Living in Sweden

Sweedenwidebanner300x200Although it’s unlikely to be many people’s first choice potential emigration destination, for those wishing to live in a country which offers its residents a truly first-rate quality of life, Sweden may well be worth at least considering. The scenic Scandinavian country boasts some of the world’s most developed infrastructure and technologies, yet respect for the environment in the country is high and pristine landscapes are found throughout. Swedes themselves are known for their liberal attitudes towards life, while the country’s lack of traffic and crowds and high standards of healthcare only serves to further enhance the lifestyle on offer.

While Sweden has enjoyed a fairly long history of immigration, the number of foreigners arriving to live in the country has increased significantly since the Second World War. During the War itself many evacuees from, mainly, other northern Europe countries arrived to live there, with many deciding to stay put once the War was over. In the years that followed, like many European nations, Sweden relied heavily on immigrant labour to keep its economy strong, while the country has always been welcoming to refugees from war-torn nations – immigrants from the former Yugoslavian states, Iraq and Iran form some of the country’s largest expat groups.

Today, much of the immigration that takes place in Sweden is based around family reunification. However, in spite of increasingly stringent immigration controls which have been placed on non-EU nationals in recent years, some 21 per cent of the just over 100,000 people who moved to Sweden in 2010 did so for work purposes. Sweden is home to many large multinational corporations – including Ericsson, Volvo, AstraZeneca, Ikea and H&M – and as a result many overseas workers land transfers to work in Sweden while some choose to move there to seek their fortune. A growing number of EU nationals are also finding themselves drawn to the country, attracted by the aforementioned high quality of life and prosperous economic conditions that surround the country.

Although Sweden was affected by the 2008 credit crunch, its economy emerged relatively unscathed and actually grew at a record rate in 2010. As a result, job opportunities particularly in capital city and economic hub Stockholm are fairly high, especially in the IT and energy sectors. However, it should be noted that expats will have to contend with one of the highest tax burdens in Europe. Those seeking work should also be wary that, although most Swedes tend to speak very good English (especially in larger cities like Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmo), employers in the country, at least outside of the international corporations, will prefer to award jobs to Swedish speakers regardless of whether they can speak English or not. The Swedish language can be tricky to learn so if you are reliant on work to move to Sweden, this may be an issue.

The good news for those looking to move to the country with young children is that in addition to international language schools (which can be expensive) there is also the option of sending them to a Norr Stockholm School or the International English Schools, which follow the Swedish National Syllabus, but offer instruction in English.  As with most developed European nations, the standard of the education system is fairly high.

Stockholm is by far and away the country’s most popular destination for expats both for families and those seeking work. In many ways the city typifies the country’s high quality lifestyle. In 2010, Stockholm was awarded the title of Europe’s ‘first green capital’ when it was awarded the European Green Capital Award by the EU commission. The criteria for this award was based on a number of factors including climate change, local transport, public green areas, air quality, noise, waste, water consumption, waste water treatment, sustainable utilisation of land, biodiversity and environmental management, with Stockholm scoring highly in each sector. Surrounded by 219 nature reserves, and with green spaces accounting for 30 per cent of the city’s total land area, Stockholm has also been named Europe’s best city in terms of freedom from pollution. What’s more, it was ranked in the top 20 of Mercer’s 2011 Quality of Life survey and placed 6th in the same company’s Safest City report.

Away from Stockholm, Sweden’s other two main cities, Gothenburg and Malmo, also have fairly significant expat populations. Like the capital, these cities also place much emphasis on the environment and allowing its residents a high standard of living. Located on the southwest coast of Sweden, Gothenburg is known as the country’s cultural capital, hosting many of the country’s major events and festivals, while as the home of Volvo, manufacturing is one of the city’s main economic sources. Malmo, meanwhile, is another city renowned for its cleanliness. It was ranked 4th in a world’s greenest city survey conducted by environmental magazine Grist while it will also play host to the 2013 Eurovision Song Contest; which is a surprisingly big deal in Sweden.

Two of the major drawbacks to life in Sweden are the cost of living (at least in the larger cities) and the weather (pretty much everywhere). House prices in the main urban centres are high as are most everyday living costs, while due to high taxes salaries may not be as high as they first seem. The winter weather is also notoriously cold with below freezing temperatures and plenty of snow extremely common throughout the country. That said summers in the southern reaches of the country are warm and even in the coldest months the country is well prepared for the conditions. Another point that some newcomers may struggle with is adapting to the Swedish people themselves. Swedes are known for their often aloof and abrupt ways and those not familiar with them often mistake their ways for rudeness, which is not really the case.

Due to the cold winters and relatively expensive cost of living, Sweden is not an overly popular country for retirees looking to emigrate, although those who do retire to the country will no doubt find much to like about the overall way of life. Those who are interested in retiring there on a tight budget would need to look into an area like småland or västragötaland, which both offer affordable housing and also have a high number of English speaking locals. A larger city may be out of the question, though.

In all, Sweden offers much to the emigrant who is really seeking to improve their lifestyle. That the country was ranked first among European Economic Area nations in the 2011 Migration Integration Policy Index (MIPEX) for ease of integration further proves that, although it may not be the first choice of destination for many potential migrants, the idea of moving to Sweden is well worth some time and attention.