Living in Scandinavia: An Introduction to Nordic Lifestyle
Scandinavia is often heard of by travelers as a mythical wonderland to be, where people live in peace and harmony enjoying a high level of purchasing power per capita. Up there in the North, life’s comfort seems quite high compared to other European countries. Tourists find countries like Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland attractive. Word of mouth says Scandinavia is a dreamland to travel to at least once per lifetime or even for a lifetime. But how about living in Scandinavia?
In this article, we will try to delve realistically into the pros and cons of living in Scandinavia in general along with some really useful information on where to settle in Scandinavia, the cost of living, the cultural aspects of Scandinavian society, and course what to expect from the climate.
Let’s roll the ball!
Why Move to Scandinavia
First things first, you feel like you are taken care of when you live in Scandinavia. Living is just the right term to use instead of surviving. Unlike in many other countries, people do not have to sweat out their lives just to be able to pay for their rent and food or establish a reputable career.
In Scandinavia, there are welfare programs supporting residents in every aspect. You don’t have to worry about your child’s school costs. Education is free. Basic healthcare is nearly free. Focus on little things that make life beautiful and happier than saving up money for educational or healthcare costs. Certainly, this translates into less stress and anxiety for the future and upscales quality of life.
Scandinavian countries are also on top of the list when it comes to safety and thus highly recommended for raising a family. The environment is peaceful and work/life balance is quite important in these countries. There are plenty of holidays available and people just don’t pay more attention to getting promoted by working harder than to take their days off for a vacation.
Pros and Cons of Living in Scandinavia
After this quick introduction, now let’s take a closer look at the benefits and drawbacks of living in Scandinavia :
Pros of Living in Scandinavia
Equality is the best fit to describe the educational system in Nordic countries. Education opportunities are given to everyone regardless of their social or economic background. For native residents and members of the European Union, it is publicly funded and free. In some countries, you even get a “pocket money” allowance from the government during your education. As a consequence, Scandinavian countries are raising the bar with a highly educated society.
No need to get yourself privately insured and pay a whole lot of money. If you live in Scandinavia, you feel your health is taken care of. High-quality healthcare is provided under the coverage of a publicly financed system, which is more or less based on the same structure per country or region. Patient costs are minimal or simply do not exist. Nordic countries are rated highly by the World Health Organization in terms of health statistics.
Scandinavian people pay more attention to work-life balance than other countries in the world. It is hard to find someone who will ever say no to a vacation. There are many national and international holidays throughout the year. Carpe diem is the word. They like to be in the moment and enjoy life as it comes. Sacrificing quality time with friends and family in favor of building up a greedy thus stressful career is just not the way of life for Scandinavians.
Freedom and Equality
Discrimination against religion, gender, race, sexual orientation, age, or functional abilities is strictly prohibited in the Nordics. They not only have the strongest anti-discriminatory laws in place across Europe but this is also reflected in the people’s behaviors, which is more important to ensure freedom in everyday life. Unlike many of the other European Union countries, same-sex marriages are legalized in Scandinavia. Paternity leave is encouraged in Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. Fathers are supported to get engaged in children’s upbringing just as mothers do. Open governance policy also counts here. Transparency, accountability, and press freedom are all common fundamental aspects of the Scandinavian governments.
Food may not be the first thing that comes to mind when talking about living in Scandinavia but it is a great concern as well. High quality and fresh food are what make Scandinavia an alluring call for visitors. Especially pastries! They are so delicious and flavored that even meetings are scheduled for pastry time.
Now, this is what is to be admired most! Scandinavian people do not bother themselves with complex architecture or get dressed up in a tacky broadway style. Everything is so peaceful and calm. Simplicity is the word. From architecture to dressing styles, colors are beautifully selected and offer harmony to the viewing eye. Light shades are smartly created in interior designs. Light has got something to do with happiness in Nordic life.
Hiking and Biking
Scenic routes across Scandinavia are appealing calls for the sporting blood. Adventurous spirits always have something to find of their interest in Scandinavia’s jaw-dropping natural settings. There’s a large spectrum of choices. You may wish to go for a long hike across the mountains or just simply bike through the cities, even for commuting to work. Drivers are conscious of the fact that bikers are part of the traffic and respect them equally.
Cons of Living in Scandinavia
You need to get yourself used to the fact that sunlight is the most precious thing in Scandinavia when it comes to weather. It’s easy to guess that winters pass harsh, frosty, and gray. And you have to be prepared for a hefty amount of snow, relatively more up in the North than it is in the South, but it is still out of the ordinary particularly if you came from a Mediterranean country. Falls are damp and dark. It’s the absence of sunshine that makes you feel gloomy and depressed at times.
Cost of Living
Due to excessive taxes, living costs are relatively high in Scandinavian countries. It’s a major drawback if you consider moving up North. Though salaries are comparably higher than in other European countries, you need to be aware that a considerable percentage of your salary will go to taxes. This is partly understandable when you think of the free top-notch healthcare and education system that Scandinavians are allowed, but it also pushes up the cost of living. Restaurants are quite expensive, which makes eating out relatively difficult unless you have a pretty good income. Car prices are also high due to taxes which may explain why biking is a preferred option in Scandinavia. In general, we can say Finland and Norway are more expensive in terms of living costs than Sweden and Denmark.
Friendliness might not be the first impression when you come to visit a Scandinavian country. People are rather introverted and prefer to live in their individualities. Breaking the ice may be quite challenging. Getting in the swing of it definitely will take some time unless you have some common interests with the people you’d like to socialize with. That makes you feel lonely when you come to Scandinavia, especially if you come from Southern countries where people are more accommodating and open to dialogue. Hidden bias against foreigners or migrants also may count here.
Prepare yourself for a long waiting process if you are in search of an apartment to rent in major urban areas. Just don’t expect it to be as easy as shelling peas. It may take ages to find a vacant place. Especially if you’re looking for a first-hand contract, that is, a property to be rented directly from the landlord. Second-hand leases or subletting is an option as well, but they are more expensive and scarcely last longer than 1 year, most the case for a few months.
A foundational pillar of Scandinavian society, Jante’s Law is a set of rules that are created to ensure harmony and equality among people. These are simple rules that imply no one is to imagine oneself better or more important than society is in general. You’re not to think you are special or as smart as or you know more than society does. If you go for something extraordinary or atypical, this is not usually welcome and you feel out of place. But this great ideal of humbleness of Scandinavian culture is not taken kindly by foreigners who think their individuality is like colors of the rainbow of progression. Jante’s Law is mainly criticized for undermining creativity in society.
Best Cities To Live in Scandinavia
Now let’s go through some of the best cities to live across Scandinavian land!
Norway’s second big city is a stone groove for lovers of nature and outdoor passionates. Located on the west coast of Norway and encrusted with fjords and mountains, the city is a scenic beauty, for lack of a better world. If you like cobblestone lanes, houses sprinkled with beautiful hillsides, and picturesque views offered by the surrounding wooden old architecture, this place is a no-miss.
The good news is that due to mountains keeping the city from the cold winds of the north and east, the temperature is relatively higher thus the winters pass milder.
Just as Bergen is the gateway to West Norway’s breath-taking natural scenery, Gothenburg is a great doorway to Sweden’s awe-inspiring landscapes. Located on the west coast, Gothenburg is the second largest metropolitan area in Sweden. Climate is oceanic, just as it is in Bergen, winters are milder due to the warm influence of the Gulf Stream.
Its advantageous location has made Gothenburg the most important trade and shipping center of Scandinavia. It is also the hometown of Volvo cars. Gothenburg is the place to be if you’d like to live in an environment where vibrant urban culture is entangled with historical and natural beauties and people are more welcoming than in other parts of Scandinavia.
No wonder why the capital of Sweden is otherwise known as the “Venice of the North”. Spread across an archipelago of 14 islands, Stockholm is intertwined with many bridges. Despite being Scandinavia’s most populated urban area, along with its waterways and many green areas, it resembles a large village more than a capital city. Gamla Stan, literally Old Town in Swedish, is a brilliant gateway to the medieval architecture and cobblestoned historical areas of the city. You will find Stockholm is not only one of the most beautiful cities in Europe but it is also one of the cleanest. Quality of life is high and one can enjoy vibrant nightlife besides the overall peaceful atmosphere offered by the environment.
Norway’s capital is located on the country’s southeastern coast. It is the oldest of the Scandinavian capitals. Its history dates back 1000 years. Nearly half of the city is covered in green, due to a vast number of parks and forests. Coupled with attempts by the Norwegian government to decrease carbon levels, the environment is clean. More than 40% of the vehicles registered in the Oslo municipality are electrically powered. It is also fairly easy getting around the city, either by public transportation or simply by biking. Oslo has the most developed public transportation system installed in Norway.
When it comes to outdoor activities, there are very few countries in the world that could rival Oslo. The Norwegian capital is offering great winter sports opportunities like skiing and skating. It is also one of the fastest growing capitals of Europe and there are relatively higher work opportunities, particularly in the maritime industry.
Ranked among the most liveable cities in Europe, Copenhagen is the economic and cultural center of Denmark. Being the capital it is also the most populous city. Environmental standards are on the high side, you’ll sense yourself in one of the most environmentally friendly cities in the world when you come to Copenhagen. The city aims to be carbon-neutral by 2025. Green is everywhere, like in most other Scandinavian cities, as there are a plethora of parks and gardens scattered across the city. The economy is mainly based on commerce and services industries rather than manufacturing.
Though the cost of living is remarkably elevated, due to working benefits in place, a high level of salaries, and a promoted work-life balance, residents enjoy a happy life.
Cost of Living in Scandinavia
Hereunder you will find listed monthly average costs for living in Norway, Denmark, and Sweden, according to Numbeo:
- Family of four estimated costs is €4,088.29 without rent
- A single person's estimated costs are €1,136.74 without rent
- Apartment (1 bedroom) in city center costs €1,061.24
- An apartment (1 bedroom) outside of the center costs €856.99
- Apartment (3 bedrooms) in city center costs €1,845.84
- Apartment (3 bedrooms) outside of center costs €1,426.41
- Electricity, Heating, Cooling, Water, and Garbage for 85m2 Apartment costs €197.34
- 1 min. of Prepaid Mobile Tariff Local (No Discounts or Plans) costs €0.12
- Internet (60 Mbps or More, Unlimited Data, Cable/ADSL) costs €52.60
- Family of four estimated costs is €3,403.76 without rent
- A single person's estimated costs are €946.95 without rent
- An apartment (1 bedroom) in the city center costs €1,004.18
- An apartment (1 bedroom) outside of the center costs €744.25
- Apartment (3 bedrooms) in city center costs € 1,760.82
- Apartment (3 bedrooms) outside of center costs € 1,309.59
- Electricity, Heating, Cooling, Water, and Garbage for 85m2 Apartment costs €176.66
- 1 min. of Prepaid Mobile Tariff Local (No Discounts or Plans) costs €0.12
- The family of four estimated costs is €3,138.03 without rent
- A single person's estimated costs are €845.48 without rent
- An apartment (1 bedroom) in the city center costs €869.86
- An apartment (1 bedroom) outside of the center costs €670.71
- Apartment (3 bedrooms) in city center costs €1,411.59
- Apartment (3 bedrooms) outside of center costs €1,005.21
- Electricity, Heating, Cooling, Water, and Garbage for 85m2 Apartment cost €79.12
- 1 min. of Prepaid Mobile Tariff Local (No Discounts or Plans) costs €0.12
- Internet (60 Mbps or More, Unlimited Data, Cable/ADSL) costs €29.67
Culture and Society
When we talk about Scandinavian society, trying to define their unique culture, features like “excessive” or “showy” will probably never come to mind. From architecture to aesthetics, social life to the way of doing business, simplicity, and minimalism is evident. Scandinavian culture is quite democratic, egalitarian, and value-driven. Collectivity and cooperativeness are the prevalent striking features. Quality of life and time spent with friends or family are more valued than competition at the workplace or self-promotion. Therefore work-life balance is adequately managed in these countries. Individualism is also a key attribute of this culture.
You might ask yourself how could this apply to a society where enthusiasm or unusualness is generally frowned upon? But what Scandinavians value most about individualism is the ability to take personal responsibility for individual decisions and be self-sufficient. Despite their openness and transparency both in personal and business life, people tend to be less expressive but more reserved. Yet not surprising for a region where Jante’s Law is adapted as common sense.
Is Living in Scandinavia Better Than Living in Central Europe?
It is the eye of the beholder that decides, but from many aspects like safety, security, social welfare, education, healthcare system, natural landscapes, etc. many of the other European countries including Central Europe are backmarkers against Scandinavian countries. Then of course there is the social interaction, weather, and high cost of living disadvantages, that need to be taken into account, as the decision is ultimately based on personal expectations.
Is Living in Scandinavia Better Than Living in the US?
Again, it depends on your preferences and expectations, but a few words count here, as US lifestyle and cultural aspects are mostly poles apart from the Scandinavian way of living. If you’re that kind of person who likes to make the grade, reach the top, maybe work 10 hours a day, and do a lot of sacrifices to get where you’d like to be, then the US may be the right place for you.
But for Scandinavia, none of these are valid. For an outgoing person who is energetic and expressive Scandinavia may seem cold and reserved. But if you are a down-to-earth person who likes to keep that balance of life between work and family, do not value having promotions through sacrificing your personal life, or appreciate spending time with your kids throughout the day, then the US will rub you the wrong way.
The Bottom Line
There you have it…An introduction to living in Scandinavia…The region offers high standards of living, great education, and a good work-life balance. There are so many pros that will keep you happy despite the challenging weather! Although moving there is a significant choice, it can also be the best one you’ve ever made.
Have you ever lived in a Scandinavian country? How was your experience? Let us know…