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Everything you need to know about annual leave in Sweden

Work vacations in Sweden are regulated by a specific law, which among other things means all employees are entitled to four consecutive weeks off in summer and that you get paid more while on holiday. The details can be tough to understand, so here's an in depth look at what you need to know about your rights when it comes to annual leave.

Everything you need to know about annual leave in Sweden
Already excited about the summer holidays? Here's what you need to know. File photo: Pexels

Sweden has had an Annual Leave Act (semesterlagen or 'holiday law') since 1938, when employees were first given the right to two weeks' annual holiday. Over the following decades this law has been adapted and extended, with the current version introduced in the 1970s and offering full-time employees five weeks' vacation.

Any employment contract offering a worse deal than the Annual Leave Act is invalid under Swedish law. If you have a kollektivavtal (collective agreement) or a similar agreement at your workplace, you may have more holiday days (and other perks), but not fewer.

Who is covered by the law?

Full-time and part-time employees in Sweden are both covered by the Annual Leave Act, although if you work part-time or irregular hours, you will receive a different number of vacation days. A standard working week is 40 hours, so the number of days will be calculated based on what fraction of that figure you work.

One big exception is if the employment is only scheduled to last for three months, and doesn't end up being extended beyond that, in which case any time off will usually be arranged at the beginning of the employment.

The basics

Employees in Sweden have the right to take at least 25 days of holiday each year. Of those, 20 days (four working weeks, apart from in a few industries where this is slightly shorter, or if your employment contract says something else) can be taken consecutively during the summer months of June, July, and August, although this isn't necessarily a must.

Many Swedes escape to their summer houses in the warmer months. Photo: Lina Roos/

The 'holiday year' runs from April 1st to March 31st, and the year prior to the current one is called the intjänandeår or 'qualifying year'. Each year you 'earn' the holiday days for the following year (note that time spent on sick leave or parental leave also counts towards earning holiday days). So every April 1st, your 25 new holiday days come into effect. Much nicer than an April fool!

What are my holiday entitlements during the first year of work?

Because you earn holiday days by working, this gets a bit confusing, and it's something to clarify with your employer after receiving a job offer. You should also bear in mind that there's a difference between holiday (which you're almost always entitled to) and paid holiday (which needs to be earned through working a certain amount of time). 

If you begin work after August 31st, you are only entitled to five (unpaid) vacation days until the following April 1st. This is because of the expectation that most employees will take their holidays in a lump each summer. In practice. Many employers will in practice let you take more time off than this, though it may not be paid.

Then, during your first full holiday year, the number of paid days you're entitled to is calculated based on what proportion of the qualifying year you spent working. So if you've worked for the entire year, you'll get 25 paid holiday days, but if you've worked for only half the year, you'll only get half that amount – any fractions are always rounded up. In addition to the paid holiday you've accrued, you have the right to take unpaid holiday in order to reach the full 25 days' allowance, but you can waive your right to unpaid leave if you prefer to work instead.

Do I have to use up all my holiday?

Five weeks' annual leave will be a step up from what many international workers are used to, particularly if you come from outside Europe. While the majority will probably be excited about the opportunity to take time off to explore their new country, or escape the Swedish weather for a few weeks, it's worth knowing that you aren't obligated to use all 25 days each year.

Employees must take 20 of their vacation days each year, but any days over that amount can be saved for up to five years, and then added on to annual leave in a future year. That means an additional 25 days' holiday by the fifth year, if you have the minimum entitlement of 25 vacation days and save the maximum number of days each year. This is particularly useful if you hope to take time off to travel long-term in a few years' time – or perhaps a long trip to visit friends and family back home.

Make sure to find out exactly what the policy in your workplace is. Photo: Pexels

When you take vacation days, they are used in this order: the 20 compulsory days' holiday from that year, remaining days from that year, then any rolled-over days, oldest first. This is to avoid employees accruing so much holiday that it could be damaging to the company if that employee suddenly left their job, since the earned holiday would have to be converted to extra pay. However, you don't need to use all your rolled-over days in the same year, as long as you use them before they expire.

If you have more than 25 days' annual leave, by law you need to take at least 20 and have the right to roll over at least five. It's up to your employer what rules they choose to apply to any extra; whether these can also be rolled over or should be used up within the year.

Note that during exceptional events (yes, that includes the coronavirus crisis) your company might introduce temporary rules, such as asking all employees to take their annual leave within a certain time period when the company is less busy than expected. This is usually only done if it's a necessary step to ensure the company doesn't suffer financially, and your boss should explain why it's being asked of you. You can speak to your union if you're unhappy with this kind of request, and you may be able to negotiate things like the option to take more unpaid holiday in future if you're nervous about having no vacation allowance left.

And what if I don't take all 20 days?

The idea of the Swedish law is to encourage employees to take all the holiday they're entitled to, and employers are expected to ensure this happens. However, if you've not managed to take all 20 vacation days, for example if you fell ill during scheduled holiday, you won't be able to roll over any of them, but they will get converted to money, paid in the form of semesterersättning or holiday compensation. 

Are there any other rules about how holiday should be taken?

The law doesn't recognize half-days as holiday days; this is because of the idea that you need to take full days in order to be fully rested. However, workplaces often offer alternative solutions, such as saving up overtime to take off a half-day in lieu, or flexible hours, so speak to your manager or HR representative to find out the best solution available at your company. 

You should also remember that you don't need to use up annual leave for things like medical or dental appointments, sick leave, or for a child's illness.

And read through your employment contract and/or collective agreement thoroughly to make sure you know any extra perks or changes. For example, some trade unions include an extra week off in the year of your 40th birthday in their collective agreements, while others have different holiday entitlements for different age groups.

How does holiday pay work?

Not only do you get paid your normal salary during holiday (according to the rules explained above), but you also get a small bonus or semesterlön, calculated as a percentage of your salary. This is usually paid out the month after holiday is taken, meaning that if you go away in June, you'll receive an increased salary in July.

Can my boss refuse my holiday – or make me work?

Yes, but usually only with a good reason. Most Swedish work contracts state that you can take your annual leave at a time of your choice as long as it doesn't conflict with the needs of the company, meaning that your boss may require you to schedule holidays around colleagues' absences, important company events and so on.

Time off during popular periods (summer, or close to public holidays) might be allocated on a first-come first-serve basis (in which case get your request in quick, as Swedes are known for planning well in advance!) or there may be a company-wide discussion to ensure everyone's needs are taken into consideration. Either way, make sure to find out what the practice is in your workplace and whether there are any key dates or periods you'll definitely be needed at work, or certain co-workers you should co-ordinate with.

If you and your boss don't agree on when you should take holiday, your boss has the final say. As noted above, this may be the case during exceptional events if the company has less work for you to do than usual. However, if this happens, the holiday will usually fall in the summer months – so you can't be forced to take time off in December, for example, and they must give you two months' notice.

It is legal for your boss to ask you to return to work during an agreed holiday, however this is only allowed in extreme cases where the company's ability to function is at risk, for example if almost everyone else falls ill or if some other extreme event occurs.

What about public holidays?

Sweden also has several public holidays, often called 'red days' or röda dagar. If these fall on a weekend, you don't automatically get a corresponding weekday off, as is the case in the UK for example, so the exact number of days off changes each year.

Midsummer is one of the most beloved Swedish holidays. Photo: Werner Nystrand/Folio/

However, many workplaces do offer a day in lieu when public holidays coincide with a weekend, and others also give employees a klämdag (literally a 'squeeze day') which means that if a public holiday falls on a Tuesday or Thursday, you also get the Monday or Friday off to extend the weekend. On top of that, many workplaces close at midday the day before certain red days, giving an extra half day off. This all depends on any collective agreement your workplace is a part of, or specific company policy, so check exactly what applies to you.

What happens if I'm sick during my holiday?

If you fall sick during scheduled holiday time, you have the right to end the holiday period and instead take the time as sick days, meaning you can retake your holiday at a later date. If you need to do this, make sure to contact your employer and report yourself sick on the first day of illness. The requirement is that you should be ill enough that you'd be unable to carry out your regular work.

What if I leave work before taking all my holiday?

If your employment ends and you haven't taken all the holiday days you had earned, you can get holiday pay for those days. This is called semesterersättning, and should be paid out no later than one month after your employment ends.

If you hand in your notice, you have the right to take any holiday which was already scheduled during your notice period. You are not automatically entitled to take out earned holiday which hasn't already been arranged, but it's always worth asking.


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Member comments

  1. Regarding the “The ‘holiday year’ runs from April 1st to March 31st, and the year prior to the current one is called the intjänandeår or ‘qualifying year’.” I’ve had two different employers in Sweden, and both employers had their holiday year start 1st January, not 1st April.

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For members


How good is Sweden for digital nomads?

High taxes, a high cost of living and a tricky accounting system make Sweden less ideal for 'digital nomads' than a tropical getaway like Bali, but there are some definite perks to making Sweden your next digital home. Here’s our list of the pros and cons.

How good is Sweden for digital nomads?

In the wake of the Covid pandemic, working remotely has become the new normal, but the concept of flexible, remote working is really nothing new. Long before the pandemic, legions of freelancers and remote workers had cottoned on to the fact that all they really needed to carry out their jobs was an internet connection and a laptop – and that travelling the world wasn’t something that needed to be reserved for holidays.

More and more countries in Europe are now trying to woo these ‘digital nomads’. Estonia and Spain both have special ‘nomad visas’, and Italy voted one into law last March (although it has yet to be implemented, and may end up being shelved). 

So how does Sweden stack up? 


The new ‘talent visa’

As of last June, Sweden has made it easier for non-EU citizens with an advanced level degree to move to the country for up to nine months while they look for work or start their own business. It’s not exactly a ‘nomad visa’, but it does make make getting a visa relatively painless if you are sufficiently highly educated, especially if you work as a freelancer and can set up your own company in Sweden. 

To qualify for the “resi­dence permit for highly quali­fied persons to look for work or start a busi­ness”, you need to have an advanced degree, and prove that you have enough funds or income to support yourself during the period for which you are applying for a permit and have money to cover the cost of your journey home. You also need comprehensive health insurance valid for healthcare in Sweden. 

READ ALSO: How do you apply for Sweden’s new talent visa? 

Obviously, if you’re lucky enough to have citizenship in another EU country, you’ll automatically have the right to live and work in Sweden without applying for any sort of residence permit first. 

Many other nations like Australia, Canada, Japan – and now the UK after Brexit – have agreements with the EU that allow their citizens to spend up to 90 days in the Schengen Area without needing a visa. However, this visa waiver programme does not apply to those planning on undertaking paid work in the Schengen Area, so you will still need a work permit to work in Sweden, even if you’re not planning on staying longer than 90 days.

You will also have to register with the Swedish Tax Agency if you’re an EU citizen planning to stay for longer than three months.

Fast internet

Sweden has one of the fastest internet speeds in the world (although if you’re looking to move to a Scandinavian country, Norway and Denmark rank higher) and internet is relatively cheap, costing an average of less than €30 a month. Around 90 percent of the population enjoy a stable internet connection and you can find 4G in most of the country. A shack in the Swedish woods is often more likely to have a blazing fast fibre optic internet connection than a toilet with running water.

Everyone speaks English

When you’re setting up an internet service provider, chances are you’ll be able to talk to them in English. Sweden ranks second on the list of countries with the most non-native English speakers in the world. The working language is English for many locals, and Swedish children start learning English at a young age. You won’t have trouble ordering an oat milk latte with extra foam or finding your way around.

Lots of co-working spaces

There are 175 co-working spaces across the country, with many companies opting to rent office space collectively since the pandemic. In Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö it is easy to find shared office space, either through freelance collectives, or through more corporate providers.

Here’s The Local’s list of ten co-working spaces in Stockholm.

Thriving tech scene 

Stockholm is second only to Silicon Valley in terms of the number of so-called unicorns (startup companies valued at more than $1bn) per capita, while Stockholm and Malmö are also among the leading cities it the world for game development. 

The KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm draws in young tech talent from all over the world and has a well-established incubator programme to encourage students and alumni to start spin-off tech companies. 

Malmö, Stockholm, and Gothenburg also have a well-established informal tech scene, where web developers, programmers, and other tech professionals can share new ideas. You can find a lot of them on the Meetup app. 


It’s quite expensive

With one of the highest rates of income tax and a high tax rate on goods and services, stuff in Sweden just costs more. This is balanced by a relatively high average income, but if you’re getting paid a salary by a non-Swedish company, it might not stretch as far in kronor.

As a freelancer, once you’re making good profit, you could be paying nearly 50 percent in total taxes to operate a business. You also don’t get all the same benefits as employed people in Sweden do, such as 25 days holiday, sick leave, and the right to get paid leave to look after a sick child, and you may also be paying for private health insurance on top of that. In this respect, you’re paying for a system which you can’t use.

Having said this, with the krona now historically weak against the euro, dollar and pound, Sweden is cheaper than it has been for decades, so if you’re a true nomad and have been planning on checking out Sweden for a while, this is not a bad time to do it.


A complex accounting system

Invoicing in Sweden can be tricky, even though the information provided by the Tax Agency is available in English as well as Swedish. 

If you’re employed full-time by a company abroad, you will have to show the Swedish Tax Agency a copy of your contract upon arrival, including some mention of the fact that you’ll be working in Sweden.

If this doesn’t apply to you, you’ll need to either register to pay F-skatt as a self-employed person (which usually means you need at least two ‘clients’, so you can’t just register as self-employed and continue working for the same company you did before,) or set up your own company (read our guide here).

Swedish freelancers tend to keep meticulous records of each tiny item they purchase and have a detailed knowledge of every possible tax rebate they can claim, all in the hope of bringing their effective tax rate closer to that of someone employed on a salary. 

It might make sense to use an umbrella company like Cool Company or Frilans Finans which puts you in the position of an employee in return for a fee, so that you don’t have to deal with the tax system yourself.

You won’t meet anyone

While working from anywhere is relatively easy in Sweden, it does significantly reduce your chances of meeting people and forging relationships. Swedes are a reserved bunch and they tend not to speak to people outside their friendship group (unless quite drunk). Finding a full-time job in the digital sector might be your best bet for settling in and finding community.