‘I started my business to give Swedes a more nuanced image of France’

MY SWEDISH CAREER: When French native Audrey Leclercq moved to Sweden, she did not expect to be dismantling stereotypes as an entrepreneur just a couple of years later.

'I started my business to give Swedes a more nuanced image of France'
Audrey Leclerq, owner and founder of ShopFrenchy. Photo: Private

Months after Audrey Leclercq moved from France to Sweden in January 2016, she confronted Francophiles in the unlikeliest of places: her son’s preschool.

At a preschool meeting in summer 2016, the preschool’s staff and parents started to share with her their love for France and the French Riviera more specifically. Others shared that they had learned French in high school. 

And when the parents later in the year organized an event to get to know each other better, they ultimately decided on a theme of France.

“So during the evening there was charcuterie, French cheeses, some baguettes and good breads and great wines also. France is well known for its gastronomy and the good quality of products. Everyone enjoyed the degustation,” the entrepreneur remembers.

But as much as Leclercq appreciated the fondness of her culture, she felt that there was an opportunity for people to get to know about her country beyond its food and famous landmarks. 

“When you Google “France' or when you search for some French products, it’s always about French wine, maybe French cheese or pastries, or the French baguette or French bread and so on. So often it’s all about drink and something to eat,” she tells The Local.

FIND A JOB: Browse thousands of English-language jobs in Sweden

Leclercq and her husband. The couple and their children moved to Stockholm in January 2016 because of her husband's job. Photo: Private.

There was more to the French culture than this, Leclerq thought, and she wanted to showcase it to the Swedish people. She thought of the spirit of entrepreneurism in French culture, and wanted to bring attention to designers who had gone unnoticed. 

This spark of inspiration, coupled with a desire to create something of her own and enter the job market, led her to create ShopFrenchy, an online boutique selling French-made products, from wine holders to purses.

When starting her company, Leclerq made it a goal of hers to also put a representation of herself and her French background on the Swedish market.

“I really wanted to see if I could find a job or maybe create something because I knew  that in Sweden it was not so difficult to create your own company, to create your own business at the beginning.”

“I want[ed] to create something, to do business, but also to tell a story, to say OK, this is me. I’m Audrey Leclercq. I’m French. What can I tell to the Swedish market, or to the English speaking people in Sweden?” she added.

After establishing her purpose, Leclerq then needed to handle the administrative side of her business, and approached Verksamt and Skatteverket, the Swedish state agencies tasked with helping individuals register their companies.

Although the information was all in Swedish, she was able to rely on her knowledge of the language from SFI (Swedish for Immigrants) classes, and on the assistance of a Swedish friend who had already gone through the process of starting her own company.

At first, Leclercq was asked to develop her idea further, and had to show them proof that her business was underway through an established business plan. She then took the opportunity to seek out vendors and create her website, and in November, recontacted them with her updated information. The turnaround was surprisingly quick, she says: around ten days.

MY SWEDISH CAREER: Read more interviews with inspiring internationals in Sweden

Leclerq and her two kids. Photo: Private.

Although Leclerq’s business is still relatively young and her website was just recently launched in January, she ultimately hopes that her business will change the discourse surrounding France in Sweden and add nuance to the image people have of her homeland.

“We can speak about other things [when we talk] about France, and for example, the innovation that we can find in France through the companies that want to create high quality products with passion. All the brands really want to tell a story,” she explains.

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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.”