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The healthcare system in Norway is one of the best in the world. There are both public and private facilities – public services are subsidised by the government and are either free or only cost a small fee, while private healthcare is funded by patient fees and is much more costly.
Public healthcare in Norway
Every citizen and resident of Norway is entitled to healthcare, including students who will be in the country for more than one year. The quality of public healthcare in Norway is excellent. It is not free, as is generally thought, but heavily subsidised by the government and supported by the Norwegian National Insurance Scheme (Folketrygden, NIS).
Patients will be expected to pay a fee after any visit, but once they reach a specific limit, they are entitled to an exemption card (frikort) and will not have to pay any more within that calendar year. Patients just have to show their exemption card when they visit any medical facility. These cannot be used at private practices.
Expats who are registered in the National Population Register (Folkeregister) will automatically be assigned a general practitioner (GP) within the public system. Residents can find another one themselves but can only change doctors twice a year.
Patients have to visit their GP to get a reference to see a specialist. They may, however, have to wait for a few weeks to see a doctor unless they have an emergency, and up to several months to see a specialist. Some people prefer to go private to avoid long waiting times or to see specific specialists.
Private healthcare in Norway
There are several private healthcare facilities in Norway, many of which cater to the medical tourism market. Norway has high-quality specialists and diagnostic facilities which are competitively priced by UK and US standards.
Increasingly, Norwegian residents are choosing to take out private health insurance in addition to the NIS. This is partly to avoid long wait times for GPs and other specialists, and also to have a medical backup in the event of an emergency or conflicting medical opinions. Without a doctor's referral, a patient cannot get an appointment with a specialist under the public system.
GPs who are not affiliated with government hospitals are usually private. They do not have the long waiting lists of public GPs and are therefore in increasing demand. In addition, most dentists are part of private practices, as dentistry is for the most part not covered by the NIS.
Health insurance in Norway
Expats moving to Norway may opt for private health insurance to supplement the NIS and ensure access to services such as dentistry and mental health treatment. Private health insurance also reduces waiting times for specialist appointments and procedures, but this comes at a cost. Fortunately, some employers may offer private healthcare as part of the employment package.
Expats should be aware that private health insurance in Norway does not cover acute cases or emergency hospitalisations, therefore, registering with the NIS is still important. The cost of the insurance premiums will depend on factors such as an expat's age, sex and level of coverage.
Pharmacies and medicines in Norway
Prescription medicine falls into two categories, white and blue class, and is respectively either free or subsidised. Subsidised medicine only carries a nominal fee.
Pharmacies are ubiquitous, and there will always be at least one pharmacy open in each district (schedules are available at any pharmacy). Prescription medication, over-the-counter drugs and cosmetics are all available at Norwegian pharmacies.
Emergency services in Norway
Emergency services and transport are free under the NIS. Response time is fast, and emergency care is typically excellent.