Moving to Sweden

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A comprehensive guide to moving to Sweden

Are you moving to Sweden? Great choice! You’ll not only experience a country with an egalitarian society and numerous job opportunities; a move to Sweden also rewards you with astounding natural beauty. We give you an overview of all you need to know about Sweden, from visas to transportation.

Relocating to Sweden

  • The Swedish climate varies greatly depending on where you choose to live.
  • The visa and work permit application process is relatively straight-forward.
  • You can travel to and around Sweden both by ferry and train, as well as by plane or car.
  • Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö are all lovely destinations of varying size.

When you move to Sweden, one of the first things you will probably recognize is the egalitarian spirit prevalent in the country. While Sweden used to be a significant military power throughout the 17th century, it has, in fact, not participated in a war in over two hundred years.

Once you arrive, you will discover that there is a lot more to this Scandinavian country than the welcoming nature of its citizens. Beautiful archipelagos, breathtaking coastlines and vibrant cities await expatriates in Sweden.

Great Contrasts: Climate and Location

Sweden is a country in Northern Europe, located right at the Baltic Sea between Norway and Finland. Because of its strategic location, it forms a link between the Baltic Sea and the North Sea.

The climate in the South is temperate with cool, yet often bright summers and cold winters. The climate in the north is subarctic with extremely long days in the summer and long, cold periods of darkness in the winter, so you might want to move to Sweden’s south if you’d rather experience regular days and nights! The urbanization in Sweden is quite high. As of 2016, 85% of the population’s 9.7 million inhabitants are living in major urban areas such as the capital Stockholm.

A Small and Aging Population

Sweden is famous for its calm and often introverted people. What many expatriates moving to Sweden perceive as shyness, however, mostly stems from a strong sense of politeness and rationality. Although most Swedes do not like to draw attention to themselves, individualism is strong, especially among younger generations.

You may soon realize, though, that the younger generation is not that large in Sweden. In fact, at the age of 41, Swedish people have a rather high median age with a high life expectancy to boot. Sweden’s population itself is not that big, though, with only a little over 9.7 million inhabitants. That’s why you will find a lot of open space, and peace and serenity when moving to Sweden.

While there is a small Finnish and Sami minority, most expatriates in Sweden are immigrants from other European countries. Most Swedes are Lutheran, and Swedish is the only official language. Despite the lack of significant cultural diversity, however, Swedes are a people for whom equality and fairness is essential.

The Sami People

The Sami are an indigenous people living in the Northern part of Scandinavia, who have a rich cultural and traditional background. There are only about 70,000 Samis living in Sápmi, which today stretches across Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia. About 20,000 of them have settled in Sweden, maintaining their cultural heritage alongside modern Swedish society.

The Sami were nomadic hunters who once followed reindeer herds until the 17th century when they increasingly domesticated these animals. Aside from reindeer herding and meat production, arts and crafts are considered traditional Sami trades. Many Sami nowadays run traditional agricultural farming alongside their reindeer herding (from which now only 10% of Samis earn a living) or sell the product of their arts and crafts to tourists. The younger generations of Sami are also working in more “modern” jobs alongside the family business. This also applies to the accommodation of today’s Sami who only use tents as very temporary accommodation, preferring modern housing.

 The Sami Parliament was established in 1993 and functions both as a state authority and a publicly elected body. It promotes the Sami culture but is not a body for self-government. There is no political representation of the Sami within the Swedish government although there are some local politicians in the northernmost Swedish municipalities.

An Introduction to Swedish Politics

Sweden is a constitutional monarchy with a legal system influenced by Romano-Germanic and customary law, which has been independent since 6 June 1523.

Aside from the presence of the monarchy, the Swedish government functions in a similar way to many other European countries. Sweden’s King is considered the head of state, while the Prime Minister and deputy Prime Minister form the head of Sweden’s government. The legislative branch of Sweden’s government consists of the unicameral parliament or Riksdag. The parliament has 349 seats. Its members are elected by popular vote and serve a four year term.

Whilst the monarchy is, of course, hereditary, the leader of the party with the majority of votes usually becomes the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister personally chooses the ministers who form the cabinet. The Supreme Court or Högsta Domstolen makes up the judicial branch of the government. Its judges are appointed by the Prime Minister and the cabinet.  

Sweden: Visas and Expat Registration

Swedish Work Permits

Expatriates from non-EU/EEA countries who come to Sweden for employment need to obtain a work permit first. The work permit has to be placed in your passport before your arrival in Sweden. You can submit your application to your nearest embassy or consulate, however, this adds about a month onto the processing time. Thus, it is advisable to submit your application online to the Swedish Migration Agency. Due to the current refugee situation, even if your application is submitted online, there is still a predicted 2-5 month waiting time. While your work permit application is being processed, you are not allowed to travel to Sweden.

The Application Process

The work permit application process begins when you receive an offer of employment. Your employer has to send your contract to the responsible trade union. Once the trade union has approved your salary and working conditions, you can apply for a work permit at the Swedish Migration Agency or at the nearest Swedish consulate or embassy.

Please remember that, if you plan on moving to Sweden with your family in tow, your partner and your children will require a residence and/or work permit as well. So make sure to apply for these too.

For further questions and information on visa and work permit matters, make sure to contact your nearest embassy or consulate or get in touch with the Swedish Migration Agency (Migrationsverket).

Necessary Documents

Everybody getting ready to apply for a work permit has to submit the following documents:

  • An application form
  • A valid passport and a copy of the picture page
  • An offer of employment (Anställingserbjudande)
  • Application fee (for a standard work permit this is 2000 SEK)

Your family members all have to apply for their own permits. They have to submit the following documents:

  • a valid passport and a copy of the picture page
  • an application form
  • two passport-style photos
  • a copy of your marriage certificate (or equivalent) or a document proving that you have lived together in your country of origin as common-law spouses
  • birth certificates of your children
  • a certificate proving that your children over 21 can finance their stay in Sweden

All documents should be translated into either English or Swedish. Just like your work permit, your family members’ residence permits must be entered into the passport before moving to Sweden. If you are granted a permit and need an entry visa for your residence permit card, you and your family need to visit the Swedish embassy or consulate-general as soon as possible to be photographed and have your fingerprints taken. Remember to contact them before your visit.

Written Offer of Employment

A written offer of employment is essential for a successful visa application. You should receive a written offer of employment from the company you are about to work with in Sweden. This is important for the application process and will qualify you for a Swedish work permit.

The written offer of employment is in fact an official document which describes the details of your employment at length. It must include information on your salary, insurance and the duration of your work contract. Your future employer must obtain the offer of employment form from the Swedish Migration Board.


Nationals of EU/EEA member states are free to live and work in Sweden without obtaining a residence or work permit first. This makes Sweden quite easy for EU/EEA citizens. However, they still have to contact the Swedish Migration Board to register their residency within three months of arriving in Sweden.

You have the option to register in person at one of the offices of the Swedish Migration Board or submit your registration documents via mail or online. If you commute to your workplace in Sweden and return back home at least once per week, you do not need to register. The same applies to Nordic citizens who can live and work freely in Sweden. Remember to enclose a certificate of employment with your registration documents.

Once you arrive in Sweden, it is also important to register with the Swedish Tax Agency (folkbokförd) in order to be officially listed as a resident of Sweden and to be able to pay taxes. After moving to Sweden, you will discover that your personal identity number will be required in many official, as well as everyday, situations so you should try to register as soon as possible upon arrival. You will receive a personal identity number and be eligible for a Swedish identity card. You must also keep the Tax Agency informed if you move within Sweden, marry or divorce, or move away from Sweden. For further information along with the locations of the Tax Agency offices visit their website.

Transport and Destinations in Sweden

Arriving in Sweden by Air or Sea

There are frequent ferry connections between Sweden and its neighboring countries. Different lines connect the bigger cities at the coast with destinations in Germany, Denmark, Estonia or Finland. Most of them offer discounts for students, senior citizens and children. Travelling outside of peak times will save you a lot of money, as fares will be cheaper then.

For those who would rather travel by air, Stockholm Arlanda is an important destination. The airport links Sweden to other European nations and North American countries. Göteborg Landvetter is another important airport with international flights to and from Sweden.

Railway Transport and Driving

A railway line between Copenhagen and Malmö connects Sweden to Copenhagen. If you are on your way to Stockholm or other parts of the country, you may have to change trains in Malmö. Other train connections allow you to travel from Sweden to Hamburg, Berlin, Brussels, Oslo, and other cities in Europe.

Or perhaps you would prefer to explore Sweden’s vast countryside by car! This is a great way to get to know your new home outside of the big cities. It is even possible to drive directly to Copenhagen from Malmö (or vice versa) via the Öresund Bridge (for which you will have to pay a toll). While driving is a convenient way of getting around in Sweden, you should be prepared for rough weather conditions, especially in the country’s north.

Possible Expat Locations

Stockholm is not only Sweden’s capital, it is also a major international city with great shopping and dining opportunities, a renowned club and music scene, and a vibrant cultural life. Moreover, it flaunts some breathtaking natural beauty. Stockholm is spread across 14 islands, connected by 57 bridges, in the Baltic Sea and looks back on more than 700 years of history.

Gothenburg, or Götheborg, is Sweden’s second largest city. In recent years, it has undergone a significant transformation from industrial seaport to cultural and international sports venue. In the 1990’s the Gothenburg Opera House was completed and various museums were refurbished. In addition, Gothenburg has also become famous for its exquisite cuisine, involving local produce and fish.

Malmö is often perceived as Sweden’s gateway to continental Europe, due to its connection to Copenhagen via the Öresund Bridge. The bridge opened in 2000 and turns the two cities into one metropolitan area. Malmö is a transportation hub, from which it is easy to explore the region. Copenhagen as well as several smaller towns, villages, and beautiful beaches are within easy reach. At the same time, Malmö remains a small and friendly town where almost everything is within walking distance.

InterNations GO!
by InterNations GO!
13 December 2017

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