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The questions you need to ask before moving to Sweden

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The questions you need to ask before moving to Sweden
Sweden offers a great quality of life for many, but make sure you've thought through these things before deciding to move. Photo: Simon Paulin/imagebank.sweden.se
13:24 CEST+02:00
Are you planning a relocation to Sweden, or just wondering if it's the right step for you? With the help of two relocation experts, The Local lists some of the crucial questions you should try to answer before the move.

Moving abroad is a huge adventure, but a daunting one too.

Many of the questions facing would-be expats are fun – How should I word my smug 'moving abroad!' Facebook status? Where will my nearest fika spot be? And what exactly is fika, anyway? – but there are also some trickier dilemmas to face before taking the leap.

Are you good at embracing change?

The very first thing to do is to make sure that moving abroad suits you as a person, advises Lena Rekdal, Managing Director at relocation agency Nimmersion. 

"Having a checklist of the practical things is key, but there are also a lot of 'soft' issues you need to ask yourself. Are you someone who embraces change and can adapt to new things, because if not, a move abroad may not be right for you!" she notes. "And is it a good time in your life to move, or are you leaving things behind you need to attend to? We sometimes see people who relocate but then move back to care for elderly parents or similar."

If you're concerned about the culture shock but still keen to move, Rekdal says there are ways to build up resilience to change and stress. She recommends practising stepping out of your comfort zone in small ways, such as trying out a new course or ordering a food you've never tried before, as well as Sweden-specific preparation, for example learning the basics of the language or researching different aspects of the culture.

Have you got your paperwork in order?

Yes, this is the boring side of a move abroad, but it can't be avoided. The exact documents you need will depend on where you have citizenship (it's simpler for EU and other Nordic residents than for those from outside the EU) and why you're moving (for a job offer, to job-hunt or start your own business, to join a Swedish partner, or to retire).

At the least, the list will include arranging a visa and/or residence permit, (for non-EU citizens), and applying for a personal or coordination number once you arrive (this applies to both EU and non-EU citizens, and the ten magic digits are your ticket to many aspects of Swedish society, from supermarket loyalty cards to bank cards).

THE LOCAL INVESTIGATES: Life in Sweden without a personal number


Migrationsverket is the government agency that organizes work and residence permits. Photo: Adam Wrafter/SvD/TT

You'll need to let authorities in your home country know of your plans to move, including tax authorities, doctors, and banks. And if you've got pets to bring, or any items that might present a problem with customs, get that sorted ahead of time. 

Think about healthcare: without a personal number, there are usually extra (high) costs to doctors' visits and medicines, so EU nationals should apply for and bring an EHIC card, and others should consider buying health insurance to tide them over until they're in the system.

READ ALSO: Tips on applying for residence in Sweden

Where are you going to live?

Many newcomers to Sweden head straight for one of the three major cities (Stockholm, Gothenburg, or Malmö) but it's a huge country and the options don't end there. The northern region has a booming startup scene for entrepreneurs, as well as a thriving tourism industry, and if you work in one of Sweden's in-demand professions such as healthcare or teaching, opportunities may be more plentiful in less populated areas.

READ ALSO: Five great reasons to move to northern Sweden

Of course, if you're moving for a specific job or study programme, you'll want to be located within commuting distance. In some cases your employer or university might offer help with relocation and finding housing (make sure to ask!), but if you're doing it alone, don't limit your house-hunt to the city centre. Public transport links in the cities are usually great, and opting for a suburb might drastically lower your rent and increase your options while also offering the chance for a different perspective on Sweden than you'd get in the tourist-filled centres.

Once you've settled on the area and decided whether you want to buy or rent, it's time to get to grips with the art of house-hunting in Sweden; the following articles should give a good introduction.


A view over Gothenburg. Photo: Per Pixel Petersson/imagebank.sweden.se

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How are you going to pay for things?

Moving abroad costs money, from the flights themselves and associated shipping costs to a short-term rental while you settle in, and the myriad miscellaneous expenses that are sure to crop up. And Sweden is an expensive country to live in, so try to work out what your approximate cost of living would be and compare it to your prospective salary, as well as including a generous buffer to account for moving costs.

If you don't already have a job offer, you can get an idea of the pay in your sector by looking on sites such as Alla Studier, Lönestatistik, SCB, or Jusek, or get in touch with a relevant trade union who may be able to offer advice. And make sure you look into tax rates: for high earners, Sweden has some of the highest taxes in the world, but if you're on a starting salary you might be pleasantly surprised by how much of your paycheck you'll be taking home each month.

You're also going to need a bank account in Sweden, which can be tricky to set up without a personal number but should be possible if you have another form of ID, such as a passport (read more on how to do that here). But you may still not be able to get a debit card, making your life a little more difficult in increasingly cashless Sweden. In the meantime, it's a good idea to find a credit card with reasonable exchange rates and no extra charges for using it abroad, so you won't get ripped off in your first few weeks. 

A final point for Americans is that you'll need to continue paying US taxes even after making the move; citizens of other countries should check the rules in their home country as you'll probably need to inform the tax authority of your move.

READ ALSO: Things you can (and can't) do without a Swedish personal number

Do you understand your rights as a worker?

Sweden's famously good work-life balance is one of the country's big draws, but if you're moving for work, make sure you're aware of your rights as an employee.

Many companies include a six-month probation period, during which either the employer or employee can decide to terminate the position without any specific reason, with only two weeks' notice. This isn't common, but it does happen, and can throw plans into turmoil if you've uprooted your life, and possibly your family's, for the new role. Some expats choose to move alone during the probation period, to be joined by family if it is transformed into a permanent contract after the six months.

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know if you lose your job in Sweden


Swedish working culture and workplace rights are quite different to in other countries. Photo: Melker Dahlstrand/imagebank.sweden.se

Non-EU workers should make sure their employer has complied with Swedish requirements regarding recruitment; they need to fulfill certain obligations in terms of how they advertise the position and the salary and insurance they offer to non-EU employees in order for a work permit to be granted and later extended. You may also choose to sign up with a union, which will help you in negotiations with your employer; rates of union membership are extremely high in Sweden.

For those hoping to move to work, research the industry before relocating. Certain jobs are in high demand due to skills shortages in Sweden, while in some industries you may need to get official recognition for foreign qualifications, or even re-qualify in Sweden, before you can legally charge for your services. Anyone considering setting up their own company or working as a freelancer should look into both the bureaucratic hurdles they'll have to overcome and the support on offer for entrepreneurs.

Don't have a job lined up? Browse English-language roles in Sweden on The Local Jobs

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And are you prepared for Swedish working culture?

As well as reading the smallprint in your contract, make sure to prepare for the unwritten rules of Swedish working life. 

"Younger people often adapt quickly and take advantage of the benefits, but managers especially have a lot to adapt to," explains Michael Grundell, CEO of KEY Relocation. He notes that those stepping into a senior role in Sweden should be especially aware of cultural norms such as flatter hierarchies and democratic decision-making processes (meaning lots of meetings), in order to avoid friction with their team.

"The initial reaction to Sweden's work-life balance is often that Swedes are lazy. Places like South Korea, Japan, and the US for example have the idea of work-life balance, but it's not a core part of working culture," Grundell explains.

"So if you're from a country like that, the first time a Swedish colleague leaves early because they've booked a slot at the laundry room, or the first time a male colleague leaves for one year of parental leave, can be tough to deal with as a manager. The most important thing to bring with you to Sweden is awareness that things are different here."

What will the children do?

If you're moving with a family in tow, the great news is that Sweden is one of the most child-friendly countries around.

There's a generous amount of parental leave, which can be split between both parents, daycare for the little ones is heavily subsidized, and once they reach school age, children can attend a Swedish school or a bilingual one for free (there are also a small number of fee-charging schools which teach foreign curricula including English, French, German, and Dutch).


New parents in Sweden are entitled to 480 days of leave. Photo: Simon Paulin/imagebank.sweden.se

READ ALSO: Parenting in Sweden: How to choose and apply to the right school

Do you have any contacts in Sweden?

This might seem like something you don't need to think about; perhaps you're moving to Sweden to join a partner there, or perhaps you have no ties to Sweden at all.

But one struggle many expats in Sweden identify with is meeting people. Swedish culture emphasizes work-life balance, which may mean fewer events with co-workers and also leaves you with a lot of downtime that might leave you missing friends and family back home. Even if you move with a Swedish partner, it's important to have an independent circle of friends.

'Trailing spouses', or those moving for a partner's job with no job of their own lined up, might find Sweden tougher than other countries, Grundell warns. "Two-income households are common in Sweden, so you might end up quite isolated, and the first step to cope is to be prepared for that," he explains.


Contacts can help with professional and social integration. Photo: Henrik Trygg/imagebank.sweden.se

Before you move, it's a good idea to ask friends and colleagues if they have any contacts in Sweden they could put you in touch with. If this draws a blank, perhaps look into social groups you can join ahead of time – there are plenty aimed at expats in general, parents, speakers of specific languages, or niche interests from climbing to coding. And be prepared to take the first step in forming friendships, even if you're not naturally extroverted.

Grundell adds that many large companies or relocation agencies will also offer help for partners of new hires. "It's an issue that comes up all the time. A relocation company can introduce families arriving at the same time, or introduce you to 'mentor families' who have been in Sweden a while. Then once you're there, just look out for different things to do," he says.

READ ALSO: Seven tips for making firm friends in Sweden

Are you caught up on cultural differences?

There's more to settling in somewhere new than finding a job and a place to live. To get the most out of the experience and start feeling at home, newcomers should research the country and its customs as much as possible.

Here are a few points to be aware of to begin with:

  • Sweden is very eco-friendly, with a strong recycling culture. Bins for households, apartment blocks, and in public areas are divided into different categories of waste, so get used to sorting out your rubbish.
  • Depending on where you're moving from, the weather may take some getting used to. "I don't think people realize how extreme it is, with an excess of sunlight in summer and not enough in winter," says Grundell. "One easy thing is to make sure you have proper curtains for the summer, and if you drive and aren't used to snow, it could be worth taking lessons to learn how to cope with that."
  • Shops often close early, around 5pm, and if you're trying to buy alcohol over 3.5 percent, you'll need to go to the state-owned monopoly, Systembolaget. It has limited opening hours, never offers special offers and discounts, and shuts completely on Sundays and public holidays. You'll also need ID, even if you're confident you look well over 20.
  • English is almost a second language in some of the bigger cities. This is great for English-speaking expats who should be able to get a haircut, do their shopping, and so on without needing to learn Swedish. But getting to grips with the local language will still give you an edge in the job market, not to mention helping you to integrate much more, and is particularly important for newcomers who don't have a proficient level of English. 
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