I spent roughly 2 years in Sweden, where half of the time I was studying and having fun, and the other half was spent working there after graduation. Gothenburg and Uppsala were the two cities I lived in. They all had their little charms, and the country as a whole was just lovely.
Not sure if Sweden should be your home abroad? Browse more expat guides from Leeds, Dublin and Florence.
1. Learn which city you want to be in
Gothenburg is a lively city by the sea. Being the second largest city in Sweden, there is always something to do. I was a student and lived in Studiegången, a quiet neighbourhood east of the city centre. The area is surrounded by woods and a few lakes. It takes less than 20 minutes to go to the city centre but far enough that I got to enjoy the quieter, more family-focused side of the city.
Uppsala, on the other hand, is an inland city just an hour away from the thriving capital Stockholm. I lived in Flogsta, which is west of the city. Everything is much smaller in scale in Uppsala, so even the city centre is not very lit up. Flogsta is a very rural area, which I loved. You can really feel that you are away from everything, even your stress.
2. Figure out your apartment situation
Facebook market is an excellent place for apartment hunting. I didn’t have a good experience with an agency so eventually I just listed myself on the marketplace and quickly, plenty of people contacted me. Local groups are also a wonderful place as you will be able to find a lot of landlords posting there.
Getting in touch with the landlord has its merits and dangers. You might not be legally protected depending on the contract they provide. The good thing is that you don’t have to go through the hideous process of dealing with agencies and getting charged service fees that didn’t add up at the end. But to be fair, I only dealt with one agency and it was a bad experience, I can't speak for all agencies around.
For me, I already had a job offer before I moved but I would recommend checking the bulletin board if you are studying there.
Schools always have connections with companies and offer amazing opportunities of internships and job placements.
Otherwise, I really recommend Glassdoor. Many Swedish companies put up their job postings there and it’s easier to get in touch with start-ups and smaller companies if you enjoy working in that environment like I do.
3. Get yourself a work permit
You need to apply for a work permit before working there and register yourself with the tax bureau. They provide working holiday visas for several countries in which you don’t have to arrive in Sweden with a job secured and can look for one while you are here.
For more information about getting a working holiday visa in Sweden, check out the government page for requirements and how to apply.
There is normally no rule against renting a place on a tourist visa, as long as your visa is valid for the duration of your rent period.
4. Be prepared for the cost of living
The cost of living in Sweden was hard to wrap my mind around at first. I’m from a place where the cost of rent is already higher than all costs combined in Sweden so the total cost is very bearable.
But rent aside, Sweden is a really expensive country.
Food costs around 10USD even if you are trying to be cheap. And public transport is about 4USD per trip around the city and busses or trams don’t really come too often.
Rent is very kind to expats in Sweden, as for the same amount of rent, I would only be getting a room without windows where I come from. But in Sweden, the same amount of money (7,000kr, 791USD) per month could get me a whole lovely apartment to myself with a nice view. The value for money is really good and I was really happy with the accommodations I got and how many options I had with my budget. It was a real paradise.
The quality of life in Sweden is high. Everything is up to standard and possibly beyond. They have their own issues with the medical system which could impact the locals more, especially medical staff.
But for expats, there’s really not much to complain about except for the possible high medical fees if you aren’t covered.
Once a friend of ours went to the hospital for a twisted ankle on a student visa, he ended up paying 2,000kr (about 226USD) and only got an X-ray done telling him he was fine.
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5. Acquaint yourself with Sweden's long winters
In hindsight, I probably wish I knew how to deal with the long dark winters although there really aren't many solutions to that. The darkness can really consume you when you wake up to it and by the time you are off work, it’s dark again. You feel the lack of joy without the sun for so long.
Vitamin D pills actually help.
It’s easy to build friendships with others when you are an expat. Sharing your experience and exploring the country with others can be so fun. Winters there can be long and gloomy but the snow is lovely for someone who comes from a place that doesn’t snow.
6. Find out what makes Sweden special
You don’t want to miss out on all those island trips on the weekends in Gothenburg. They are blessed with so many islands, some listed on UNESCO. You will surely find something that you like.
Other than that, afterwork is really popular. Afterwork is a term coined by Swedes referring to colleagues who spend time together outside of their work schedules.
Almost everyday there’s an afterwork where people just gather around and have a drink. It’s a lovely chance to get to know your colleagues as Swedes are known for being shy. Having a drink or two in the system does help.
In Sweden, you can only get alcohol from a designated shop called Systembolaget and they don’t open on Sundays. Even from Monday to Friday, they close after 7-8pm, depending on the location. The point of this is to stop excessive drinking, although I have yet to see actual results because I only see a lot of people stocking up and still drink whenever they want.
The 4D cinema in Uppsala is a must if you live there. It’s really lovely to experience the 4D senses, something that you can’t even find in Stockholm.
Overall, Sweden is an experience of its kind. Being the gateway to the arctic, there are lots of great times and fun discoveries to unveil. Living there was definitely memorable and I can’t only recommend this experience enough.
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