"Was it really difficult to get your residence visa in Norway?"
This is a question I've been getting asked a lot lately. To be frank, dealing with immigration in any country is bound to be a pain in the neck. There's paperwork and procedures and a lot of it makes absolutely no sense to foreigners. You go through the motions as best as you can and hope that you've dotted all of your 'i's' and crossed your 't's' in order to finally get the approval to live and work in said foreign country.
It's really no different in Norway. The process has been refined over the last few years - those who immigrated here during the transition period experienced quite a bit of frustration as new policies and procedures were put into place but it seems like they've ironed out the details and things are running relatively smoothly. Everything runs through UDI.no and all pertinent information and documents can be found there. It's also important to keep in mind, there are different requirements for different nationalities so my process as a Canadian is different than those coming from other countries.
Joe and I began our application process for Norwegian residence permits from Gabon. Both of us began by creating online accounts through the UDI website and filling out the application form. Once that was complete, we paid the fee (mine was 1100 nok) and booked an appointment at the local police services desk. (In Stavanger, this is at Skatt Vest and is on the ground floor with the Centre for Foreign Workers.)
The first appointment is solely to hand in all of the necessary paperwork. For us, that included, the cover letter given to us upon receipt of our application, Joe's work contract, 3 recent pay stubs, photocopies of our entire passports, declaration of relationship, and a copy of our marriage certificate. We did not attend the first appointment as we were still residing in Gabon so an HR representative from Joe's company handed in our paperwork on our behalf. (We had to sign a document allowing someone to represent us.)
From there, we waited for approval which came a few weeks later in the form of a written letter. We were instructed to return to our online profile to book a second and final appointment with the police services desk. For the second appointment, we showed our ID to prove our identity, had our photo taken and fingers scanned and told to keep an eye on the mailbox as our residence card would arrive within two weeks.
This card allows as to come and go as we please to Norway but also to other Schengen countries and it allows us both to work while in country. Joe's is valid for 2 years, mine 1 year. I just completed the renewal process and it was just as straight forward as it was the first time and from start to card in hand, it took about 5 weeks.
Now, things get tricky if you are trying to move to Norway and you haven't already secured work. As you may well know, Norway is one of the most expensive countries in the world to live in and you are required to prove that you have the means to support yourself in this country for a certain amount of time. This is a substantial amount of money. Also, while you may have heard that there are an abundance of high paying jobs for professionals in this Nordic country, do note that even those who are highly qualified and skilled often take between 6 months and 1 year to successfully find full time work in their field. The online forums are filled with frustrated jobseekers who are quickly running out of money and patience.
+Get a job before you pack up your life and move here. This is easier said than done but it will make everything a lot easier if you start applying from your home country.
+Do your research. It's better to arrive prepared than to be completely surprised at everything.
+Bring every document you can possibly think of that might be of any relevance to your residence permit with you to your appointments. Even though we think we have everything, occasionally they'll ask for something you didn't know you needed and instead of having to rebook another appointment 2 weeks down the road, it'll be easier if you can root through your file right there.
+Take copies of all of your documents. I made the mistake of handing over Joe's original contract last time without realising it and then had to contact the office to make sure they took a copy and held the original for me. It wasn't too serious but a pain.
+Ask questions at your appointments and make sure everything is crystal clear. It's much easier to do it in person rather than track down answers later on.
+Always double check the procedures and don't take anyone else's word for it (including mine.) Things change all of the time.
+Everything slows down here drastically in the summer as Norwegians take holidays. Expect things to take twice as long June through August.
+Try not to schedule any travel outside of the country during the visa process. It's incredibly frustrating when you have to cancel flights and plans because things haven't come together as quick as you thought they would plus it puts a lot of extra pressure and stress on the situation.
+BE PATIENT. Visas and immigration are never as simple as you hope it to be and they often take longer than first expected. It's like this everywhere but rather than working yourself into a fury, do your homework, complete your part and let it go. It is what it is.
We've successfully navigated our way through the process in two countries now and as expected, it was quite a bit easier in Norway. We didn't have to take trips to the Congo, we didn't have to bribe anyone through 'fines,' we didn't have to have another wedding and the process didn't span several months.
Are you an expat? How was the process where you live?
***I am not a visa or permit specialist. These are solely our experiences. Joe's visa is under a Skilled Worker and mine is under Family Immigration. We applied as Canadian citizens and the process and procedures differ depending on your nationality and life situation. If in doubt, always confirm with UDI.***