Moving to Sweden
Sweden’s geography is defined by water: the interior dotted with lakes, while its border features 4,400 miles (7,000 km) of coastline running from the fragmented islands and fjords of the temperate south, to the sub-Arctic ‘land of the midnight sun’ in the north. Stockholm, the capital city and most likely expat destination, is built on an archipelago of 24,000 islands.
Most expats moving to Stockholm thrive in what is one of Europe’s most attractive, vibrant and interesting metropolises. Each of the city’s most central 14 islands has its own character and range of intimate cafés and restaurants. Housing supply is under pressure, however, so rental prices are high, and decent, conveniently located apartments can be hard to come by.
Overall, Sweden offers the possibility of a very wholesome lifestyle, from the abundance of fresh fish and vegetables in local diets, to the many outdoor activities available, including skiing, sailing, forest walking, and berry picking. Public transport is excellent too, unlocking any part of the city or country to even those without a private vehicle.
The economy has done well recently, growing at record rates in 2010, at a time when more traditional expat job destinations, such as Great Britain, stagnated. The result is a reasonably healthy job market, with ample opportunities for expats in specific sectors, such as IT, energy and media. The influx of job seekers has raised the proportion of foreign-born residents to 15 percent, most concentrated in the three large cities of Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmo.
Salaries remain relatively modest due to high taxation rates, but expats with residence permits will enjoy the benefits of an extensive state social network that provides free and high quality education, healthcare, childcare and security. Sweden is also a world leader in liberal values, pioneering gay rights, gender equality and providing extensive parental and maternal privileges for employees.
Expats moving to Sweden may find the language tough to learn, but since Swedes generally speak excellent English, and enjoy practising it, the language barrier is very easily overcome. Swedish culture, however, may be a little more challenging for expats to adapt to. A common thread running through expat accounts of living in Sweden is the difficulty in connecting with the reserved and introverted Swedes and integrating into local life. Those expats prepared to enjoy their status as outsiders will be better prepared for the lack of warm welcome and for those interactions that go against script.
Nevertheless, Sweden was ranked first among EEA nations in the 2011 Migration Integration Policy Index (MIPEX) for ease of integration. The survey considered 148 policy indicators including employment opportunities, family reunion, education, political participation, long-term residence, access to citizenship and anti-discrimination.
Winters can also be a shock to those expats moving from warmer climates. During the winter months of December to March, temperatures drop below zero, snow falls in clumps, and sunlight makes a reluctant appearance for only a few hours each day. Swedish psychologists readily diagnose Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) to those expats starved of the sufficient sunlight needed to produce Vitamin D. The cure? Some quality time at any of the tanning salons or UV therapy rooms found throughout the country. Winter also heralds Sweden’s biggest unexpected danger: falling ice from city roofs. Heed the “Varning: Rasrik” signs.
Sweden balances ultra-modern cities with great expanses of untouched wilderness; and its famously modern populace still takes great pride in their traditions. It is a safe, yet consistently surprising experience for expats; even those who tend to complain about the taciturn locals while renewing their stay here time and time again.