‘Sweden is the ideal place for my business’

Meet Emilie Terstegge, the globe-trotting Dutch entrepreneur who is trying to get Sweden's mothers to feel physically strong and energetic with her unique outdoor workouts.

'Sweden is the ideal place for my business'
Emilie Terstegge. Photo: Sandra Jolly Photography.

A previous resident of eight different countries, Terstegge describes herself as someone who has been moving all her life. She came to Stockholm from Paris last year due to her husband’s work with Air France KLM, and wasted little time before setting up a company that combines both her passion for sport and the Swedish love of exercise.

“Mom in Balance is a concept that was already very big in Holland and I knew they were looking for franchise owners and entrepreneurs to take it abroad,” she explains. “It’s the perfect thing for Sweden because health and fitness is very important to the Swedes, as is being outdoors. Even the kids have to be outdoors three or four hours a day at 'dagis' [nursery school],” she laughs.

Mom in Balance may already be an established brand in the Netherlands, but while as a franchise holder Terstegge gets the perks of using their logo and website style, she stresses how important it was to adapt the concept to the Swedish way of life, where parents get as many as 480 days of parental leave to share.

“In Holland you’re not allowed to bring your babies to sessions, but that’s because back home you put your baby in childcare after three months and go back to work,” she says. “Here, I told the headquarters that it wasn’t going to work if I told customers they couldn’t bring them. Women have ‘mammaledighet’ [maternity leave] for a year here, and want to do things.”

“I’ve also had to adapt the hours. The working days are shorter. You have to see what the Swedish way of doing things is,” she adds.

A typical Mom in Balance workout. Photo: Sandra Jolly Photography

While it was necessary to adjust some key details to the local lifestyle, one aspect seemed tailor made for Sweden. All of the Mom in Balance workouts are done outdoors, regardless of the weather, and in a country where it is common to get out and exercise come rain, shine or even snow, Terstegge knew her business could be a hit.

“People here send their kids out for three hours in the rain, with all the right gear. They’re fine to go outside, they’re so prepared with their winter clothes,” she notes. “You notice that in our course for after birth, where mothers take their babies with them. Even in zero degrees they just wrap their babies up, put rain covers over the buggy, and go for it.”

Swedes have no qualms being outside on a damp day. Photo: Sandra Jolly Photography

It wasn’t all clear sailing though. One of the most common complaints from entrepreneurs setting up shop in Sweden is that the sheer volume of rules and regulations can slow things down, and Terstegge also experienced that side of the Nordic nation.

“Sweden has a lot of bureaucracy or rules,” she admits. “There were things like when I wanted to figure things out with Skatteverket or get a permit to work in public parks, that meant it took a while to arrange certain things. With the park permit, you have to pay the fee, go to the municipality, speak to the police, then the police speak to the municipality. Then the municipality calls you again…” she laughs.

Despite the occasionally frustrating red tape, Terstegge is keen to highlight the abundance of assistance she received when putting her business in action, and feels that in other instances Sweden’s penchant for detail can also speed things up.

“People are so helpful here, everyone speaks English. Even though my bookkeeping for example is difficult because I have to have Swedish software, you can always call people,” she says.  “With your 'personnummer' [personal identity number] people can really assist you. You want insurance? You call up and it’s organized in one day. Setting everything up is easy because of that.”

She was also impressed with the help available for those still in the early stages of planning a business.

“There are NyföretagarCentrum [centres for new business owners] in towns and villages, and they also have something called Start-up Stockholm. They can help with business planning, financial planning. They were very helpful, and offer courses in English.”

Emilie Terstegge. Photo: Sandra Jolly Photography

The sport obsessive thinks support is still lacking for internationals in the dreaded area of VAT returns and bookkeeping however. Two daunting tasks that can be demanding for newcomers unfamiliar with Swedish financial jargon.

“I’d like them to go a step further and offer more than the basic courses, for example courses on VAT and bookkeeping in English,” she suggests. “Taking the next step is difficult. I’d like to do my bookkeeping myself as I've done it for my previous companies, but you buy Swedish bookkeeping software, you look at it and you think ‘OK…’.”

In general, though, Terstegge feels that being in Sweden has made it simpler to get her company up and running.

“Stockholm is an easy city. Compared to other countries the flat organization makes it simple. I’ve had a really positive experience,” she concludes.

With Mom in Balance already proving to be a hit in its three current Swedish locations of Bromma, Danderyd and central Stockholm, the entrepreneur thinks there is no better place for her enterprise.  

“I have the demand. I just need to create the supply for the demand. I think Sweden is the ideal place for my business.”

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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.”