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.

Cell Phone Plans

A few weeks ago one of the lovely Roving Scholars contacted me to ask if I knew much about phone plans and pay-as-you-go systems in Norway. I thought that the information I emailed out might be helpful for anyone else who might be moving to Norway or even just coming for a short stay.

I am currently using a pay-as-you-go system with Netcom. Alix can attest that I have historically complained about Netcom’s customer service, but I like to think that four months into my time here Netcom and I have worked out all of the kinks in our love-hate relationship. Hopefully. 

Here’s what I would recommend (and I like to think that if you follow these steps that you will avoid all of the problems that I had with Netcom):

  1. Find your local Netcom store and buy a starter pack. 
  2. The starter pack includes a SIM with 14 days worth of calls, texts, and 250 MB of data. From what I can deduce off of the Netcom website you’ll pay 99 NOK for this.
  3. Because you’ll probably want to contact people for more than 14 days, you can buy one of these month long services:
    1. 1 GB with calls and texts for 199 NOK
    2. 3 GB with calls and texts for 299 NOK
    3. 6 GB with calls and texts for 399 NOK
  4. When you decide what sort of monthly pay-as-you-go plan you want you can either buy this service at the store (which comes with a physical card) or buy it online. 

If you buy a card at the store make sure they explain how to use the card. You have to dial a particular number and then type in another number that is listed on the card. Being handed a card and having none of this explained to me at the store started my initial saga with Netcom–make sure they explain which numbers to dial since the voice recording you will hear on the phone will be in Norwegian. I honestly found it to be a bit of a hassle to go to the store every month, so now I just top off my plan online. To do this is pretty simple. You just go to www.netcom.no/smartrefill. Then you:

  1. Input your phone number (kontantkortnummer)
  2. Select the plan you want
  3. Fill out your credit card info and you’re good to go

One benefit of paying for things online is that they will let you pay for up to 6 months of phone usage at a time.

There are a few other things you should know about Netcom:

  1. If you get a weird text in Norwegian including the refill link it’s probably Netcom telling you to top off your balance. 
  2. Only top up your phone once you have completed the 14 days or month long service plan that you have paid for.
  3. For reasons totally incomprehensible to me, the minutes that you buy with a month long plan are valid only for Norwegian cell phones. This means that you have to be a bit wary when calling a business. For example, a call to my bank goes through without a problem, but when I tried to call the Norwegian Health System I ended up using Google Voice for the call since my cell phone didn’t have enough credit.
  4. Unlike other telephone providers, you do not need a personal number (Norwegian version of a social security number) to open an account with Netcom.

The only other phone company that I’ve encountered in Trondheim is Telenor. I initially stopped by one of their offices in Trondheim and they told me that things would be cheaper if I worked with Netcom. From what I’ve heard, working with Telenor costs closer to 500 NOK a month and they won’t let you purchase a plan until you can provide them with your Norwegian personal number.

I hope that helps! Now go forth and call, text, and data use to your heart’s content.

Alien Life

No, not the UFO kind, the immigration kind.

It’s been a while since I talked about the immigration process and it’s time for an update! I have FINALLY gotten my Norwegian personal number (the equivalent of a Social Security number). This means that I can FINALLY open a Norwegian bank account. Here is the rough timeline of the steps that I had to go through to get to this point:

August 19: registered for a residence card at the police station
August 22: received my residence card in the mail
September 2: Registered at the Tax Office (note when getting a ticket stub to wait in line hit Public Registration, NOT the option that says something about taxes)
September 19: Received my personal number in the mail and registered for a bank account

As you can see, it’s taken about a month to get to this point. This also means that when I was emailing the wiring instructions to the Fulbright Office it was hard not to end every sentence with ten exclamation points (don’t worry in the end there were no exclamation points to be found). But this is really exciting! I can finally get my stipend from the last few months, as well as the travel money that I’m owed for my flight to Norway.

Furthermore, because I had so much time to kill before I could open a bank account, I had plenty of time to consider my bank options. In the end, I decided to go with DNB since it has a great reputation and, perhaps even more importantly, pretty much every page of their website has an English version. Using Google Translate for my online banking was something I wanted to avoid at all costs.

Opening the bank account itself was pretty easy and I was walked through everything I needed to know at the bank. DNB also has some really easy ways to start investing, so hopefully I’ll be able to do that in my year here. The last thing to know about the banking process is that the bank told me it could take up to a week for me to actually receive my debit card and online banking information in the mail. While it’s still a bit of a bummer to wait another week for everything to arrive, it’s great to finally be done cutting through most of the red tape.