Author Topic: Moving to Norway for school - can I afford it?  (Read 7147 times)

Mayan

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Moving to Norway for school - can I afford it?
« on: March 18, 2014, 10:53:57 PM »
Alright Mustachians, Iím asking for your input and am fully expecting a facepunch or two for the path Iím considering. 

Background info Ė Iím a vet who graduated 2 years ago.  The dream was to be a wildlife vet working for a conservation NGO.  The jobs in that sphere are scarce, highly competitive and generally require post-graduate training and good connections.  Specifics on the ďpost-graduate trainingĒ part vary.  Some pursue board certification as zoo vets, others do additional graduate degrees, some get by with experience gained volunteering.  There isnít a set path.  Since pretty much all of those options involve years of low to no pay, I chose to go into practice for a little while first.  I paid off my student loans, saved a significant portion of my salary, and am now looking to move on. 

Iíve maintained contacts in the wildlife field and applied for a few opportunities this year, none of which panned out.  There is now an opportunity for me to enroll in a masterís program in Norway, and I am seriously considering it.  The pros are that Iíd be working closely with someone who is well known in my chosen field, get a huge amount of experience that would be difficult to attain elsewhere, and it's tuition free.  The program is pretty new, but the few people who have been through it have gone on to the sort of positions Iíd love to have, and they all speak very highly of it. The major con is that Iíd have to live off of savings for 2 years in one of the most expensive countries in the world.  There are a few somewhat similar programs in the US, but they are all expensive ($35-40k/yr tuition) and do not offer anywhere near quality/quantity of hands on training opportunities.  The coursework will be helpful, but the experience and connections are IMO of bigger benefit than the actual degree Iíd get out of it. 

If I go for it, this is where things will stand when I start in August.  I will have to prove that I have sufficient funds (about $15,500) in order to get a student visa for 1 year (the program is 2 years).   I will be living in a tiny, remote town, most likely in student housing, which is cheap at about $450/month, inclusive of utilities, internet, etc.  Food costs would be an estimated $400/month for a very spare, budget-conscious diet.  Pretty much anything I have to purchase in country will be drastically more expensive than in the US.  I will have to invest in some serious winter gear/clothing suitable for both life in northern Norway and outdoor winter fieldwork prior to moving.  Iíd rely on public transport (walking is sufficient in town, train or bus to get elsewhere).  Estimated budget also has about $50/month for phone service, $40/month for public transport, $50/month for consumables and incidental expenses, $100/month to maintain US work license, CE, etc.  Iíd expect some additional up-front costs for initial arrival in country, purchasing a phone, establishing a bank account, etc.  I have sufficient FF miles for two one-way flights between my current location and Oslo. 

I currently have about 22K saved in cash, 13K of Roth contributions (would rely on as emergency fund but not plan to draw from) and 25K in my 401k (would not draw from, may convert to Roth during low income years of program).  I can save an additional 10-12K by August, maybe up to 15k if I cut my 401K contributions back to company match.  Basically, I have enough to comfortably fund one year of living expenses for the program, maybe both but itís tight.  Iíd plan to return to the states and work for 2-3 months over the summer to have some extra cushion.  If I can negotiate a deal to return as a temporary FT employee with my current employer (likely but not guaranteed), Iíll make about $7000/month doing so, and would of course have costs associated with health insurance, rent, etc while in the US.
 
Any thoughts on the feasibility of this plan?  Anyone lived in Norway and want to comment on expected costs there?  I feel like it may just barely be doable.  It is certainly not the most Mustachian of paths to take, but the reality is, I donít aspire to ER and this is what I would want to do if I were FI.  If I finish the program and donít have any decent wildlife job prospects, I should be able to easily return to doing my current work.  It is a good time in my life to pursue something crazy, in that Iím still fairly young (26) and not tied down to any particular location.  That said, a part of me is quailing at the thought of spending down so much of what Iíve saved in such a short period of time, with no guarantees that itíll get me where I want to be. 

 Edit for TLDR - might quit job, move to Norway for 2 years, expected monthly expenses would be in the $1200-1500/month range for bare bones living.  Expect to have 30-35k to fund this, plus maybe 10-12k net from summer work.   Math works out in theory, but looking for input on possible holes in plan, perspective from anyone who's lived in Norway, etc. 
« Last Edit: August 04, 2014, 07:29:59 PM by Mayan »

Gimesalot

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Re: Case Study - Chasing the Dream, Possible Return to School
« Reply #1 on: March 19, 2014, 10:50:03 AM »
To me this sounds like to opportunity of a lifetime.  I would take the leap.

It seems like you have the money to cover the basics, so all you would need is some extra money to make life more comfortable.  Will you have time to do some additional work during your studies?  You could tutor students in the undergraduate program or in the small town.  You could write a blog and maybe gain some income.  You might even find a way to work as a vet part time. 

As far as reducing expenses:  Can you reduce your license fees?  My license has both student and "not practicing / inactive," options.  These fees are about 1/5 of the normal fee I pay.   

Also, I would start shopping for clothes right now, since spring is coming.  Hit up thrift stores, garage sales, and ebay and the like to get some clothes and shoes.

phred

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Re: Case Study - Chasing the Dream, Possible Return to School
« Reply #2 on: March 19, 2014, 11:47:25 AM »
I second the shoes and workboots as European feet seem to be different than American feet; get your footgear here. 

This site seemed a worthwhile read:
http://mylittlenorway.com/2010/06/why-live-in-norway/

Mayan

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Re: Moving to Norway for school - can I afford it?
« Reply #3 on: March 19, 2014, 05:26:09 PM »
Thanks for your input!

Gimesalot - I will have time, but the college is isolated and tiny - good for wildlife, bad for work opportunities.   I can't count on getting a job.  I will also be out doing captures for blocks of time that aren't super conducive to a regular work schedule. I like the idea of exploring alternative income sources like tutoring, and will definitely see if that's feasible.  My state doesn't have a lot of flexibility on licensing (it's a huge PITA to get it reinstated if you let it lapse and are not practicing elsewhere), but it may be possible to keep up with continuing education for free/cheap, lowering the projected cost a bit. 

Phred - thanks for her link!  I'll have to spend some time exploring it

I'm also trying to figure out whether it's smarter to increase 401k deferral to reduce my AGI as much as possible while my income is high, or lower it to give me more cash in my pocket going in.  If I leave it as is, I will be close to the 15/25% threshold for taxes after standard deduction this year - by increasing deferral it may be possible to have all of my income fall within the 15% bracket.  I would do any Roth conversions in 2015 when my income is lowest.  I suspect it really comes down to a judgement call on whether to take the safer (cash in hand) route vs the savvier (lower taxes and have Roth contributions as emergency fallback) route

homehandymum

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Re: Moving to Norway for school - can I afford it?
« Reply #4 on: March 19, 2014, 05:57:38 PM »
Go go go.

Even if you have to go into debt to finish the last few months, this is, as you say, the opportunity of a lifetime.  A seasoned mustachian like yourself will kill that debt and be living your dream job in no time.

Personally, I'd be going the safe route with the money rather than locking it into retirement savings, but I'm risk-averse so YMMV

lizzzi

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Re: Moving to Norway for school - can I afford it?
« Reply #5 on: March 19, 2014, 06:50:23 PM »
I would do it. It sounds like a fabulous opportunity--the kind of thing that doesn't come up very often. I read somewhere recently that Norwegians do as much shopping as possible in Sweden, because the prices are cheaper. (Sorry, can't remember where I saw the article.) I lived in Sweden for a year back in 1968-69 while changing directions scholastically, and absolutely loved Scandinavia. Do it, do it, do it. Try to learn the language, too. It isn't that hard (Norwegian is kind of half-way between Swedish and English; at least that's what I was toldÖand Swedish wasn't that hardÖif you're living there and hearing it every day, it kind of sticks in your ear.)

defcon

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Re: Moving to Norway for school - can I afford it?
« Reply #6 on: March 21, 2014, 12:03:33 PM »
I'm from Norway. I think you should take the opportunity, Norway is a nice country with great nature. The Norwegian people is generally shy at first, but kind when you first get to know us. :) Be prepared for rainy days, and a cold winter. That just makes the summer even better.

Living in a student house saves you a lot, and can make some good friends. But be aware, there might be a shortage of these services.

Regarding your budget I live sparsely on a 200 USD food budget, (with employer paid lunch). Food is expensive, but not if compared to average income. Eating and drinking out is expensive.

You can get phone service for 35 USD a month, unlimited national call and text (but only 1 GB included). You can most likely use your current phone. Use Skype, or other internet based, for international calls.

And BTW, a Vet usually makes a decent salary here.

Mrs WW

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Re: Moving to Norway for school - can I afford it?
« Reply #7 on: March 21, 2014, 01:52:44 PM »
This sounds like the opportunity of a lifetime! You will not regret doing it I promise! I live in Sweden and yes, Norway is expensive but not as horribly as you might think. Stay away from beers in the pub and restaurants and youll be fine! Learn hoe to cook good quality vegetarian food as a diet basis, add meat or fish when you can afford it, and eat lunch like the norweigans - a sandwich or two!

Even though you'll be there on a student visa you might be eligable for student financing and I wouldnt count on working for extra income since I don't think the student visa allowes for that, check it out before considering side incomes locally. I also dont think you need to keep your US health insurance while in Norway, as a student you should be covered by national health insurance.

Good luck!

Mayan

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Re: Moving to Norway for school - can I afford it?
« Reply #8 on: March 24, 2014, 12:56:14 PM »
The perspectives from those currently/previously living in Scandinavian countries is great, thanks!  I still have a little more information to gather before making my final decision, but I'm leaning towards doing this.  As disappointing as it was when my applications for external funding got rejected, I have been making safe/smart choices with money, job and school choice specifically so that if an opportunity like this came along, I could take it.  While my more rational side is slightly overwhelmed at the cost pursuing this, the rest of me is thinking more along the lines of "go work with wolves and bears, fuck yeah!"  The prospect of getting to live in and explore a new country, even on a shoestring budget, is also a big plus.

Homehandymum - yeah, I tend to be fairly risk-averse, too, and suspect that the few hundred dollars in tax savings would not be worth having more money locked up in retirement accounts, especially with the budget being rather tight on pursuing this

Mrs WW - it looks like part time work is allowable on a student visa, but the job opportunities may not be there.  I won't be counting on it in my budget. 

DeepEllumStache

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Re: Moving to Norway for school - can I afford it?
« Reply #9 on: March 24, 2014, 01:08:06 PM »
Wow.  That sounds like an amazing opportunity. 

Switching careers by going to grad school was one of the best decisions I made - my choice wasn't nearly as exciting (or financially well prepared) as yours.  It finally came down to knowing that if I didn't go, I'd regret that decision.
« Last Edit: March 24, 2014, 01:15:11 PM by sporksociety »

Albert

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Re: Moving to Norway for school - can I afford it?
« Reply #10 on: March 24, 2014, 01:08:35 PM »
I would absolutely do it even if it were to result in some debt (looks like you have enough for it not to happen). This is what life is about, taking opportunities when they present themselves. Plus Scandinavia is quite nice as long as you are not overly bothered by climate and low amounts of sunlight in winter.

Argyle

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Re: Moving to Norway for school - can I afford it?
« Reply #11 on: March 24, 2014, 02:38:28 PM »
Oh my, I would go in a heartbeat!  Once you get there, ways of being frugal will become apparent.  And the Scandinavians live a pretty frugality-friendly lifestyle (biking all through the winter, etc.).  You get two years in a cool country and great job prospects.  What's not to love?

Daleth

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Re: Moving to Norway for school - can I afford it?
« Reply #12 on: March 24, 2014, 04:59:05 PM »
You had me at "tuition-free." I'm with everyone else here: go go go! Opportunity of a lifetime! It sounds like a great fit for where you are now and where you want to be, career-wise.

Check your local library for Pimsleur Norwegian Level I. Pimsleur works better than any other method I've used, with the exception of one-on-one in-person Berlitz training (which costs thousands). Pimsleur is like $350/level but many libraries have it, or can get it through interlibrary loan, for free.

Thegoblinchief

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Re: Moving to Norway for school - can I afford it?
« Reply #13 on: March 24, 2014, 05:32:48 PM »
Wow, awesome opportunity. I'd even incur modest amounts of debt to do it if I had to, but it looks like you shouldn't, or at least not much.

I had the opportunity to study abroad quite reasonably and passed, and have kicked myself ever since.

Hope it ends up being as good as it sounds!

Daleth

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Re: Moving to Norway for school - can I afford it?
« Reply #14 on: March 25, 2014, 10:22:09 AM »
IIRC, Pimsleur is based on the curriculum the US Foreign Service uses to train diplomats and, conveniently, those have fallen into the public domain. They may be a bit dated, but the basics should still be good.

http://fsi-language-courses.org/Content.php?page=Norwegian

A big advantage of Pimsleur is that it's entirely oral--no books, no need to turn on a computer. It's all listen and repeat, so you can do it while driving, washing the dishes, whatever. That wasn't the case with the Foreign Service course I did eons ago.

So obviously Pimsleur won't teach you to read and write, but spoken language matters far more when you're moving to a country, and it's much easier to learn to read a language you know how to speak than to learn to speak a language you only know how to read. That is after all the order in which we all learned our native languages; the brain is just wired to find that easier.

Albert

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Re: Moving to Norway for school - can I afford it?
« Reply #15 on: March 25, 2014, 01:04:22 PM »
Not all people are learning the same way. When I study (anything really) I find it easiest if I write things down.

Daleth

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Re: Moving to Norway for school - can I afford it?
« Reply #16 on: March 25, 2014, 03:39:55 PM »
Not all people are learning the same way. When I study (anything really) I find it easiest if I write things down.

I do too, so I take notes like crazy. But it isn't possible to learn to *speak* a language by reading and writing. That would be like trying to learn to play guitar by writing chords down--it's two very different skill sets. And I'm not talking out of my a$$ here; I've studied eight foreign languages and used to teach languages.

EricL

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Re: Moving to Norway for school - can I afford it?
« Reply #17 on: March 25, 2014, 06:04:35 PM »
Just my uninformed opinion, but I think you should go.  Continue to develop the situation by researching the costs.  See if you can get a relative or close to pledge a loan if you come up a little short the last year. 

szmaine

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Re: Moving to Norway for school - can I afford it?
« Reply #18 on: March 25, 2014, 06:16:12 PM »
Mayan,
The benefits of doing this cannot be measured in currency...there's no way to put a price on such opportunities throughout a lifetime. Go and eat sandwiches for every meal if you have to...
Taking the risk is a lesson in itself that will reverberate throughout your life. This is a character and career building experience. Most of all it's an adventure...treat it as such and you will do fine.
Norway is lovely!

seeking_north

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Re: Moving to Norway for school - can I afford it?
« Reply #19 on: March 31, 2014, 06:50:04 AM »
Mayan: Norwegian here.

Is there any information on where you are going to study?
Vetrinary is only offerd in 4 different places in Norway, so, its difficult to say anything about costs.


Scandium

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Re: Moving to Norway for school - can I afford it?
« Reply #20 on: March 31, 2014, 07:24:26 AM »
I grew up in norway, moved to the states for grad school 8 years ago. Yes Norway is expensive, I still have shocks every time I visit, but it should be possible to keep costs down if you're smart. Unless things have changed a lot my first thoughts are:

Consumption is heavily taxed, with a 25% VAT, but as a mustacian you should be able to limit the impact. It's half tax on groceries (I think this is still true?), so probably more so than in the US; make your own food to save! Any form of eating/drinking out will suck away your cash faster than your vitamin D in winter! From what I remember consumer goods is about 30-50% more expensive (or more) than in the states. So try to bring any small, high cost items you might need from the US, especially electronics; laptop, phone, ipod, external hard drive etc. If you think "I'll buy it there" it might get expensive fast, especially in a small town. Just bring a few European power adapter plugs (two round pins).

The other government cash cow is car and gasoline tax, but sounds like you can avoid that. If you have to/want to rent a car at some point be prepared for the ~$7/gallon gas price. You don't have to drive far before public transit is cheaper, and it's usually ok.

Do you mind saying where you're going? I spent a year in the air force up north in a large-ish town, for the area (BodÝ). Luckily once you get far north it's much cheaper than in the big cities down south, so the shock might not be as bad. If you go through Oslo on your way up anything around the arctic circle will seem like a bargain.. And if the town is real small there's nothing to do anyway so limited what you can waste money on:)

Good luck!
« Last Edit: March 31, 2014, 02:59:51 PM by Scandium »