will then consider. This can be a bit of a popularity game, and if an apartment has an open showing the potential tenant should be there in person to meet the owners or their agents if they want to be considered.
Most lease agreements in Norway are signed on at least a one-year basis, and sometimes up to two or three years. The contract should include information such as the monthly rental price, deposit conditions and whether utilities will be included in the rental costs. There should be a standard contract that protects both the tenant and landlord.
References and background checks
The tenant usually needs to provide a personal reference from previous landlords, an employer or a guarantor. Expats who have recently moved to Norway usually have their employer act as a guarantor.
Expats will be required to pay up to three months' rent as a deposit before moving in, so combined with the rent for the first month, up to four months’ rent may need to be found upfront. There is usually a penalty fee if the tenant backs out of the lease agreement before taking up residence in the property. The deposit will be held in a protected bank account and once the lease is concluded, the deposit is refundable, provided the property is not damaged beyond normal wear and tear.
Termination of the lease
It is important to note that a tenant can terminate a lease at any time without any reason. Typically, three months’ notice must be given in writing if intending to move out before the end of the lease.
Utilities in Norway
Utilities such as water and electricity are rarely included in the monthly rental in Norway, except in short-term accommodation. The lease will make clear whether utilities are included or not, and expats should ask about this up front in order to budget accurately.
Most rentals will already have gas, electricity and water connected, and usually telephone and internet too, but expats will need to transfer the accounts to their name. Payment can be set up to be taken automatically from a bank.
Gas and electricity
Electricity is the main heating source for most Norwegian homes, and very few households use gas for heating or cooking. Electricity in Norway is 220V AC, 50Hz, and standard European two-pin plugs are used. Most tenants will need to pay a monthly bill for gas and electricity, which may come as a shock after a cold winter.
There is an open electricity market in Norway, which means that the customer is free to choose their energy supplier. Customers can choose to have a fixed price contact, where the price per kilowatt-hour (kWh) is agreed in advance, or a market price contract, where the spot price is paid. Most households have smart electricity meters which automatically send readings to the electricity provider. Detailed price information for all Norwegian energy suppliers can be found at www.strompris.no.
The quality of tap water in Norway is good by global standards, and it is perfectly safe to drink. Like electricity, the water will already be set up upon moving in, and the tenant will just need to transfer the account into their name. There are different water companies in different regions, and bills are worked out based on consumption.
Telephone and internet
There is good fixed-line and mobile internet throughout Norway and expats can choose from a plethora of suppliers. Many expats in Norway won't bother with a fixed telephone line, and instead choose to just install a broadband connection for the internet. Well-known suppliers include Telnor and Telia.
Waste and recycling
In Norway, there are several different colours of waste bins. Different municipalities have different-coloured bins for different types of trash. For specific information, expats should refer to their municipality’s website.
Residents will need to separate their waste into different coloured bags and place these bags into the demarcated bins provided by the city. The second bin is labelled 'papir' (paper) and is for cardboard and paper. The bins will be emptied by the Agency for Waste Management. Any waste that doesn’t fit into these categories or is too big for the bags or bins should be delivered to a recycling station.
Buying property in Norway
It is possible for expats – even those from non-EU countries – to buy property in Norway. Over the last decade or so, buying property in Norway (and especially in Oslo), has become a relatively common practice for expats who are attracted to the idea of settling in a country with such an extraordinary social welfare system.
As property laws in Norway can be nuanced, it is highly advisable that expats hire a local real estate broker to oversee the process. Listings can be found online or by attending open showings, which normally take place on weekends.