The Ins and Outs of Healthcare in Norway

Wednesday 27 February 2013

There are 2 appointments I detest making.  I have never liked visiting the dentist nor the doctor.  In fact, as a teenager, I was known to call the office the morning of said appointment and cancel it.  Unfortunately, they are necessary evils to keeping healthy.

After several awful experiences with healthcare in Gabon, I was thrilled to be able to return to detesting appointments instead of fearing them.

Norway has a public health system operated by the government and funded through public tax.  The theory behind the system is that every resident of Norway has access to the same standard of healthcare regardless of their socio-economic status.  As a Canadian, this system sounds very familiar but there are a few differences.

As soon as our visas were secured and we were legal residents of Norway, we filled out paperwork at the Centre for Foreign Workers to receive a personal number.  This number is used for several things but it's the starting process to acquiring healthcare.  Every legal resident, expat or not, is privy to the national Norwegian healthcare scheme.  About a week after filing the paperwork, both Joe and I received our personal number in the mail with directions to secure a family doctor.

Using the public healthcare website, Helfo, I searched the current doctors in our region.  Their name, sex, clinic, number of current patients & number of open spots are visible in order to assist you in your choice.  Perhaps you have a personal recommendation in which you can search for that specific doctor or clinic or you choose depending on your priorities.  Having a clinic that was close to home was important to us so that dictated our choice.  Once our doctor was chosen, I phoned the Helfo number and requested the doctor that I had decided on.  If I hadn't researched ahead of time, they would have assigned me to one.  Within one week we had confirmation that our family doctor was set. Should you be unhappy with your choice, you are able to switch your family doctor twice per year.

Unlike Canada, visiting your doctor is not 'free.'  Depending on your visit, you'll be charged a subsidized fee which can be paid via electronic machine in the clinic.  (If you don't pay at the clinic, a bill is mailed to you and includes an extra administration fee.)  My first regular appointment cost 135 nok ($24 CAD.)  Every year, a cap is set for healthcare costs.  This year, once you have paid 2040 nok ($370 CAD) in fees, you will be given an exemption card that states you are no longer required to pay.

Prescriptions are also subsidized by the healthcare system.  The actual cost of medicine is subsidized but it is also capped at 500 nok ($90 CAD) meaning that the most you can pay for any trip to the pharmacy for prescribed medication is limited.  It is my understanding that prescription fees will also contribute to the 2040 nok cap.

In order to see a specialist one must be referred from their family physician and wait times can be long.  (Again, something Canadians are familiar with.)  Everyone has the option to opt out of the national scheme, take out private insurance and get their healthcare where they choose should they be unhappy with what they have been offered.  Stavanger has a couple of private clinics that anyone can visit but of course, there's no guarantee as to the cost or the reimbursement from your private coverage.  Again, like in Canada, dental and eye care is not covered under the national scheme and thus paid out of pocket or put through separate insurance.

The entire system is strictly regulated and while the process and procedures can certainly be frustrating, residents of Norway do have a very high level of healthcare (ranked 11th in the world by the World Heath Organisation in 2000.  In case you are interested, France ranked 1st, UK 18th, Canada 30th, US 38th, Gabon 139th.)

Joe and I's limited experience with the system has so far been positive.  Our doctors are professional, we're able to get appointments when we need them and the standard of care has been good.

Note:  The procedures for acquiring access to the National Healthcare Scheme maybe different depending on your home country.

Important Links

UDI - Immigration website
Helfo- Homepage for the National Healthcare Program (there is a section in English if you click on the tab in the upper right corner.)
MinFastlege - search for available physicians in your area
Helfo Portal - login to change your physician
Helfo Contact Number - 850 59 500


  1. oh man - I miss the NHS and socialism :(

  2. So interesting! I like the idea of a cap-system. I think that would limit unnecessary doctor visits, but still provide a safety net for those in need.

  3. this is great! partly because ive never been to the doctor here (yet) so it gives me an idea of what to do when the time comes LOL :)

    i had wonderful health insurance in the US and it was way cheaper than what id ever pay im keeping my fingers crossed that things will pan out fine once the time comes that i start having to go to the doctor for stuff. i admit, i dont like not having vision or dental covered. i guess i see them all as connected. and i also dont like holistic and natural medicine not being covered because it was all covered for me in the US and i dont like to take medicine if i can avoid it. but no system is perfect for sure....and im sure this system will have its pluses and minuses just as the american one did.

    i just wish that every time i watch the news here that they would stop having all the negatives displayed about the doctors/healthcare here and that people feel it is better to travel to get treatment b/c equipment and processes here are so primitive. it scares the living daylights out of me. perhaps that is why ive been putting off going to the doctors?! hahaha!

    i will def come back to this post as a reference when the time comes :)

  4. I like the Scandinavian form of health care (and education) and can understand why Norwegians, Danes and Swedes love their systems and how the government takes good care of them. The one frustrating thing (as you pointed out) is the insane cost of dental/eye care. I remember blanching every time I had to get my teeth cleaned and/or deal with a tooth issue in DK. It meant I tried to hold off those visits as much as possible and limit them to 1-2x a year (if that).

  5. Unfortunately i have really had bad experience when it comes to healt care here in Norway.Making appointment for my GP is nightmare, most of the time i need to go there in person and be demanding.And when i asked for specialist the waiting time my GP told me was about 6weeks.Maybe i am not familiar with such things from my own country i can say health care will be the main reason for us to move from Norway.

    1. Sorry to hear you have a bad GP. Perhaps you should request a change? I've had bad experiences with clinics & doctors in almost every city I've lived in - unfortunately, that can happen anywhere but it's often more difficult & frustrating in a new place when we aren't completely sure how everything is supposed to work.

    2. i am thinking to change my GP for sometime but all doctors close to my apt have no possibility to accept any more patient.
      I have really insisted to see a specialist during my last visit but my GP was just asking same tests again and trying to have it as last option.Unfortunately i had to go and see a specialist in a private clinic.And seems when you pay you get pretty decent service but if i do that each time they why i am paying %37 tax? With such high taxes and low population i just cannot understand how they cannot build a good health care.
      I think the biggest problem here for poor quality of many different things, Norwegians just do not complain, they are happy with the service they get and this really does not improve the system. How can they be happy, that i will never understand :)


I love comments! Thanks for taking the time to leave one!

These days, I'm replying to comments directly in the comment feed. Check back!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
by mlekoshi