What I wish I knew before my year abroad 

by Jasmine Angus, University of Bergen, Norway

Looking back after the most fantastic year I thought I would write a cheat sheet of things I wish I knew before my year abroad. Some of it will be generic and others will be specific to Bergen, but I hope it helps anyway!

  1. Get a Monzo or Sterling card.

The exchange rate in Norway is crazy and you don’t want to be paying extra every time you make a payment so look into which cards don’t charge overseas. I personally have a Monzo and it has been fantastic, especially with all the travelling as I haven’t had to pay any exchange rates or service charges as a result. It also saves you from opening up a bank account in Norway (which you don’t need to do unless you plan on working here).

Also on the topic of money, if you don’t have a Paypal account, get one. If you end up making international friends, international bank transfers are a nightmare, so using Paypal (which people tend to have more commonly) makes things much easier, but there can sometimes be discrepancies in exchange rates – just a heads up!

Also, don’t forget to take out cash before coming, everywhere accepts cash!

  1. Sort out any medication you may need to take ASAP!

From personal experience and from speaking to other people, sorting out bulk medication can be a struggle. The best thing to do is get in touch with your GP as soon as you know where you’re going and talk to them about prescribing either 6 months (so you can top up at Christmas) or a year’s worth of your medication. Especially for people on oral contraception, some GPs are easier to navigate than others.

Alternatively, if your medication is available in your host nation then you can ask for a copy of your prescription and you should be able to use it during your year abroad. 

For those coming to Norway, there is a sexual health clinic in Møllendalsveien 6 which can also prescribe contraception if you need it. 

  1. Stock up on simple medication before coming.

Remember how paracetamol costs about 50p? Yeah, well it doesn’t in Norway. Hayfever tablets, ibuprofen, cold and flu tablets etc. are also not cheap so I strongly recommend stocking up before you come to save yourself in the long run. 

  1. If you want to save money, buy as much as you can before flying out.

Norway is notoriously expensive and even simple things like shampoo can cost £4+ so if you want to make the most of your finances, I strongly recommend bringing as much as you can out with you. Even stuff like bedding, herbs and spices, toiletries (tampons in particular) etc. It will be more economical to add a £20 23 kg case with Norwegian Airlines for example than buying a duvet and bedding set by quite a lot! But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t cheaper alternatives for things when you arrive.

Norway specifically:

If you are wanting to save money on buying stuff out here so you have more money for activities look out for these brands and shops to help look after the pennies so the pounds look after themselves!

  • Normal – shop a bit like Boots and Poundstretcher combined – great for toiletries, health and beauty and cleaning products 
  • Kiwi and Rema 1000 – cheapest supermarkets, but there isn’t like a ‘cheap’ supermarket overall, you will find that some things are just cheaper in different shops and deals can change frequently 
  • Billy’s – an outlet shop that sells things just before their sell-by date, but the things are in brilliant condition – cheap beers and ciders too!
  • At Fantoft accommodation, in the summer they have a free event where you can pick up furniture and kitchenware that has been left – if you want stuff get there early (at least an hour before the event starts for the best dibs)
  • Tilbud app – shows you supermarket offers and deals 
  • Too Good to go – an app that gives you cheaper food to reduce food waste 
  1. Leave all your insecurities on the plane 

A year abroad is so nerve-wracking and can be incredibly anxiety-inducing, but I promise you, your biggest enemy will be your own insecurities. Remember, no one knows you, and no one knows your insecurities. A year abroad is a fantastic opportunity to explore who you want to be and learn a lot about yourself. Your comfort zone will be your biggest set back so break out of your box and explore anything and everything that is offered to you. My dad once told me he has never regretted anything he has done in life, because there has always been a lesson learnt, but, he has always regretted the things he didn’t do. This has resonated with me ever since. 

  1. You don’t need as many going-out clothes as you think, but pack those extra pair of leggings!

I’m sure this applies to not just Norway but don’t pack as many ‘going-out’ clothes as you probably are. Have you worn that top in the last month? No? Then put it back in your wardrobe. Trust me, you don’t need it. I overpacked massively when I first arrived in Bergen and ended up taking over half my clothes home, but coming back after Christmas with more hiking gear, thermals, and leggings. If you’re planning on exploring the outdoors a lot, whether it’s in Norway or not, make sure you’re bringing enough layers and that your walking boots are broken in and comfortable. 

  1. If you don’t know how to cook, learn.

Now this is something I personally wished I knew, but from speaking to other people it seems to be a common theme. Before you leave for your year abroad, make sure you have some staple recipes under your belt. Even better, if you have a favourite meal or something that reminds you of home, learn how to cook that – it’ll do the world of good when you’re homesick. 

  1. Transport 

Download the local transport app before you arrive and familiarise yourself with it, because there is nothing worse than arriving somewhere new, having no idea what you’re doing and then trying to navigate your way around the city. Work out your route before you leave the UK!

In Norway, the app is Skyss Billett for purchasing tickets and Skyss Reise for timetables and navigation. If you are 20 I’d recommend buying the Youth ticket which is a 30-day period ticket as it works out cheaper. If your birthday is after you have bought the ticket then it is valid for that month, but you will have to buy a student after that.

If you’re 21 you will have to buy a student ticket, but if you buy the 180-day one, it works out cheaper and you can refund any remaining days (so if you go home for Christmas or when you leave). 

The tickets give you access to buses, the tram (Bybanen), some boats (recommend doing it, it’s actually quite fun) and the train (Vy). The fine for not having a ticket is £100 on the spot so just buy a ticket, it isn’t worth the fine. 

  1. Nightlife and socialising 

Personally, I don’t particularly like the nightlife in Bergen, it is very pushy and expensive so much I prefer hanging out with my friends and having a few drinks on the weekend – but explore it and see how it works for you!

Be aware that some clubs have odd age restrictions including 20+, 21+, 23+ and 25+, so make sure to check it out before going.

Heidi’s nightclub is free on a Thursday if you follow their Instagram.

Duggfrisk is free entry on  Saturday.

UiB has lots of student bars that host student-specific and paid events so be sure to check them out!

Norway also has particular alcohol laws, so plan ahead in order to not get caught out:

  • Alcohol can only be bought before 8 PM on weekdays, 6 PM on Saturdays, and closed on Sunday
  • Anything that is 4.5% or below can be bought from the supermarket (beer, cider) 
  • Anything above 4.5% can only be bought at the Vinmonopolet 
  • I recommend buying spirits in Duty-free before coming because it will save you a lot of money (bottle of vodka is about £35/40)
  1. Your time is finite, so make the most of it!

A year can seem like such a long time when it’s ahead of you, but with just less than a month left it has wholly flown past and I am struggling to fit all the last bits that I wanted to do before having to leave. Make a year abroad bucket list and start doing it from the day you arrive. Don’t let the rain stop you; make the most of every opportunity available. Speak to the person sitting next to you in class, go out for that coffee, go on that hike. I promise you, you won’t regret it!

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