Your Guide to the Best and Worst of Sweden
Against the backdrop of magnificent landscapes, Sweden’s excellent social welfare, equality and peace have attracted migrants from all over. The charm of the carefree lifestyle here even makes the long, dark winters somewhat tolerable.
Sweden is located in the Scandinavian region in Europe, next to Norway, Denmark, and Finland. Divided into three regions, namely, Götaland (South), Svealand (middle) and Norrland (North), Sweden is home to pristine wilderness, runestones, rolling hills, snow-capped mountains and azure waters.
The low population density of 54 inhabitants per square mile and continuous migration since World War II resulted in about 12% of the residents being foreign-born. This makes the Nordic country pleasantly cosmopolitan and welcoming to migrants. Most of them are residing in major cities such as Malmo, Gothernburg and the capital, Stockholm.
Sweden is known for its excellent quality of life. In 2016, this Kingdom ranked as the 6th country in the world in terms of providing opportunities and basic human needs. It is also ranked fourth in the World Economic Forum 2009-2010 for being one of the most competitive economies in the world and ranked seventh in the United Nation's Human Development Index.
- Rejoice! Sweden is consistently among the top three countries with the fastest Internet connection in the world.
- The Stockholm archipelago, with some 30,000 islands, stretches out to the Baltic Sea. The nearest island is only 20 minutes away from its city centre. Outdoor lovers can enjoy an abundance of activities from hiking and cycling to water sports and camping.
Know these 10 Distinctive Traits of Sweden
1. “Light therapy” is a thing during winter
Melodramatic? We assure you it is not. The northern part of Sweden has the harshest winter season, taking up to eight months every year, with only just four hours of sunlight a day at the heart of it. Can you imagine 20 hours of darkness for a day, much less for a few months? Stockholm has it slightly better, with around four months of sub-zero climate and five hours of sunlight a day. The day and night cycle is usually back to normal around February-March.
Even so, the impact of no sunlight is great. Most locals turn on artificial light to fight side effects such as depression, insomnia and Vitamin D deficiency. Some schools in Sweden have taken action to beat those seasonal affective disorders by installing full spectrum electric light features. You can read about it here.
2. No worries of trespassing anywhere
To help you make the best use of daylight during other seasons, Sweden has the “Allemansrätten” law that gives people the freedom to roam anywhere in the country, except in people’s homes, of course. As such, flower, mushroom and berry picking is one of the most popular activities. After all, it doesn’t cost a cent! Swim in the lakes, trek up the mountains, go fishing … You are free to take in Sweden’s natural beauties the way you like it!
3. The high taxes are worth your while
Those thinking of naturalisation should not be put off by the high taxes. The benefits that come with it include:
- To ensure that healthcare is affordable for everyone, it is heavily subsidised. Residents only have to pay 100-250kr per visit, up to a total cap of 1000kr. All visits thereafter are free. Dental care and mental health excluded.
- For those starting a family, there are a total of 480 days of PAID parental leave to share per couple. That’s 16 months!
- Even if you are not a parent, you will be pleased to know the standard around Sweden is FIVE WEEKS of paid annual leave. That is double that of most countries!
- Public colleges and universities are totally FREE. Need we say more?
4. All differences are embraced
Sweden is a very liberal country. Homosexuality and same-sex marriages are accepted. So are swear words and nudity in the media. Anti-discrimination laws are put in place. Ranked fourth in 2016 Global Gender Gap Report, it is safe to say that gender equality is well-respected in the country as well.
5. Take it slow with the locals
Swedish and English are the two most spoken languages. Expats who are proficient in both are likely to find it easier to get a job and bridge distances with the locals.
"Swedes are often called cold but aren’t really once you get to know them. Staring is the norm, not holding the door open is too. But don’t take the cultural difference as rudeness until you can truly tell the difference."- Adrianne George, Expat in Stockholm, Sweden
Making small talk with strangers is not common. The Swedes tend to be reserved and soft-spoken. Boasting and flaunting of wealth are frowned upon. They do not put importance on rank and status.
"I think that Swedish people, generally, are good guys. However, they are very different to English people – they are less approachable and welcoming. They also have terrible customer services and less flexibility."- Tracy Morgan, Expat in Sweden
Expats in Sweden will hear most locals say thank you or "tack" a lot. Swedish think that an extra thank you is never wrong, that is why failing to say thank you is a sign of ungraciousness.
6. Coffee breaks are sacred
“Fika”, break time with coffee and pastries, is in the Swedes’ culture. They often enjoy a good catch up over breakfast and tea-time even in the office. Consuming over 8kg of coffee yearly, Sweden makes one of the highest consumers worldwide.
7. The Swedes are environmentalists
The Swedes are world leaders in recycling, so much that less than one per cent of Sweden’s household waste lands up in the trash. The locals avoid using plastic water bottles and you can often see them drinking from the tap. Some supermarkets charge for carriers, so be sure to bring your own!
8. And, peace-keepers
Sweden is no stranger to worldwide accolades for its consistent good governance as reported by the Worldwide Corruptions Perception Index.
The government is a parliamentary democracy under a constitutional monarchy. The economy is of mixed government and public control, export-driven and has strong trade ties with Germany, the United States, Norway, the United Kingdom, Denmark and Finland.
With its record of zero participation in wars since 1815 and as the origin of the Nobel Peace Prize, it is no surprise Sweden annually earns Vision of Humanity's nod for its consistent display of neutrality.
9. Get used to waltz, folk instruments and, ABBA
The quickest way to immerse in Sweden’s music is to join in their celebration of spring (Walpuris or Valboug on the last day of April) and summer (Midsummer Day in the third week of June). Join in the dancing around the bonfires! You will hear a lot of the accordions, clarinets and fiddles playing. Of course, Swedish pop band, ABBA remains their national pride and an international icon.
10. Alcohol can only be found in ‘Systembolaget’
Systembolaget is the only store you can buy alcohol over 3.5% and the bad news is, it does not have long operating hours. Closed on Sunday, it shuts its doors around 6pm on weekdays and 1pm on Saturday. So, plan your parties ahead, or you will have to make do with some light beers from the convenience stores. This is government measure implemented since 1955 to control alcoholism in the country.
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EU/EEA nationals can drive in Sweden with their existing licenses. There is an option to exchange their license for those who have been a resident in Sweden for at least 185 days. Foreigners from outside EU/EEA countries can drive in Sweden with their existing license for one year then they need to apply for a local driving license at the Swedish National Road Administration. Driving in Sweden is on the right, and vehicles need to use the left lane. The speed signs in Sweden are round and yellow with a red outline. Speed limits are 50kph in city areas, 90kph on country roads, and 110kph on highways. Anyone caught speeding can lose their driver's license. Sweden has a northern climate and drivers should exercise caution when driving on icy roads during wintertime. From December 1 to March 31, all vehicles should use snow tires.
Although Sweden is an EU member, like Britain, it has not adopted the Euro currency and uses Swedish Krona (Sk or SEK). Literally, krona means crown in Sweden and one krona is subdivided into 100 öre. Processing of the bank account can be completed in approximately one week and a debit card (Betalkort) will be received. To open a bank account, expats must submit the following:
- Personnummer (Swedish Personal Identity Number)
- Swedish Identity Card
- EU/EEA ID Card
- Employment details
- Cost of living
- Shipping and removal
- Renting and buying a house
- Relocating your pet
- Starting your own business
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