Plucked out of Canada for love and guitars

For this week's My Swedish Career we meet a Canadian who came to Sweden for love and now works in Lidköping, custom-making guitars.

Plucked out of Canada for love and guitars
Sharleen in action. Photo: Sebastian Bularca
Lutherie – the art of making stringed instruments like guitars – has got Sharleen Simmons by the heart strings.
Ever since experimenting with making cigar-box guitars and cookie-tin banjos, she found an affinity with the art and turned to studying it full time. 
While learning from a "master" of the craft, Simmons met with her Swedish partner Gustav at a convention in Montreal. Now, she's the only guitar maker in central Sweden's Lidköping… besides Gustav of course. 
"I'm a typical love immigrant," she tells The Local with a chuckle.

One of Simmons' guitars. Photo: Sebastian Bularca

The Canadian native made the move to Sweden over a year ago and is still finding her feet with the culture, but business has already struck a few chords.

"It's challenging to start any new business when you're working a lot of hours," she says, adding that a typical guitar takes around 100 hours to build. 
"And it's a bit of a hurdle to learn a new language, not to mention the book keeping and taxes in foreign language. I'm lucky to have a Swedish partner," she says.  
She added that adapting from the Canadian way of life to the Swedish has been a challenge. 
"Some people say Swedes are a little cold – I would never say that – but I have noticed that it takes a little while to break into their social groups. Most of my friends are other people who've immigrated here and I meet them through learning Swedish."
Together, the couple make around one instrument a month, mostly for customers in the US, Canada, or Asia. The starting price is 33,000 kronor ($4,620).

Sharleen and Gustav. Photo: Private
"An instrument should immediately feel like an old friend," she explains on her website. 
Indeed, Simmons is in her element when talking about guitars, evidenced when asked about the which piece makes her the most proud.
"I'm really excited about what's on my workbench now, the wood I'm using to build has a cool pattern, this flamed maple that really pops," she begins.
"Around the sound hole there's a decorative inlay – and this is where guitar makes really like to show off the design element. I'm happy how it came out with colours and textures, and I think it will look and sound really good. While you always strive for good sound, most customers look for asthetic and craftmanship," she said.
"I want it to look well-made, sturdy, and recognizable as my own."

Another of Simmons' guitars. Photo: Sebastian Bularca 
While she admits that she wishes the market for steel-stringed instruments was bigger in Sweden ("Everyone learns on classic guitars here"), she hopes her business will continue to grow. And she's not averse to aiming high. 
"My dream customer? Tough question. But I love the oldies," she says.
"If someone like Paul Simon or Joni Mitchell had one of my guitars then I'd be pretty darn happy indeed."

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Reader question: When am I eligible for a Swedish pension?

A reader got in touch to ask how long he had to work in Sweden before he was eligible for a pension. Here are Sweden's pension rules, and how you can get your pension when the time comes.

Reader question: When am I eligible for a Swedish pension?

The Swedish pension is part of the country’s social insurance system, and it can seem like a confusing beast at times. The good news is that if you’re living and working here, you’ll almost certainly be earning towards a pension, and you’ll be able to get that money even if you move elsewhere before retirement.

You will start earning your Swedish general pension, or allmän pension, once you’ve earned over 20,431 kronor in a single year, and – for almost all kinds of pension in Sweden – there is no time limit on how long you must have lived in Sweden before you are eligible.

The exception is the minimum guarantee pension, or garantipension, which you can receive whether you’ve worked or not. To be eligible at all for this, you need to have lived in Sweden for a period of at least three years before you are 65 years old. 

“There’s a limit, but it’s a money limit,” Johan Andersson, press secretary at the Swedish Pension Agency told The Local about the general pension. “When you reach the point that you start paying tax, you start paying into your pension.”

“But you have to apply for your pension, make sure you get in touch with us when you want to start receiving it,” he said.

Here’s our in-depth guide on how you can maximise your Swedish pension, even if you’re only planning on staying in Sweden short-term.

Those who spend only a few years working in Sweden will earn a much smaller pension than people who work here for their whole lives, but they are still entitled to something – people who have worked in Sweden will keep their income pension, premium pension, supplementary pension and occupational pension that they have earned in Sweden, even if they move to another country. The pension is paid no matter where in the world you live, but must be applied for – it is not automatically paid out at retirement age.

If you retire in the EU/EEA, or another country with which Sweden has a pension agreement, you just need to apply to the pension authority in your country of residence in order to start drawing your Swedish pension. If you live in a different country, you should contact the Swedish Pensions Agency for advice on accessing your pension, which is done by filling out a form (look for the form called Ansök om allmän pension – om du är bosatt utanför Sverige).

The agency recommends beginning the application process at least three months before you plan to take the pension, and ideally six months beforehand if you live abroad. It’s possible to have the pension paid into either a Swedish bank account or an account outside Sweden.

A guarantee pension – for those who live on a low income or no income while in Sweden – can be paid to those living in Sweden, an EU/EEA country, Switzerland or, in some cases, Canada. This is the only Swedish pension which is affected by how long you’ve lived in Sweden – you can only receive it if you’ve lived in the country for at least three years before the age of 65.

“The guarantee pension is residence based,” Andersson said. “But it’s lower if you haven’t lived in Sweden for at least 40 years. You are eligible for it after living in Sweden for only three years, but it won’t be that much.”