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How Norway’s health insurance scheme works and the common problems foreigners face

Learning about Norway's National Health Insurance Scheme is essential. So here's a look at some common problems foreigners in Norway come up against and how to avoid them.

How Norway's health insurance scheme works and the common problems foreigners face
Here's how to avoid common problems with the National Health Insurance Scheme. Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

Norway’s National Health Insurance Scheme

The word ‘free’ is used loosely when it comes to describing healthcare in the Scandinavian country. Norway’s healthcare system is financed through national and municipal taxes. So residents are supporting their ‘free’ services through tax. Truly free health insurance is only offered to those under 16 years of age who do not pay taxes to Norway. 

Access to Norway’s healthcare and social services is not determined by whether you are a Norwegian citizen, nor whether you are registered in the National Population Register or pay taxes in Norway. It is based on residence or employment. But before you settle in and assume you’re covered from day one, there are some provisions.

  • To be considered a resident of Norway, you must have plans to live in the country for at least twelve months.
  • Membership with Norway’s National Health Insurance Scheme is only available for those who are in the country legally.
  • If you are planning on staying in Norway for less than twelve months, are not working, but have strong ties to the country, then you may be entitled to voluntary membership of Norway’s National Health Insurance Scheme.

If you are legally living in Norway but plan on studying or working abroad for a period of time, look here to see your healthcare membership eligibility while outside the country. 

And the common problems foreigners need to overcome?

  • Signing up 

According to the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration (NAV), you will be automatically enrolled in the Norwegian National Health Insurance Scheme if you are legally working or living in Norway.

Processing times can range from a few days to a month, and you will usually receive confirmation through the post when you have been added to the system.

Healthcare is a large part of the Norwegian National Health Insurance Scheme, as are social services such as welfare. If you need economic support, you can apply for assistance if you are legally living in the country. How much you will receive depends on your situation and application processing times vary between each individual evaluation and municipality. 

READ MORE: Seven things foreigners in Norway should know about the healthcare system 

There are many rules and guidelines if you decide to apply for economic assistance. To see what procedures, information, and advice you are entitled to, look here.

Self-employed workers are also entitled to the same benefits as traditional employees in Norway. Though it is up to them to register events like sick leave on their own. 

  • Somethings are not free

The healthcare system in Norway is of a high standard and covers most expenses. Because it is so comprehensive, many new to the country assume that all health matters are covered by national health insurance. It is important to remember that vision and dental insurance are not a part of the public health care plan. 

Dental treatment is free for those between one and 18 years of age. If you are 19 or 20 years old, you must pay 25 percent of the total bill. If you are 21 or older, then you are required to foot the bill. 

However, there are exemptions for special cases. You can find out more about the payment exceptions here.

Eye exams, contact lenses, and glasses are not covered by public health insurance. These are normally services offered by private companies such as Spec Savers and Brilleland.

In addition to vision and dental, cosmetic surgeries are also not covered by public health insurance. 

Here is a price list for common services in Norway.

What is a frikort?

frikort or an “exemption card” is a card given out once you have reached the maximum limit of fees the public is required to pay per calendar year. In 2021, the maximum amount in fees you are expected to pay is 2,460 kroner before being eligible for a frikort

  • Many things have gone digital 

Many newcomers to Norway are surprised to find how digitalised health services in the country are. After you have become a member of the national insurance scheme, you can go online to order prescriptions, find available appointments with your GP, have digital communication with their doctor, and look at summaries of past medical appointments. 

For an overview of all the services and information, you can use online, look here.

  • Finding your GP

While your acceptance into the National Health Insurance Scheme may be automatic, it is up to you to choose your GP. 

There are a few guidelines to be aware of if you, for some reason, want to change from your original choice. You are allowed to change your GP up to two times in one year. You can also choose to switch if you officially change your address or if your GP cuts their patient list. You can find a list of general practitioners at

  • The waiting times

As previously stated, the standard of health care in Norway is high, and you can visit your GP or a specialist as often as you need them. But it is not uncommon to have to wait a few weeks before you find an available appointment. The same goes for non-critical surgeries. It is not unusual to wait up to six months for a non-life-threatening yet necessary surgery.

Useful Vocabulary

egenandel – deductible

fastlege – general practitioner 

optiker – optometrist 

tannlege – dentist 

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The key vocab you need for a trip to the dentist in Norway

Between the price and potential pain, a trip to the dentist can be a daunting experience. To try and make things easier, we've compiled a guide of Norwegian phrases to help you through your appointment. 

The key vocab you need for a trip to the dentist in Norway

While most Norwegians are competent and confident English speakers, this doesn’t apply to everyone. Additionally, their vocabulary may not cover the full extent of medical and dental procedures – or they may naturally switch to talking to you in their native tongue when asking questions or providing information. 

Therefore, having some handy vocabulary in the bank can help you bridge any potential language gaps between you and your dentist. 

Most people heading to the tannlege (dentist) will be heading there for a routine checkup (en sjekk hos tannlegen). People are advised to have their tenner (teeth) checked out every six months. Although fear of the dentist may mean that many will put this off much longer. 

Once in the dentist’s seat, you may be asked, “kan du åpne munnen?” (can you open your mouth?). You may be given some munnvann (mouthwash) and told to spytt ut (spit it out). The dental assistant (tannlegeassistent) may take care of these steps while the dentist prepares for the rest of the examination. 

From there, it’s onto the appointment proper. The dentist will begin inspecting your teeth and your tannkjøtt (gums- literally meaning ‘teeth meat’) for signs of tannråte (tooth decay) and karies (tooth decay). Plaque will also be on the agenda, and the dentist may opt to fjerne plakk på tennene (remove the plaque). 

When taking a closer look at your teeth and gums or trying to remove plaque, the dentist or assistant may kindly ask you to snu hodet mot meg (turn your head to me). During this, your dentist may recommend you use dental floss (tanntråd) more often or replace your tannbørste (toothbrush). 

If you are lucky, that may signal the end of your appointment. However, if your teeth haven’t fared so well since your last visit to the dentist, then it may mean you need further treatment. A røntgen (x-ray) may be required to determine the extent of the treatment. 

In the event you do need some work done on your teeth, then there are a number of common treatments. The most common of these is fylling (quite intuitively meaning filling). While some will get off lightly with a filling, other patients will be required to have some more extensive (and painful) procedures done. 

Should you need more comprehensive work done to your teeth, you may be asked to lukk munnen (close your mouth) in preparation for the bad news. This is because the dentist will be speaking about the required treatment. 

Treatments range from having a crown (få en krone), trekke en tann (having a tooth removed) or the dreaded root canal treatment (rotfylling). If more extensive treatment is required, then it may be a good idea to ask for bedøvelse (anaesthetic). 

Unfortunately, Norway’s comprehensive and robust healthcare system doesn’t cover dental care. The exceptions to this are children, who get free dental care until turning 18. Meanwhile, younger adults only need to stump up 25 percent of the total work. Some conditions mean dental bills will be covered through the Helfo system.  

This means that you can expect a tannlegeregning (dentist bill) after any appointments or work done on your pearly whites. 

READ MORE: How much does going to the dentist cost in Norway?