19 Things to Know Before Moving to Sweden

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When I resigned from my work in the Philippines in 2017 to take a one-month break, I had no idea or any plans that my next work would be in Sweden.

Before moving to Sweden, I also looked for a guide on what I should know, but most of the information I found was a bit too positive. I needed something that could actually set my expectations.

So, if you are planning to move to Sweden, I made a list of things to know before moving to Sweden that includes both the good and the bad!


19 things to know before moving to Sweden

Of course, you are moving to another country and you wouldn’t want to only know how much Swedes love coffee, right?

That’s why I want to prepare you & help you set your expectations. So, here are the things you need to know before moving to Sweden!

Life in Sweden without a personnummer is difficult

The first few months after moving to Sweden will be difficult when accessing the basic services like healthcare and banks, and any transactions you do on a Swedish website without a personnummer or a Swedish person number.

People who just moved to Sweden might need to wait at least 18 weeks to get a personnummer. This also makes it difficult for you to open a bank account since most banks require a personnummer & Swedish ID.

If you are new to Sweden, you can read my post on how to get a Swedish personal number.

This is the most important thing to know before moving to Sweden because you also need to prepare yourself financially while waiting for your personnummer. When you visit a doctor without it, expect that you need to pay around 1.000 SEK.

Some banks will also not open an account for you even though you have a work permit & you need a bank account for payroll. Companies need a Swedish bank account for your salary.

Sweden is a cashless society

As someone who doesn’t like carrying cash, this is one of my favorite norms in Sweden! Most of the stores here do not accept cash anymore. But, in grocery shops, for example, you can still pay cash even at the self-checkout counter.

You can pay using any Visa, MasterCard, or American Express card.

The cost of living in Sweden is high, but the quality of life is high too

Sweden is one of the world’s most expensive countries to travel to, but you still get a livable wage if you live and work in Sweden.

You pay high taxes, but you benefit a lot from its welfare systems like unemployment benefits, sickness benefits, equal access to public healthcare, monetary support for children, special benefits to take care of your sick child, housing allowance, and many more!

You will only receive unemployment benefits if you have worked for the past 6 months. But, Sweden has programs where you can also get an allowance so you can be more employable.

Many businesses close down in July

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Photo by Austin Farrington on Unsplash

In Sweden, it’s normal to take a summer vacation for 4 weeks straight. This is more of a Swedish tradition during summer that’s why many businesses close down in July.

If you are working during summer, work slows down during time also.

On regular days, the downtown stores in Sweden are usually open until 7 PM on weekdays, and 4 PM on weekends. Grocery stores and malls close a bit later.

One of the countries with the best work-life balance

In Sweden, there is a concept of ‘lagom‘ which means ‘Not too little. Not too much. Just right.’ Lagom is a huge part of Swedish culture and this encourages a more balanced approach in life.

Aside from at least 25 days of vacation where you are entitled to take a vacation for four consecutive weeks, most companies in Sweden offer flex hours.

Taking sick leaves (even stress leave) is not frowned up. Taking a vacation is even encouraged, especially during summer. Though I’ve noticed that most of my Asian coworkers take this long vacation in December.

On Fridays, people rarely work past 5 PM too!

Related: Living Abroad: Life and Work in Sweden

Your degree matters at work… but, not really

In Sweden, you will often find job postings that say “bachelor’s degree or equivalent”. This doesn’t mean you need to have a degree to be able to apply for a job.

If you think your experience & knowledge fits the job, you can still apply!

I noticed that the recruiters or hiring managers don’t necessarily look at your educational background or the gap in your work experience. They focus more on your experience & what you can bring to the team.

Also, a person who has a bachelor’s degree & years of experience can have the same salary as someone who is not a degree holder & has half the experience for the same role.

It is safe to drink water straight from the tap

I came from the Philippines, so I never drank water straight from the tap. But in Sweden, you can drink from the tap since the water is fresh & clean.

Just don’t forget that you should not drink hot tap water!

English is not enough

Most people in Sweden can communicate in English with no problems. But, if you are moving to Sweden, you need to be familiar with basic Swedish words since everything here is in Swedish.

If you are a job seeker, it might be difficult to find a job where they don’t require Swedish. But, in the IT industry, most of the job openings do not require Swedish.

It’s hard to find an apartment for rent

It’s not an understatement when locals say it’s difficult to find an apartment for rent in Sweden. There are multiple rental sites, but it’s a challenge to find long-term contracts.

In Sweden, you can get a first-hand contract or a second-hand contract. A second-hand contract is more common. Here’s a complete guide about renting an apartment in Sweden.

Plan using week numbers… everything has a number

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Photo by Jazmin Quaynor on Unsplash

I noticed how people in Sweden like to be exact so they give numbers in any situation.

Swedes also use week numbers for planning.

“I’m going on vacation on week 30.”

Looking at the menu? Don’t be surprised if you see something like “Lunch – Week 33”!

Another example is when Swedes swim in the lake and ask if the water is hot or cold. They will respond with the water temperature instead.

Racism exists too

Racism is a global problem & it exists in Sweden too. It depends on your understanding of racism, and it may not be obvious, but it is more common than we’d like to believe or accept.

I haven’t experienced racism… as far as I know. There are microaggressions that I recently found out it was racist comments, but it was a normal occurrence that I didn’t notice when people do it to me anymore.

Strict laws against sexual violence

Sweden is one of the countries with the highest rate of rape in the world. This is because Sweden has strict laws against sexual violence.

Sex without consent is considered rape. Unfortunately, only 13 European countries including Sweden have this rule.

Personal information can be accessed online

It’s 2021, so everything is all about privacy, right?

But in Sweden, they have offentlighetsprincipen, the principle of openness. So, personal information can be accessed online. There are public websites where you can find someone & it will have information such as your address, birthday, phone number, and relationship status.

People don’t talk to strangers on the street

Swedes don’t like small talk. And, as every immigrant in Sweden will say, it’s hard to make Swedish friends — you must have known them during childhood!

Even when I was living in the Philippines, I rarely greet my neighbors, but I was surprised here that people say “hey” to each other.

When waiting for the bus or train, you need to keep your distance & try not to start a conversation with anyone.

You will also notice that strangers don’t sit together. Unless… it’s rush hour.

Swedish naming law

In Sweden, you need to submit your child’s name within 3 months of birth and have it approved by the Swedish Tax Agency, Skatteverket.

A Swedish couple named their child ‘Brfxxccxxmnpcccclllmmnprxvclmnckssqlbb11116’ (pronounced as ‘Albin’) in 1991 as a protest to the Swedish naming law.

Winter can be depressing

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As someone who lived in a tropical country, I had no idea what to expect during winter. I’m just excited to see the snow (as I’ve seen in movies or TV series). Little did I know, it’s difficult to deal with the days without sunlight!

Until I moved to Sweden, I learned that most people living in northern countries get SAD (seasonal affective disorder) literally during winter.

I have never bought vitamin D during winter, but it was said that it helped people a lot!

Around 17 hours of sun during summer

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Winter can be depressing because of long nights, but during summer, people are happier! It’s nice to enjoy the sun at 9 PM! Also, don’t forget to get blinds in your bedroom because the sunrise is as early as 3 AM.

Swedish special days including celebrating food

As we celebrate Christmas and Ney Year’s, Swedes have a Midsummer Eve and Walpurgis Eve.

The Swedish midsummer celebration is where people celebrate the longest day of the year. I joined the celebration in 2019 in Skansen and it was a really fun experience!

Aside from that, Sweden also have special days for food. There are around 25 special days to celebrate food but Shrove Tuesday (Fettisdagen), Waffle Day (Våffeldagen), and Cinnamon Bun Day (Kanelbullens dag) are like big celebrations.

I remember during Shrove Tuesday, we all eat semla at the office. And one Cinammon Bun Day, the office also prepared cinnamon buns for everyones!

Swedish laundry

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Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

Every person you talk to in Sweden will have comments about the Swedish laundry system. Unless, you have your own laundry machines in your apartment!

Most apartments in Stockholm, especially the old buildings, don’t have a washing machine or dryer in each bathroom, so you need to book an appointment for your building’s laundry room.

This is where you will see people become passive-aggressive. When booking a slot, you have 3-4 hours to do your laundry. If 15 minutes have passed & the laundry room is unoccupied, people can take your slot.

In my experience, I had to plan ahead when booking a slot because weekends or after-work slots are taken most of the time.

I hope this list helped you get an idea or set your expectations before moving to Sweden! I will try to grow this list as soon as I think it will you help you.

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  1. Whether you’re still in Manila or Sweden now, I’m wishing you all the best, Karen! I’m so happy that you have finally attained this dream of yours. You are inspiring. After being an exchange student, I kind of feel like I’m not meant to settle in the Philippines as well, but for now, we’ll see. Enjoy Sweden for me, will you?
    xx Myrra, http://www.myrrazenkate.com

  2. Ate Karen, I’m so happy for you. Don’t forget to share updates through IG (yung mga sites haha). Mag iingat ka dun and alagaan mo sarili mo ha.

    1. Thank you, Kai! I know puro rants ung nasa Twitter ko over the past few months! Hahaha. Sino ba naman hindi maiinis sa POEA? Haha. I’ll try to post more on social media!

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