Norway is home of breathtaking views and the land of the oil. While it has neat amenities, such as wifi on the metro and in stores all throughout the city, virtually free education, and good food at volunteering events (this is a personal one. Read about my volunteer experience at the Bergen Øl Festival.) However, with all of these amenities, comes the consideration of cost. Norway is in fact an expensive country to live and attend school in. It’s one reason I’m so grateful for Seng and the Sociology Department for supporting me as I attend UIB this semester.
In this post, I’ll discuss international credit cards, cash and ATMs, budgeting, and methods to stay on track.
Typically, when you go to another country and use your debit or credit card, your bank charges you high fees and awful exchange rates since Norway uses the kroner (NOK) instead of the US dollar. In my experience, when I swipe my card, I’m thinking about the already high cost of the product and the fee my bank charges me to convert the money. The cost to convert the fee is dependent upon the cost of the initial product sooo, the more expensive the product, the more expensive the fee. Granted, these fees are relatively low, but they will add up if you use your regular debit/credit card.
You may consider just taking out cash at the ATM (or mini bank as they are referred to here) to avoid the fees, but that’s not gonna do it. You’re still charged the fees. There are a few ways to avoid such high fees and be prepared when you come. Having access to your money is an important aspect to consider when traveling abroad.
I read up on international credit cards on Thomas K. Running’s post regarding the best bank accounts. He highlights a few cards specific to several countries. For those living in America, he suggests Charles Schwab and Capital One 360. If you prefer to go through your existing bank, call them and they will suggest some options for you. A friend of mine has the former and has had a great experience on her exchange in Denmark. It allows her to withdraw cash without the fees and refunds her if a mini bank charges her a fee. Get this international credit card before you leave the states. Here is how to set up the account.
Some cards charge a yearly fee for use, while others like Charles Schwab do not. Try to find a card that doesn’t charge ATM fees or annual fees. Do not get an American Express because it doesn’t work as freely as Visa or Mastercard!
As I mentioned, you can pull money out of mini banks. They are found all throughout the city and are often in a Meny (the grocery store), the mall, near a bank, or at a Narvaseen or 7-11. Locate the ones that work for you. There was only one ATM that I could find that would work for me so it was an issue when that store changed machines. My card no longer worked and I couldn’t pull out cash.
To avoid not having access to your cash, either get the international credit card or go to your bank and convert your money in the states before you come. See how much the fees are from your bank, but this could be a better option for you than withdrawing money at mini banks.
Budget your money. (One more time for the people in the back.) BUDGET YOUR MONEY. Budgeting your money means you decide beforehand how much you will spend for the month on various bills and activities and sticking to that predetermined amount. If you don’t know what it means to budget or how to budget, refer to this post from
Consider what I have said here and refer to Paris Riley’s post regarding how to budget for study abroad, which includes details about jobs, saving, and planning ahead.
When you create a budget at home, you want to have a trial month where you keep all of your receipts and track how much you spend on the different aspects of your life. Select categories like groceries, fun, traveling, transportation, and rent. The following month, you decide how much you can spend in each category.
How to Stay on Budget
Staying on budget can be as easy as not spending more than the budget has allotted you regardless of what happens. That can be a little hard sometimes when there is so much to do and see in a new country, but there are a few ways to stay on track without saying no to everything. And know that there is still spontaneity in planning.
Stop drinking, eating, and breathing. If you can’t do that, you can also:
- Plan ahead – Flights through Europe are cheap, but if you’re buying them the day before New Years, the prices can easily triple. Decide on a few big things you want to do while you’re here, such as traveling to Ireland; find some friends, and start planning. Plan your trips around you, not people.
- Preparation – Prepare dinners in bulk, prep lunches for school, bring snacks to avoid buying out.
- Grocery store sales – Find the cheap grocery stores, such as Rema 1000 and Kiwi Pris. Compare prices and find the stores that are cheapest for you. I have had friends use the FlashFood app, which is used to fight food waste by giving grocery stores and hotels a platform to sell extra food or food that is close to expiring for incredibly discounted rates.
- Buy alcohol at vinomonopolet or the airport when you take international trips, rather than buying drinks while you’re out at clubs and bars. A typical drink is around 70 NOK ~ $8.
- Take advantage of student discounts on airlines, bybannen, train tickets , and museums. Look at the link below for more options.
- Find ‘Free Days’ with companies. For example, KODE is free on Thursdays with your student ID.
- Stay on track by deciding what you want ot do before you even leave California. Read about the post on hard boundaries and planning the type of exchange you want.
- Expand your social network and you will learn of cool, cheap stuff to do. These are struggling students too so allow yourself to pick up some tips from them. Through your connections, you could end up sharing a dinner on Christmas with a bunch of international students.
I hope this post has helped you get a handle on the finance side of traveling abroad. Recognize that certain acpects of your finances should be dealt with before you leave California. You may have come to this post wondering and stressing about how you will manage living in one of the most expensive countries in the world. I hope you leave with resources to balance a semester of fun and studying, while not going into debt.
- How to set up a Charles Schwab account
- Student Bergen describes some places with student discounts.
- Tips on how to budget for study abroad.
- How to survive with a “shoestring budget.”