Can You Live in Norway Without Speaking Norwegian?

Norway is one of the most beautiful countries on the planet, with a rich history and culture, so it’s no surprise that people from all over the world have thought about relocating to the Scandinavian nation.

However, one question that often arises is if not speaking Norwegian would be an insurmountable obstacle to moving there.

English speakers can live in Norway without speaking Norwegian because a high percentage of the population speak, or at least understand, the language.

Cultural activities like socializing, job hunting, and conducting business can be done in English in addition to Norwegian.

The information below will help readers understand how prevalent English is in Norway and provide some guidance on what it would be like living in the country when you don’t speak Norwegian. Questions considered below include:

  • What are the limitations in Norway for people who speak only English?
  • What are the possibilities in Norway for people who speak only English?
  • What sensitivities should an English speaker have when surrounded by people who speak Norwegian as their first language?

Planning to visit Norway? See Is the Tap Water Safe to Drink in Norway? to learn more.

Norwegian word for hello

Most Norwegians Speak English

English speakers who are considering moving to Norway will be relieved to know that the majority of the Norwegian population speaks English as a second language.

Most Norwegians learn English in school, and many are excited to meet an English-speaking foreigner and practice with them.

It is a safe bet that almost any Norwegian you meet between the ages of 15 and 55 has a working knowledge of, and experience speaking, English. [1]

The government has even recognized how vastly the English language is growing among the Norwegian population, so they have added an English section to the tax forms. 

If you plan to relocate to Norway for good then it is important that you make an effort to follow their culture. This means that you should learn how to speak Norwegian.

You won’t be expected to learn a new language overnight.

Norwegians realize all great things take time, so you can learn how to speak their language through a 3-year university course.

In case you didn’t already know, university courses are free in Norway.

Can I Socialize In Norway Without Speaking Norwegian?

When you first arrive in the country, you will have no problem getting around speaking English.

The citizens are familiar with the language, so they can help you get whatever you need without trouble. 

Yet even though most Norwegians are familiar with English as a second language, that doesn’t mean they prefer to speak it all the time.

Although some will be genuinely excited to practice their English skills with you at first, it is important to realize that they may not desire to have every conversation in their second language.

If you want to make real friendships in Norway, you may need to become familiar with Norwegian.

Languages are a part of culture and part of assimilating and respecting a native culture is being sensitive to how people in it communicate. 

The people of Norway are generally friendly, but, like other countries in the world, some can be shy and reserved.

Some may not approach a new arrival to make conversation, especially one who doesn’t speak their native language.

Scandinavian terminology can be confusing. See What Is the Difference Between Norse, Nordic, and Norwegian? to learn more.

Norwegian woman

Will I Be Able To Work In Norway Without Speaking Norwegian?

The majority of business owners in Norway prefer to hire people who speak Norwegian. After all, their employees are hired to do business in a Norwegian-speaking community. 

If you are looking to find work in Norway then you will have a hard time finding it if you don’t speak Norwegian.

If working in Norway is part of your plan, then you should take the time to learn Norwegian in order to be successful.

Most Norwegian companies prefer to hire people who were recommended to them by their current staff members and business partners. 

Not knowing the Norwegian language makes it very difficult for anyone to land a job or build their career in Norway.

Any foreigner who has made an effort to learn the Norwegian language will stand out to employers who need a helping hand with their business.

It will show them that you are happy to be living in their country and be a part of the community.  

Should I plan to learn Norwegian?

Yes. Only on a temporary basis are you able to move to Norway without knowing the Norwegian language.

You don’t have to legally know the language in order to live there.

The Norwegian government has made it easy for foreign citizens to learn the country’s native language once they have arrived.

However, if you plan on obtaining a permanent residence or citizenship in Norway then you will need documented proof of your language ability. 

Although you can learn Norwegian free of cost at one of Norway’s universities, your experience in a new country is always better if you make an attempt to learn a bit about the language before you move. 

There are plenty of online resources to help you learn the basics of Norwegian before you get on that plane. 

While the internet is full of free resources to learn Norwegian, you will most likely get the best results if you take an online language course. 

These courses can help you structure your language skills, while the free apps and resources online can help you practice what you’ve learned.

There are a lot of reindeer in Norway. See What Are Reindeer Used for in Norway? to learn more.

Why You Shouldn’t Move To Norway Without Speaking Norwegian

Just because you can move to Norway without knowing Norwegian doesn’t mean you should.

Anywhere you go, you will have an easier time if you know how to speak the language.

For a start, not knowing the language has already put limitations on your job search.

If you go out with a group of Norwegian native speakers, they will feel obligated to speak English for you.

Out of habit, they speak to each other in Norwegian, then feel a sense of guilt because they don’t know what they are saying. That’s not fair to your new friends.

Another reason you should learn the language before you go is so you are not dependent on a translator.

It’s inevitable that you are going to get paperwork and other stuff that’s printed in Norwegian.

You don’t want to have to constantly call someone over for help every time. Learning Norwegian will have you ready to take care of your own paperwork.

This may seem like a small reason, but after time it may get more difficult.

When you don’t have an understanding of the Norwegian language then you will have a lot of difficulties keeping up with local news and current events. You won’t be able to listen to the local radio station or read their newspapers and magazines. 

You will also be missing out on events and, therefore not getting the full cultural experience. The options to go to see a new movie or festival will be severely limited for you. 

Final thoughts

For winter lovers, Norway is the ideal country to call home. For six months out of the year, you can participate in all the skiing, snowboarding, and tobogganing your heart desires.

If you love to cozy up by the fireplace and watch the snowfall, then Norway is the right place for you. 

Norway has some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. Going on a drive throughout the country will take you through miles of breathtaking mountains and luscious green hillsides.

We can’t forget about the famous fjords either. 

If you want to be part of the Norwegian community you really should learn to speak the language.






Christian Christensen

Christian started Scandinavia Facts to explore his family heritage, raise awareness of one of his academic interests as a professor, and civilly promote the region. Please see the About page for details.

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