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Moving to Sweden

The spine of Scandinavia, Sweden is a gorgeous Nordic country in Northern Europe blessed with picturesque topography, thousands of islets and inland lakes, verdant boreal forests, majestic mountainscapes and a coastline that runs for thousands of miles, from the fragmented islands and fjords in the temperate south to the sub-Arctic 'land of the midnight sun' in the north. 

Living in Sweden as an expat

An increasingly popular expat destination, people from all over the world are choosing Sweden for the prospect of a balanced, prosperous life in a country that combines high technology and liberal values with respect for traditions, not to mention an abundance of economic opportunities and extensive, efficient social welfare.

Stockholm, the capital city and most likely expat destination, is built on an archipelago of 24,000 islands. Most expats moving to Stockholm thrive in what is one of Europe’s most attractive, vibrant and interesting metros. Each of the 14 islands at the centre of the city has its own character and range of entertainment options. Housing supply is somewhat under pressure, though; rental prices are high, and decent, conveniently located apartments can be difficult to come by.

The country also boasts a reasonably healthy job market, with ample opportunities for highly qualified expats in specific sectors, such as IT, energy and media. Despite strict immigration laws, around a fifth of the Swedish population comes from a foreign background, especially in large cities such as Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö.

Expats moving to Sweden may find the language difficult to learn, but since Swedes generally speak excellent English and enjoy practising it, the language barrier is easily overcome. Swedish culture may, however, be a little more challenging for expats to adapt to. 

A common thread running through expat accounts of living in Sweden is the difficulty in connecting with the reserved and introverted Swedes and integrating into local life. Expats who are prepared to enjoy their status as outsiders will be better prepared for the occasional awkward encounter.

Cost of living in Sweden

Life in Sweden doesn't come cheap, and expats should be prepared for a fairly high cost of living, especially in Stockholm. In addition, high tax rates mean that Swedish salaries are fairly modest, but on the flip side, expats with residence permits will enjoy the benefits of an extensive state social network covering major expenses like education and healthcare.

Families and children in Sweden

The importance of family life is a key Swedish value, making Sweden an excellent place to raise children. Parents will find their family well taken care of thanks to the state's provision of free and high-quality education, healthcare and childcare.

Sweden is also a world leader in liberal values, pioneering LGBT rights, gender equality and providing extensive parental privileges for employees.

Climate in Sweden

Winters can be a shock for expats who move to Sweden from warmer climates. During the winter months of December to March, temperatures drop below zero, snow falls in clumps, and sunlight makes a reluctant appearance for only a few hours each day. Winter also heralds Sweden’s biggest unexpected danger: falling ice from city roofs. It would be wise to heed the warning signs. 

Sweden balances ultra-modern cities with expanses of untouched wilderness, and the famously modern populace still takes great pride in its traditions. It is a safe, yet consistently surprising experience for expats; even for those who tend to complain about the locals before renewing their stay here time and time again.


Fast facts

Population: Around 10 million

Capital city: Stockholm 

Neighbouring countries: Sweden is located in Northern Europe and shares borders with Norway to the west and Finland to the northeast. To the east and south of the country are the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Bothnia. 

Geography: Sweden is a heavily forested country with two-thirds of it being made of forest and woodland. Mountains and hills are dominant in the west and a small part of the country lies north of the arctic circle. The lowest elevation in Sweden is in the bay of Lake Hammarsjön and the highest point is Kebnekaise. There are also over 95,000 lakes in Sweden, many of which are used for water power plants. 

Political system: Unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy

Major religions: Christianity is the major religion in Sweden. Islam is the second largest religion in Sweden, but is only practised by around five percent of the population. 

Main languages: Swedish is the official language and is spoken by the majority of the population. English is also widely spoken, especially in the cities and within business circles.

Money:  The Swedish crown or krona (SEK) is the official currency in Sweden and is divided into 100 ore. Credit and debits cards are widely accepted. 

Tipping: Although service charges are built into restaurant bills, an extra tip of 7 to 10 percent is expected. It is normal to round up the fare when paying for a taxi. While not expected, tips are appreciated for good service in hotels.

Time: GMT+1 (GMT+2 from the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October)

Electricity: 230V, 50Hz. Standard European two-pin plugs are used.

Internet domain: .se

International dialling code: +46

Emergency contacts: 112

Transport and driving: Cars drive on the right-hand side of the road in Sweden. Sweden's public transport system consists of buses, trains and boats. Swedish rail services are excellent and the bus network is extensive.

Weather in Sweden

The climate in Sweden varies from north to south. Despite its northerly location, the country is generally temperate due to the warm offshore Gulf Stream currents. There are three different climatic zones in Sweden: the south has an oceanic climate, the centre has a humid continental climate, and the north has a subarctic climate.

Summers in the south and centre of Sweden are warm and pleasant, with average high temperatures ranging between 68°F and 77°F (20°C and 25°C). In the winter, temperatures in these regions average between 25°F and 36°F (-4°C and 2°C).

In the north it is substantially colder, with short, cool summers and long, snowy winters, while temperatures frequently drop below freezing between September and May. Fortunately, with the biting cold comes plenty of beautiful powder, which makes for excellent skiing, snowboarding, sledding and other snow sports.

Rain is possible in Sweden at any time of year, but is most common in late summer. The southwest of the country receives the most rain.

The best time to visit Sweden is in the summer months from June to August, when the days are long and warm and the open-air museums and restaurants are open. As summer is the most busy and expensive time to visit Sweden, some travellers prefer to go in the spring or autumn, which are both pleasant seasons and far less crowded.

 

Embassy contacts for Sweden


Swedish embassies

Swedish Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 467 2600

Swedish Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 20 7917 6400

Swedish Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 244 8200

Swedish Embassy, Canberra, Australia: +61 2 6270 2700

Swedish Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 12 426 6400

Swedish Consulate General, Dublin, Ireland: +353 1 265 0888

Consulate-General of Sweden, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 4 499 9895


Foreign embassies in Sweden

United States Embassy, Stockholm: +46 8 783 5300

British Embassy, Stockholm: +46 8 671 3000

Canadian Embassy, Stockholm: +46 8 453 3000

Australian Embassy, Stockholm: +46 8 613 2900

South African Embassy, Stockholm: +46 8 824 3950

Irish Embassy, Stockholm: +46 8 5450 4040

Public Holidays in Sweden

 

2022

2023

New Year's Day

1 January

1 January

Epiphany

6 January

6 January

Good Friday

15 April

7 April

Easter Sunday

17 April

9 April

Easter Monday

18 April

10 April

Labour Day

1 May

1 May

Ascension Day

26 May

18 May

Whit Sunday

5 June

28 May

National Day

6 June

6 June

Midsummer Day

25 June

24 June

All Saints' Day

5 November

4 November

Christmas Day

25 December

25 December

Boxing Day

26 December

26 December

Working in Sweden

Expats planning on working in Sweden should stake less in the amount of their monthly salary, and more in the quality of their life ahead. Sweden's exceptionally high taxes and emphasis on welfare benefits mean that even workers maintaining mid-level positions and moderate salaries can access a high standard of healthcare, reputable schools for their children, and retirement security.

With such obvious draws, it seems millions of expats would be marching on Sweden's entry points, but a highly skilled labour force and a fairly insular economy prohibit easy entrance into the Swedish working world.

European Union (EU) and European Economic Area (EEA) citizens do not need a work permit to work in Sweden, but citizens of all other countries do need a work permit to be lawfully employed in the country. Work permits can only be applied for with a formal written offer of employment from a Swedish company.


Job market in Sweden

As can be expected from a country with universal social benefits, the workforce in Sweden is highly skilled, with roughly a third of employees having some degree of tertiary education. Nearly half of the country's output and exports are accounted for by the engineering sector, followed closely by the telecommunications, pharmaceutical and automotive sectors. 

Expats wanting to work in Sweden should have at least a basic knowledge of the language. Most jobs require fluency in Swedish, with the exception being large multinationals that use English as their corporate language, most of which are located in Stockholm.

International companies are therefore often an expat's most likely opportunity for employment. That said, companies are more inclined to hire non-Swedish-speaking expats if the potential employee at least shows an interest in learning and would, at the minimum, be able to understand what is said around the water cooler. 

Expats who don't speak Swedish and who don't have any interest in becoming a member of the corporate world should consult the Swedish labour shortage list, a twice-annually published detail of the country's needs in the labour force. The chance of finding a job in Sweden is significantly better if an expat’s profession appears on this list.

There is usually a lack of skilled workers in areas of healthcare, trade work, engineering, teaching and IT-related positions. Workers seeking a position in these and other areas with shortages should be able to apply for a job within Sweden rather than returning to their home country first. 

Sweden also publishes a regulatory list, a detailed account of professions which require some form of certification (such as doctors, lawyers and psychiatrists). If someone plans to work in Sweden and their profession appears on this list, they should check with the relevant listed regulatory agency to find out which certifications are needed, or whether or not the certification they already have is acceptable.


Finding a job in Sweden

Though most positions in Sweden require proficiency in the language, there is a wealth of English resources available to expats trying to find a job in Sweden, most of which are available online.

Recruiting companies and temp agencies can also be useful resources. Contractual and temporary work is on the rise in Sweden, and for many expats, a job of this nature may be a good stepping stone toward a better opportunity.

When applying for a job in Sweden, it's standard practice to send a one-page cover letter and Curriculum Vitae (CV) that is succinct and to the point. It's common to be interviewed only when short-listed for a job. During July, August and December, due to the vacation times of the majority of Swedes, it may be difficult to find employment as many companies put administrative matters, such as hiring, on hold.

If extended an offer, be aware that salary levels in Sweden are often subject to agreements between labour unions and employers. It is important to do research before accepting an offer and to be aware that tax in Sweden is astronomical.


Work culture in Sweden

Swedish work culture is characterised by a flat hierarchy. Employees aren't micromanaged and are trusted to make the best of their working hours. Decisions are based on group consensus rather than the decision of one individual. This kind of workplace structure can be confusing for expats used to working in an office with clearly defined roles and levels of authority.

Family is of great importance in Sweden, and work-life balance is a core concept of life in Sweden. Famously the first country in the world to replace maternity leave with parental leave, Sweden still has one of the most generous parental leave policies in the world today, with both parents being entitled to a combined 480 days of leave when a child is born or adopted. Annual leave is also generous, with 25 days of leave a year being the legal minimum.

Doing Business in Sweden

Sweden is known internationally for its history of entrepreneurialism and its affinity for egalitarianism. Nonetheless, expats may find that doing business in Sweden is anything but lagom – a concept at the heart of Swedish business dealings, which means 'just right' or 'in balance'.

Despite its small size, Sweden has produced a large number of multinational companies and is the European headquarters for many others.


Fact facts

Business language

Swedish is the official business language but English is spoken throughout with a high degree of fluency.

Hours of business

8am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

Business dress

Dress code is smart-casual and conservative, although suits are not expected.

Business greetings

Shaking hands is the most common form of greeting in the Swedish business environment, both in and out of the office, for hello and goodbye. This is the case for both genders.

Gifts

Err on the side of caution when giving gifts to business associates in Sweden. They are certainly not expected and could possibly be regarded as inappropriate.

Gender equality

Women have full equality in Sweden. Women doing business in Sweden will usually receive the same treatment as men.


Business culture in Sweden

Business culture in Sweden is quite different from that of the US or the UK and may take some getting used to. However, if expats can become familiar with a few key elements beforehand, they are likely to find it easier to settle in.

Egalitarianism

Key to doing business in Sweden is the concept of egalitarianism – a belief in the inherent equality of people. Both organisational structures and management styles reflect this. Businesses utilise generally flat reporting lines and decision-making models that rely on consensus and compromise. For this reason, decisions can take a long time to be made, as many opinions need to be taken into account.

It also affects the way that business is conducted on a daily basis. Whereas senior associates in many other Western businesses are likely to have their own offices, it is fairly common to see a company CEO working alongside his or her employees in an open-plan office.

Collectivism 

Swedish egalitarianism also makes wealth or status redundant. Overt displays of wealth are likely to be viewed unfavourably. This is largely as a result of Jantelagen, or the Law of Jante, a Scandinavian tendency to emphasise collective wellbeing over individual success. For this reason, expat businesspeople would do well to try and blend in rather than stand out, and should not expect their new associates to automatically be impressed by their wealth and achievements.

Professionalism

Business conduct in Sweden leans towards rationality, calmness and discipline, earning Swedes a reputation for being reserved and somewhat unfriendly. It is true that firm lines are drawn between business and social dealings, meaning that invitations to post-work socialising or being invited to dinner at a colleague’s house are rare. One opportunity to circumvent the famous Swedish reserve is the twice-daily coffee break or fika, when the normal rules of engagement may be partially suspended.

Punctuality

Business meetings in Sweden are typically informal, although governed by certain unwritten rules. The first of these is to be on time – punctuality is a point of pride and signifies professionalism and mutual respect. Another principle to follow is to keep one’s emotions under control, at all times.

Transparency

Finally, transparency and honesty are vital attributes of any business dealing, as evidenced by Sweden being one of the least corrupt countries in which to do business.


Dos and don’ts of business in Sweden

  • Do respect silences in meetings or conversation as this signifies an idea is being considered

  • Don’t stand too close; personal space should be respected

  • Do get down to business right away

  • Do be honest and forthright

  • Don’t be late; advise of delays with as much notice as possible

  • Do dress smartly when going out in the evening

Visas for Sweden

Depending on an expat's nationality, they may need a visa to visit, live or work in Sweden. 

EU citizens can stay in Sweden for up to three months without a visa, after which they will have to apply for a residence permit (uppehållstillstånd), which they can get free of charge.

Nationals of certain countries can visit Sweden without a visa for up to three months, while nationals of other countries will need to apply for a visa for a 90-day entry into Sweden. A list of these countries can be found on the Swedish Migration Agency website.


Tourist visas for Sweden

Expats who don't qualify for visa-free entry will need to apply for a Schengen Visa to visit Sweden. This visa allows an individual to stay in Sweden for up to 90 days as long as they have a return travel ticket and can show evidence of sufficient funds to support themselves during their stay. The visa can also be used to visit any other country that is part of the Schengen agreement.


Business visas for Sweden

Individuals who want to conduct business in the country should apply for a business visa for Sweden. This is done via a standard Schengen visa application form, although there are a few extra requirements when applying for a Swedish business visa such as employer's letters and an invitation from the host company in Sweden. 


Residence permits for Sweden

A Swedish residence permit allows the holder to stay in the country for longer than the 90 days a tourist or business visa allows. Non-EU citizens intending to stay longer than 90 days generally need to apply for a residence permit for Sweden before entering the country.

Expats can get a residence permit for Sweden on the basis of a permanent move to the country because of family ties; employment; a period of study at a Swedish institution; or self-employment.

Temporary residence permits do not give an individual the right to work in Sweden; a work permit is required for this. Permanent residence permits do, however, give holders the right to live and work in Sweden for an indefinite period.

*Visa regulations are subject to change at short notice and expats should contact their respective embassy or consulate for the latest details.

Work Permits for Sweden

Applying for a work permit for Sweden shouldn’t be a difficult process, provided expats have received a firm job offer and have all the necessary documentation ready. The only problem an expat might run into is actually finding a job in the first place.

Swedish employers tend to favour Swedes, EU or EEA citizens, and foreigners already in the country over expats looking for work in Sweden from their home countries. However, there are several trades that are lacking in expertise and this is where new expats can find their niche.


Work permits for Sweden

Expats who want to work in Sweden should apply for a work permit before they arrive in the country. All non-EU and non-EEA citizens will need a work permit to legally work in Sweden.

Work permit applicants will first need an offer of employment from a company in Sweden. The Swedish employer initiates the application and fills out a written job offer. This gets submitted to the Swedish Migration Agency for approval, who will then email the expat with the information required to continue the work permit application. At this stage the expat fills in their information and submits the necessary documents for approval.

If the position is for longer than three months, the applicant is entitled to a residence permit. Those who can enter Sweden without a visa can apply for and obtain the residence permit once in Sweden, while those who require a visa to enter must make the residence permit application at their nearest embassy or consulate before leaving for Sweden.

It is important to note that once a work permit has been granted it is only valid for the profession stipulated in the job offer and for that specific employer. Expats who need to renew their work permit should do so at the Swedish Migration Agency. 


EU citizens working in Sweden

EU or EEA citizens do not need a work permit for Sweden. They are free to work in Sweden without additional documentation. They should, however, register their residency with the Swedish Migration Board within three months of arriving in the country.

*Visa regulations are subject to change at short notice and expats should contact their respective embassy or consulate for the latest details.

Cost of Living in Sweden

The cost of living in Sweden is quite high, particularly in the capital city of Stockholm, which is by far the most expensive place in the country. In fact, Stockholm ranked 72nd out of 209 cities in the 2021 Mercer Cost of Living survey. This is a big jump from its 2020 ranking of 133rd. While cheaper than cities such as Brussels, Luxembourg and Madrid, Stockholm is more expensive than Barcelona, Prague and Toronto. The other side of the coin, though, is that Stockholm salaries tend to be far higher than in the rest of the country. 

As in most major cities, it's cheaper to live in Stockholm’s suburbs than the inner city, and the standard of living is just as high. After housing, goods such as food and clothing will account for a big chunk of an expat’s expenses. Alcohol and services, such as haircuts, are also quite expensive in Stockholm, even compared to the rest of the country. 


Cost of accommodation in Sweden

Accommodation in Sweden is fairly pricey. In Stockholm, rent for a three-bedroom apartment in an upmarket location can be exorbitant. That said, prices generally decrease sharply once one goes outside the inner-city area of Stockholm. 


Cost of transport in Sweden

Transport is surprisingly expensive in Sweden. Expats living close to the city are unlikely to need a car thanks to the excellent and extensive public transport network. This can be a pricey option, but is generally cheaper than owning and maintaining a car. 

Expats can purchase an SL Access travel card which makes public transport slightly more cost effective. Children, students and senior citizens will often receive discounts. 


Cost of schooling in Sweden

The cost of education in Sweden is low if children attend a public school. In Stockholm, where there are many expat families compared to the rest of Sweden, there are quite a few international schools. Tuition at these can be rather steep, though, with high annual fees as well as extra costs such as textbooks, uniforms, extra-curricular activities and school excursions all adding up to a hefty bill at the end of the day.


Cost of healthcare in Sweden

The good thing about high taxes in Sweden is that much of one's healthcare needs are subsidised by the government. A large percentage of the cost of prescription medication and medical procedures and needs are taken care of. A visit to a doctor may require a minimal co-payment or, in some cases, even when seeing a specialist, can be free. 


Cost of living chart

Prices are for Stockholm in May 2022. Note that prices may vary depending on product and service provider.

Accommodation (average monthly rental)

Three-bedroom apartment in city centre

SEK 25,000

Three-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

SEK 18,000

One-bedroom apartment in city centre

SEK 14,000

One-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

SEK 10,000

Food and drink

Milk (1 litre)

SEK 11.30

Dozen eggs

SEK 34

White bread 

SEK 27

Rice (1kg)

SEK 28

Chicken fillets (1kg)

SEK 110

Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)

SEK 69

Public transportation

City centre bus/train fare

SEK 39

Taxi rate per km

SEK 24

Petrol (1L)

SEK 20

Eating out

Big Mac Meal

SEK 85

Coca-Cola (330ml)   

SEK 22.50

Cappuccino

SEK 41

Local beer (500ml)

SEK 70

Three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant

SEK 800

Utilities

1 min prepaid mobile tariff 

SEK 1.22

Internet (uncapped ADSL per month)

SEK 350

Utilities (average per month for a standard household)

SEK 780

Culture Shock in Sweden

Expats moving to Sweden are unlikely to experience much culture shock. Sweden is very Western and similar to its modern counterparts worldwide. It's fairly easy to find most products, but if not, there will be an equivalent to get by with.

That said, there will inevitably be bumps in the road that any non-native will encounter. The country definitely has its quirks, but expats who embrace these will be able to immerse themselves in the culture without too much trouble.


Getting started in Sweden

Once in Sweden, new expats should head to the local Skatteverket (tax office) and apply for a personnummer (personal identity number). Without this number, a person officially doesn’t exist in Sweden, making applying for any type of service, job or account impossible.

After completing this, getting a National ID card is suggested, as using a passport for one’s main form of identity is risky and tiresome, whereas the Swedish ID card is easily accepted and much less stressful to carry.


Meeting and greeting in Sweden

Swedes are often described as reserved, introverted, serious, reticent and unfriendly. Small talk is rare, as is spontaneous laughter. There is a perceived coldness to social relations in Sweden that can be alienating and even upsetting to some.

To a Swede, however, this perceived emotional detachment is simply an accepted way of minding one’s own business, out of respect and consideration for the other person’s personal space. If this can be understood going in and is taken without offence, getting by will be easy. In fact, after being exposed to it for a while, one may find visiting other less reserved countries startling.

In a business context, Swedes tend to be formal, egalitarian and have little concern for status. They prefer to maintain strict boundaries between work and private life, so being invited to the home of a business colleague is rare. Small talk and gift-giving don't have much of a place in business in Sweden. Compromise, negotiated solutions and total honesty are considered to be important values in all business dealings.


Family life and raising children in Sweden

A good family life and healthy living are important to Swedes. With some of the most generous maternity and paternity leave laws in the world, Swedes take great pride in raising their children properly. Even after the maternity and paternity leave is over, Swedish daycare is ready to step in at an incredibly low price to take care of children full-time.

Swedish children, at ages considered far too young in places such as the US, are permitted much more freedom than may be considered normal in other countries. With a low crime rate and having been taught how to be independent from a young age, Swedish kids learn to take public transport, walk or bicycle where they'd like to go early on. It may be surprising at first, but young pre-teens can be seen travelling alone throughout town. Sweden's public schools are also among the best in the world and the country is home to several of the world's top 100 universities.

In addition to this, vacation time in Sweden is off the charts compared to its North American counterparts. Swedes have an average of over a month of vacation time each year, being legally provided with 25 paid vacation days and 16 paid holidays, with some companies providing as many as 50 days per year. With a focus on personal time, taking days off is actively encouraged by all – even bosses.


Language barrier in Sweden

Swedish is a fascinating language that, upon arrival, will sound incredibly strange. After a while, the cadence and fluctuations in noises will become far more lyrical-sounding and over a longer time, easier to understand. Expats should investigate their local Swedish For Immigrants (SFI) course, which is free for all foreigners and offered at varying levels, including specific programmes for academics and various careers.

In most cases, expats can get by with English, especially in bigger cities and tourist-friendly areas. That said, being able to speak Swedish is rather essential for getting a job in Sweden. Of course, jobs with international firms or in specific fields may bypass this. It is important for prospective expats to consider the market they want to enter before jumping in, to make sure it will be feasible.


Bureaucracy and doing business in Sweden

Sweden is serious about privacy and oftentimes this feels like unnecessary red tape. Things take a bit longer in Sweden, as a high level of identity documentation is often required. 

Customer service in Sweden is notoriously poor and only worsened by the language barrier. Staff can be abrupt and seemingly rude, and there is no effort to enhance the customer experience so valued in more enthusiastic consumer cultures. Only being able to communicate with the company in English will, unfortunately, further complicate things. Even long-term expats tend to remark on this aspect of life in Sweden.


Time in Sweden

Swedes are punctual to a fault. Many jokes are made about Swedes standing outside the entrance to a party, checking their watches for the moment that the clock strikes the hour to enter. If a party is from 7pm to 10pm, arrive promptly at 7pm. Showing up late, even though quite normal in other cultures, is considered rude in Sweden.

Everything in Sweden is punctual and efficient and it is expected that this rule will be followed. Buses and trains tend to be very on schedule as well, so expats shouldn’t necessarily count on a 5- to 10-minute buffer when viewing a schedule.


Religion in Sweden

Christianity is the dominant religion in Sweden, though few Swedes appear to practise it these days. Many have baptisms and church marriages for tradition's sake, but view themselves as agnostic or atheist. Swedes are tolerant of other religions, generally following the system of keeping such topics to themselves.


Cultural dos and don’ts in Sweden

  • Swedes are serious about recycling. Expats should take care to always sort through their rubbish accordingly and dispose of it properly.
  • Everyone should be considered an equal. Look up "lagom" and the "Law of Jante" online and learn them well. Swedes live by the theory that everyone is equal – especially men and women – and that all should strive for mid-level normalcy. 

  • Try not to show too much outward emotion. Swedes are private people and rarely express emotion outwardly.

  • Take a number. People rarely queue in Sweden and Swedes have a special affinity for the "take a number" system, from banks to hardware stores.

Accommodation in Sweden

Securing accommodation in Sweden can be one of the most difficult, and priciest, parts of an expat’s relocation to this Scandinavian country. It is important that newcomers give themselves enough time to look for accommodation, especially if moving to a larger city such as Stockholm, which has a severe housing shortage.

That said, the standard of housing in Sweden is exceptionally high. Many rentals come with high-quality appliances in the kitchen, central heating and access to high-speed internet.

Most expats who move to Sweden rent accommodation for the duration of their stay. The rental market in Sweden is regulated and expats will find that the prices are competitive compared to the rest of Europe. This depends, of course, on which part of the country a person moves to – the prices in a large city will be much higher than those in rural or suburban areas. In fact, Stockholm has one of the most expensive housing markets in Europe.

And while most expats do settle in Stockholm, cities such as Malmö, Jönköping and Gothenburg also have expat populations. 


Types of accommodation in Sweden

Apartments

Apartments are the most common form of expat housing in Sweden, especially for those living in Stockholm. Most apartments are unfurnished, but basics such as bathroom and kitchen fittings are provided.

Houses

Expats will find houses for rent in small towns, rural areas and in some suburbs outside of cities. The best way to find a house to rent is through a Swedish estate agent or a relocation company. Expats can also use the internet and get in touch with other expats in the area who may be able to assist them. Word of mouth and networking are often the best route in this regard.


Finding accommodation in Sweden

Local newspapers, estate agencies and personal contacts are all good ways of finding accommodation in Sweden. Unless an expat’s employer arranges housing for them, the best option would be to stay in a hotel or serviced apartment when first arriving in Sweden and then start looking for more permanent accommodation once in the country. 

Expats should look online for private housing agencies. This is also a good way to find housing in Sweden. The ideal way to find accommodation would be to find another expat at the end of their lease and to contact their landlord directly. 


Renting accommodation in Sweden

Private and government rentals

In Sweden, few properties are rented directly by landlords to the tenants. Only certain properties are allowed to be rented directly and the rest are rented through the Bostadsförmedlingen, the government organisation that redistributes vacant housing.

Expats will have to pay the Bostadsförmedlingen a fee to place them in accommodation and the waiting list is usually rather long. Because of this, many expats use private housing companies to find accommodation in Sweden.

These housing companies can find “second-hand” rentals that are not directly leased by the owner to a tenant. These are much easier to find than direct rentals, and expats won’t need a Swedish identity number to qualify. The expat tenant will then sign a lease with the holder of the first-hand rental contract.

Leases and deposits

Usually, expats will have to pay one month’s rent as a deposit on the property. It is also expected that a tenant gives three months’ notice before moving out. Expats should ensure that they have read their lease agreement carefully before signing anything. 

Utilities

Heating and water are usually included in the cost of rent in Sweden, while gas and electric bills are typically for the tenant's expense.

Healthcare in Sweden

The healthcare system in Sweden is widely regarded as being one of the best in the world. The tax-funded system provides equal access to everyone in the country, which has one of the best doctor-to-patient ratios in the world.


Public healthcare in Sweden

The Swedish government invests about a tenth of its GDP into healthcare every year, providing excellent medical care for all citizens, including expats who have a residence visa. This means that everyone who is a resident in Sweden, no matter their nationality, is entitled to the same medical care that Swedish nationals receive. 

Fees for adults are nominal and are among the most affordable in Europe. The only problem with Sweden’s healthcare system is that there can occasionally be long waiting times before a patient is granted an appointment. Waiting-time policies have been implemented in a bid to reduce this issue. These stipulate that patients are to wait no longer than seven days for an appointment with a general doctor and no longer than 90 days to see a specialist or undergo surgery. In reality, these standards are only met for about two thirds of patients.

Expats who would like to benefit from Sweden’s healthcare system will have to apply for a personal identification number (personnummer) at the tax office. Expats who are not EU citizens and have not yet qualified for Swedish residency will have to take out private health insurance to cover their costs. 

EU citizens can use their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) to access state healthcare here during a short-term visit. UK citizens can make use of their Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC), which replaced the EHIC for UK citizens post-Brexit.


Private healthcare in Sweden

Private healthcare is not commonly used in Sweden, but the number of private healthcare facilities in the country has increased in recent years. Because private healthcare is not affiliated with the Swedish Social Insurance Administration, treatment is more expensive than in public facilities. 


Health insurance in Sweden

Private health insurance in Sweden is rare, although some companies do offer private medical insurance to entice senior level employees. The chief benefit of such insurance is not the quality of healthcare – treatment will be at the same facilities and at the hands of the same doctors as public care – but rather the privilege of circumventing waiting times.

Expats who are not EU citizens should take out private health insurance to ensure that all their medical treatment will be covered. Expats should check with their insurance company in their home country to see if their policy will be valid in Sweden.


Pharmacies in Sweden

Pharmacies in Sweden can be found all around the country and can be identified by the Apoteket sign on the front door. They are usually open from 10am to 6pm on weekdays and from 10am to 2pm on Saturdays. Every large city in Sweden should also have a 24-hour pharmacy for emergencies. 

Expats should note that many medicines which are available over the counter in their home countries may need a prescription in Sweden.


Emergency services 

The number to call in an emergency in Sweden is 112, the European emergency number.

Education and Schools in Sweden

Education in Sweden is compulsory and free for children between the ages of six and 16. Apart from public schools run by the government, parents also have the choice of independent schools, which are funded by the government but are run by independent entities. There are few tuition-paying schools, many of which are international schools offering foreign curricula.

Children in Sweden start school when they are six years old. Compulsory education consists of förskoleklass (‘preschool year’ or Year 0), lågstadiet (Years 1 to 3), mellanstadiet (Years 4 to 6) and högstadiet (Years 7 to 9). This is followed by gymnasieskola (upper secondary school, Years 10 to 12), which is not compulsory. Most children do fulfil secondary education to be able to get good jobs in the future.


Public schools in Sweden 

Public schools in Sweden are open to all and follow the Swedish national curriculum. These schools are administrated by the local municipality in which they are located and funded by taxes.

Most children in Sweden go to public schools and teaching is of a high standard, but as teaching is in Swedish, expats generally choose international schools for their children instead due to the language barrier.


Independent schools in Sweden 

In Sweden, independent schools are known as friskolor. Though funded by the government, these schools are run by individuals, associations or foundations and, like public schools, are obligated to follow the Swedish national curriculum. Friskolor can be attended free of charge.


International schools in Sweden 

International schools in Sweden offer the curriculum of a foreign country such as the UK, the US or other qualifications such as the International Baccalaureate. These schools are primarily intended for students living in Sweden temporarily or under special circumstances.

International schools expect a yearly fee and applications need to be made by contacting the school directly. Extra fees might apply if the children are not registered with their local municipality and do not have a Swedish personal number.

Children of all nationalities, including Swedish children, are welcome at most international schools. These schools may have long waiting lists, however, so it’s best for parents to plan ahead and apply for a spot for their children as early as possible.


Special-needs education in Sweden

Special-needs education in Sweden is managed by The National Agency for Special Needs Education and Schools (Specialpedagogiska skolmyndigheten). Children with special needs are kept in mainstream schools as far as possible, and receive individualised extra support in accordance with an action plan drawn up by the school principal. In cases where mainstream schooling is unable to provide the required support, a multidisciplinary team assesses the child and may recommend entry into a special-needs programme or a special school.


Tutors in Sweden

Education is highly valued in Sweden, and parents make regular use of private tuition to bolster their children's learning. Expats also often employ tutors, whether for Swedish language lessons, extra help with certain subjects, or simply to build some confidence in an unfamiliar environment. Regardless of age, tutoring can be massively beneficial. Some of the top tutoring companies in Sweden include Studybuddy, Privatläraren Stockholm and My Academy.

Transport and Driving in Sweden

Public transport in Sweden is safe, clean and efficient, but can be quite expensive, particularly in Stockholm. That said, it's extremely punctual, making travelling around the country a breeze for any expat, even if they do not have a car. 

For those who do own a car, Sweden boasts an excellent road network and safe driving conditions. 


Public transport in Sweden

Public transport in Sweden is well organised and subsidised by the government, although it can still be expensive compared to some other countries. 

Public transportation in Sweden is nearly always on time and expats can use online journey planners to help them plan their trip. Journey planners advise users about the best and fastest combination of modes of transport to reach their destination, as well as calculate changeovers and waiting times. 

Trains

The national railway company in Sweden is called Statens Järnvägar (SJ), serving the major cities of Malmö, Gothenburg, Helsingborg and Stockholm with hourly trains. 

Regional trains in Sweden have first- and second-class carriages available, and certain trains have a family car with entertainment facilities for children. 

The Swedish railway network is extensive and trains are a quick and comfortable way to travel long distances. Expats travelling to the country’s northern parts might need to use a combination of trains and buses to reach their destination. 

Trains in Sweden make commuting from the suburbs to work in the city quick and easy. They are also some of the most environmentally friendly in the world, running on various renewable energy sources. 

The X2000 trains are Sweden’s fastest, but are also the most expensive. Tickets for these trains cost a good deal more than bus tickets for the same journey, but the trains travel at 124mph (200km/h) and are much faster than buses.

Buses

Sweden has a number of county bus networks as well as national long-distance routes. Major carriers include FlixBus, Ybuss, Netbuss Express and Svenska Buss.

Expats are advised to purchase their bus tickets online as this is the cheapest method, but they can also be bought over the phone, at an agent or at various convenience stores. Tickets cannot usually be bought on board a bus, and when they can, they are more expensive than advance tickets.

Ferries

There is an extensive boat network in Sweden, especially in the Stockholm archipelago. There are also regular ferries in Gotland and near the fishing villages of the country’s west coast. 


Taxis in Sweden

Taxis are readily available in most parts of Sweden. Expats can reserve them via telephone, engage one at a taxi rank or hail one off the street. 

Taxis in Sweden have been deregulated, meaning that fares can vary from company to company. Expats are advised to agree on a fare with the driver before setting off, but it is the law that taxis must display their rates on the inside and outside of the car. Most taxis accept credit cards as well as cash as payment.

There are also several convenient ride-hailing apps to use in Sweden, including the likes of Uber and Bolt. These apps allow for more convenient navigation and payment, and help to avoid any language barriers. Expats simply download the app, link their credit card, and start riding.


Driving in Sweden

Driving in Sweden should be a pleasure for most expats, as the country has excellent roads and its highways are usually congestion-free. Expats should note that all cars in Sweden are required by law to have winter tyres between December and March. All cars must also have their headlights on at all times of the day and night. Most modern Swedish cars automatically have their lights on at all times.

Road hazards

Expats should be aware of animals when driving in Sweden. Deer and moose often wander out of the woods and into the road. A collision with a moose can be fatal. If a driver hits and injures an animal and it runs off into the woods, they are required by law to mark the spot where it ran into the woods and then report the incident to the police, so that tracking dogs can find the injured animal. 

Driving licences

Expats can use their valid national driving licence in Sweden for up to one year. Following this, expats will have to apply for a Swedish driving licence. Expats will have to pass a series of tests, including an ice-driving test, in order to get a Swedish driving licence. Nationals of certain countries are allowed to simply exchange their licence for a Swedish one without taking any driving tests, but they must meet the medical requirements and undergo an eye test. 

Expats who have an EU or EEA licence can drive on this licence as long as it remains valid.


Air travel in Sweden

Stockholm-Arlanda is the busiest airport in Sweden and many domestic airlines are based there. However, there are over 30 domestic airports in Sweden. Domestic flights can be super expensive, but discounts for students and those who book in advance are available. Sweden’s national airline is Air Sweden.

Keeping in Touch in Sweden

Living in one of the most technologically advanced and connected societies in the world means that keeping in touch in Sweden could hardly be easier. Expats commonly find that being able to stay in contact with friends and family makes moving to Sweden a lot easier on them.

Sweden has one of the fastest internet speeds in the world and over 90 percent of households in the country are connected. Most internet, telephone and postal services are also reliable and relatively affordable.


Internet in Sweden

Broadband is one of the most common types of internet connection in Sweden, and is serviced to a person’s home via DSL or a modem. Mobile broadband USB devices can also be purchased, although this service isn't quite as fast or reliable as a modem or Wi-Fi connection.  Overall the connection speeds in Sweden are quite fast compared to many other places in the world.

It can be difficult for expats in Sweden to get a contract for a subscription without a Swedish bank account and Swedish ID number. A customer may even be required to have had an ID number for six months before they can sign a contract with a company. In this case, buying a monthly prepaid mobile broadband USB device is an option, but expats will often find that the rent of apartments and houses in Sweden will include an internet connection or have one available at a fair added price, eliminating the need to get a contract themselves.

Many public areas in Sweden have Wi-Fi available either for free or at a very low cost. In some cases, such as in train stations, expats should be prepared to pay with a debit card or credit card which is accepted in the EU. Many public buses and trains offer Wi-Fi during journeys between cities.


Mobile phones in Sweden

Smartphones are extremely prevalent in Sweden and the quality of service available, along with various applications such as Skype, make it easier than ever to keep in touch with people in other countries. If an expat has a phone from their home country that supports GSM, it can be used in Sweden. 

Electronics in Sweden can be expensive compared with the rest of Europe and many other countries, so it could be a good idea for expats to buy or bring their phone from elsewhere and then activate it for Sweden.

Getting a mobile phone contract in Sweden can be tricky for expats for the same reasons as getting an internet contract. Many things in Sweden, not just mobile phone and internet service contracts, become much easier and accessible once an expat has a Swedish personal number and bank account.

If an expat doesn't have those yet, or if they don't want to commit to a contract, prepaid phone plans work perfectly well. Credit for prepaid phones can be bought at convenience and grocery stores, as well as online.

Expats should be aware that directions for how to do this are always in Swedish, whether on the provider's website or on the credit receipt. The first few times an expat adds credit, they may need some translation help to ensure that everything is completed correctly.

It is common for companies in Sweden to provide employees with a mobile phone and a generous voice, text and mobile broadband plan, which benefits many expats. 


Postal services in Sweden

The Swedish postal service is generally reliable and efficient. Stamps can be bought at post offices, which are usually integrated with other shops, such as grocery stores, gas stations and kiosks. 

Sending packages abroad can be quite costly, depending on size, but this is made easier by the many international shipping services in Sweden. When receiving a package, an expat will often get a slip that directs them to pick it up at the nearest postal service desk.

Shipping time is quite prompt, with packages from the US to Sweden taking an average of approximately two weeks. Over the holidays, when Sweden operates more slowly in general, packages will take considerably longer to arrive.

Banking, Money and Taxes in Sweden

The system of banking in Sweden is efficient and highly sophisticated. Nevertheless, there are several distinct features of dealing with money in Sweden that, combined with the language difference, can be challenging for expats.

Depending on how long they stay in the country, expats may be expected to pay tax in Sweden. The Skatteverket, the Swedish tax agency, plays a larger role than expats may be used to – it is responsible for everything from population registration to issuing burial certificates. It is, however, highly efficient, trusted and even popular with the general population.


Money in Sweden

The currency in Sweden is the krona (SEK). One krona is equal to 100 öre, and the plural for krona is kronor. While prices in Sweden might be quoted using öre, they are usually rounded up as öre coins are no longer in circulation.

  • Notes: 20 SEK, 50 SEK, 100 SEK, 500 SEK and 1,000 SEK

  • Coins: 1 SEK, 5 SEK and 10 SEK


Banking in Sweden

Expats should be able to open a local account at one of the main commercial banks, such as Handelsbanken, Föreningssparbanken, Nordbanken and Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken (SEB). All of these offer full internet banking services, but most are only available in Swedish.

Opening a bank account 

When opening a bank account in Sweden, expats will need a variety of documents including proof of address, passport, employment details, and a personal tax number (personnummer). A personnummer can be obtained from an expat’s local tax office and allows one to do everything from opening a bank account to getting a mobile phone contract.

Regular banking hours in Sweden are 9am or 10am to 3pm or 4pm, Monday to Friday.

ATMs and credit cards

Major credit and charge cards are accepted throughout the country, and in many cases are more commonly used than cash. However, ATMs are prevalent too, and can be found outside all banks, as well as in most supermarkets and shopping centres


Taxes in Sweden

Expats moving to Sweden are taxed depending on the length of their stay. To be considered a Swedish resident for tax purposes, an expat must either have a permanent home in Sweden or have stayed in the country for more than six months in a year.

Taxes in Sweden are paid according to a sliding scale. Residents are taxed on their worldwide income, whereas non-residents who are temporarily working in Sweden are usually taxed only on their income earned in the country.

Expats may also be eligible for tax relief under certain conditions. Those who benefit usually include specialists, qualified scientists or experts with scarce knowledge and skills, and key senior employees. Expatriate tax relief reduces salary tax and relieves expenses related to moving, returning to one’s home country and school fees.

In order to qualify for tax relief, an expat must apply in person at the Tax Committee (Forskarskattenämnden) within three months of starting employment in Sweden. This can be done when the personnummer is issued.

Expats who intend on staying in Sweden for less than a year will usually receive a coordination number (samordningsnummer) instead of a personnummer. This is mostly for tax purposes and may not be accepted by local banks and businesses.

Given that the system of taxation in Sweden is so different from that in many expats’ home countries, they are advised to seek the help of a local registered tax professional.

Expat Experiences in Sweden

When considering a move to a new city, there is nothing more useful than hearing real-life stories and experiences from other expats who are living or have lived there. We'd love to hear about your expat experiences. Please contact us if you live or have lived in Sweden and would like to share your story.


Steve, a South African, met his Swedish wife Lovisa 15 years ago in London and later moved to her homeland of Sweden where they live with their six-month-old son. Steve is an accountant by training but works as a carpenter, while Lovisa is an architect. Read our interview with Steve, in which he shares his thoughts on life in Sweden’s capital.

Steve

Crista is no stranger to living as an expatriate as she spent the majority of her life abroad and is a third culture kid. She is currently living and pursuing a PhD in Stockholm. Read our expat interview with Crista for more on her experiences on finding accommodation through the housing queue and her surprise at the number of dairy products in Sweden. 

Crista

Anne is an Irish expat who has spent time in the UK and Germany. She moved to Stockholm in 1998 along with her Swedish husband and newborn baby. Since then she has used her experiences to enable her to set up her own relocation service to assist other new arrivals to the country. Read more about her views in her interview with Expat Arrivals

Jamie Hull is an American expat who recently moved to Stockholm with her husband and two cats. She talks about surviving Stockholm's notorious rental market, enjoying the Swedish lifestyle and restraining her love for eating out. Read more about her expat experience in Sweden.

Pia is a Canadian expat who moved to Sweden in 2011 with her husband when he was offered a job there. They live in the rural area of Kungsbacka, not far from the southwestern city of Gothenburg. Although the area they live in is quite isolated, it reminds them a lot of Canada and they find it very peaceful. Read more about Pia's expat experience in Sweden.

Pia - A Canadian expat living in Sweden

Gregor Stalinski is a Polish expat who has been living in Sweden since 1985. Though the winters can be cold and dark, Gregor thinks there are few cities in the world that can rival summer in Stockholm. He believes the key to opening the door to the local culture and making friends in Sweden is to learn Swedish. Read more about his expat life in Sweden.

Gregor Stalinsky - A Polish expat living in Sweden

Amanda Wood is a Canadian expat living in Sweden. She moved from Vancouver to Stockholm in 2009 after meeting and falling in love with a Swede. Although the initial adjustment to life in Sweden was difficult, Amanda found Stockholm and Vancouver to be quite similar, and three years down the line, she is still living and loving in Stockholm. Read more about her expat experience in Sweden.

Corinne Pierce is an American expat who originally moved from California to Lund to complete her Master's degree. She now works in the capital, Stockholm, and loves the beauty that surrounds her and the quality of life that she has. Read about her expat experience in Sweden.

Corinne - An America expat in Sweden

Ray Yee is a Canadian expat of Chinese origin who is living in Stockholm. He is a seasoned expat, having lived in Australia before making the big move to Sweden. Ray finds the Swedish government and people quite similar to Canada, which can be comforting, but which can also sometimes make him homesick. Read more about his expat life in Sweden.

Ray - A Canadian expat living in Sweden