Although it might be tempting to play to stereotype, there is more to this Scandinavian powerhouse than meatballs, ice hockey and flat-pack furniture. Indeed, from the ‘Nordic Noir’-inspired Oresund Bridge in the south to the harsh but beautiful Arctic wilderness of its far north, Sweden has something to offer everyone – little surprise, then, that it’s consistently attracting expats looking to work abroad.
Those that make the plunge have found a welcoming – and prosperous – environment, too. Despite a significant financial crisis in the 1990s, Sweden has built a strong reputation for developing progressive workplace practices and cultivating a forward-thinking approach to employment law. This is consistently reflected in the UN’s World Happiness Report, where, alongside neighbours Norway and Finland, Sweden regularly appears in the top 10.
So, if the thought of packing a case, upping sticks and living among some of the world’s happiest people makes you clamber for your old ABBA records in excitement, then read on; this is what you need to know…
With a population of just over 10 million people, Sweden is by far the most populous of the Scandinavian regions; foreign immigrants account for around 15% of this figure. The majority of these arrivals are from the Middle East, with the Swedish government also implementing an open and extensive asylum seeker programme, particularly for displaced Syrian and Afghan refugees. In addition, there are currently an estimated 30,000 UK nationals who have taken the decision to relocate.
Economically, Sweden performs relatively well, too; its GDP is among the top 25 in the world, while unemployment rates currently sit at an EU average of around 6.5%.
The majority of this solid and prosperous economy is built upon export and foreign trade, with Sweden’s engineering sector (particularly automotive engineering) a prominent contributor. There is an also an emphasis on developing energy production (especially clean energy), while the government and the taxpayer heavily subside much of the country’s overall industrial output.
Key industries include:
- Automotive engineering
Several high-profile brands and organisations have also been founded in Sweden, with several of these still based there today. These include:
- Volvo (vehicle manufacturing) – Gothenburg
- Electrolux (appliance manufacturing) – Stockholm
- Ericsson (electrical manufacturing) – Stockholm
- H&M (clothing/retail) – Stockholm
- Spotify (music streaming) – Stockholm
- AstraZeneca (pharmaceuticals) – originally founded in Sodertalje and currently retaining one of its three global R&D facilities in Gothenburg
In addition, the video conferencing software tool Skype was co-created in Sweden, as of course was the global furniture giant IKEA, which was founded in Almhult in 1943 and is currently headquartered in the Netherlands.
Salaries in Sweden inevitably vary between industries and jobs, but a fair average estimate is at around 27,200 SEK (£2,330/$3,300) per month. Professionals in the financial services, mining and manufacturing industries tend to be on the higher end of the salary scale while, conversely, education professionals find themselves at the lower end.
Cost of Living
As with all the Scandinavian nations, the cost of living in Sweden is relatively high. According to Numbeo, a city centre apartment in Stockholm (where the majority of expats are based) can cost on average around 15,500 SEK (£1,330/$1,900) per month, although asking prices drop to a slightly more generous 10,500 SEK (£900/$1,270) outside of the city centre. Away from the capital, meanwhile, rental costs decrease considerably; a decent two-bedroom apartment would set you back around 8190 SEK (£700/$990) per month.
In terms of commuting, public transport isn’t cheap, either: a monthly pass would set you back around 795 SEK (£68/$96). Alternatively, petrol prices are approximately 14 SEK (£1.20/$1.70) per gallon, with new and used cars generally available for around 200,000 SEK (£17,100/$24,150).
Swedes follow the typical working pattern of 40 hours between Monday and Friday, with the law generously guaranteeing all employees at least 25 days of paid annual leave alongside the existing 16 public holidays.
Additionally, between 2015 and 2017, the Swedish government experimented with the possibility of six-hour working days, implementing a nationwide trial to gauge its effect on performance, productivity and overall employee happiness. Although it was deemed to be too expensive to realistically maintain, many of the workers being monitored reported significantly increased energy levels and a much improved work-life balance. As a result, other similar trials are currently underway, with the government remaining open to a more cost-effective compromise in the future.
Finding a Job
As a foreigner, employment opportunities may depend on your existing skills and experience. For many positions, knowledge of the Swedish language is desirable but not necessarily essential. The easiest way to find a job is to consult with the government’s official labour shortage list, which documents the professions that are most in demand – like in many countries, skilled healthcare, IT and tech positions feature heavily on this list.
If you already work for a global multinational company that has offices in Sweden, it could also be worth enquiring about the possibility of applying for internal vacancies or secondments. Building a strong and well-connected network will also stand you in good stead should anything relevant arise.
In the meantime, continue to study job boards, individual company websites and online vacancy resources; the EURES portal is a highly recommended job search tool for EU citizens in particular.
Visas and Work Permits
As Sweden is an existing member of the EU, other EU/EEA nationals are not required to submit any special visa or permit applications. Conversely, citizens of non-EU countries require a work permit before they can legally work in the country (there are exceptions for age-specified nationals of some non-EU countries, such as Canada and Australia, who can apply directly for working holiday visas).
Typically, this involves holding a concrete trade union-approved job offer from a Swedish company that pays a minimum monthly salary of 13,000 SEK (£1,110/$1,570). It is necessary to apply for this permit before entering Sweden (although if you are already legally living there on a different type of visa, this is fine).
As you can see, there is little downside to making the move from abroad, both from a career and a lifestyle perspective. Swedes have a famously laidback and pragmatic outlook, and this is reflected in its highly progressive social and political attitude towards welcoming foreigners.
With the country continuing to open its arms – and offer a high quality of life in the bargain – now could be a better time than ever to take advantage.
Have you already made the move? What advice would you give? Let us know in the comments below…
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