Where Vikings once lived centuries ago, Norway is now known as an outdoor wonderland of Scandinavia, filled with forests, mountains, glaciers, and of course, the fjords. While some might see Scandinavia as an arbitrary place for volunteering abroad, Norway is actually a leader in volunteerism – nearly half of its citizens participate in some form of community volunteer work, otherwise known as dugnad. Additionally, Norway has an extremely high quality of life, where its universal health care and Nordic welfare model encourage individual autonomy as well as upward social mobility.
To optimize your volunteering in Norway, consider the major cities, which have more to offer in terms of volunteer opportunities.
Oslo. Oslo is Norway’s capital city on the south-eastern edge of the country, where you will find a large amount of international tourists and numerous tourist attractions. Oslo is a great place for volunteer work in Norway, specifically in the tourism industry. As Norway’s largest city, there are also several opportunities for community involvement, including various volunteer centers throughout the city that you can come in contact with, such as MIRA Ressurssenter, a shelter for women and immigrants as well as the local chapter of the Salvation Army, known as Frelsessarmeen.
Bergen. Known as the gateway to the fjords, Bergen is Norway’s second largest city, located the western edge of the country at the foot of Mount Fløyen. Since it is a major city, there will be plenty of opportunities to volunteer in the tourism industry here too. Like opportunities for volunteering in Oslo, there are plenty of opportunities for civic engagement in Bergen, such as at the Human Rights House, providing services for local NGOs as well as advocating for human rights. HRH is partially supported by the government, but relies largely on the work of local and international volunteers.
Stavanger. Also located in southern Norway, Stavanger is a major industrial city, popular for international and Norwegian travelers alike, because of its proximity to Europe and the United Kingdom. There are farms within close proximity to Stavanger, which provide ample opportunities for those who wish to volunteer on small organic farms and other local agricultural projects, such as park landscape maintenance. In addition, Stavanger is home to the annual Chamber Music Festival, a week-long event that takes place every summer and welcomes volunteers from all over the world, regardless of their level of knowledge in classical music.
Volunteering in Norway
Due to Norway’s wide variety of landscapes and recreational activities, volunteers have a myriad of service opportunities to choose from.
As an agricultural volunteer in Norway, you could find yourself planting, harvesting, or tending to livestock at an organic farm run by a Norwegian family, developing your knowledge of living off the land for a few weeks or a few months.
If you have always wanted to work with animals, then venture north of the Arctic Circle. You could assist with operations of a guest lodge or equipment maintenance or join an expedition operated to help gather information about whale behavior and sightings, which is important in developing guidelines for their protection.
For those interested in getting involved in civic engagement, there are opportunities for volunteer work in Norway with developmentally disabled adults, as well as in the tourism and hospitality industries.
Volunteer programs in Norway can last from one week to three months. It is not necessary to be proficient in Norwegian to volunteer in Norway, because English is widely spoken and even taught at local schools, although it never hurts to learn some basic Norwegian phrases!
Costs & Affordability
In Norway, a high quality of life and high paying wages comes with a very high cost of living, in part because of its welfare structure, where most things are highly taxed. Alcohol is among the most expensive, where a bottle of imported beer such as Budweiser at any bar will set you back around $11. Other expensive items include clothing, where a pair of Levi brand jeans costs $130, so be sure to pack accordingly before you go and avoid imported products once you arrive to save money.
Eating out can be very expensive, where a meal at an “inexpensive” restaurant can cost around $23. Produce and other goods bought at the supermarket are a little higher than what it would cost in the U.S., but still reasonable: bread is around $4 per loaf and apples go for $4.30 per kilo. In order to save money, your best bet is to find a volunteer project in Norway that includes accommodation and food.
If you are volunteering in Norway in a very heavily tourist-populated city, such as Oslo, you will find that although there are some free attractions, most museums and other tourist attractions come at a hefty price, ranging from 30 to 90 Norwegian Krons ($4 to 14).
Accommodation & Visas
Citizens of the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and EU national residents (including the United Kingdom) are permitted to volunteer in Norway for up to three months within a six-month period with a valid passport, with no visa required. If you decide to volunteer abroad in Norway for a longer period of time, check with your local Norwegian consulate to determine what necessary paperwork is required. But do so well in advance, so you can leave on time and maintain legal status during your volunteer work in Norway.
Accommodation depends on the volunteer program in Norway that you choose. Most programs will provide accommodation in exchange for volunteer work, usually at a lodge or large apartment that you share with other volunteers. In the case of Working Guest programs, volunteers stay with a host family. Meals are usually provided as well, and if so you will most likely dine with the family you work for.
If room and board is not provided, you can easily make your own arrangements, although it will be out of pocket. Hotels in Norway can be prohibitively expensive, so youth hostels are a nice alternative as well as a great way to meet fellow travelers. The price range of hostels varies depending on which city you are in and the season. In Oslo, it can be $60 a night for a bed in a dorm-style room, but an outlying location like Flåm will run about $35 a night during the spring, for example.
Benefits & Challenges
- Seasons. Due to its high latitude, the weather in Norway varies greatly depending on the season. During the summer months, most parts of the country will enjoy up to 20 hours of sunshine, but drop to as cold as -11 degrees Celsius with a few centimeters of snow and four hours of daylight by October, in central and northern Norway. This can make volunteering in central or Northern Norway more difficult in the fall and winter months.
- Expenses. Norway is one of the most expensive countries in the world to live in, so it is important to really consider the high cost of living before starting a volunteer program in Norway. Even if your room and board is included in your program, make sure that you have enough money saved up, depending on your length of volunteering, for flights and other personal expenses.