Want to live in Sweden?
Sweden’s known for taking excellent care of its residents. Expats can enjoy a good quality of life with access to affordable schooling and healthcare.
The country’s infrastructure is excellent, and pristine Scandinavian forests and lakes are within easy reach of modern cities. But all this comes at a price: taxes and living expenses are high and finding affordable accommodation can be challenging.
Accommodation in Sweden
Finding a place to live can be one of the most difficult parts of moving to Sweden. It’s important you give yourself enough time to look for accommodation. Especially if you’re heading to a city such as Stockholm, which has a severe housing shortage.
Most city properties are apartments, while houses are more common in smaller towns and rural areas. Swedish homes may be smaller than you’re used to, but the overall quality is good and they’re well insulated.
The housing market in Sweden is quite different from what many expats may be used to – so check if the area you’re moving to has a welcome service (invandrarservice) to help you settle in. You’ll need a personal identity number to register with your local municipal housing authority or a housing company.
You’ll be able to find both furnished and unfurnished properties in Sweden. Rental agreements for furnished properties tend to be for less than a year. Unfurnished accommodation is leased for longer periods and usually comes with basic bathroom and kitchen fittings. If utilities aren’t included in your rental contract, you’ll have to set them up yourself. Start by asking your landlord to help you find water, heating and electricity suppliers.
Local culture in Sweden
If you’re from Europe or North America, you’ll be familiar with many aspects of life in Sweden. And if you’re willing to embrace the local culture, adapting to your new home shouldn’t be too challenging. Most locals speak some English, but it’s still important to learn Swedish. Even if you don’t speak it well, making the effort goes a long way to helping you integrate into the community.
Swedes tend to do things in moderation and the concept of lagom – which loosely translates to ‘just enough’ – plays a big part in their outlook. If you want to fit in, avoid extreme displays of emotion or flaunting of wealth.
Swedes are polite, but they don’t do small talk. And while they may appear reserved, they’re usually just respecting your privacy. Once you’ve made local friends, you’ll find them loyal and warm.
Education in Sweden
Swedish schools generally have good standards and encourage students to think independently. Public and private charter schools are funded by the government and expat children can attend them free of charge. The academic year runs from August to June. There are breaks in October and around Easter and Christmas, and a long summer holiday.
You should consider public schooling if you’re planning to stay in Sweden for the long term. Your local municipality will assign your children to a public school that can give extra Swedish classes to help them integrate.
Friskolor are independent schools that get state funding but don’t have to follow the national curriculum – although many do. They’re a good option if you want your children to have a local education that takes a different approach from state schools.
Home schooling is illegal in Sweden except in rare cases. Children must attend a recognised school from the age of 7 to at least 16.
Sweden’s international schools largely cater for expats on short-term contracts. They’re concentrated in the bigger cities and most follow American or British curricula or the International Baccalaureate. Fees are high and waiting lists can be long.
Keeping in touch in Sweden
You can use international roaming in Sweden, but a local SIM is a cheaper option. The main network operators are Telia, Tele2, Comviq and Halebop. You’ll need a personal identity number to apply for a contract. Or you can buy a prepaid SIM card and top it up online or at newsstands.
Companies such as Telia, Tele2 and Three have various internet packages. Wireless broadband is popular, but you’ll need a personal identity number and Swedish bank account to sign a contract.
The national mail service for Sweden and Denmark is Postnord AB. It’s reliable, efficient and you can track your mail easily.
In terms of English media, there are several websites – such as The Local – that publish Swedish news in English. You’ll find international newspapers at airport and train station newsstands.
Healthcare in Sweden
Sweden offers easy access to good standards of healthcare. While treatment isn’t free, it’s usually inexpensive thanks to limits on how much doctors can charge. Expats from the EU, and anyone with a resident’s permit, have access to Sweden’s public healthcare system. This includes GPs, dental care, hospital stays and prescriptions. There can be waiting lists for specialist procedures, but by law you shouldn’t have to wait for more than 90 days.
Private insurance isn’t common in Sweden, but it’s necessary if you don’t qualify for public healthcare subsidies. Many hospitals outsource services to private providers and having private cover can help you get ahead in the queue for treatment.
Swedish pharmacies are easy to spot – look for the Apoteket sign. They’re usually open from 10am to 6pm on weekdays and until 2pm on Saturdays, although you should be able to find 24-hour pharmacies in the bigger cities.
Emergency services in Sweden are prompt and generally excellent. The number to call in an emergency in Sweden is 112, the European emergency number.
Getting around in Sweden
You won’t need a car in most Swedish cities, where public transport systems are efficient and reliable. Sweden’s rail network covers the whole country, and trains are often the quickest way to travel long distances. The largest rail operator is SJ AB. In cities like Stockholm, you can buy a monthly ticket to use on trains and buses. In most Swedish cities, buses will take you to the few places that trains don’t reach. Intercity bus travel is a cheaper but slower alternative to trains.
If you’d rather cycle, most cities in Sweden have networks of dedicated cycle paths. Cycling tours play a major role in its tourist industry. The best time to cycle is between April and October, before the cold sets in.
Sweden’s taxi industry is deregulated, and fares vary between companies. Taxis are legally required to display their prices, usually on the rear window. You can book a cab in advance, hail them in the street or catch a ride at a taxi stand. There are also several convenient ride-hailing apps to use in Sweden, including the likes of Uber and Bolt.
Sweden has an extensive ferry network, especially in the Stockholm archipelago. There are also regular ferries in Gotland and near the fishing villages of the country’s west coast.
Driving in Sweden is a pleasure, as the country has excellent roads, and its highways are usually congestion free. Expats should note all cars in Sweden are required by law to have winter tyres between December and March. You can use your national driving licence in Sweden as long as it's still valid, and you haven’t been in Sweden for over a year. When you’ve lived in Sweden for more than a year, you’ll have to apply for a Swedish driving licence.
Cost of living in Sweden
Despite Scandinavia’s reputation for being expensive, the overall cost of living in Sweden is lower than the UK and US. Stockholm is undeniably expensive, particularly accommodation. Small towns and rural areas are cheaper than cities – and you can buy weekly, monthly or annual tickets for public transport to keep your travel costs down. Taxes are high, but they’re offset by good salaries, efficient public services and generous social security programmes.
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Top tips for Sweden
See what people responding to our Expat Explorer Survey think about living in Sweden.
Get excited about the outdoors and develop an interest in camping, boating, biking, cross country skiing, hockey and skating... Sweden is a BRILLIANT place to participate in these sports.
All Expat Explorer survey data and all tips (in quotation marks) are provided by HSBC.
All other content is provided by expatarrivals.com, Globe Media Ltd and was last updated in September 2021. HSBC accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of this information.
This information is purely for orientation and to inspire further research, it does not constitute advice and no liability is accepted to recipients acting independently on its contents. The views expressed are subject to change.
Always remember to ensure you're aware of and comply with any laws in your host country or country of origin that apply to gift giving and bribery.
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