Moving to Sweden
An increasingly popular destination, expats moving to Sweden are attracted by the prospect of a balanced, prosperous life in a country that combines high technology with pristine nature; ultra-liberal values with respect for traditions; and abundant economic opportunity with extensive social welfare.
Sweden’s geography is defined by water. The interior is dotted with lakes, while the coastline runs for thousands of miles from the fragmented islands and fjords in 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 14 islands at the centre of the city has its own character and range of entertainment options. Housing supply is under pressure, however; rental prices are high and decent, conveniently located apartments can be difficult to come by.
Overall, Sweden offers the possibility of a wholesome lifestyle, from the abundance of fresh fish and vegetables in local diets, to a wealth of outdoor activities like skiing, sailing, forest walking, and berry picking. Public transport is excellent too, unlocking any part of the country, even for those without a private vehicle.
The Swedish economy has done fairly well, remaining stable during the global financial crisis when more traditional expat job destinations, such as Great Britain, stagnated. The result is a reasonably healthy job market, with opportunities for highly qualified expats in specific sectors, such as IT, energy and media. Despite strict immigration laws, around a fifth of the Swedish population comes from a foreign background, especially in large cities such as Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmo.
High tax rates mean that Swedish salaries are fairly modest, 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 difficult to learn, but since Swedes generally speak excellent English, and enjoy practising it, the language barrier is very easily overcome. Swedish culture may, however, 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. Expats who are prepared to enjoy their status as outsiders will be better prepared for the occasional awkward encounter.
Nevertheless, Sweden has been ranked first among EEA nations in the Migration Integration Policy Index (MIPEX) for ease of integration. The survey considers a range of indicators including employment opportunities, family reunion, education, political participation, long-term residence, access to citizenship and anti-discrimination measures.
Winters can also be a shock for expats who move to Sweden 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) in expats starved of the sunlight they need 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. It would be wise to heed the warning signs.
Sweden balances ultra-modern cities with expanses of untouched wilderness, and the famously modern populace still takes great pride in its traditions. It is a safe, yet consistently surprising experience for expats; even for those who tend to complain about the locals before renewing their stay here time and time again.