Expats planning on working in Sweden should stake less in the amount of their monthly salary, and more in the quality of their life ahead. Sweden's exceptionally high taxes and emphasis on welfare benefits mean that even workers maintaining mid-level positions and moderate salaries can access a high standard of healthcare, reputable schools for their children, and retirement security.

With such obvious draws, it seems millions of expats would be marching on Sweden's entry points, but a highly skilled labour force and a fairly insular economy prohibit easy entrance into the Swedish working world.

European Union (EU) and European Economic Area (EEA) citizens do not need a work permit to work in Sweden, but citizens of all other countries do need a work permit to be lawfully employed in the country. Work permits can only be applied for with a formal written offer of employment from a Swedish company.

Job market in Sweden

As can be expected from a country with universal social benefits, the workforce in Sweden is highly skilled, with roughly a third of employees having some degree of tertiary education. Nearly half of the country's output and exports are accounted for by the engineering sector, followed closely by the telecommunications, pharmaceutical and automotive sectors. 

Expats wanting to work in Sweden should have at least a basic knowledge of the language. Most jobs require fluency in Swedish, with the exception being large multinationals that use English as their corporate language, most of which are located in Stockholm.

International companies are therefore often an expat's most likely opportunity for employment. That said, companies are more inclined to hire non-Swedish-speaking expats if the potential employee at least shows an interest in learning and would, at the minimum, be able to understand what is said around the water cooler. 

Expats who don't speak Swedish and who don't have any interest in becoming a member of the corporate world should consult the Swedish labour shortage list, a twice-annually published detail of the country's needs in the labour force. The chance of finding a job in Sweden is significantly better if an expat’s profession appears on this list.

There is usually a lack of skilled workers in areas of healthcare, trade work, engineering, teaching and IT-related positions. Workers seeking a position in these and other areas with shortages should be able to apply for a job within Sweden rather than returning to their home country first. 

Sweden also publishes a regulatory list, a detailed account of professions which require some form of certification (such as doctors, lawyers and psychiatrists). If someone plans to work in Sweden and their profession appears on this list, they should check with the relevant listed regulatory agency to find out which certifications are needed, or whether or not the certification they already have is acceptable.

Finding a job in Sweden

Though most positions in Sweden require proficiency in the language, there is a wealth of English resources available to expats trying to find a job in Sweden, most of which are available online.

Recruiting companies and temp agencies can also be useful resources. Contractual and temporary work is on the rise in Sweden, and for many expats, a job of this nature may be a good stepping stone toward a better opportunity.

When applying for a job in Sweden, it's standard practice to send a one-page cover letter and Curriculum Vitae (CV) that is succinct and to the point. It's common to be interviewed only when short-listed for a job. During July, August and December, due to the vacation times of the majority of Swedes, it may be difficult to find employment as many companies put administrative matters, such as hiring, on hold.

If extended an offer, be aware that salary levels in Sweden are often subject to agreements between labour unions and employers. It is important to do research before accepting an offer and to be aware that tax in Sweden is astronomical.

Work culture in Sweden

Swedish work culture is characterised by a flat hierarchy. Employees aren't micromanaged and are trusted to make the best of their working hours. Decisions are based on group consensus rather than the decision of one individual. This kind of workplace structure can be confusing for expats used to working in an office with clearly defined roles and levels of authority.

Family is of great importance in Sweden, and work-life balance is a core concept of life in Sweden. Famously the first country in the world to replace maternity leave with parental leave, Sweden still has one of the most generous parental leave policies in the world today, with both parents being entitled to a combined 480 days of leave when a child is born or adopted. Annual leave is also generous, with 25 days of leave a year being the legal minimum.

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