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Living in Sweden
What You Should Know About Living Costs and More in Sweden
There are many country facts about Sweden that will not surprise people such as the excellent healthcare system and high cost of living. However, other facts may surprise relocating expats such as a housing market that is so competitive there is a black market for leases.
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Salaries are high in Sweden, but they are directly proportionate with the high cost of living. When planning your relocation to Sweden, there are many practicalities to consider so that your move does not deplete your savings. For example, preparing to find short-term relocation while you compete with the ever-diminishing housing options will go a long way to making your move easier and more affordable.
Whether you are moving to Sweden next month or thinking of moving next year, use this guide to learn all you need to know to prepare. We cover topics such as how to secure communications like WiFi and SIM cards as well as all you need to know about driving and public transportation in the country and major cities.
Cost of Living
Is it expensive to live in Sweden? Every day expenses fluctuate depending on where you live, but overall the average cost of living in Sweden is high. The bulk of this high cost is due to rent prices, which climb by about 1% each year. In recent years, Sweden has experienced a housing shortage thanks to a growing demand by people flocking to the country for the high quality of life, yet not enough housing to accommodate them.
Housing in Sweden has become so fierce that there are first and second-hand rentals. First-hand rentals refer to someone renting from the original owner of a property. Second-hand rentals are typically called “sublets” in other countries, and they refer to renting from the current renter (i.e., the holder of the first-hand lease). Foreigners and students are typically only able to secure second-hand leases for their first few months or half a year in Sweden. The downside to these leases is that rarely do they last longer than a year. Therefore, newcomers to Sweden may have to deal with packing up and moving apartments over and over. Learn more in our housing section.
Average Cost of Living in Sweden by Cities
Stockholm is the most expensive city in Sweden. It is followed by Gothenburg and Uppsala. Cities such as Nykvarn and Södertälje are much cheaper.
Average Monthly Costs in Stockholm (without rent)
|Family of four||34,000 SEK||3,900 USD|
|Single person||12,000 SEK||1,400 USD|
Average Monthly Costs in Uppsala (without rent)
|Family of four||33,000 SEK||3,800 USD|
|Single person||9,000 SEK||1,050 USD|
Average Monthly Costs in Gothenburg (without rent)
|Family of four||31,500 SEK||3,600 USD|
|Single person||9,000 SEK||1,050 USD|
Average Living Expenses in Sweden
In a country that is a bit out of the way in terms of geography, it is expected that grocery prices are high. In general, Swedes tend to eat at home, and cooking together is seen as a social activity. Eating out, on the other hand, is seen as a bit of a luxury (although Swedes still go out to eat at least once a week or so). If you want to eat out, you should plan on spending around 100 SEK (11 USD) for a cheap meal and 200+ SEK (23+ USD) as an average cost. A nice dinner with drinks will be about 800 SEK (91 USD).
Food, Alcohol, and Gas
In Sweden, liquor sales are regulated by the government. You can only buy alcohol at government-owned stores called Systembolaget (sometimes referred to as “the system”). These are the only stores in Sweden allowed to sell beverages containing 3.5% ABV or more. All products, including beer cans, are sold individually.
The legal drinking age in Sweden is 18, but Systembolaget will only sell to people who are over 20.
Average Food, Alcohol, and Gas Prices
|One dozen eggs||28||3|
|Half liter of beer||17||2|
|One bottle of wine||100||11|
|Meal at an inexpensive restaurant||120||14|
|One liter of gas||16||2|
When compared to Swedish rental prices, utility costs are fairly reasonable throughout Sweden. Because first-hand rental contracts are hard to come by, making it hard for renters to sign up for their internet without a lease, most rentals come with Wi-Fi included in the rent. It is also common to have water or electric included as well.
On average, basic utilities can run to about 1,300 SEK (150 USD) per month, depending on the size of your house and how many people are in your household.
Cost of Education
Public school in Sweden is free to attend, and there is debate about the benefits of charter schools in the country (private schools that receive public funding). Although the cost of these schools and international schools is regulated by the government, prices can still be anywhere between 30,000 to 100,000 SEK (3,500 to 11,500 USD) annually.
Healthcare is where Sweden really stands out from the rest of the world. The country’s healthcare system is so effective and efficient that is has been used as a model for healthcare schemes in other countries around the globe. You will need a personnummer to use the public healthcare system. Once you do, public healthcare visits will average between 110 to 300 SEK (12–35 USD) depending on your county. Specialist appointments will be around 400 SEK (45 USD). Having a private health insurance plan is not common, but those who choose it can expect to pay around 4,000 SEK per year (460 USD).
Travel and Transportation Cost
Sweden is a large country stretching over 450,000 square kilometers (173,000 square miles). To travel around, most people go by car, bus, or train. Travel by car is the most expensive, primarily because of Sweden’s high gas prices. Globally, only nine other countries have gas prices higher than Sweden. The high price is due to the two taxes added onto gas: an energy tax and carbon dioxide tax. This results in gas that would normally cost 8 SEK per liter to instead cost nearly 16 SEK (both are between 1 to 2 USD).
Travel by train or bus is very convenient throughout Sweden. Both modes of transport run regularly with many stops, so that you can easily get around the country.
Sample Bus Prices
|Adult Single Ticket||SEK||USD|
|Stockholm to Uppsala||100||11|
|Stockholm to Gothenburg||30||3|
|Malmö to Lund||6||1|
Sample Train Prices
|Adult Single Ticket||SEK||USD|
|Stockholm to Uppsala||15||2|
|Stockholm to Gothenburg||80||9|
|Malmö to Lund||7||1|
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- 112—emergency services
- 113 13—SOS Alert; alerts emergency services of a non-emergency situation such as road accidents
- 11 414—police number for non-emergency incidents
The main embassies of Sweden are found in the capital Stockholm. A detailed list with contact information can be found on the Swedish government’s website.
The main airport in Sweden is Arlanda Airport in Stockholm (airport code: ARN). It is located 40 kilometers north of Stockholm and services nearly 20 million travelers a year.
Public Holidays in Sweden
|New Year’s Day||January 1|
|Epiphany||13th day of Christmas|
|Good Friday||Friday before Easter|
|Easter Sunday/Easter Monday||Dependent on the moon|
|Labor Day||May 1st|
|Ascension Day||39 days after Easter|
|National Day||June 6th|
|Pentecost Day||50 days after Easter|
|Midsummer Eve/Midsummer Day||Friday and Saturday between June 22-25|
|All Saints’ Day||First Saturday in November|
|Christmas Eve/Christmas Day||December 24 and 25|
|Second Day of Christmas||December 26|
|New Year’s Eve||December 31|
Culture and Social Etiquette
There is much that defines Swedish culture, but perhaps the most pervasive is acceptance. Sweden is renowned for their open and accepting culture, which works its way into nearly every aspect of Swedish life including their education system and business culture. Swedes have a societal belief that everyone is equal regardless of class or gender, and this belief is prevalent in every day interaction.
The following are Swedish social and cultural etiquettes that relocating expats should be aware of.
The Swedish government describes itself as the “first feminist government in the world.” As a feminist government, policies are focused on gender equality, feminist foreign and trade policy, and combatting domestic violence.
Currently, a little over half of the government ministers and members of parliament are women. The government as a whole has committed itself to promoting gender equality and equal rights throughout Swedish society. The government has even established the Swedish Gender Equality Agency.
This devotion to gender equality extends to all aspects of Swedish life. In school, male and female students are treated exactly the same, and gender equality is highly promoted in classroom settings. Workplace gender discrimination has been illegal since 1980 and a law passed in 2009 dictates that employers actively promote equality between male and female workers.
In keeping with the spirit of equality, Swedes disdain hierarchy. No matter someone’s social standing or position at work, everyone in Sweden refers to each other by first name as a sign that they are all equal. In some cultures, it may be rude to not refer to someone by their title, or to address a new acquaintance without “Mr./Miss” in front, but in Sweden not referring to someone by their first name is seen as distant and unapproachable. Students call their teachers by their first names and even government officials on state business introduce themselves by using their first name.
Me, Myself, and I
The Swedish population has one of the highest amount of single, unmarried people on the planet. However, this does not mean that the country is ideal for expats looking for a long-term relationship. On the contrary, Swedish culture promotes independence so much that Swedes often shy away from the term “dating” and therefore stick to themselves. Swedish culture also does not encourage talking to strangers, which means there is very little interaction on the street or out in public by Swedes. The staunch dedication to gender equality has also contributed to many Swedes steering away from the traditional idea of dating and marriage, preferring instead to just hang out with one another.
Nearly one-tenth of Sweden’s landscape is dominated by greenspace. The country not only boasts the first ever European National Park, established in 1909, but it is also estimated that 80% of Swedish residents live within five kilometers of a national park. Because of this, the majority of Swedish nationals love the outdoors and have a passion for being environmentally friendly.
When Invited to Someone’s Home
If you are invited to someone’s home for a meal, there are some rules to keep in mind. The first is that it is seen as impolite to leave any food on the plate. Likewise, you should wait for the host to offer seconds. Each guest is expected to personally thank the host after the meal. When toasting drinks, you must look someone directly in the eye. Guests are also expected to stay and converse once the meal is finished.
Punctuality is very important in Swedish business and social culture. It is seen as extremely rude to be late for any type of appointment or social engagement. Likewise, showing up too early can also put people off. When meeting with someone, try to be no more than five or ten minutes early.
Public transportation in Sweden is so efficient that many people may not feel the need to drive in Sweden. However, depending on your job, driving may make your life a bit easier and give you more flexibility to move about as you please.
Driving in Sweden with a UK/US/Europe License
You can drive on a foreign driving license until you get your Swedish residency. Once you have your residency, you must apply for your Swedish driving license.
How to get a Swedish Driving License
If you are an EU/EEA citizen, or a citizen of Switzerland or Japan, you can automatically exchange your driving license for a Swedish one. This will cost about 250 SEK (25 USD).
Nationals from most other countries will need to apply for a license from scratch. The steps to apply for a permit include:
Step One: Apply for a Learner’s Permit (körkortstillstånd)
To begin obtaining a Swedish driver’s license, you will first need to apply for a learner’s permit. You do this by filling out an application for the permit, which can be found on the Swedish Transport Agency (Transportstyrelsen) website. There is no fee to submit the application.
You will also need to complete an eye sight test and a general health check within two months of applying for your permit. The cost for these should be around 150 SEK (15 USD).
Once you have your completed application and vision and health declaration, you will submit these documents to the Swedish Transport Agency.
Step Two: Practice Driving
To practice driving, you can register with a driving school or practice with someone who is over 24 years of age and has held a valid license for at least five years. If you already have experience driving in your home country, this may feel like a pointless step, but it is a useful way to get acquainted with the road and safety rules of Sweden.
Step Three: Risk Training (riskutbildning)
Because Swedish roads can be subject to harsh winter conditions, it is required that drivers complete risk training. Risk training includes theoretical lessons on the effects of driving while tired or under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The other part of risk training includes how to drive in extreme conditions such as snow and ice.
The cost for this course is typically about 3,000 SEK (300 USD).
Step Four: Test
You will be required to pass both a theoretical test and a driving test in order to obtain a driving license. During the driving portion, the instructor will evaluate you in four areas:
- How well you control the vehicle.
- Your reaction to different traffic situations.
- How well you apply the traffic rules.
- Whether or not you apply “eco-driving” (environmentally friendly driving).
The driving test should take no longer than 30 minutes. If you fail, do not fret. Nearly 50% of test takers in Sweden fail during their first try. You should be able to book another appointment within a few days and try again.
Driving Rules in Sweden
- The legal driving age in Sweden is 18. It is possible to rent a car at 18, but drivers under the age of 25 may incur a “young person” surcharge.
- It is illegal to drive with a blood alcohol content of 0.02% or more. The limit for breath alcohol content is 0.10 mg per liter.
- Headlights must be switched on at all times of the day.
- Speed limits range from 110 km/h (65mph) on main highways, 70 km/h (43mph) on smaller roads, and 50 km/h (31mph) in towns and cities.
- You may not use a cell phone while driving unless it is hands-free.
- Children under seven years of age must use a special child’s seat.
- If you plan to stop your car and wait for several minutes or more, you must turn off your engine.
- Pedestrians have the right of way.
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How is public transportation in Sweden? Public transportation in Sweden is fast, efficient, and reasonably priced when compared to other expenses throughout the country. In nearly every major Swedish city you will find a variety of options such as trains and buses.
How to Use Public Transportation in Sweden
Although the process and cost of using public transportation will vary slightly from city to city, residents largely use standard tickets to access public transportation. Tickets are bought at kiosks or through mobile apps. Only in Stockholm will you find a metro system. Other cities in Sweden use light-rail or trams.
Cost of Public Transport in Sweden
The cost for bus and train tickets differs from city to city, but on average a single fare is about 45 SEK (1 USD). As with any country, discounts and special fares exist for students, senior citizens, children, and regular commuters.
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