Living, working and studying in the Nordic countries

Getting Around By Rytis Cekauskas November 5, 2019

The Nordics are known around the world for amazing natural beauty. Years of shared history also have established very strong cultural and economic ties between its countries making the region one of the most desired places to live and work in. We spoke to three Nordic nationals to gain their insights into what life is like for expats in the Nordic countries.

Cross-border commuting between Norway and Sweden is the most common case among workers in the Nordics.

Swedes are most likely to work in neighboring countries. In fact, 80 percent of Nordic citizens who commute to Denmark and Norway come from Sweden.

“I started to commute weekly from Sweden to Finland in 1991 for my previous job. Since my entire family lives in Sweden, I still do so instead of moving.”

The typical commuter is quite young. According to recent surveys, over half of them are under the age of 35. Daily or weekly commuting is very popular for people starting out. Cross border commuters are found in all trades, but most work in the service industry.

While the general unemployment rate in Sweden is currently the highest in the Nordic countries, there are a number of high paying jobs in Sweden attracting expats. However, higher salaries in both Denmark and Norway have made commuting there to work very appealing, especially to people that live in bordering regions.

Commuting for education shows a different pattern. The Nordic countries are known for having a number of internationally ranked universities, but the tuition fees associated with them means that many students choose to commute to another Nordic country in order to avoid the risk of going into debt before entering the job market. Recent surveys have found that students at the top universities in Denmark (University of Copenhagen) or Sweden (Lund University) will pay a minimum of €6,000 per year for tuition alone. In turn, public universities in Norway do not charge tuition fees, even for international students. Depending on where you choose to study, you may be required to pay a small fee each semester, but that is normally between €30 to €60.

While employment and educational opportunities abroad certainly are a factor in the decision to commute from one country to another, the cost of living in the Nordic countries may play an even bigger role.

The cost of living in Sweden is over 30% less than for those who choose to make their home in Norway. Similarly, living in Norway is on average 10-15% more expensive than living in Denmark. Because of this, it’s clear to see why in a Swedish border municipality like Strömstad (Västra Götaland and Värmland) more than 10% of the employed population out-commutes to a Norwegian destination.

“I grew up and studied in Denmark. In February 2015, I moved to Oslo after being offered an exciting job opportunity. My mother is from Norway so I have been brought up with some Norwegian traditions. I additionally have some family in Oslo, so I thought that it would be a great opportunity to work in a challenging role, gain some fun experiences and get a better understanding of my cultural background.”

While the decision to commute may be more appealing to younger people, business professionals are more likely to move for a job.

“I moved from Sweden to Norway from 2016 to 2018 for a job when I was 40 years old.”

The Nordic countries’ shared values such as openness, trust, innovation, sustainability, and humanity make it relatively easy for people to integrate. The similarities in culture mean that people from Norway can live in Sweden without speaking Swedish, while taking advantage of job opportunities in Norway. It is very common that despite not speaking the same native language, people from Denmark, Sweden, and Norway are able to understand each other with little problem.

This mutual understanding might be one reason people in the Nordics share very similar ideas when it comes to working and living together.

Compared to other regions in the world, I think that our level of homogeneity across socioeconomic status impacts all aspects of the Nordic society. We have a very flat organizational structure that enables us to have direct lines of communication and closer collaboration across different fields. I think additionally that the Nordics truly is the “land of opportunity.” That you nowhere in the world have the same opportunity to shape your future as here.

“Sweden, Denmark and Norway would probably be the easiest to migrate to, as these countries already have a large ethnic mix of people who are quite integrated into the communities.”

Despite the open borders and a large amount of shared history, it’s fair to say that the Nordic countries still each have their own unique cultures and identities. Whether it’s different spices used in preparing similar dishes, different ways people choose to relax and socialize after work or the shows on television, it still can take a while to get used to living in a new country.

“I think there are differences in the working culture in Denmark and Norway, but they are subtle. It took me 3-4 months to notice the differences. Culture will of course always be based on a generalization because you see a great variation on the individual level. That being said, I see a tendency that Danes value much more direct communication and have a more direct approach to solving problems. More generally, I think Danes tend to be more liberal.”

Growing up in such a unique environment can certainly have an impact on the way you view others and yourself. In fact, according to Forbes, Finland, Denmark and Norway rank as the top 3 happiest places in the world.

My parents also emigrated from Finland to Sweden during the early 60s for work. The unrestricted and easy traveling possibilities between the Nordic countries, resulted in that all my childhood vacations, my family spent exploring all the Nordic countries. This is why I today have an endless wanderlust and just can’t see enough of the world and explore different cultures.

“Growing up in the Nordics have impacted me in a great way, I have learned a lot about different cultures which has been an advantage in my job at Western Union. You can be yourself here and everyone has an opportunity to do what they want, everything is up to you and what you want to do with your life.”

I think in general that experiences from working in different countries make you aware of that culture will shape your values and perception of things and therefore give you a better understanding of people. I would not say that it affects my daily opinion on things, but it has had an influence on my values."

There are a number of reasons that people may choose to live, work or study in the Nordic countries. Whether you’re looking to find a job in Norway or doing a masters program in Sweden, you may require some assistance in managing your finances while abroad. Western Union can help you to move money quickly and easily. Download the Western Union® app today and start sending money between the Nordic countries in just a couple of clicks.

The app that connects the Nordics.

Download now