While Norwegians stream over the border, especially in southern Norway, to take advantage of lower prices in Sweden, the cross-border trade in the far north is the reverse: Russian citizens shuttle back and forth to Kirkenes, to stock up on goods they can’t get at home.
Newspaper Aftenposten reported recently that traffic over the border between Russia and Norway has quadrupled during the past four years. An estimated 230,000 people are expected to cross the border this year, nearly all of them Russian.
They’re flocking to stores in the northern Norwegian city of Kirkenes, for example, to buy items like instant coffee, shoes, clothes and even disposable diapers that are cheaper in Norway than in Russia. Russian shoppers are also attracted by better quality items and better selection, an ironic situation since Norwegians complain about poor selection in Norwegian grocery stores compared to that in Sweden and other European countries. One store manager in Kirkenes told Aftenposten that “western-brand” instant coffee, for example, also has status in Russia and Russians are proud to serve it to guests.
An easing of regulations that make it much easier to cross the border for certified residents of a 30-kilometer radius in northern Norway and northern Russia has also led to the huge increase in traffic and trade. Around 1,200 Norwegians and 600 Russians have received what’s called grenseboerbevis (certification of residents living in the border area) that lets them travel relatively freely.
While Norwegians travel to the Russian town of Nikel to fill their cars with gasoline and buy cheaper cigarettes, the Russians fill their cars with a wide range of Norwegian products, bought in stores where all signs and placards are printed in Russian. Plans are underway to expand the border station at Storskog, to relieve congestion.