Sweden is known internationally for its design, ABBA, and companies like Volvo, Ikea and Spotify. The country also attracts a lot of international talent because of its high standards of living, but what is it actually like to live in Sweden?
Living in Sweden can bring many new opportunities and freedoms that are not available in other parts of the world. However, like in any other place, life in Sweden as an expat is not without its own unique challenges. It can take some time to become accustomed to the Swedish weather and Swedish culture, but once you are over those hurdles, Sweden can be a very peaceful and good place to live.
If you are from a country that has long hours of sunshine throughout the year, the Swedish winter can be tough. The cold temperatures and long hours of darkness make you want to stay indoors and can make you feel very lethargic. Despite this, the Swedish winter is not without its own beauty and charm. The cold temperatures bring the snow and the land is covered with a white blanket that brings light and brightness. Furthermore, the long summer days when the sun sets close to midnight make up for the many months of darkness.
Aside from the long and dark winters, one of the biggest challenges faced by expats in Sweden is on the social front. It can be hard to make friends in Sweden. Swedish people can be quite reserved and private when you first meet them. This can make them seem cold, distant and uninterested in becoming friends if you come from a country where it is common to strike up conversations with strangers in the supermarket or on the bus - something that almost never happens in Sweden.
Don’t be discouraged by the apparent lack of interest, though. An excessive respect for others’ privacy is part of Swedish culture and once you get through it, you will discover that Swedish people are in fact warm, friendly and loyal. But, how do you get through the distance Swedish people place between themselves and others? There are a couple of ways to do this. One of the easiest ways is to pursue a hobby, such as a sport.
Swedish people are generally very sporty and healthy so an easy way to meet Swedish people in a relaxed atmosphere is by pursuing a sport. Conversation is likely to flow easily as the pressure of having to small-talk about random topics - something Swedish people find daunting - is taken off. When doing a sport together, conversation happens naturally around the activity and friendships will unfailingly develop.
It can take time to establish friendships with Swedish people and to build the Swedish language skills that allow you to fully integrate. Don’t worry! Sweden also has a very large expat population. Around 14% of the population in Sweden is foreign-born. Especially in larger cities, like Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö, you will find large expat communities that are very open to socializing. If you have a job it is also much easier to be social as a lot of socializing revolves around colleagues, many of whom are likely to be expats themselves.
Despite the social challenges, Sweden can be a very rewarding place to live in. The work-life balance and flexible work schedules make it much easier to balance having a family and a career, particularly for women. Furthermore, Sweden is a very safe country. According to the Global Peace Index 2021, Sweden is amongst the top 20 safest countries in the world. The most you have to worry about is petty crime and pickpockets.
Safety in Sweden means that women have the freedom to walk around at any time of the day and night without fear. You may also be surprised to see children moving around cities and on public transport by themselves as they go to and from school and other activities. Sweden has created the conditions that make it possible to be very independent no matter your age or gender. In fact, independence and freedom rank very highly in the Swedes’ priority list.
Sweden is also a great destination if you value having easy access to nature. As one of the most heavily forested countries in Europe - around 69% of it consists of forest - nature is always near and is easily accessible from any urban area either by car, rail, or bus. Sweden is very well connected with a very good public transport system and it is very easy to travel around.
In Sweden there is also something called Allemansrätten, or the Right of Public Access, which means that you can move and camp freely on any land except in the private gardens of homes or on cultivated land. This gives everyone full freedom of movement throughout the country’s vast natural landscapes and truly makes Sweden a hiker’s paradise. Going on amazing nature escapades is part of Swedish people’s basic needs.
Although taxes and living expenses in Sweden can be high and it can be hard to find affordable accommodation, especially in Stockholm, the overall cost of living in Sweden is actually lower than it is in places like the US and the UK. This is because healthcare and education are heavily subsidised by the government. Education is in fact completely free, which may explain Sweden’s higher birth rate compared to other European countries.
On the healthcare front, treatment isn’t for free but public healthcare subsidies and limits on what medical professionals can charge mean that going to the doctor is generally inexpensive. The main challenges you will face when accessing Swedish healthcare as a resident are long waiting times for more specialized treatments and some confusion about how the whole system works.
Overall, even if it can be lonely to live in Sweden to begin with, the benefits of living in Sweden outweigh the negative sides. In Sweden, you will find a place where human rights and individual freedoms are protected and respected; a place where you can build a life in peace. Only come prepared to drink loads and loads of coffee in the fika (snack) breaks that form an essential part of Swedish daily life.
Do you want to experience life in Sweden for yourself? Apply to Iknal Semikan today!