Life Abroad
10 min

Pros and Cons of Living in Nordic Countries

When talking about Nordic countries, people usually mean Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland, as well as territories such as the Faroe Islands, Aland Islands, and Greenland.
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Nordic countries are known for their way of life, social structure, and common values. Some of them, such as Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, are also very popular study abroad destinations. Let’s have a look at the pros and cons of living in this unique part of the world.

Pros:

High-quality education and vivid student life

The education is world-class, the diplomas are internationally recognized, and there are plenty of programs taught in English. In some countries, such as Norway or Iceland, studying is free for international students, while it is not in Denmark or Sweden, for example. In Finland, you can study for free as long as your language of instruction is Finnish or Swedish.

However, PhD programs are completely free for everyone in all these countries. There are many other good things too. The abundance of libraries, good infrastructure, even in the most remote places such as Tromso in Norway, various student discounts, quality student healthcare, and extensive student facilities are only a few reasons why young people from all over the world choose Nordic countries as their study abroad destination.

Excellent workplace environment

If you are planning to stay in Northern Europe after graduation, you will experience something that makes this part of the world stand out. Apart from good paychecks, there is an excellent workplace environment.

You will most likely have long paid holidays and parental leaves, as well as comfortable working conditions meaning that your boss will be approachable and there will be a union on your side in case of any troubles. The unions are traditionally powerful in Nordic countries and take matters seriously.

Clean water, clean air, and clean streets

All Nordic countries are known for their extremely clean tap water and devotion to environment preservation. For example, living in a big city in Sweden is a different experience than living in a big city in Asia or almost anywhere else. Being the most sustainable country in the world, Sweden is ‘garbage-free’ and promotes the use of bicycles, public transport, and electric cars. In Northern Europe, even babies drink water from the tap because it is clean and tasty.

A lot of English speakers

Nordic countries are known for very good English that almost everybody speaks. Even senior citizens do speak it, although not as good as young people. Good English means that you can explain to a doctor what is hurting, get all your questions answered at the immigration office, and generally get by in public places like stores, gyms, or libraries. All English-speaking movies are shown in the theaters in English, with subtitles.

Accessible healthcare

In many Nordic countries, universities offer free medical services for students. You can get your birth control or any other prescription, sick leave, or see a nurse that can send you to a doctor at a clinic. You will most likely have to pay some fee there, yet students usually have discounts for that. The most important thing is that you will not be left unattended and will have easy access to healthcare.

Great outdoors activities

Have you ever done cross-country or mountain skiing, berry-picking, or chilling in a hot spring? Have you ever hunted Northern lights or seen breathtaking landscapes and fjords? Well, Nordic countries are excellent places to do some unique outdoor activities that may be quite different from what you do in your home country. The towns in Northern Europe are generally not large, so you will have easy access to nature where you can hike, breathe in clean air, and admire amazing northern landscapes.

Cons:

Sky-high costs of living

Even if you got a scholarship or enrolled in a free program, you will need money to pay for high living expenses, especially in Norway and Iceland. Finland may be considered the most affordable one among the others but it is still very expensive compared to any other country in the South, West, or East of Europe.

In many universities, students can go to cafeterias offering pretty low prices and accommodation is often cheaper for students. Yet, it does not change the fact of how insanely expensive everything is. If you are up for entertainment on weekends and like to go to the bars and clubs, be ready to dig deep into your pocket for alcohol is really pricey in all Nordic countries.

Loneliness

In Nordic countries, people like to give each other personal space. Sometimes it may seem too much space. International students say you may fall from a bicycle, for example, and nobody will offer you help. It’s not that people are hard-hearted there. They simply don’t want to disturb you with any unwanted attention.

Everyone minds their own business and this attitude has both advantages and flaws. The positive thing is that you will not be judged or told how to behave ‘properly’. On the other hand, you may feel lonely sometimes as a foreigner, especially if you do not speak the local language. It takes time to find your company in a Nordic country.

Food quality

Remember that food in the North might not be as fresh and diverse as you are probably used to in your home country. People there have started trying the same types of food as people in the South relatively recently. Many elderly in Iceland, for example, have never tried beef or pork in their childhood, eating mainly fish, lamb, and sea animals. Some of them are not eaten that widely anymore. A lot of vegetables and fruits are delivered from warmer countries. You may experience a craving for something that local shops lack, especially during long winters.

Unpredictable weather

‘There's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes’ is a common phrase in Nordic countries. It means that complaining about the weather there does not make any sense. It is unpredictable, changing quickly, and windy most of the time, especially in the areas close to the sea. There are, of course, warm and sunny days, mainly in summer. However, you’d better be on the alert for weather swings. So, just in case, always take a winter jacket with you when you are leaving home for a weekend trip, no matter how sunny it is.

Early closing hours and slow pace of life

If you have the experience of living in a huge Asian city that never sleeps, it will take time for you to adjust to the Nordic lifestyle. In these countries, banks often close at 3 p.m., students’ cafeterias stop serving food at 1 p.m., and hairdressers simply do not work on weekends. You may find such a lifestyle weird, but this is how things work there. Some things are done extremely fast and efficiently, while others are not.

If you want to see a doctor such as a dermatologist, for example, you may need to wait for a few months. The reason is that someone might be on a long vacation, and then there is parental leave, and then there is another vacation. Meanwhile, the closest dermatologist might be 500 km away. All you can do here is to find your inner zen.

Hard-to-learn languages

While learning a foreign language is never an easy task, Nordic languages are not among the easiest at all. In the North of Europe, Norwegian and Danish are considered to be less hard than others. Finnish is the one that will require a lot of your effort. It may seem easy at the first glance since there are no articles and no genders. However, as soon as you merge into a crazy world of fifteen noun cases, it feels like there is no way out of it. So, prepare yourself for what the Finns call ‘Kalsarikännit’, which means ‘drinking at home in your undies’.

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