Oslo v. Portland: A Hilarious Comparison in Cost of Living

The price comparison standard for my generation: A pint of cheap beer
PDX: ~$3-4
OSLO: $12-14


Beginning hourly wages at a coffee shop

PDX: ~$9
OSLO: $22


In September 2011, I moved to Oslo, Norway (my mother’s homeland, the country of my birth, and one of the most expensive cities in the world) from Portland, Ore. (where I’ve spent my entire adult life until now, and a young, broke person’s wonder dreamland, minus the jobs). I moved here as an unemployed English teacher, seeking economic asylum of sorts from a state with 11% unemployment. I have a job here (great). It’s also incredibly expensive (not so great). Here are some observations from my time in the Land of Arctic Wealth:

• Spending and earning in the two cities are very different, surprise. The dollar has been weak this year (the exchange rate when I arrived was 5.5 Norwegian kroner (NOK) to $1 USD, so that’s the figure I’ve used for comparison). 

Rent for a room in house near downtown (I am comparing my old and new neighborhoods, very similar in relative price, poshness, centrality)
PDX: $400-500 (neighbor’s house on sale for $750K)
OSLO: $900-$1,100 (neighbor’s house just sold for $4 million)

•Of my six closest friends here (educated, employed between 25 and 36), four own their apartment. In Portland, none of my close friends (educated, employed between 27 and 38) own their home.

• Going out for lunch is a silly concept here.  People pack a lunch, at the office, school, construction site.  Three open-faced sandwiches and an apple and a glass of water.  Pretty standard for everyone.
• People eat home unless it is a special occasion.  I used to eat out several times a week for a burrito or a burger or nice dinner.  Here I eat out, er, twice a month?


Bowl of soup at a cafe
PDX: $6
OSLO: $18



Dinner out for one (Glass of wine, main dish, tip)
PDX: ~$20-40
OSLO: ~$45



• The seasons also have an effect. In the winter in Norway, the world is dead.  There are, at its worst, five hours of daylight, and bars, restaurants, streets are mostly empty in January.  Only the most dedicated alcoholics are slumped on bar stools.  Coffee shops are desert wastelands. Money saving! The summer is manic.  In June there are only 4 to 5 hours of darkness a day, and if it is sunny and warm you can’t see the ground for all the people who are out. Money spending.

Loaf of sliced wheat bread
PDX: $3
OSLO: $5 (not bad!)


Ticket on city transport 
PDX: $2.40 (two-hour transfer)
OSLO: $5.50 (one-hour transfer)





PDX: ~$4 (gallon)
OSLO: ~$2.50 (liter)





Mediocre new running shoes
PDX: $70
OSLO: $180




Price of a driver’s license
PDX: ~$30
OSLO: ~$5,500 (plus: you have to take several obligatory driving classes before you get the license)



• Car?  What car?  It’s not uncommon to meet people who can’t even drive.


Ham sandwich
PDX: $6
OSLO: $13


• Nearly everything is more expensive, but I’m spending less in some ways, too. Norwegians don’t go out as much as Portlanders do.  Sure, they can tie on one Friday night, but they are home Sunday to Wednesday night drinking little.  On Friday night, they have drinks at home before leaving. (In Portland, we have drinks all nights, at home and out.)


Bottle of cheap wine at the grocery
PDX: $7
OSLO: $18



Small, black coffee
PDX: $2
OSLO: $5




Average weekly trip to the grocery
PDX: ~$60
OSLO: ~$80



     Number of available positions as an English teacher (full-time, central, 2011-2012 school year)
PDX: 0
OSLO: I applied for at least 15, but likely missed many others.



Annual salary for English teacher (Master’s degree, public sector, not including benefits package)
PDX: ~$40,000 (I made $34,000 private sector)
OSLO: ~$70,000




Rough estimate of income tax:
PDX: 25% to Uncle Sam/Aunt Oregon
OSLO: 40%




• Norwegians get generally six weeks of vacation each year.  They travel a lot.  In Oregon a vacation that required getting on a plane was a novelty for me.  I have, since January, been to London, Milan and two other long weekends in other towns in Norway. As a Norwegian, London and Milan felt cheap.


Samantha Schneider is a teacher in OSLO, Norway.

Illustrations by Charrow, an artist in Brooklyn. 


24 Comments / Post A Comment

navigateher (#555)

Coming from the neighboring The Most Expensive Eurozone Country: Norway is actually one of the few countries that are expensive to visit for me. But, the salaries in Norway in general are good, and people from here have left to work in Norway (especially nurses I think). They come back rich(er).


bgprincipessa (#699)

@redheaded&crazy And don’t forget five hours of dark!!!! Eeeeeks both ways.

@bgprincipessa seriously. the emotional cost of things!

Megano! (#124)

@redheaded&crazy I couldn’t do it! Even if it is cloudy out, there is marked difference in my energy level. I might be a sunlight vampire?

@redheaded&crazy We get about 6 hours of daylight in midwinter where I am in Scotland, and roughly the same amount of darkness in summer. But alcohol and going out is muuuch cheaper. Pubs exist to provide a cosy retreat from miserable wet nights, and usually in summer you can wander about until 11ish enjoying the light. For the last 3 weeks, nothing but rain and complete sunlessness.

Fig. 1 (#632)

So, how hard is it to learn Norwegian?

Salary/beer ratio is too low. I’m not moving there.

Plus, frankly, sitting inside all the time nursing $18 wine, making tomorrow’s sandwiches, and counting the weeks until your next vacation sounds utterly miserable to me.

Y’all can keep your top spots on all the human development rankings, I’ll be literally anywhere else in Europe…

madrassoup (#929)

@stuffisthings “Making tomorrow’s sandwiches” struck such a strong chord with me that I don’t know whether these tears are from laughing or crying.

navigateher (#555)

@stuffisthings I think it’s the same with all the Nordic countries. You actually start to (sort of) appreciate what you have only if you decide to start a family and have kids. Until that, anywhere else in Europe sounds pretty good.

Robin (#1,320)

Can you say a bit more about the job market? I’m finishing my MA in TESL next year and am looking to work abroad (again) and make some decent cash (for the first time). Canadian citizen (yay?).

@Robin It’s really hard to teach English in the EU EFTA as a non-EU citizen. That said, your Canadian citizenship might give you a tiny leg up on France, at least. (Your colonial overlords unfortunately already speak English.)

Korea is where the money is, if that’s a primary concern.

Robin (#1,320)

@stuffisthings That’s what I was worried about. All the kim-chi in the world couldn’t entice me to return to Korea.

/edit: Actually, if I had all the kim-chi in the world, I could rule that insane little peninsula. hmmmmmm….

candybeans (#68)

I’m on board. i already make my lunch and stay in during the week, and if you think “cheap” wine costs $7, then you don’t know from cheap wine (think $3). I think me and Norway could be best friends.

Megano! (#124)

Man, $30 for a driver’s license? I agree that $5,500 is RIDIC (but they probably don’t want that many cars on the road in Norway anyway), but here getting your driver’s license can be $1500 experience, depending on where and if you take driver’s ed (most ppl do). Even without, it’s like $300.

pretzels! (#853)

Do Norwegians socialize? In the winter when everywhere is empty are they all hanging out at each other’s homes, or all inside alone writing poetry and crafting?
And do they eat together at home instead of out in restaurants? I’m trying to figure out how this works because aren’t Norwegians some of the happiest people in all those surveys they do?

Edited to apologize for all the questions but I really want to know!

@pretzels! I was wondering this too. Obviously my life philosophy is somewhat different from the typical Norwegian’s, but if there’s only 5 hours a day of sunlight what BETTER place to be than in a bar getting drunk with other humans?

T A@twitter (#1,599)

@pretzels! According to my Norwegian friends, they do not socialize in winter. They trudge from work to home, and stay indoors. The only exception is outdoor sports like cross-country skiing, but those are usually done as solitary activities.

This is probably good for families (I think Norway has a fairly low divorce rate), but is less good for single young people. Of course, my friends may be drama queens. It’s hard to tell with Norwegians.

pretzels! (#853)

@T A@twitter That’s interesting, I guess on the flip side it would make any events outside of the norm (work/home/work) that much more special and important. I would save a lot of money if I cut out all my winter blues drinking in dark bars…

acid burn (#113)

@pretzels! I have an acquaintance who had a fellowship (or something) at a university in Norway during his PhD, and he said after work, people just went home to their families. In the three months he was there, nobody invited him over to their house or anything, and when he suggested going out for dinner or drinks, people just looked at him weird.

selenana (#673)

Thanks for this! It’s interesting to see how other countries stack up. Though as a former Portlander, I think Portland is a relatively cheap city for the U.S.

SuperWittySmitty (#1,467)

How are the Norwegian people? Friendly? Good-looking? Happy?

I think you’ve forgotten one of the massive upsides of Norway – Nugatti Air. That stuff. SWOON. Kicks dust in the face of Nutella

I tried to take some home but they confiscated it as a liquid. Just so they could keep it to themselves. We can’t get it in the UK for reasons of cruelty.

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