In Norway, everyone’s tax info is just a click away

How much does my neighbour, my colleague, the leader of my country or his wife earn? In Norway, a champion of transparency, that information is available to all, just a few clicks away.

In Norway, everyone's tax info is just a click away
The fact that a billionaire could take over the White House without providing his tax returns, or that a French presidential election frontrunner could be rocked by revelations that he paid his family handsome sums for suspected phoney work, are inconceivable scenarios in this Scandinavian country.
“In Norway there's a culture of openness on these issues, which makes it unlikely to get elected without being transparent about your tax situation and earnings,” the head of the Norwegian Tax Administration, Hans Christian Holte, told AFP.
Each year, the tax agency publishes key information on all taxpayers — including earnings, wealth, and tax payments — on its website.
The thinking in this Protestant country is that there's more incentive to chip in your “two cents” to the communal pot when you see that everyone else is doing the same.
A media frenzy erupts every October, as newspapers publish lists of the richest or best-paid celebrities, sports stars and politicians. But Norwegians can also see how much their bosses, or their colleagues in the office, are earning.
The practice dates back to the 19th century, when citizens could go to city hall or the local tax office to consult the tax lists.
Nordic virtue
“The transparency translates into very high faith in the tax administration here,” Holte said. So high in fact that his agency won a prize in 2015 for having — believe it or not — the best reputation.
“It also plays a role in discussions on societal and economic issues, like wage gaps between men and women or between different professions,” Holte added.
The Nordic countries, known as fierce advocates of egalitarianism, traditionally top Transparency International's ranking of least corrupt countries.
In Sweden and Finland, it is also possible to obtain a person's tax information by simply picking up the phone or going to the tax office, but not on the internet like in Norway.
For just a few euros, the Swedish company Ratsit provides access to almost any information on a person, enabling people to see if they have any bank loans or if they have ever had an unpaid bill.
For Finns, paying taxes is a matter of pride: Ilkka Paananen, the chief executive of Supercell which invented the hit mobile game Clash of Clans, earned respect for paying a whopping 54.1 million euros in tax in 2013.
Burglars be warned
Incidentally, the practice of transparency has also helped fill the Norwegian state's coffers, by deterring cheats.
The publication of tax records online, introduced in 2001, has bolstered public revenues by about 500 million kroner (€56 million, $60 million) annually, according to Thor Olav Thoresen, a researcher at Statistics Norway.
“If I were tempted to try to avoid paying taxes, I would be dissuaded by the fact that those who can observe my lifestyle can also easily check how much I earn,” Thoresen said.
The tax agency said it gets about 3,000 to 4,000 tips a year, most of them from private people.
There are some drawbacks to the system, however. The practice can lead to snooping — especially since online searches were for a while anonymous.
Norwegian media have reported cases of pupils teased at school over their parents' high or low incomes. And burglars have also been arrested in possession of their victims' tax data.
“We even saw some apps that displayed the wealth of the residents of a street when you drove down that street, or that automatically displayed the wealth of your Facebook contacts,” lamented Rolf Lothe of the Taxpayers' Association.
As a result, some controls were put in place. As of 2014, someone seeking tax information can no longer do so anonymously, and the person whose information is being given out can easily find out who was checking up on them.
The number of checks has since plummeted: from 16.7 million in October 2013-October 2014 — more than three times the Norwegian population — they fell to just 1.5 million in October 2015-October 2016.t

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


Tax returns in Norway: Five things you need to know

Norway’s tax season is upon us. We’ve put together some essential tips and information to help you understand the Norwegian tax system better. 

Tax returns in Norway: Five things you need to know

Keeping track of the key dates

Taxes can be tricky for some, but it can pay to be prepared. Keeping track of this year’s key dates when it comes to tax season can be a huge helping hand. 

Tax returns are already being sent out and will continue to be posted until April 4th. Then, April 30th will see the deadline to submit your tax return. 

If you feel like you need more time to assess the previous year’s finances, the end of April also sees the deadline for applications for a postponed deadline. 

READ MORE: The key Norwegian tax season dates you need to know about

You are able (and meant) to add any student loans from abroad to your tax return

You can add your student loan to your debts and claim the interest as tax-deductible. In fact, you are supposed to declare all overseas assets, received and earned interest, in addition to any debts and loans.  

However, this means the debt is visible to Norwegian lenders, which can impact your lending ability.

You can get a rough idea of whether you can expect a rebate or repay tax

After submitting your tax return, you will receive a tax assessment notice. In addition, you’ll receive a notice with information regarding how much money you’ll receive as a rebate or how much you’ll need to repay if you’ve overpaid. 

When you receive this will give you a fair idea of whether you can expect money back or if you’ll need to dig into your pockets to pay back any money you owe. 

If you receive your tax assessment notice in May, you will likely be due a refund, whereas if you receive it from June onwards, you’ll probably owe the tax man money. 

Tax return versus a tax receipt

Most people working in Norway will receive a tax return, which is an outline of your income, deductions, wealth and debt. However, not all people will receive a tax return, and some will receive a tax receipt. 

If you participate in the PAYE (Pay as You Earn) scheme, you will not receive a tax return. Instead, you will receive a tax receipt, which shows the amount of tax that you’ve paid in Norway. Those in the PAYE scheme play a flat rate of 25 percent. 

One of the key differences is that you cannot claim deductions with a tax receipt. Also, some lenders only accept tax returns rather than receipts when it comes to giving credit. This means those on the PAYE scheme may find it challenging to build a credit history in Norway as their income and earnings are not taken into account. 

You are expected to pay tax on your worldwide income 

Once you are considered a tax resident of Norway, you generally are required to pay tax on your worldwide income. Tax residency is slightly different to legal residence. 

The rules can be a bit complex, and if you are earning an income in two countries, several factors will come into play, such as whether Norway has a tax treaty with those countries and how much you are taxed on that income in other countries. 

If you have any questions or queries regarding your tax, it is best to contact The Norwegian Tax Administration or a qualified accountant.