Health Care

I’ve been asked about the Norwegian health care system a few times, so I thought I’d write about my (thankfully) limited experience with it.

When I first came to Norway, I had to register as a resident and then wait for my personal number, the Norwegian equivalent of a US social security number. Once I had my personal number, I was then in the health care system and able to register for a doctor, or fastlege, either online or by phone (+47 815 70 070).*

Now I ran into a bit of trouble actually figuring out the fastlege website, unsurprising considering that it’s in Norwegian. This led to me calling the health care phone number. Now one important thing to know about Norwegians is that they excel at rule following and conflict avoidance. Conflict avoidance paired with one confused and frustrated person, me, did not lead to a great phone conversation. Our circuitous 30 minute conversation can pretty much be summed up below:

Me: Hi, I’d like to register for my fastlege
Customer Service: Who would you like to register with?
Me: Well I’m having trouble with your website and would just like to have a doctor who is based close to me in Trondheim.
Customer Service: I’m sorry I can’t do that. Normally people just call and tell me which doctor they want. I’m also in Oslo so I don’t know the Trondheim area well.
Me: Well can you assign me any doctor in Trondheim.
Customer Service: Well, no. I’m sorry, but this isn’t usually how things are done. You need to tell me what doctor you want. I can’t help you.

After much convincing, I finally managed to get the person on the phone to assign me a doctor. Though instead of assigning me a doctor in Trondheim, they decided to give me one in another city. So my first experience with the Norwegian health care system was a pretty frustrating one.

After that encounter, I decided to give up on the phone line and eventually managed to piece together parts of how the fastlege website works. Here’s a bit more about what I’ve learned. While the website is far from grand, you can narrow down the list of doctors to a particular city. The problem that I was running into was that it shows you all of the doctors in the city, not just those that are available. To make things more complicated for me and my limited Norwegian, the way you can tell if a doctor is available is by looking at the last column of the website, titled “Ledig.” Google Translate has “ledig” translate to “free,” which to me originally meant that the column should be filled with some equivalent of yes/no or true/false. Instead you’ll see numbers. One of my initial downfalls was thinking that the number stood for the number of patients the doctor currently has (a zero would mean no patients while a high number would mean that the doctor was stretched thin). The numbers actually tell you the complete opposite–how much availability a doctor has (a zero would mean that the doctor cannot take on more patients, while a number will tell you how many patients a doctor can take on). And it is here that my knowledge of the fastlege website comes screeching to a halt.

One other interesting thing to note is the way that a doctor’s prescription works. Because Norway is hip with technology, a lot of your information in Norway is tied to your personal number, and this includes prescriptions. In fact, you can usually just go to the local pharmacy, tell them your personal number, and have your prescription handed back to you. Your doctor just inputs all of your prescription information online, and it’s accessible to every pharmacy in the country. Pretty neat!

Having universal health care has certainly seemed great. I haven’t really had to use the health care system since coming here, but it’s clear that its very presence (rightfully) gives a good deal of comfort to many Norwegians. Many of my students have said that they find the US health care system confusing and expensive, before proceeding to tell me how awesome it is not worry about their health (part of the reason why I suspect they tolerate such icy streets during winter–they don’t have to worry as much about injuries). And while I am a supporter of universal health care, I will be the first to admit that I cringed when I saw more than half of a paycheck go to taxes. The welfare state certainly comes with a price, and while I don’t think it will ever fully reach the United States, it’s been great to see how well it works here in Norway.

*One neat thing about Norway is that once you have a bank account set up, it’s possible to use your BankID as a login for a number of Norwegian websites, including the one for your fastlege.

Bank Security Compared

About a week ago I finally got everything I needed to get access to my Norwegian bank account! This also made me realized that I’ve had to open quite a few international bank accounts over the years. At last count, I’ve had to open accounts in:

  1. United States
  2. United Kingdom
  3. Norway
  4. India
  5. South Korea

and although I don’t use all of these accounts, or regularly check them (in fact I’m pretty sure the accounts in India and Korea are empty if not closed), I thought it’d be interesting to compare the level security required by each country’s banks.

United States

In the US I’ve always gone to the bank to open up a new account (and this distinction will become slightly more clear later on). In my current US accounts, all I need to access my account information online is a username and password (but if you forget either of these things a much more thorough process is initiated to confirm your identity). That’s it. To access your account at an ATM you have to have a PIN, but you have the freedom to pick your own PIN code.

I don’t have any credit cards that are chip and PIN, so at the end of the day the only pieces of information I really need to remember are: online username, online password, and PIN for ATMs.

United Kingdom

Security gets a bit tougher when you open an account in the UK. Again I went to the bank to open this account and was able to get online access. The interesting thing is that I have to have both an online password and what they call a piece of “memorable information” (which I think of as a second password). Whenever I want to access my account online I need to type in my password and then answer questions about my memorable information. The questions are usually along the lines of: What are the 3rd, 5th, and 6th characters of your memorable information? The questions about the memorable information change each time I log on, thus enhancing the security of the account and ensuring that whoever is logging onto your account genuinely knows what the piece of memorable information is.

My account also comes with a debit card that has a pre-assigned PIN number.

So, I need to remember the same things that I do in the US, but I also need to remember my piece of memorable information and my debit card PIN.


Norway has the strongest security that I’ve seen by a wide margin. When I opened my bank account they explained to me that in order to access my account online or to use my debit card online I would need up to three things: my online password, a pre-assigned PIN code, and a code that I get from my own personalized bank device. Unfortunately I have no idea what the machine is called but here is a picture:

2014-10-01 15.07.42

Every time I want to log into my bank or approve an online transaction I just push the button on the left and then input whatever number flashes on the screen.

I also have a pre-assigned and separate PIN for my debit card.

So, I need to remember: my username, password, online PIN, debit card PIN, and have the bank device to use my Norwegian bank account.


The company that I worked for in India was responsible for setting up my bank account, which meant that I never actually had to step foot in the bank. This also meant that once I had my debit card up and running I made no attempts to actually try and get the account online. So I unfortunately have no idea about to the level of security required to access an Indian bank account online.

South Korea

Again, my employer was responsible for setting up a Korean bank account for me. This time I actually did entertain the idea of trying to access my bank account online, but I was told by my co-workers that if I wanted to do that I would have to download special security software onto my computer and phone. Korean banks won’t let you access your account online unless they are reasonably certain that your device has enough security. This being said I gathered that once the security software is actually installed, all you needed was a username and password to access your account information.

While I don’t actually have too much to report when it comes to Asian online bank security, banking around the world has definitely been a learning experience. Overall, I’d say that US banks have the lowest level of security, while European banks have the highest amount of security. While trying to count out the different characters of my memorable information is a bit annoying, as is inputting three types of information to get a simple online transaction approved, it is comforting to know how seriously my UK and Norwegian banks take my accounts’ online security. Hopefully some of the security practices I’ve seen in Europe will eventually make their way over to the States.