Sunshine lifestyle

More and more Norwegians are taking extended vacations—or moving—to Spain

Photo: David Nikel  The Canary Islands offer Norwegians the perfect, sunny vacation spot.

Photo: David Nikel
The Canary Islands offer Norwegians the perfect, sunny vacation spot.

David Nikel
Trondheim, Norway

Living through a Norwegian winter can be tough going for even the most hardy of locals. Fans of winter sports become frustrated when the rain turns the lovely fresh snow to slush, not to mention the short days and lack of sunlight at this time of year.

Spain has long been a popular holiday destination for Scandinavians. Their economic strength means money goes much further down south. The low prices and warm weather of Spain are difficult things to leave behind at this time of the year, so it should come as no surprise that an estimated 50,000 Norwegians now call Spain their home.

A sunshine retirement
Many retirees take advantage of simple math. The difference between a Norwegian pension and a Spanish cost of living enables an extremely comfortable retirement.

Another group heading south are those who require care or physical treatment. The Norwegian Rheumatism Association owns Reuma-Sol, a center for treatment and training on the Costa Blanca. However, this is more than just a medical center. Reuma-Sol consists of 44 apartments, a gymnasium, training rooms, indoor and outdoor pools, and more.

“Instead of building a new treatment center in Oslo, local authorities can just build one in southern Spain,” says Lotte Tollefsen, a spokeswoman at the Norwegian embassy in Spain. “It is easy to find qualified medical personnel and the climate is very beneficial to the patients compared to the Norwegian winters.”

Norwegians working in Spain
Over the past few years, yet another group of sun-seekers has emerged: younger Norwegians of working age looking to save money and enjoy themselves. Up until recently it was difficult for them to sustain a lifestyle without being lucky enough to negotiate a remote working agreement with a Norwegian employer or becoming fluent in Spanish. Now, with the increasing numbers of Norwegians heading south, several businesses have sprung up to employ them.

One of them is Max Dialog, a business services company helping multiple Norwegian clients, typically with telesales. I asked CEO Kim Håkenstad what draws the Norwegians he employs to Spain and he gave me three reasons:

“It is mostly about the weather. In Norway, there are not many days with more than 20 degrees. Secondly the work opportunity here is good. Imagine if you earn 30,000 in Norway and pay 34-40% tax. You can have the same amount here, in Spain, but pay only 15-22% tax. Finally, for many it is about trying something new in life. The culture here is very different! Some people have been here for more than two years. Of course, it is difficult to persuade everyone to stay, because a lot of people miss home.”

Norwegian communities in Spain
The biggest concentration of Norwegians in Spain is along the Costa Blanca, specifically near the towns of Torrevieja and L’Albir. Here you’ll find a visible community featuring Norwegian restaurants, health services, a Norwegian Club, and even branches of Sjømannskirken, the Norwegian Church Abroad.

Another popular destination for settlers is over 1,000 miles away on the south coast of Gran Canaria. Arguineguin, once a typical Canarian fishing village, is now a very different place.
Like the Costa Blanca, this island community has a Norwegian church and health center, but also a school and the Norwegian-owned timeshare resort Anfi del Mar. On neighboring island Tenerife, the sight of Norwegian flags and advertising brochures is commonplace throughout the island.

These communities are served by Norwegian-language media including Megafon, Spaniaposten, Det Norske Magasinet, and Canariposten.

Kim Håkenstad doesn’t see the Norwegian invasion of southern Europe ending any time soon. “I think that this is just the start. Every month, there is something new starting up here. Things move on fast. It is only a few hours flight ‘home,’ so why should we not? For example, I am from northern Norway. When I lived in Trondheim, it was nine to 12 hours drive ‘home.’ Now I use less time to get ‘home’ and I live all the way over here in Spain.”

I’d love to know if readers of the Norwegian American Weekly are surprised by this. Is the sun setting on the Nordic dream, or is this just the equivalent of Americans retiring to Mexico?

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 23, 2014, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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David Nikel

David Nikel is a freelance writer based in Norway. He runs the popular website and podcast and is the author of the Moon Norway guidebook, available now in all good bookstores.