Among Scandinavian countries, Norway and Sweden are both popular with expats and tourists. But among them, which is the best country to relocate to? These two places boast stunning scenery, beautiful coastlines, islands galore, excellent skiing, pretty villages, and some scenic cities. However, to choose which is best for you, you must also look at their key differences.
Due to the excellent work-life balance, employment opportunities, and a strong sense of community, Norway, and Sweden rank highly on the list of most happiest nations in the world. However, Norway is smaller and more suited for outdoor enthusiasts. Meanwhile, Sweden embraces creativity and has outstanding social welfare.
Whichever you choose between the two, there is no doubt that you will enjoy living there. But, for you to be able to decide which country will suit the lifestyle you want to have, you need to know what they are like and how different they are from each other. This article will definitely help you with that!
Living in Norway vs Sweden
Norway is a narrow country located in the Scandinavian Peninsula in northern Europe, which it shares with Finland and Sweden.
The Norwegian coastline is known for its fjords, which are sea inlets between steep cliff faces. As with the country’s mountains, the country’s fjords were carved out by glaciers.
Moreover, you can also find several mountains in Norway. Some peaks are so steep that no one has ever attempted to climb them. Apart from the Scandinavian Peninsula, Norway also owns the Svalbard island chain and three Antarctic islands.
On the other hand, Sweden is one of the countries sharing the Scandinavian region with Norway. Since they are in the same location, they are pretty similar. However, there are still notable differences.
A large number of lakes dot the landscape, and half of the country is covered with lush, large forests. Further, Sweden’s tradition of public access to its lakes and islands extends to over 24,000 islands.
During the summer months, Sweden’s Arctic north has been referred to as “the land of the midnight sun during the summer months.” It gained that nickname because the sun doesn’t set here during this season.
Even Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, has only four hours of summer nights, and the sky doesn’t darken beyond twilight. However, winter lasts until May, with long nights and short days.
But if you want to live in one of these countries, you need more than knowing their location and how they look.
It would help if you also considered other factors, such as quality of life, cost of living, weather, available job opportunities, and many more.
Also read our article about living as an American in Sweden, so you know what to expect when moving here.
Quality of life
According to the Better Life Index, Norway and Sweden perform well in many aspects of well-being. The performance of both countries in terms of jobs, work-life balance, education, health, environmental quality, social connections, civic engagement, safety, and life satisfaction is superior to the average.
In any country, finding a job and living a more comfortable life requires good education and skills. Among adults aged 25-64 in Norway, 82% have completed higher education, while in Sweden, 84% have (2% higher than in Norway). Both countries have percentages higher than the OECD average of 79%.
According to the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), the average Norwegian student achieved 497 points in reading, literacy, math, and science, while the average Swedish student got 503.
Both scores are also higher than the OECD average of 488. However, Sweden scored six more points than Sweden.
In terms of health, both Norway and Sweden have a life expectancy at birth of 83 years- two years higher than the OECD average of 81.
Women live longer than men, with an average life expectancy of 85 years. PM2.5 levels in the atmosphere are 6.7 micrograms per cubic meter, below the OECD average of 14 micrograms per cubic meter for tiny air pollutants.
Furthermore, 98% of Norwegians are satisfied with the quality of their water. Meanwhile, in Sweden, there is only 97%. Still, both are higher than the OECD average of 84%.
Norway has a strong sense of community and high levels of civic participation. The country has 96% of people who believe they know someone they can turn to in times of need, higher than the OECD average of 91%.
On the other hand, Sweden has a slightly lower number of people who believe the same (only 94%)
The voter turnout at recent elections was 78% in Norway and 87% in Sweden. Both are significantly higher than the OECD average of 69%.
On a scale of 0-10, Swedes and Norwegians rated their general satisfaction with life as 7.3. This score is more than the OECD average of 6.7.
Norway and Sweden are much warmer and milder than other countries at the same latitude, such as Alaska, Greenland, and Siberia, because of the temperate waters of the Gulf Stream. Many of the coldest areas are inland or far to the north during the winter.
Regional weather differences in Sweden
There are three climate zones in Sweden; central and southern Sweden, northeast and northwest, and far north.
During the winter months in central and southern Sweden, temperatures are relatively cool, but there is much more daylight and sunshine than in southern England.
The winters are severe as you travel north in the northeast, while the summers can be quite warm.
The winters in the far north are also harsh, with snow covering elevated areas all year long, and the summers are short and unpredictable. Due to Sweden’s high latitude, much of the country has very long summer days and very long winter nights.
Regional weather differences in Norway
Since Norway stretches from 57° north to 78° north, its climate varies widely. Northern, southern, inland, and coastal climates differ greatly.
Winters on the coast are mild and wet (but with snow in the mountains), while those on the inland are cold and snowy, with hot and generally dry summers, especially west of the country. During summer, the temperature usually hovers around 20 degrees.
No matter what the weather is like, the Vikings don’t seem scared by it. It doesn’t matter if it’s raining or windy; Norwegians will dress accordingly. On the other hand, when it’s stormy, it’s time to rediscover the great indoors and experience some “innekos” – indoor coziness.
With beautiful beaches, boating, and kayaking, southern Norway is considered a summer island paradise. There are hot summers in the Oslo region and the valleys of Eastern Norway, but the winters here are much colder, and there is a lot of snow.
The weather in Norvegian Fjords is constantly changing. The weather may change in a matter of hours, so don’t be surprised if you get rain, sun, wind, and even snow on the same day. Moreover, it can happen no matter what time of year it’s!
Fruit trees are in bloom in spring. As autumn approaches, the leaves change color, and the mountainside turns orange and yellow. Seaside areas experience a lot of precipitation due to the coastal climate.
Northern Norway is a great place to visit at any time of year. The northern lights are visible during winter. Then, when the sun is north of the polar circle, it stays up all night – a phenomenon known as the midnight sun.
Cost of living
Norwegian living expenses (€1,910) are 35% higher than Swedish living costs (€1,411). According to the list of the most expensive countries in the world, Norway ranked 11th compared to Sweden, which is in 27th place.
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Visas and residence permits
A non-EU citizen needs a visa to enter either Norway or Sweden. Moreover, they have student, working, and partnership visas available. You may check here to see your options for Norway and here for Sweden.
After staying in each country for a required period, you can apply for a residence permit to formalize and legalize your stay there. This means that you will become a citizen of the country of your liking.
Before entering Sweden or Norway, foreign nationals – including U.S. citizens – must obtain a residence permit if they plan to stay more than 90 days.
You may submit this application in person or by mail to the Embassy in Washington or any Swedish Consulate in the United States, except for the Consulate General in New York and the consulates within its consular district (Boston, Jamestown and Philadelphia).
To apply for a Swedish Resident Permit, here are the things that you must submit:
- Two copies of the Residence Permit form (#165011) or two copies of the Application for Child under 18 (#167011), completed, signed, and dated.
- Passport pages that verify your identity and passport validity that have been notarized. If you have any other permits, include copies in your passport as well.
- Bank statement
- Return ticket
- Appendix D: Family Details Appendix for Applicants (form #239011)
- A letter from your insurance company confirming you have international insurance for the following:
- Emergency medical care
- Emergency hospital treatment
- Medical repatriation
There must be a minimum coverage of €30,000, and the policy must be valid throughout the trip. If your insurance company cannot provide such a letter, you must find an international insurance company that can.
An insurance card isn’t sufficient proof of coverage. You must have proof of the items listed above.
- The application fee must be paid in the form of a money order or certified bank check payable to the Embassy of Sweden OR to the Swedish Consulate to which you’re applying.
- Depending on the reason for the visit, additional documents may be required. More information can be obtained from the Embassy.
On the other hand, if you opt for a Norway Residence Permit, here are the things you will need:
- Passport. Your original passport should be accompanied by a copy of the personal information page and any used pages (with entry stamps or visas).
- Cover letter. You will receive this on your email after completing the online application, and you can simply print it and attach it to your application.
- Passport-size pictures. Pictures should be recent and have a white background.
- Proof of accommodation. Make sure you have somewhere to live in Norway once you move there by submitting a rental agreement or other evidence.
- If you’re relocating for work:
- Form of Offer of Employment
- Proof of your income meeting the requirements
- Academic credentials
- A copy of your previous employment record
- Your CV
- If you’re relocating for your studies:
- Admission letter
- Proof that you have the financial means to support yourself in Norway and pay your tuition
- If you’re relocating to be with a family member:
- Family relationship proof
- Your family member earns or has enough money to support you financially
- You must provide proof that your family member has not received social benefits in the last 12 months
Both Norway and Sweden offer excellent job opportunities. However, in both places, you might struggle to find a job without speaking the local language.
That said, the top in-demand jobs in Norway include nurses, pharmacists, HVAC and railway engineers, IT, chefs, and biotechnologists.
Meanwhile, in Sweden, the top job opportunities are in healthcare, carpentry, system development, teaching, engineering, sales and purchasing, marketing, finance and administration, HRM, and masonry.
There is no statutory minimum wage in any Nordic country.
In Denmark and Sweden, minimum wages are determined solely by collective agreements, while in Finland, Iceland, and Norway, extensions are also used to cover all workers.
Age, skill, and seniority are often considered in minimum wage agreements, while enterprise-level negotiations determine higher wages.
Similarly, healthcare professionals are also the highest paid in Sweden, and they can earn up to 2 million SEK per year.
Although Norway’s and Sweden’s healthcare systems are designed to ensure equal access, they are by no means free. Taxation heavily subsidizes the country’s universal healthcare system.
The high taxes in Norway and Sweden have allowed the country to run a comprehensive welfare system that covers sickness, unemployment, social security, and pension benefits, often allowing even low-income or impoverished citizens to participate in healthcare.
Aside from public healthcare, there are also private insurances that you can avail of in each country. You may use these to supplement the public healthcare system.