Ah, Sweden. Consistently at or near the top of the list in terms of quality of life, happiness of its citizens, and a host of other attractive characteristics. It has the second highest percentage of its GDP devoted to social welfare programs. Sweden is also the home of the Nobel Prize, named after Swede Alfred Nobel, and the birthplace of musical supergroup ABBA. Its values tend to be very open and accepting, with gender-neutral marriage laws and widespread cohabitation of unmarried couples. You already knew that IKEA is Swedish, but did you know that trailblazing music service Spotify is, too? Likewise so are Skype, Ericsson and Electrolux. The zipper, Tetra-pak, adjustable wrench, and pacemakers are all Swedish by design and creation. And last but not least, it’s of course the nation that gave us Swedish meatballs. The perfect place to relocate? Perhaps. Definitely a strong contender.
A Bit of Background
The area was inhabited by Germanic tribes that eventually gave us the scourge of the seas, the Vikings. The Viking era lasted from roughly the 8th until the 11th century, when Sweden emerged as a unified and independent country. Rising to become a European power in the 17th century, the Kingdom of Sweden, as it is officially called, is now a unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy with King Carl XVI Gustaf at its head, and an elected Prime Minister (currently Fredrik Reinfeldt). Sweden is located in northern Europe, part of Scandinavia, and bordered by Finland and Norway. Its 9.5 million citizens, spread over 25 provinces, enjoy a very high standard of living.
Visas and Immigration
Sweden is part of the Schengen Area, a collection of 26 European countries that have entered into an agreement to do away with borders and passport control. A visa to one member gives you unrestricted access to them all. A visa to visit Sweden must be applied for at the nearest Embassy or Consulate. You may be required to provide proof of international insurance, employment, financial records for the previous three months, and flight/hotel itinerary in addition to the application and photo.
An application for a business visa may require those same items, in addition to a letter from your employer stating the nature of your trip, and a letter of invitation from a Swedish company.
A work permit must be obtained before entering Sweden. It is initiated by your Swedish employer (you need to have a job offer before applying) and is processed by the Migration Board. You will be issued a residence permit card if you’re approved to work for longer than three months.
Once you have lived in Sweden for several years, it is possible to apply for citizenship and all that goes along with it.
You will likely be required to pay income tax while working in Sweden. Swedish taxes are progressive, and the rate depends on how much you earn while there.
There are ten cities with a population over 100,000, so finding a suitable metropolitan locale, with all the housing and amenities that go with it, shouldn’t be a problem. Houses, cottages, apartments, cabins, and flats are all available, and either renting or purchasing is allowed. As with most places in the world, real estate agents are ready to assist you with your search. A rental agreement for an apartment or flat is usually signed between the landlord/owner and the tenant directly, although it can be hard to find housing quickly in the larger cities. Register for the municipal housing queue to speed things along. Smaller cities and towns don’t typically have such a long waiting period.
A couple of good websites to check out the market include Hemnet and booli. They don’t appear to have an English version, but you should be able to translate the pages using Google Translate. Not an ideal solution, maybe, but both come highly recommended, and are worth the effort to get an idea of selection and price in your area.
Education in Sweden is highly valued and heavily subsidized by the government. Students attend compulsory education until age 16, at which point nearly 90% of students continue with an additional three years of upper secondary school programs. A free lunch is provided to each student at school, regardless of whether it’s a public or private institution. In fact, Sweden provides the same amount of public funding to all schools in the country. For-profit schools receive the same as public ones. There are many international schools with an English curriculum to choose from, including Stockholm International School.
About 15% of Sweden falls within the Arctic Circle, so you know that winters are kind of a big deal there. The south is primarily agricultural, with increasing forest as you move north. In fact, about 65% of the country is covered by forests. Surprisingly, Sweden has a moderate temperate climate, despite its reputation as a (year round?) winter wonderland. There are four distinct seasons, and the temperatures are relatively mild in each. In fact, the winters are warmer than parts of Russia, Canada, and the US at similar latitudes. The north and south of the country experience slightly different seasons, though. The south has warm summers (averaging 20-25’C) and cold winters (-5-2’C), while the north has shorter, cooler summers and longer, colder, snowier winters. The country also tends to be drier than expected, receiving roughly 20-30 inches of precipitation each year (which means that some areas are - gasp! - snowless even in winter).
In addition to the expected Christian holidays, Sweden also celebrates a number of older ones, including Midsummer (summer solstice), Walpurgis Night, Saint Lucia, and National Day of Sweden (June 6). There is a successful Swedish film industry, giving rise to Hollywood stars such as Greta Garbo and Ingrid Bergman. Both football and ice hockey are national obsessions, with multiple professional and amateur teams scattered throughout the country. You’ll have ample opportunity to watch or play either one. Stockholm has a thriving music scene. Travel to the far north in winter to experience ice hotels, dog sledding, the never-setting sun, ice fishing, the Northern Lights, and snowmobiling. The south offers beautiful coastlines dotted with islands and fjords. The Foteviken Viking Reserve is an amazing reconstruction of a Viking village. Get out and enjoy the absolutely stunning natural beauty that Sweden has to offer. Or explore its cities, lakes, waterways, and castles. Travel to nearby Finland, Norway, and Denmark, or further afield into the rest of Europe. You’ll be spoiled for choice before you’re bored.
Sweden has a reputation as a great place to visit, live, and work. Its social welfare programs ensure that everyone is well provided for and taken care of. Laws are in place to protect everyone, from tenants to employees, and everyone in between. It is a beautiful place, with large tracts of unspoiled nature, and mesmerizing seasons, people, and culture. Sweden’s place at or near the top of, well, almost every list out there (education, healthcare, quality of life, natural beauty, happiness, economy…) is well deserved.