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My Swedish Career: ‘We wanted to make Lapland accessible to those with disabilities’

Paul Roberts swapped the sunny beaches of Cornwall for the snow and long winters of Swedish Lapland by setting up a tourism business aimed at people with physical disabilities.

My Swedish Career: 'We wanted to make Lapland accessible to those with disabilities'
Paul Roberts and wife Maria outside their guesthouse. Photo: Private

The Friendly Moose guesthouse was a way to combine Paul's career as a sports coach with his wife Maria's experience in catering, hospitality and management.

“My favourite part of my job, and by far the most rewarding, was the large disability tennis programme that we had set up and developed. I got a huge buzz from helping people of all abilities to discover that they could play tennis and loved seeing them go on to make friends, have fun, get fitter, build confidence and achieve success through tennis,” says Paul.

The idea to relocate to northern Sweden had come to him gradually through repeated winter trips to the region: “We had that strong feeling of wanting to take on another challenge and adventure in life, before it was too late.”

Hoping to apply their experience to an accessible winter tourism business, they looked for a suitable property in summer 2018, and found a riverside house with views over to Finland. Paul says the location is both convenient for the local town and for what the nearby nature has to offer – from fishing under the midnight sun to husky rides. 

“We count ourselves very lucky to have found a part of the world where the locals are so friendly and welcoming. We have so many really super friends here, including some who we met and helped us on that very first visit,” he says.

MY SWEDISH BUSINESS:


Daughter Lilly-Fe with an elk. Photo: Private

The business offers a range of activities from sports to seeing the Northern lights and festive visits to Father Christmas, all designed to be accessible for wheelchair users. In summer, spring and autumn, the activities are adapted to the season featuring trips to an elk farm and scenic forest walks. Paul and Maria are directly involved in all aspects from grounds maintenance and cleaning to marketing and working with guests. 

“It's a lot of work, but creating the best possible holidays and experiences we can for our guests, especially those who have additional needs, is something we love doing. It's so magical when we get to see these guests enjoying husky sled rides, seeing the northern lights, stroking a moose, meeting our Santa, making a fire in the snowy forest and discovering this fantastic part of Sweden,” he says. 

“One other thing I especially love about the days up here, in addition to the fresh air, endless forests and the absence of crowds and traffic is how the seasons are so hugely different and how significantly they impact on the scenery, wildlife, the river and the daily rhythm of life.”

Having cleared the hurdles needed to set up a new business in a new country, the couple were thrown a curveball when the coronavirus pandemic hit, leaving the tourism industry struggling.


The guesthouse has two large wheelchair-accessible apartments on the ground floor, each with two bedrooms. Photo: Private

At the start of March 2020, the business was on track to break even with the bookings made up to then, but global uncertainty around the state of the pandemic and travel restrictions meant many guests cancelled and few have made bookings since then.

The municipality of Övertorneå has had very few confirmed cases of the virus, and Paul says “social distancing is pretty much a natural part of life here”. But given the fast-changing nature of the pandemic and restrictions in place across Europe, this hasn't protected the local tourism industry.

Adapting to the virus has meant accepting accommodation-only bookings (including for guests without a disability or additional needs), and working with a disability travel specialist in Stockholm to turn attention to domestic tourists. The couple have also been flexible regarding refunds and cancellations.

For now, Paul comments: “We will find a way to get through and, like everyone, look forward to a bright future when the worst of the virus is behind us all. While we struggle on business-wise we are thankful to be living in such a beautiful and friendly place.”

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READER QUESTIONS

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.”

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