“I managed to fall in love with someone from Tromsø. It was much easier at first to move to Norway than my partner move to Australia,” Albury-Wold, a 22-year-old flight attendant who counts Australian national carrier Qantas amongst past employers, told The Local.
Albury-Wold, a self-confessed “aviation geek”, found himself uprooting to the North Norway city after a delay on a trip to visit the world’s northernmost commercial airport.
“I was travelling to Longyearbyen on Svalbard. I'm a little bit (a lot) of an aviation geek and Longyearbyen has the world's northernmost commercial airport, so naturally I wanted to go there,” he recounts.
“However the flights had to, at the time, stop via Tromsø. I got stuck in Tromsø as the flights (back) south were full, so I had to stay in Tromsø for a night and that was when I happened to meet the love of my life. It was completely unexpected!” he says.
After initially coming to Norway on a tourist visa, he began the process of looking for work and applying for residency.
“I'm lucky that my husband has a great network of friends, and they are the best people I have in my life. But it is definitely difficult to make friends of my own,” he says.
“It is such a difficult task to find work as a foreigner, particularly in my field. I'm educated in the aviation industry, but I constantly get excluded from jobs as I don't speak Norwegian fluently. I find that very strange considering aviation is an English-dominated industry and Norwegian is not a skill that is really needed,” he says.
“I applied for many jobs, from flight attendant positions with Widerøe, SAS and Norwegian to ground handling and operation positions, something that I gained experience in whilst I was working for Qantas. Having previous airline experience in such a reputable airline like Qantas, I thought would give me an advantage but it doesn't seem like it,” he elaborates.
“I have only managed to get work in places that I know people from our social circle. So for me at the moment it is still working in bars and restaurants with low hours. It makes it very difficult to live considering how expensive it is to live here,” the Australian adds.
Celebrating Norway's national day, May 17th. Photo: supplied
One particular challenge for non-EU nationals living in Norway is the residency application process, Albury-Wold tells The Local.
“Visas are stupidly expensive and take so much time and I'm afraid that I'll end up being removed from the country. Restrictions on gaining permanent residency have become unreal. (There’s) a demand to pass a certain level of Norwegian, which I understand, but the quality of the courses isn't good enough and (they’re) teaching me nothing,” he says.
The Norwegian Directorate of Immigration (UDI) website states that, in order to apply for a permanent residency, applicants must have held a temporary residence permit in Norway for at least three years and meet certain other requirements. These include mandatory tuition in the Norwegian language, as required by the country's Introduction Act.
Permanent residency applicants between 18 and 67 years old must have had their own income during the last 12 months and are not allowed to have received any financial assistance from the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration (NAV) during the last year prior to applying.
Some of the requirements can seem to work against each other, Albury-Wold says.
“A new demand for permanent residency is a certain level of income per year and no access to social assistance from NAV. That makes it difficult considering I have little work to get money, and it would be helpful to have some assistance from NAV at the moment but it will affect my chances of permanent residency,” he explains.
Norwegians have a tendency to be distant from strangers but are generally tolerant, in Albury-Wold’s experience.
“I do feel like overall, people don't mind about me living here and that's nice. But there are some that have a problem. I've had many comments from customers about me ‘taking away jobs from Norwegians’,” he says.
“I think people forget that Australia is also a very well-off country. I'm not living in Norway to escape Australia. I'm here because of love,” he continues.
Despite the hurdles settling in – which he accepts will take some time to overcome – the Australian said he has no regrets about his move to the Arctic Circle city.
“This is a place where the sun is up 24 hours a day in summer and gone completely in the winter time. Tromsø is a city of extremes and there is something special about that. Most people here are fantastic. They are warm and surprisingly open compared to the rest of Nordics,” he says.
“I am here with a person I love and care about and I have some fantastic people here in my life… Overall, yes, as an expat, it's difficult to live in Norway. It's definitely difficult and have some really tough days here, more so than I had in Australia.
“Norway (and Tromsø) is my home now and this is where I see the rest of my life. Despite some of the difficulties, being here is one of the best things to have happened to me,” he concludes.
Are you a foreign resident in Norway? How does your experience resemble or differ from the one described above? We're looking for more readers to share their stories. Get in touch — we'd love to hear yours.