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Sweden’s 480 days of parental leave: What you need to know

Sweden's parental leave policy is generous enough to have earned media coverage around the world, and for many families it's a factor in choosing to live in the Nordic nation. But the specific terms, and the process for applying for benefits, can be tough to get to grips with.

Sweden’s 480 days of parental leave: What you need to know
Sweden's generous family leave policies allow for plenty of time with your child. So how do they work? Photo: Simon Paulin/imagebank.sweden.se

As a parent in Sweden, you’re entitled both to time off work to care for your child (parental leave or föräldraledighet) and money to help cover the costs of child-raising. The benefits are paid out not by your employer but by the Swedish Social Insurance Agency (Försäkringskassan), which you need to register with and apply to in order to receive the payments.

Who is eligible for parental benefits?

If you have a young child in Sweden, you’re likely to be eligible. Parental benefit applies to those who are the parent of a child, or have custody of the child. It can also apply to people who live with a parent, in certain cases (such as if they are married or a registered partner, sambo, of the child’s parent).

As well as that, you need to be insured in Sweden (this is usually the case for anyone living or working in the country) and taking time off work, study or job-seeking to stay with a child (who must live in Sweden, an EEA country, or Switzerland).

How much time can I take?

The basic allowance for paid leave is 480 days of parental leave per child, so parents sharing custody will split that number and parents with sole custody have the full 480. Parents with multiple children, ie twins or triplets, get an increased allowance: a total of 660 days for twins and 840 for triplets.

But you don’t need to take each allotted day as a full day. Parents also have the option of reducing their working hours by three quarters, a half, one quarter or one eighth, and receiving proportional parental benefit for the time not worked. And parents of a child under the age of eight can reduce their working hours by up to 25 percent, whether or not they decide to take parental benefit for the remaining 25 percent.

Parental leave can be split into up to three separate periods per year, and sometimes more if that’s agreed with the employer.


The basic allowance is 480 days per child. Photo: Maskot/Folio/imagebank.sweden.se

How do we share the leave?

The starting point is that both parents have an equal share of the leave: 240 days each. Each parent can transfer part of their leave to the other parent if they wish. For single parents with sole custody, the entire 480-day allowance goes to them.

For children born in 2016 or later to parents sharing custody, each parent has 90 days (of income-based, rather than basic, benefit) reserved for them individually. That doesn’t mean you have to take them, but you cannot transfer those days to the other parent so they will be lost if you choose not to. The division is different if your child was born earlier; in that case, find out what applies to you here.

When can I take the leave?

The pregnant parent can start taking parental leave and collecting benefit up to 60 days before the due date. It’s actually compulsory for the mother to take two weeks of leave in connection with the birth, which can either be before or after, and these days are deducted from the 480 days’ total allowance. She is also entitled to at least seven consecutive weeks off before the estimated delivery and seven after the birth.

New fathers or secondary caregivers have an entitlement to ten days’ leave in connection with the birth. And both parents are entitled to be on full-time leave, if they wish, up until the child reaches 18 months of age. The right to parental leave continues until the child’s eighth birthday.

One aspect of the Swedish parental leave system that may surprise newcomers is that it’s actually common not to take the full amount directly after the child’s birth. You can use parental leave until the child’s 12th birthday, so it’s perfectly possible to stash some of those allotted days for the future. There are restrictions on how much you can save though: from the child’s fourth birthday, you can only save 96 days total (132 for twins).

What if my child was born outside Sweden?

If you move to Sweden with a young child, you are usually still entitled to leave and benefits, and to the full amount if the child was under a year old when first registered in Sweden. The number decreases after that; contact Försäkringskassan to find out what applies to you.

Can both parents take leave at the same time?

Only sometimes. During the child’s first year, both parents can take out parental benefit on the same day for a total of 30 days, meaning 60 days would be deducted from the 480-day allowance.

Another exception is in cases of multiple children, ie twins and triplets. In these cases, both parents can choose to take out parental benefit at the same time and therefore share care-giving responsibilities.

If the parent on parental leave gets sick and is unable to care for the child, they can change their status to sick leave allowing the other parent to take parental leave. If a single parent gets too sick to care for their child, another person such as a friend or relative can do this and receive ‘expanded temporary parental benefit’, if the child is younger than three.


If you move to Sweden with a young child you’re usually entitled to leave and benefits. Photo: Isabell Höjman/TT

And how much money will I get?

There are a few different levels, depending on your circumstances.

Of the total 480 days, 90 are paid at 180 kronor per day and 390 at what is called sickness-level, an amount based on your income. The calculation for this is the same one used to calculate insurance payments for long-term sickness, and for VAB (Vård av barn or care of a sick child) benefit.

If you have been working in Sweden for long enough, you should be entitled to almost 80 percent of your salary up to a certain amount: 1,012 kronor per day, if you are taking out the benefit seven days a week. In order to be eligible for this, you need to have had an annual income of at least 82,300 kronor for at least 240 consecutive days before the estimated delivery date. If you are a recent arrival in Sweden but are an EU citizen, you can use your salary in another EU country to calculate this benefit.

If you have been working, but do not meet the above requirement, you’re entitled to 250 kronor per day for the first 180 days of parental benefit, and after that you will receive the income-based level or 250 kronor, whichever is higher, for the remaining period of sickness-level benefit.

Parents on a low income or who were unemployed or studying before giving birth will receive 250 kronor for the full 390 days of sickness-level benefit. Parents who were job seekers may be eligible to apply for sickness-level benefit based on their previous income, depending on how long they earned that income and whether they are registered with the Public Employment Service.

You can use a tool on the Forsäkringkassan website to find out how much you will be entitled to in your specific situation.


Parents of twins or triplets are entitled to more leave. Photo: Pontus Lundahl/SCANPIX

How do I receive the money?

Ideally, you’ll already be signed up with Försäkringskassan, but if you are moving to Sweden late in the pregnancy, the agency can often make special arrangements – just get in touch with them as soon as possible.

Once you have confirmed with your employer that you’ll be taking leave, you need to register for parental benefit with Försäkringskassan, and then log in and apply for the benefit, either online or via their app. You should apply no later than 90 days after the first day of leave, and can apply for the entire period of leave at once if you want to. Things work slightly differently if you’re not the child’s legal guardian or if you have a protected identity; in these cases, you need to send an application form to Försäkringskassan’s customer centre.

The money will be paid out monthly, on the 25th of each month – the typical payday in Sweden. Just like with salaries, each month you receive money relating to the previous month, so benefits for January 1st-31st are paid on February 25th. If you ended up taking more or less leave than initially applied for, you can make changes up until the 15th of each month.

How do I raise the subject with my employer?

People who moved to Sweden from a country where lengthy parental leave is not the norm may feel nervous about broaching the topic, but you shouldn’t. Parental leave is your legal right, so your employer cannot deny the request as long as it’s made at least two months before you want the leave to begin (or the length of time specified in your workplace’s collective agreement, kollektivavtal, if you have one).

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FAMILY

How to use all your parental leave in Sweden before it expires

The parents of fully 70 percent of children in Sweden fail to take all the parental leave available to them before it expires. But there are some tricks to make sure you use it all.

two parents and two children in a car
You could save some parental leave days to use for a long holiday – but be careful so that they don't expire. Photo: Simon Paulin/imagebank.sweden.se

“The Swedish Social Insurance Agency has decided that you will not receive child benefit for Finn from December 24th to January 8th,” read the letter that dropped into my secure digital mailbox over Christmas. 

My son turned eight on December 23rd, and as he was born just a week before a new more generous policy became valid in Sweden, that marked the end of our eligibility for child leave.

And just as had happened with his elder sister, we had let his leave expire with more than a month of leave yet to claim.

It turns out, we are far from alone.

The parents of fully 72 percent of the children born in Sweden in 2010 failed to claim all of their shared 480 days of parental leave by the time they expired in 2018, according to the latest statistics from the Social Insurance Agency. On average, parents in Sweden failed to claim about a month, but 21 percent of parents had, like us, failed to claim more than 60 days.

In total, that amounted to 1.4 billion kronor ($154.4 million) in unclaimed benefits, and according to an analysis by the agency, it was those with the lowest incomes who had the most days left over.

A graph showing how many days of parental leave was not claimed for children born in 2010, divided up by (from left) low-income, mid-income and high-income families. The dark green shows days paid at 80 percent of the salary (sjukpenningnivå) and the light green the lowest-paid days (lägstanivå, 180 kronor a day). Photo: Försäkringskassan

A change in the rules since my son was born has made using your days quite a bit easier. Parents of children born after January 1st in 2014 (a week after my son), can now continue to take out leave until their children’s 12th birthday.

But be aware that all but 96 of these days expire when the child turns four, so the race is still on.

If you want to understand how parental leave in Sweden works, here’s The Local’s detailed guide to how the system works

But to avoid other foreigners in Sweden suffering the same disappointment as I did, keep scrolling for some tips for how to make sure you use all that leave.

Take leave together 

Swedish rules allow both parents to take leave at the same time. In the first few months, this can really take the pressure off the mother, allowing her partner to take over while she makes up for lost sleep, or takes a precious hour or so to herself. 

The rules allow each couple to claim a maximum of 30 of these so-called dubbeldagar or “double days”, which taken together will use up 60 days of leave. 

These days cannot be taken from the 90 reservdagar, or “reserve days”, which are tied to each parent to prevent fathers from taking out days at the same time as leaving the mother to do all the actual childcare. They also can only be taken before the child is one year old. 

Claim leave for ordinary holidays 

My mistake was to see parental leave as something to take only when I was off work specifically to look after my children. In fact, you can take it out any time you are not actually working: when you take time off over Christmas, Easter, during the sportlov or höstlov school holidays, or over the long Swedish summer. 

“My husband takes all of the school holidays and the summers off so we can travel and all be together,” says Martha Moore in Malmö. “I’m a teacher, so I will probably give all of my days to him, since I get to be off when my kids are off anyway.”

You can even claim for days which you are also claiming as holiday from your work, or days which are public holidays in Sweden, but you can only claim parental leave for these days at the so-called lägstanivå, or base level of 180 kronor a day.  

You can claim some days at the same time as the other parent. Photo: Magnus Liam Karlsson/imagebank.sweden.se

Take a very long holiday 

One Australian living in Stockholm said she was off to Thailand for two and a half months this February in order to use up some of the days from her second child, which are due to expire when she turns four later in the year.

She recommends planning one long holiday to use up any of the 384 days that will expire when your child turns four, and then saving up the other 96 days for a second long holiday before they turn 12. 

She is putting her eldest child into a Swedish school in Thailand while they are there, using one of the chain of Swedish schools set up in Thailand, primarily for parents holidaying on their parental leave.  

She deliberately didn’t use as many days as she could have in the first 12 months, so that she and her husband could do this. “My tip is to not use many days at all paid that first 12 months, and to burn your savings instead,” she says. 

As her child is more than one year old, she and her husband cannot take leave simultaneously, however, so he is using holiday time he has saved up. 

Take leave before the birth 

The pregnant parent can start taking parental leave and collecting benefits up to 60 days before the due date. It’s actually compulsory for the mother to take two weeks of leave in connection with the birth, which can either be before or after. New fathers or secondary caregivers can also start taking leave up to ten days before the birth. 

This could be a waste of days, however, as if a difficult (or, let’s face it, even fairly normal) pregnancy makes it impossible to do your job, you can claim sickness benefits instead of parental leave, and get the same level of benefits without using up any of your 480 days. 

This does not apply, however, to “normal pregnancy difficulties such as back pain and fatigue”, so to claim sickness benefits, you will have to convince your doctor to certify that you have pregnancy difficulties that are “unusually severe”. 

A father carrying his child in a Baby Björn in Sweden. Photo: Melker Dahlstrand/imagebank.sweden.se

Take a chunk out to do private projects 

People less good at forward planning sometimes take a chunk of leave just before their child turns four or twelve (or eight if they were born before January 1st, 2014), even if they don’t have anything planned in particular.  

You can use this time to do the sort of home chores that it is so hard to find time to do once you have children. 

“I had a colleague who took two months’ maternity leave when her daughter was seven years old,” says one woman in Malmö. “She took it as a vacation in the summer to fix her apartment.” 

Use parental leave to work a short week 

Once the child is in preschool (dagis or förskola) many people, including Moore’s husband, use parental leave to take Friday and/or Monday off work for six months or more, allowing them to spend more time with their child.

This is obviously something you have to square with your employer, but in Sweden most employers are more than willing to put employees on 80 percent. 

You can either use this time to take some of the pressure off your partner during their parental leave, or to reduce the amount of time your child spends in preschool.

A parent walking their child in a pram through a snowy Stockholm. Photo: Jann Lipka/imagebank.sweden.se

Use parental leave to work short days 

You don’t need to take each allotted day as a full day, you can also reduce your working day by three quarters, a half, one quarter or one eighth, and receive proportional parental benefit for the time not worked.

Parents of a child under the age of eight can reduce their working hours by up to 25 percent, whether or not they decide to take parental benefit for the remaining 25 percent.

This can be extremely helpful in making combining childcare and work a little less stressful.

Claim leave for weekends 

You can claim parental leave on weekends as well as on normal weekdays, but unless you normally work on the weekend, you can only claim these at the lowest base level of 180 kronor. 

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