This very well-ordered and diverse Nordic country has much to offer, but there are some important steps you need to take to make sure you get the full benefits of moving to Sweden. Here are a few hints and suggestions to make living in Sweden that much easier. They are pretty much in order of importance, so try to follow them sequentially, if possible.
1. Learn Swedish
Swedes generally speak very good English, so you can probably exist for years without learning a single word of Swedish. But fluency in the language is crucial for full integration and will certainly help in the job market. Sign up for an SFI (Swedish for Immigrants) course offered through each local municipality’s adult continuing education program (kommunal vuxenutbildning, or komvux – there’s your first lesson!).
2. Get a residency permit, or renew it, at the Migration Agency
Almost the first thing to do when you arrive in Sweden is to register at the Migrationsverket (Sweden’s Migration Agency), which handles immigration, asylum, visas, permits, and citizenship. If, you already have the required residence permit, be aware of the expiration date. Locate your nearest Migration Agency office in case you need to renew permits or have other visa-related issues.
3. Register with the Tax Agency and obtain a personal identification number
The next most important thing to do as a new resident is to register with the Swedish Tax Agency (Skatteverket). This registration process (folkbokföring) gets you into the system for tax collection, personal identification, marital status monitoring, mailing address information and insurance purposes.
You will be assigned a unique personal identification number called personnummer. Your legal identity hinges on this key number, and it is used for everyday official tasks such as opening up bank accounts and getting paid by your employer.
Taxes: Taxes can be automatically deducted from your salary every month. If however, you plan on starting your own business you will need to register for F-skatt (företagare – entrepreneur). It is worth finding a good accountant to help you through the process.
Don’t forget that as an American expat you will still have to file taxes in the USA every year.
4. Register with the Swedish Social Insurance Agency
You should then register with the Swedish Social Insurance Agency (Försäkringskassan). Every resident is entitled to certain benefits such as basic healthcare, parental benefits, child allowances, disability coverage and other insurance payments.
5. Get a Resident ID Card
Next you will need a Swedish resident identification card (identitetskort). This is your primary form of identification anywhere in the country and is used for opening bank accounts, using credit cards, picking up packages from the post office, and verifying your age before entering certain clubs …or even purchasing alcohol (more on that later).
Note: To obtaining the Swedish ID card for the first time, you will need someone – your boss, a colleague or a friend – who is already registered, to verify your identity, personally, at the Tax Agency.
6. Open a local bank account
This is quite simple and usually requires a Swedish ID card, or at least a valid passport. Sweden’s four main banks are Swedbank, SEB, Nordea and Handelsbanken. Most bills and salaries are automatically paid online, and Sweden has an extensive network when it comes to internet banking.
7. Find an apartment or house
If you are planning on living in the center of one of Sweden’s cities, it will almost certainly be in an apartment. The cost of living varies in certain cities. Average rental price for a 1-bedroom apartment in the center of Stockholm is almost SEK 10,000 (+US$1253.00), while the same apartment in the center of Malmö is only around SEK 6,000 (+US$750.00).
You can rent ‘first-hand’ or ‘second-hand’ in Sweden. First-hand (första hand) means you sign an agreement with the owner of the building, while second-hand (andra hand) or ‘sub-letting’, means you sign an agreement with someone who has a first-hand contract on the apartment.
If you are sub-letting, it is extremely important to make sure that you have the permission of the building’s tenant co-operation board (bostadsrättsföreningen) or the landlord. If you rent a flat from a sub-letter who doesn’t have permission, you run the risk of being evicted.
8. Get a Swedish driving license
Sweden has a reliable transportation network, so you can live in Sweden without a car. But if your job requires one, or if you’d like the freedom of occasionally renting a car, you may be able to drive on your foreign driving license for up to a year.
After one year as a resident and if you plan on purchasing your own vehicle, you are required to obtain a Swedish driving license. Keep in mind that EU and EEA driving licenses are valid in Sweden, and you do not need to trade them for a Swedish one.
9. Mark your calendar with all of the special days celebrating specific foods
OK, food! Very important to Swedes. It’s not just meatballs. Make a note of: Shrove Tuesday (Fettisdagen), which in Sweden calls for a semla (a cream bun with a marzipan type filling, whipped cream and dusted with powdered sugar); Waffle Day (Våffeldagen) on 25 March; and Cinnamon Bun Day (Kanelbullens dag) on 4 October.
While we’re on the subject of food and drink, it is safe – and the norm – to drink the tap water, which is clean and fresh.
Few people drink more coffee than the Swedes. A fika – in which friends, family or colleagues meet for coffee (or tea) – are enjoyed at least once a day.
10. Prepare for cold, dark winters
Sweden is prone to cold, dark winters. In some northern parts of the country above the Arctic Circle, you will get as little as three hours of sunlight per day in the depths of winter. Winters may be dark and gloomy, but you’ll be rewarded with long hours of daylight and moderately warm temperatures in summer.
11. Not all education and healthcare is free
Every child in Sweden has a right to a free education and universities in Sweden are free for citizens of the EU/EEA or Switzerland. But since 2011, students from other countries are charged for studying at Swedish universities. Fees vary between SEK 80,000 (US$10,000.00) and SEK 140,000 (US$17,500.00) per academic year.
While the Swedish healthcare system is largely taxpayer-funded, it’s not entirely free. For routine doctor’s office visits, you may have to pay SEK 1,100 (US$137.00) for the year.
12. Other cultural tips:
Being a guest: When you’re invited to someone’s home or to a meeting, be on time. Swedes value punctuality – regardless of whether you’re going for an interview or a friendly fika. Meetings will start on time with or without you. The train leaves on time with or without you.
Take your shoes off when you enter someone’s home. Some say it’s because Swedes spend a lot of time outdoors during winter and are prone to dragging in dirt. Others say it’s a sign of respect for the home.
State-owned alcohol stores: You can purchase alcohol in restaurants and bars, but to drink in the privacy of your own home, you can only buy alcohol from one of the roughly 400 state-run liquor stores (Systembolaget).
Keep that plastic bag: Most Swedish grocery stores or supermarkets charge you for plastic or paper bags in an effort to keep waste low and encourage recycling.
Business casual means jeans: General everyday fashion in Sweden is simple, relaxed and casual which has crept into more formal business settings. Unless you are meeting foreign clients or attending a board meeting, you can wear jeans and a lounge shirt.
Moving to Sweden is a huge step in your life, and with these tips (and the help of an experienced international moving company), it will be a smooth and enjoyable transition.