Living in Sweden
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A practical guide to the way of life in Sweden
Expat life in Sweden appeals to you? You aren’t alone! The quality of life attracts many expats every year. While the cost of living in Sweden may seem a bit steep, you get an amazing experience in return! Our guide to the “Land of the Midnight Sun” gives you a good idea of life in Sweden.
Life in Sweden
- The housing market in major Swedish cities is very competitive.
- A sublet will be much easier to find than a first-hand rental agreement.
- A large part of the Swedish education is available free of charge.
- The effectiveness of the Swedish healthcare system can be seen in the high life expectancy of the Swedes.
- You will only have to pay a very small part of the overall costs for this brilliant healthcare system.
Spending their life in Sweden has become the dream of many expats. The excellent health and education systems are not the only reason to move to this part of Scandinavia. The country also impresses visitors and foreign employees alike with its breathtaking scenery. Many Swedish people live in a house by one of the many lakes and bays.
Sweden’s summers, although not the warmest, feature long, bright days while the winter season also has its romantic side. Living in Sweden’s North may bring a lot of darkness during those cold months, but it is also a brilliant vantage point for the famous Aurora Borealis; the Northern Lights.
A Problematic Search but Worth the Wait
Swedes and expats alike often run into problems when trying to secure a flat, so when you plan out your life in Sweden, make sure to give yourself enough time for the apartment hunt. Whilst the living standards in Sweden are rather high, with apartments often located close to schools, shops, and public transport, the Swedish housing market is currently facing many problems. The government plans to spend an additional six billion crowns next year on boosting construction and intends to simplify building regulations. Yet, Sweden needs to build 500,000 homes by 2020 and there is currently an average wait of 13 years in Stockholm’s public queue for a rental in the inner city. House prices are also rising at the fastest paces in Europe, up 13% in the second quarter of 2015 from the previous year. Thus, the real estate market in bigger cities can prove to be particularly competitive and it will take some hard work to acquire a home.
If you are interested in rental costs in different regions, cities, and neighborhoods, browsing Swedish real estate websites helps to provide you with an overview of the market. Sites like Hemnet and Booli are in Swedish only and thus require you to have some basic language skills in order to start looking for your dream home. Other resources like Bostad Direkt or Residensportalen are also available in English.
“First-Hand” Rental Apartments
In Sweden, apartments can be rented with a first-hand (förstahandskontrakt) or sublet contract (andrahandskontrakt). It can be quite difficult to sign a first-hand contract without a Swedish personal identity number (personnumber) or a guaranteed income. If you can secure one of those contracts while living in Sweden, however, the contract will be between you and the owner of the building.
The usual way of finding a first-hand rental apartment is by registering with your municipality to be put on a waiting list. In larger cities, these waiting lists are extremely long and it can take several years before your municipality will consider you. Inquire with the local municipality for more information on the waiting list. Smaller towns or villages will be easier, however, and you may get a first-hand rental apartment right away.
Sublet rental contracts are much more common among foreigners living in Sweden than first-hand rentals. They are easier to find and you do not need a personal identity number and guaranteed income. Your rental agreement will then be signed between you and the owner of the apartment or the holder of first-hand rental contract.
While sublet contracts are easier to come by for expatriates, you should still make sure to always sign a formal contract. Sublet rental contracts are always between private individuals. You can search for apartments by typing hyra lägenhet (rent apartment), hyreslägenhet (rental apartment) or uthyres andra hand (sublet rentals) in your search engine. Real estate agencies can be a great help as well.
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Education and Schools in Sweden
The Swedish Education System: Created with Parents in Mind
The Swedish education system offers numerous education opportunities for children of all age groups. This includes regular schooling as well as education for children with learning disabilities. After school programs or extracurricular activities are available as well, mostly free of charge. Furthermore, the government has invested around 69.5 billion SEK in education and academic research. The government has also recently proposed initiatives to raise teacher salaries, improve further training available for teachers and the opportunities for development in the schools facing the greatest challenges.
Pre-school, pedagogical care and open pre-school are designed for younger children. Most institutions offering this type of schooling are daycare facilities for children age 1 and above. The different municipalities are obligated to offer pre-school and family day care to parents who study or work full time.
Pre-school is free for children aged 3–6 for up to 15 hours per week with parental fees being directly proportional to income. Fees can be up to 3% of the family’s monthly income but no more than 1,260 SEK per month. Open pre-school, on the other hand, caters to children who are not registered at a regular pre-school. It can also function as a supplement to pedagogical care. Before starting compulsory schooling, children in Sweden are able to complete a one-year förskoleklass (“per-school year”), which is designed to provide a platform for a child’s future schooling. Although this year is not compulsory, most children in Sweden attend it.
Attendance at school is compulsory for all children from the age of 7–16. Parents and children can choose if the young ones should begin schooling at the age of six or seven. Some kids may be more than ready for their first school day at the age of 6 while others may want to remain in pre-school or kindergarten for one more year. This is particularly convenient for expat parents who want to give their children some time to get used to their new home before letting them start first grade.
Compulsory school is free of charge for all Swedish residents. Compulsory schooling consists of three stages: years 1–3; years 4–6; and years 7–9. The educational standards of the different compulsory schools are the same throughout the country. There are different types of schools, however, which cater to the different needs of their students:
- Compulsory comprehensive school
- Sami school
- Schools for the deaf and hearing impaired
- Compulsory school for children with learning disabilities
Upper Secondary School
Upper secondary education prepares children for a future career or higher education and is also free of charge. Aside from regular upper secondary schools, there are also upper secondary schools for young people with learning disabilities. Sweden’s upper secondary education includes various types of programs:
- 18 different national programs which last for three years and include mandatory courses, optional courses, project work and individual choices for core subjects
- Individual programs for students with special educational needs
- Specially designed local programs which combine subjects from various national programs
Childcare for Schoolchildren
In addition to schooling for different age groups, Sweden provides a childcare program for younger school children. This includes leisure time centers, family day-care homes and open leisure-time activities for children up to the age of 13. That way, kids can make good use of their time before and after school if their parents are at work or pre-occupied with their studies.
Childcare for schoolchildren is thus designed to further children’s development and support parents who try to combine parenthood with studying or working. The different municipalities are obligated to provide these kinds of leisure-time centers to their residents. Parent’s wishes concerning the placement of their child have to be taken into account.
Despite the excellent education system in Sweden, you may prefer sending your kids to an international school. That way, they will get in touch with other expat children and will not be hit as hard by culture shock. These schools are mostly located in major cities. However, smaller towns like Gränna and Helsingborg offer an international education as well. Some of the international schools in Sweden are:
- Bladin’s International School: Ages 1–19; International Baccalaureate (IB)
- Söderkulla International School: Ages 6–16; Swedish National Curriculum
- Malmö Borgar School: Ages 16–19; IB
- International School Gothenburg: Ages 3–18; IB, Natural Science Program, and Social Science Program
- Hvitfeldska Upper Secondary School (Minimal English on website): Ages 14–18; IB, International Economics, and International Business Programs, among others
- International Engelska Skolan: Ages 6–18; Swedish National Curriculum and additional qualifications through Cambridge International Examinations
- Gränna International School (Grennaskolan): Ages 12–18; IB, Social Science and Natural Science Program
- International School of Helsingborg: Ages 3–19; IB
- British International Primary School: Ages 3–16; International Primary Curriculum, International Middle Years Curriculum, and Cambridge International IGCSE
- Kungsholmen’s Upper Secondary School: Ages 16–19; Natural Science Program, Social Sciences Program, and IB
- Sigtuna School: Ages 12–18; Programs taught in Swedish and English
- Stockholm International School: Ages 3–17; IB
- International School Nacka: Ages 6–18; Swedish National Curriculum and additional qualifications through Cambridge International Examinations
- Vittraskolorna/ Vittra Schools: Ages 1–19; Swedish National Curriculum
- International Engelska Skolan: Ages 6–18; Swedish National Curriculum and additional qualifications through Cambridge International Examinations
Healthcare in Sweden
The Swedish healthcare system is publicly funded and largely decentralized. The government has taken great measures to allow every resident access to heavily subsidized healthcare services, among the most affordable in Europe with services for under-20-year-olds being free of charge. The quality of these services is also reflected in the high life expectancy of Swedes, which is over 80. In fact, nearly 20% of the population is 65 or older.
Sweden reinvests approximately 9% of its GDP on healthcare every year. The central government, county councils and municipalities share the responsibility to provide people with good quality medical services. The Health and Medical Service Act (Hälso- och sjukvårdslagen, HSL) gives county councils and municipalities more freedom in this regard.
At the Forefront
Sweden really does show itself to be one of the world leaders in healthcare. Swedish maternal care, for instance, is often highlighted for its success and the significant contributions it has made over the years. The Swedish Association of Midwives has been training midwives for over 300 years.
In 2013, the OECD stated that the Swedish healthcare system is often considered a model for other countries. Not only does Sweden have the highest number of elderly care workers per capita, but the country also has a very high satisfaction rate with 90% of primary care receivers saying they were treated with respect and consideration. It is not hard to see, then, why Sweden is ranked 8th out of 36 countries on the OECD health index, especially given that patients have to contribute very little of the overall cost of their healthcare.
Different Routes to Healthcare
Most Swedes and expats in Sweden turn to healthcare centers to receive medical care. These centers usually employ different medical specialists and thus offer different kinds of health services to their patients. The patients, on the other hand, are free to choose their doctor or healthcare facility as they please.
That way, you are not limited to certain hospitals or doctor’s practices but can get treatment anywhere throughout the country. Since 2010, this includes private practices and hospitals. The logic ruling the Swedish healthcare system is that of bringing market logic to the public sector, although not privatizing it. By subsidizing healthcare for private clinics, the Swedish government hoped to increase competitiveness and quality of care, a strategy which has proved effective.
Aside from basic medical treatments, Sweden offers different special hospitals including those for children, expectant mothers and youth clinics. Throughout the country there are various specialist care providers, to which you will need to travel if you are in need of a highly specialist treatment. You should memorize the emergency number for your time in Sweden, which is 112.
Healthcare Improvements and Private Insurance
What has also proved effective is the healthcare guarantee, which was introduced in Sweden in 2005, promising to reduce waiting times for treatment or operations to a maximum of 90 days. If this time is exceeded, patients are offered care elsewhere, the cost for which, including travel costs, is covered by the patient’s county council. Due to this guarantee, 78% of patients felt they received the care they needed in 2013.
Despite this high level of satisfaction, one in ten Swedes have private health insurance, however this is largely provided by employers to attract high-level employees and is by no means necessary for living in Sweden. It is, however, important to remember to take out private health insurance if you are a non-EU citizen and to ensure that it is valid for your time living in Sweden.
Healthcare Regions and Fees
Sweden is divided into four different healthcare regions:
- Western Götaland
In terms of fees for medical treatment, hospital stays usually amount to approximately 80 SEK per day while fees for primary care are between 100 and 200 SEK. For specialist care, you will have to pay an additional fee of up to 350 SEK.
While paying medical fees may be a drag, you will be glad to hear that there is a limit on individual costs per year. If you have paid a total of between 900 and 1,100 SEK during one year, medical consultations within 12 months of the first consultation are free of charge. This may vary, though, depending on your health insurance provider. There is a similar high-cost ceiling for prescription medication.