Everything You Need to Know About Moving to Sweden
Over the past decade, the Nordic countries, and Sweden in particular, has been a popular choice with people from the UK for living, working or studying overseas. A quick snapshot from the OECD’s Better Life Index provides a clear indication of why this may be the case. Sweden ranks above average in: education, work-life balance, income and wealth, personal safety, environmental quality, health and housing.
For citizens of a small, overcrowded island like Great Britain, the sheer size and space on offer in Sweden cannot fail to attract. It’s almost twice the size of the UK, with just one fifth of our population. Such a stark difference is difficult to imagine. Much of the country is covered in dense forest and great swathes of the north are completely unpopulated. And it may not be an island, but with 3,000 km of coastline and 100,000 lakes, water is one of its defining features.
Not only is Sweden a beautiful place to live; it also appears to be an extremely happy one. Ever since 2013, Sweden has consistently ranked as one of the top ten countries in the World Happiness Report. When surveyed, Swedes identified 4 factors contributing to the sense of well being they experience:
- A high level of trust towards the institutions and other people
- A good degree of personal freedom when making life decisions
- Low levels of income inequality
- Government and institutions adhering to consistently high standards
Feeling tempted? Then the Schepens Guide to Moving to Sweden from the UK is for you. It’s split into two parts: ‘Before You Leave the UK’ and ‘When You Arrive in Sweden’. The topics we’ve included are heavily influenced by a survey we carried out amongst movers either living permanently, or working temporarily in Sweden. We asked them to list the areas they wish they’d known more about before moving. Here are their top 10:
- Making friends and creating a support network
- Cultural differences
- Calculating a rough budget for life in Sweden
- Removals to Sweden
- Local knowledge
- Finding somewhere to live
- Work culture in Sweden
- Laws that may affect me
- Transport locally and across the country
We cover all the practicalities, but there are also a number of sections covering the culture, lifestyle and differences in how people behave. Moving abroad, whether it’s permanent or for a limited period, changes your perspective on the world; it’s an adventure. We hope that what follows helps you to enjoy it to the full.
Before You Leave
- Calculating a Rough Budget
- Doctor’s Appointments and Prescriptions
- Documentation You’ll Need
- Driving in Sweden
- Emergency Funds
- Finding Somewhere to Live
- Language – Do You Need to Speak Swedish?
- Removals to Sweden
- Local Knowledge – Which Restaurants Will You Try
- Swedish Weather/Climate
When You Arrive
BEFORE YOU LEAVE
Calculating a Rough Budget for Life in Sweden
Most people have heard about the high cost of living in Sweden, but don’t know the detail and how it compares to life in the UK. Estimating a rough budget allows you to calculate what you’ll have to live on in your new home, and what standard of living you can expect to enjoy.
Numbeo is a great place to start your research. It gives you a detailed list of prices for rent, groceries, eating out, clothing etc. What’s particularly helpful is that it allows you to compare a city in Sweden with one in UK. This can throw up some surprises. Despite Sweden’s reputation for high prices they are lower than their London equivalent in most cases. Except when it comes to groceries which are nearly 15% higher.
Cost of Living Comparison Between London and Stockholm
- Consumer Prices in Stockholm are 2.34% lower than in London (without rent)
- Consumer Prices Including Rent in Stockholm are 19.88% lower than in London
- Rent Prices in Stockholm are 42.63% lower than in London
- Restaurant Prices in Stockholm are 2.86% lower than in London
- Groceries Prices in Stockholm are 14.68% higher than in London
- Local Purchasing Power in Stockholm is 1.24% higher than in London
Once you have your Numbeo snapshot of prices, you could follow up with a search of Reddit, or Quora. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, post some questions of your own. Often this kind of research puts you in touch with people who’ve gone through a similar experience and can offer fascinating insights into managing a budget in a new country.
Rental costs are key to knowing what your standard of living will be. The Local lists 13 reputable websites that can help with your rental search. You’ll quickly get an idea of what kind of property, and which locations you’re going to be able to afford. If you’re ready for a deep dive you can also start to factor in daily travel costs, internet packages, utilities etc.
Once you know what an average month in Sweden is going to cost, you can set it against your monthly income.
Doctor’s Appointments and Prescriptions
Sweden has a great healthcare system, but getting set up with a local GP can take time. You may want to schedule an appointment with your current GP before you leave, just to make sure that you have an adequate supply of any prescription drugs you’re currently taking to bridge the gap. GPs deal with this problem all the time, so they’ll be able to help.
You could also ask for a digital copy of your medical records, so you can pass these on to your doctor in Sweden on your first visit.
Documentation You’ll Need
Don’t underestimate the amount of documentation that is needed to set up your new life in Sweden.
- Passport (must have 6 months left on it)
- Visa or Work Permit
- Birth Certificate
- Medical Records
- Insurance documents
- School Records (for children of school age)
- National Insurance Number
- Marriage Certificate (if appropriate)
- Driver’s License
- Tax Records
- Divorce/Child Custody Papers (if appropriate)
- Adoption Papers (if appropriate)
- Pet Vaccination Records (if appropriate)
Driving in Sweden
If you’re planning to drive whilst you’re in Sweden, you’ll be able to use your UK driving license until July 2021. After that date you’ll be able to exchange your UK license for a Swedish driving license without having to take a driving test.
Anyone itching to explore Sweden by car is in for a major treat! There are some classic scenic drives just waiting for you. We would recommend:
- The Blue Drive. This actually starts in Norway and ends in Russia! The Swedish part of the drive runs from west to east and takes in a sparsely populated area which is rich in forestry and lakes.
- The Wilderness Road. This aptly named route takes you into the north of Sweden. It’s stretches across 500km and through mountain ranges, and over the extraordinary Stekenjokk Plateau.
Just a couple of words of caution: if you’re caught committing a minor driving offence whilst driving in Sweden, you could be given an on-the-spot fine of up to 4,000 SEK (around £340). Apart from that, remember to drive on the right, always check out weather conditions before driving, and ENJOY!
Having an emergency fund to move with minimises many of the stresses of moving abroad to live or work. It gives you a ‘cushion’ should you need medical treatment before your insurance kicks in, for example, or your first month’s pay-check is delayed.
Once you know what your monthly outgoings will be, it’s worth putting aside a couple of months of living expenses as your emergency fund.
Finding Somewhere to Live
Your search for a rental property in Sweden will probably begin before you move from the UK, unless you plan to stay in a hotel until you find somewhere. Whichever way you go you’ll probably hear quite early on in your search that finding somewhere to live in Sweden is a challenge. This is because there’s been a housing shortage for the past few years. The situation does now seem to be improving, but newcomers are still experiencing difficulties.
Having said that, the process of renting in Sweden is pretty straightforward. You have a choice of Short Term, or Long Term rental properties:
- Short-Term Rentals: These couldn’t be simpler to arrange. All you need is your passport and a copy. In some cases you’re also asked for proof of income. The rent on these properties is pretty much equivalent to long-term rentals.
- Long-Term Rentals: The ideal is to find a long-term rental managed by the landlord. These are relatively rare, however. Most are second-hand rentals, (sublets) with a premium added. If you should be lucky enough to land a first-hand contract, you will need a Swedish Identity Number, an employment contract, and proof of income.
A good place to start is: Looking to rent in Sweden? Here are 13 websites that can help.
Language – Do You Need to Speak Swedish?
If you move to Sweden without a word of Swedish you’ll probably never find yourself in a situation where you can’t be understood. Swedes have very high levels of fluency in spoken English, to the extent that for many of them it’s a second language.
So, do you need to speak Swedish to live and/or work in Sweden?
Here’s 3 reasons why doing so might give you a deeper understanding of the country:
- Making Emotional Connections. Learning a new language means blundering every now and again. Which can be the perfect way to start a conversation, laugh together, or simply accept help. Learning the language helps you to make friends in your new country.
- Improve Your Status at Work. Many businesses are happy to work with non Swedish speakers, but not knowing the language limits your potential. There will always be emails you can’t read or phone calls you’ll need to hand over.
- Understand the Culture. As a visitor to Sweden it’s easy to skate over the surface of the culture, enjoying it as a tourist. Learning Swedish helps you to dive deeper, find out what people are talking about, experience the humour, and spend time with Swedes.
Removals to Sweden
Finding the right removals company can make the process of moving to Sweden from the UK seem surprisingly simple. Choose the wrong company and it will make the whole experience miserable. After decades of helping people to move to Sweden from the UK, we have put together a checklist of things to look out for when choosing your European Removals Company:
Questions to Ask When Choosing a Removals Company for Moving to Sweden
You want to know that the company you choose has been established for a while. Fly-by-night companies come and go – you need to be able to rely on your removals team.
Ideally you would want a removals company that specialises in removals to Sweden. They will have experience with Swedish customs, routes, driving in winter, and regulations. They will also be able to give you the most informed advice and guidance to help with your move.
A company that makes regular runs to Sweden will be able to offer you a more competitive price than one that will need to schedule in a special journey for your move. They will also be able to offer flexible scheduling and provide full, or part load shipping.
You’ll probably want to compare 3 or 4 companies before making your choice. Beware free quotations that offer a ‘ball park figure’; these are rarely accurate. A detailed quote, taking into account the specifics of your move will help you to plan your budget with precision.
Look on the website and social media for up-to-date reviews over the past few months. Pay special attention to people who’ve made the same kind of move as yours.
You will want the peace of mind that comes with knowing that your goods are covered throughout their journey from the UK to Sweden.
If you’re moving to Sweden a fixed-term work contract, you may want to put your goods in storage in order to rent out your home whilst you’re away. Local storage in the UK, linked to your removals company, will save you a good deal of time and effort. Once you’re in Sweden, you may need storage for your goods whilst you are sorting out your accommodation.
Most removals companies equipped with a fleet of removals vehicles can schedule your move with around a month’s notice.
When managing overseas removals there’s rarely time to pack up the house as well as everything else. Most removals companies provide professional packing services, using sturdy cartons and packing materials.
If you have a pet that you want to take with you to Sweden, you’ll need to check out the requirements for ‘bringing a pet into Sweden’. You may take a look at the requirements and decide that this is a job for the pet relocation professionals! They will take care of scheduling flights, managing customs and transfers at each end.
Ultimately, you’ll need to make your decisions based on what’s right for your pet. Their age, health and temperament will determine quite a few of the decisions you make about your move to Sweden.
Local Knowledge – Which Restaurants Will You Try?
After a day with your head buried in the admin that every move entails, it’s a good idea to do a bit of fun research about where you’ll be living. One of the most exciting things about moving to a new country is the opportunity it gives you to try new kinds of food, shop in unfamiliar ways, and experience new kinds of social events. TripAdvisor is a great starting point for this kind of research.
The Swedes love to talk about the weather as much as we do in the UK, because there’s variation throughout the year and each of the seasons has a distinct personality. We tend to think about long winters and long summer days in relation to Sweden. This is largely true but there are variations across the country.
Stockholm enjoys 17 hours of daylight in the summer and just 6 hours in the winter. The city temperatures climb to around 23°C in July and August, but plummet to -1°C in midwinter. Perhaps the greatest difference between Stockholm and London lies in the amount of snow that falls. If you yearn for a white Christmas, the odds of getting one are higher in Sweden than in the UK. On average, snow falls for 10 day throughout December.
WHEN YOU ARRIVE IN SWEDEN
Apps – Find the Ones Locals Use
One of the first things you’ll want to do once you’ve arrived in Sweden is orientate yourself. A great way to do this is to migrate from your UK-centric social media to the Sweden-centric version. Once you’re on the right apps you’ll be able to find local expat community groups. Many of these will arrange meet-ups for newcomers.
This is a short-term strategy to get you anchored in your new city. Swedish friendship circles will take a while to establish. Whilst you’re waiting for this to happen, meet up with people who’ve been through the same experience as you and can show you the ropes. The sooner you have people you can call up, the more you’ll start to feel at home in Sweden.
One of the first things you’ll need to do once you’ve arrived in Sweden is to set up a local bank account. The Swedish banking system is pretty simple to navigate so you shouldn’t have too much trouble getting up and running. You can then use it for your salary, paying utility bills and for saving money on international fees.
There are 4 high profile banks in Sweden:
Banking hours are 10-4pm, Monday to Friday. The simplest way to open your account is by visiting your local branch. You’ll need your passport, your Swedish ID card and proof of address, but check on the bank’s website to see if there’s anything else required.
Sweden has a tradition of ‘being the first country to…’ and they’re a passionate early adopter of new technologies. The Swedes were the first European country to introduce banknotes in 1661, and now Sweden is on course to become the world’s first cashless society. You’ll notice that most retailers already insist on electronic payments, even though cash is currently legal tender.
After March 2023 banknotes and coins will no longer be accepted as legal tender in Sweden. The banknotes will still circulate, but they will become museum pieces, rather than being a practical means of paying for goods. Most Swedes have already stopped carrying cash, and even market vendors are set up for taking payment electronically.
No matter how much you love your new home, and relish the challenges of a new and diverse workplace, you will bump up against a number of cultural differences. These can be exciting, even exhilarating, but the common message they deliver is that ‘you are different and don’t belong’. Some people thrive on the challenge of adapting. For others it’s a daunting and uncomfortable task.
Culture shock is a feeling of disorientation that occurs when you encounter a new way of life which is unfamiliar to you. This could be as small as feeling knocked back by someone at work, or realising you don’t know how to pay a bill. Suddenly you are forced to become a beginner again, and to learn things that you have always taken for granted in your native culture.
Everyone deals with culture shock differently. Some people find it helpful to understand it as a journey with distinct staging posts:
This is the good bit – when you’ve just arrived and everything is fascinating and wonderful. You’re intrigued by the food, the shops, the natural environment. You have no doubt that you’ve made the right decision and every day feels like an adventure.
The energy that sustains you through the honeymoon period wears out after a while, and a fatigue with things being different sets in. This shows itself in a creeping frustration. Anything can set it off; people misunderstanding you in a shop; not knowing how to order a takeaway; discovering you’re not part of a social event at work. Suddenly life feels unbearably hard every single day and you think you may want to go home.
Human beings are endlessly adaptable; it’s how we’ve survived for so long. Gradually you’ll find ways to cope with feeling a bit lost. The city will become easier to navigate, shopping will get less stressful and people will start to recognise you. Little by little you’ll begin to feel like you belong in this new life.
This is a good place to be; it’s the acceptance stage where you stop trying to wrestle the culture round to what you want, and accept it’s different. Once you stop fighting and comparing, you can take a step back and relax. You’ll like some things and dislike others – just like home – but all you can do is fit in where you can and keep learning.
Schooling is student-centred in Sweden, which means that young people have the choice of where they go to school and whether or not to continue their education after the age of 15. As this is just one of many choices they are able to make in the course of their schooling, there are hardly any ‘drop-outs’ from the system. In fact the record of attendance and attainment is extremely high.
Compulsory education begins at 6 but pre-school options are available from 1 year. Primary schooling runs from 6-15 years. Secondary school starts at 16 and runs for 3 years. You have a choice of public schools, funded locally, private schools, and international schools. If your children will be at school in Sweden for a short period only, the international school system will ensure they stay up to date with their home curriculum.
If you have a job in Sweden, and you’re registered with the Swedish Tax Agency, you will have access to the excellent Swedish healthcare system in the same way as native Swedes. The system isn’t entirely free, but the fees you pay are very reasonable. A regular visit to you doctor will cost between 11-22 euros, and a specialist appointment will cost around 40 euros. Hospital stays cost 12 euros per day for 10 days, and then this sum is halved.
Once you are registered in the tax system you’ll be assigned a doctor in your local area. You can, however, select a doctor of your choice. The 1177 website gives you loads of useful information about finding doctors and healthcare services.
Making Friends and Creating a Support Network
Not everyone finds making new friends easy, and trying to create friendships in a new country can be really tough. Quite apart from the language barrier, you’re also a ‘foreigner’ trying to break in to already established groupings. Like it or loathe it, though, you’re going to need a support network in Sweden, especially during the early months of your adjustment to a new culture and way of life.
We’ve come up with 5 ways to meet people in your new home:
- Find an Expat Group Nearby. This is the easiest option and it’s a way to find people who will know what you’re going through. Use local apps to locate expat groups, or search in Facebook Groups for your city. You’ll probably have to make a request to join.
- Look for a Language Exchange. If you’re learning Swedish, find a conversation partner. Most Swedish cities have Language Exchange meet ups and you can choose the level of proficiency you feel happy with. You’ll get to improve your Swedish, and meet new people.
- Get Crafting, or Cooking. Swedes enjoy arts and crafts, or cooking get togethers. Find a club that appeals to you and go along. The pressure won’t be so great because you’ll be focusing on ‘doing’, but you’ll get to know a group of people with shared interests over time.
- Volunteer. If you’ve volunteered in the past, you’ll know how great it is for getting to know people from all kinds of different backgrounds. Find out what’s on offer in your local area and join in. It will give you a deep dive into the city and a group of new contacts all in one.
- Get Involved in a Sport. Whether you’re into running, hiking or football there are groups across Sweden you can join. And the great thing is that sports activities tend to end up with drinks in the pub, or a eating meal together.
Places to Live in Sweden
The four most popular destinations for UK movers are Stockholm, Gothenburg, Malmö and Uppsala. But what’s it like to live in each of these cities? We asked some of our movers, who are now living in Sweden, to give us a snapshot of life in Swedish cities.
It’s a city that’s spread across 14 islands, bordered by the Baltic Sea and Lake Mälaren, and it’s pretty unique. The streets are clean, and safe; the culture is Green and liberal, and the population is globally diverse. Stockholm is known for its ‘start ups’ especially in tech, and it’s characterised by a young and entrepreneurial workforce.
Malmö is quite well known in the UK as the Swedish location in The Bridge. It’s just a 30 minute drive across that bridge to Copenhagen. So even though the city is on the other side of Sweden to the capital, there good access to city life. Malmö is beloved of young Swedes and it has a hipster vibe because of this. Very laid back, very diverse, a great city to work in.
This is a city with a stunning location. Gothenburg is on the dramatic west coast, around 3 hours north of Malmö. It has two universities which means the population is young and the nightlife is good. Business and academe has a good working relationship which has turned the city into something of an innovation hub. Oh, and Gothenburg hosts the largest film festival in Scandinavia.
Uppsala is home to the oldest university in Sweden. Founded in the 15th century, the university is the heart of the town, drawing students from across the world. The city is located just 70 km north of Stockholm, so it’s a popular location for people looking to live outside the capital. During the summer the population shrinks by around half as students travel home. For some residents this is the best time of the year; other describe it as a ‘ghost town’.
Public Transport and Commuting
As you might expect, the public transport in Sweden is clean, efficient and remarkably punctual. It’s also fairly expensive, despite it being subsidised by the government. Commuters can buy tickets that are valid both on trains and buses.
Driving in Sweden is an absolute pleasure! The roads are wide and, for the most part, congestion free. It’s worth noting that all cars are required to fit winter tyres between December and March. You are also required to keep your headlights on at all times when driving.
A sporting passion that is shared by both Sweden and the UK is football. Swedish football has a reputation for being mediocre, but this is unfair. The players are professional, young and committed to the game, but there just aren’t enough big cities across the country to fund the leagues in the same way the UK does.
Apart from football, many of the popular sports in Sweden tend to revolve around getting out into the natural environment. Hiking and cycling are hugely popular, as is swimming, skiing and canoeing in fairly terrifying rivers.
Sweden is known for its high rate of taxation. This tax revenue is used to fund generous social benefits. These include: subsidised childcare, unemployment insurance, universal health insurance, free university tuition, unlimited sick days, and parental leave for new parents.
If you are working in Sweden, but are not registered as a resident, you will be taxed at a flat rate of 25% at source.
5 Things About Working in Sweden
Differences in work culture shouldn’t be underestimated. Many of them are small, but they can make the difference between a good day at the office and feeling like you’ve landed from a different planet. Here are 5 key cultural differences to watch out for in the Swedish workplace:
- There’s no excuse for being late. Punctuality matters in Sweden in a way it doesn’t so much in the UK. Meetings start on time, and employees arrive and leave on the dot. This isn’t about people being ‘sticklers for the rules’ it’s a part of the culture and everyone buys in.
- Work colleagues and private friends. The Swedes like to keep a very clear dividing line between work and home. They enjoy their time with their family or friends and don’t want it encroached upon. Colleagues at work tend to be just that, therefore. There may be drinks after work, or coffee and cake, but the relationship will always retain a little formality.
- Fika is part of the working day. Many Swedish workplaces schedule in coffee breaks (fikas) in the morning and afternoon. These are times to socialise with colleagues and step away from your desk. They can last anything between 10 minutes and half-an-hour and they’re considered essential to the maintenance of a good working culture.
- Think week numbers, not months. In the UK we tend to talk about ‘the middle of June’, or ‘at the start of November’ when we’re scheduling in appointments. In Sweden it’s quite different. Week numbers are used instead, and the month may get used as a follow-up confirmation.
- Get your work done and go home. Forget working overtime in order to impress your boss. In Sweden there is no culture of selling your soul to the company. Working beyond the time you should finish is seen as a signal that you’re not coping. Swedes get their work done efficiently and leave the office punctually.
Are You Moving to Sweden From the UK?
Schepens has been providing stress-free removals to Sweden for over a century. We’re a family-run UK based removals company now in our 4th generation. Little wonder, you may think, that we’re the UK’s leading provider of when it comes to moving to Sweden from the UK. And it’s not just one-way traffic; we move as many people from Sweden to locations across the UK and Europe, as we do the other way around.
We specialise in moving families, solo professionals and students in the UK or Europe to locations across Sweden. The Schepens European removals team makes weekly runs to all the major cities in Sweden, including Jönköping where we have a depot. This means that we’re able to guarantee our clients affordable prices, flexible scheduling, and full or part load shipping.
At Schepens we don’t just get people moved; we care about our movers’ experience of removals from the UK to Sweden. A European move is always an upheaval, which is why we assign a move co-ordinator to each mover. They will create a tailored removals plan for you, and manage the logistics from start to finish.
“We moved from the UK to Sweden. When I started Googling and asking for recommendations for companies, there were a great many, but almost everyone who’d gone to Sweden said “Schepens”. It was clear that the company knew every intricate detail of the moving process very, very well. They didn’t offer cheerful customer service talk, but detailed knowledge – which was just what we needed! They told us all about the customs procedures, what documents to prepare in advance, what needed printing and signing versus just having ready electronically, what pitfalls we might encounter and how to avoid them. They also took an informal advance inventory of the furniture we planned to take and came up with a quick estimate of the total volume and the cost.”