Fact check: No, Sweden has not banned the import of books from the UK

Has Sweden banned the import of books from the UK? The short answer is no, but Brits who hope to send books, newspapers or magazines from the UK to Sweden may wrongly be told otherwise by their post office. Here’s why there’s confusion.

a royal mail employee carrying parcels
Sweden still lets you post books from the UK to Sweden. Photo: AP Photo/Frank Augstein

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to reflect the amended Royal Mail website which corrected its error.

Reader question: Hi The Local, a friend of mine was told in the UK that he could not send his new book to me, because Sweden has banned the import of books. Surely this can’t be true?

If you looked at the British postal service Royal Mail’s country page for Sweden before it was updated following The Local’s article on February 7th, you would be excused for thinking there’s a blanket ban on posting books or any kind of printed products to the Nordic country.

Indeed, before it was amended, under the sub-heading “Can I send it to Sweden?” it listed “printed books, newspapers, pictures and other products of the printing industry; manuscripts, typescripts and plans” among the prohibited items.

Screenshot of a Royal Mail webpage erroneously stating that “printed books, newspapers, pictures and other products of the printing industry; manuscripts, typescripts and plans” are banned for import to Sweden. Screenshot and highlight: The Local

The webpage was updated a day after The Local contacted the Royal Mail, who also confirmed to us that the original page was incorrect. A spokesperson apologised for the error and said that “we understand the need for these webpages to be up to date and accurate at all times”.

Before the information on the website was corrected, The Local also contacted the Swedish Customs Agency, who confirmed to us that you may still send books, newspapers and other printed products from the UK to Sweden.

“It is perfectly possible to send books to Sweden,” a spokesperson reassured us.

As far as the Swedish rules regarding imports of print products go, the only recent change is that foreign magazines are as of July 1st 2021 no longer exempt from VAT. They used to be exempt if their total value was less than 300 kronor, but new tax rules scrapped that exception.

Brexit of course also means that the UK is subject to the same customs rules as other non-EU states. This means that people based in Sweden may in some cases have to pay customs duty or VAT on items they receive from the UK, depending on a few different factors.

But neither of these changes affect the possibility of physically posting books to Sweden. In fact, the confusion seems to be the result of the Royal Mail publishing incorrect lists for several countries, including France and Germany, which also appear to have been fixed.

It is not clear how long these lists existed on the website or how they appeared there, but you can find people complaining in online forums as long ago as 2015 that they were wrongly told that importing books and magazines to their country from the UK was prohibited.

So again, in short: Sweden has not banned the import of books from the UK.

Many thanks to the reader who brought this issue to our attention. To get in touch with our editorial team if you have tips, feedback or questions about life in Sweden, email [email protected]. We may not be able to reply to every email, but we read them all and they help inform our coverage.

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Reader Question: Is there a Swedish equivalent of writing to your senator or MP?

A reader got in touch to ask whether there is a Swedish equivalent of writing to your senator or MP to protest, voice a political opinion, or raise a local issue. Here's how it works in Sweden.

Reader Question: Is there a Swedish equivalent of writing to your senator or MP?

People in Sweden do send letters to members of the Riksdag, Sweden’s parliament, but it doesn’t work in quite the same way as it does in the UK or the US.

Human rights organisations, pressure groups, and concerned individuals will frequently send individual letters or mount letter-writing campaigns to try to influence MPs on issues that concern them.

Sweden is a transparent society, so it is easy to obtain the contact details of MPs in the parliament. You can find emails for all 349 MPs here, or if you prefer to do it the old-fashioned way, you can simply pop your letter in an envelope and send it, with the MPs name at the top, to this address:

Sveriges riksdag,

100 12 Stockholm. 

For the human rights group Amnesty, for instance, writing letters to politicians is one of the main strategies. 

The big difference between writing to your MP in Sweden, and writing to an MP, Congressman, or Senator in the UK or the US, of course, is that MPs in Sweden do not represent a constituency in the same way. 

The UK has 650 constituencies, each with its own MP. Sweden, on the other hand, has 29, with the smallest, Gotland, having two MPs, and the largest, Stockholm, having 43. You can see a map of Sweden’s constituencies here

When citizens vote in general elections, they vote for a political party first, and only then vote for which of the party’s candidates they would most like to represent them, in so-called “personal preference voting”. 

The election authority then distributes the seats in each constituency to each party based on what share of the vote they got in that constituency. A further 39 adjustment seats, which are not tied to a constituency, are then distributed to make sure the number of MPs each party has in parliament reflects their share of the vote at a national level. 

READ ALSO: What are The Local’s reader questions? 

For the purposes of letter-writing, the important difference is that you do not have an MP in Sweden, but several, normally representing rival political parties. 

According to David Karlsson, a professor at Gothenburg University, who has written a paper on letters sent to MPs, most Swedes will have no idea who the MPs are who represent their constituency. 

“It’s very obvious and well-known in Britain who the MP is,” he points out. “Knowledge of who the local MP is in Sweden is very very low, very few people could name the MP elected from their constituency.” 

Another big difference is that MPs in Sweden tend to focus their attention more at the national level, and not to see their primary role as representing the interests of their local constituencies. They don’t hold “surgeries” in their local constituencies in the same way that MPs do in the UK, and are less likely to get involved in helping individual citizens solve local problems.  

Partly this is because what they need to do to get reelected is to retain the support of their local political party organisation, rather than the support of voters. Partly, its because MPs have very little power to influence their local municipalities and regions. 

“There is a big difference in how much [MPs in Sweden] can do. If people want help in their private, local cases, there is very little executive power in being an MP,” Karlsson says.  

As a result, people in Sweden are more likely to write letters to local municipal councillors or regional representatives, rather than to their MPs if they want help with personal problems and local issues. 

When Amnesty writes letters to MPs, they usually decide which MP to write to based on whether they are actively engaged in the issue at hand, or whether they sit on a certain committee, rather than on which constituency they represent. 

When Amnesty is campaigning on a local issue, however, they do sometimes still write letters to MPs based on the constituency where the issue is taking place. 

For instance, when a Romanian citizen living in Gävleborg was hit with heavy medical bills from the regional health authority because she had a baby in a local hospital without the required paperwork, Amnesty sent letters to MPs representing the constituency.