In the summer of 2013, I decided to do something I literally never dreamt of doing: I moved to Sweden. I, know, crazy. How did I end up here? This is probably the most common question you’ll get asked as an ex-pat living in Sweden. I, personally, moved to Sweden for love. And because that relationship didn’t really work out, I planned to move out of Sweden after my first summer in Gothenburg. Until I met my fianceé in September 2014, and here I am, 6 years later. Becoming more Swedish by the day, one kanelbulle at a time!
Some facts about living in Sweden
So seeing that it’s now been 7 years of me living in Sweden, I thought I’d help out those of you who might have a dream of living here or are just curious about making the move! Below I listed the 15 best things about living in Sweden, that most of the ex-pats will agree on, and a few that are my personal favorites (number 7 all day, every day!).
At the end of the list, I also link you to the cost of living in Sweden site and the actual expenses we pay to live here.
- The population of Sweden: 10,32 million.
- Capital city: Stockholm.
- Currency: Swedish Krona (SEK).
- Official language: Swedish. English is widely spoken.
- Average salary: 32,800 SEK ($3,700 USD) per month.
15 Best Things About Living in Sweden
1. Fika culture
Fika is a Swedish concept, that literally means to have coffee and something sweet. And while you might be drinking coffee in your country, in Sweden they ARE DRINKING COFFEE. No joke, they are the top 6th country in the world to drink most coffee, at 8.2 kg per capita.
While fika is not just the perfect excuse for a coffee break, it is also a way of living. While you will see many fika places all over Sweden, it is also very popular at work. Most Swedish offices will have fika breaks once a week for about 30 minutes, where the teams will divide the fika days between the members, and each week a new person will bring something sweet to eat and brew some filter coffee (s Swede’s favorite). Then we will all sit in the office sofas and chat about life outside work.
At my workplace, I am the one responsible for the fika list and I love it!
2. Swedes are awesome at English
Having lived in London before coming to Gothenburg, I was so scared before moving to Sweden that no one will understand me. And boy, was I wrong! Swedes are so good at English, that ex-pats often complain they can’t learn Swedish because the Swedes only want to speak English with them!
English is actually so widely used in Sweden that you will see commercials in English, be able to study in English and even get a job in an English-speaking office (more on that later on!). So, if language is one of your worries and you know English – then worry no more 🙂
3. ‘Jantelagen’ or not standing out
I’ll admit – this one is a love/hate relationship for me. However, living in Sweden means adjusting to many things, including culture. And ‘jantelagen’ is huge. But what does it mean?
Jantelagen means that you are not to believe you are better than anyone and that you shouldn’t brag or stand out.
This is quite unique to Sweden and after spending 7 years here I still have a strange relationship to it. I love it when people tell me how they actually feel, what they are proud of achieving, how awesome their new job or house is etc. But in Sweden, no one will ever brag to you about anything. This does make things slightly dull at times, but I’ll take that over bragging any day of the week!
4. Outdoorsy lifestyle
Alright, it might be the second love/hate thing about living in Sweden, but you’ll see some things need adjusting to, and this is one of them!
I love that adults will do literally anything in any weather here. Rain? Wind? Storm? Combined? They will still put on their workout clothes and run, cycle, walk or swim. No joke – I am always equally impressed by how resilient Swedes are when it comes to weather!
This is also why they say: “det finns inget dåligt väder, bara dåliga kläder”, which translates to “there is no such things as bad weather, only bad clothes”.
Why the hate, then? Well, just as adults will go out and do anything in rain and strong winds, so will the children. This is why rain clothes and overalls are super popular here and the kids look like they’re about to go skiing from October to April in their puffy outfits and boots.
What do my friends and colleagues say to this? Well, they say it’s raining most of the time here anyway, so if you don’t go do it in the rain, then you’ll never end up doing what you want.
5. Beautiful nature
Sweden is huge. And as huge as it is, it also incredibly diverse. From Northern Lights and snow-covered hills in the north to soft, sandy beaches in the south – Sweden has something for every type of adventurer.
If there is one area of Sweden I’d recommend living in, it’s Skåne. This area of Sweden has some of the prettiest places I’ve seen in my time living here. I actually love it so much that one day we will move there from Gothenburg.
6. ‘Allemansrätten’ or freedom to roam
Living in Sweden, the freedom to roam is a freedom granted by the Constitution of Sweden. It literally means you are free to roam anywhere you want, as long as you do not disturb or damage.
This is especially useful when it comes to camping in the many beautiful nature spots all over Sweden. As long as you do not damage the environment or disturb the animals, you are free to roam anywhere in Sweden! Pretty great, right?
I absolutely despise when people try to cut lines, so number tags in Sweden are literally a God’s gift to people like me! Sure, it took me a few months to remember to get a number tag at first, but now I have a special vision for those little machines that give out numbers.
You’ll see them at the doctor’s, the store, the pharmacy, the bakery and basically everywhere where you don’t have a designated line space. These number tags keep order and calmness everywhere you go, and you never need to worry someone will cut the line!
Bigger supermarkets also have post offices, and on these machines, you can even grab a number tag for specific errands.
8. Systembolaget alcohol store
Systembolaget is a government-owned chain of liquor stores. It is the only retail store allowed to sell alcoholic beverages that contain more than 3.5% alcohol by volume. This might be hard to understand for someone who casually buys a bottle of wine with their shopping. Living in Sweden, you’ll need to start planning ahead and storing alcohol if you don’t want to forget to bring that bottle of wine to a friend’s house on a Saturday evening.
Systembolaget is usually open weekdays 10 am – 7 pm, Saturday’s 10 am – 3 pm and it’s closed on Sundays. They do not sell chilled alcohol, so if you want that beer immediately, you’ll have to have it in room temperature.
Why do I like it? Well, I won’t lie it was rather inconvenient at first, but now I wouldn’t have it any other way! The staff at Systembolaget is super knowledgeable about what they sell and they will give you tips on exactly which wines are good to go with the food you’re cooking, which liquors are good for mixing with what and much more.
They have brochures that tell you everything you need to know about their assortment and there is even an app that lets you browse and order and choose over 20,000 beverages, and also lets you order anything you want from your home country, free of charge!
9. Free healthcare and schools
I always read how high taxes are in Sweden, by people who never lived here. The taxes here are not as high as Google will tell you. You need to read carefully about how the tax system works and understand that the highest tax is paid only by those who earn over a certain amount. So, for someone like me, who earns a little above the average pay, I pay around 30% in taxes.
And in that 30%, I have free schooling and free healthcare (I only pay an administration fee of about $10 for every visit, max $100 per year). 27% of taxpayer money in Sweden goes towards education and healthcare, whereas 5% goes to the police and military, and 42% to social security.
I can’t imagine a life where I would need to worry about paying for education or urgent surgery. It works in a similar way in Slovenia and I am grateful I never had to limit my life in any way by having to pay for these two.
10. Great public transportation
The bigger cities in Sweden have an amazing public transportation system and you almost never have to wait for more than 5 minutes for a tram or a bus to show up to your station. Generally, every county has its own app for public transportation and you can easily track your bus times to time it to the minute os when you want to depart.
In Gothenburg, we use the app called To Go by Västtrafik, in Malmö they use Skånetrafiken app and in Stockholm the SL Journey Planner. While it’s not cheap to take public transportation, it is much cheaper than taxis and a lot more convenient to travel to the city centers, where car parking is often very pricey and the roads are packed.
11. Drinking tap water
Not only is the Swedish tap water drinkable, but it also comes out cold and refreshing right from the tap! Living in Sweden does come with a few privileges, and drinking tap water is one of them. While I never had to experience living somewhere where the tap water wasn’t ok to drink, I experienced it during my travels and it’s crazy how much this one little thing can mean to you!
Besides drinking tap water, a lot of restaurants will also offer sparkling water for free. It is totally normal to only order tap/sparkling water with your meal here and in many lunch places you can go to straight to the taps to get either.
12. No shoes indoors
I know this will only make a big difference to my US readers, but in Sweden shoes indoors are an absolute no-no. Because the weather is wet a lot of the time, shoes are to be taken off at the entrance. Due to this culture, people like to buy fun socks here, so when you’re attending a house party in a Swedish home, your socks can spark a fun conversation as well!
13. ‘Swish’ and no cash culture
Swish is an app available to Swedes with a BankID, that allows you to pay anyone in Sweden instantly. It’s used amongst friends who want to split the bill, sambo’s (two people living together) to pay expenses, online shopping and even at flea markets. All you need is the other person’s phone number and you’re ready to swish the money over to their bank account.
Cash is definitely not king in Sweden and card payments are actually preferred when you’re living in Sweden, often to the extent that a lot of restaurants are totally cash-free and will only allow card payments. I love this system and definitely don’t miss handling dirty banknotes on a daily basis!
14. Work-life balance
Sweden has an amazing work-life balance, and if you’ve been used to working late hours, weekends and during your vacation – this is the best place to say goodbye to all of that. Sweden also sort of shuts down during summer, so if you wanted anything done in July or August, you might as well wait until September – the offices will be running low on staff and some companies even have an obligatory vacation.
You generally get 25 days of paid vacation per year and roughly 13 paid ‘red’ days. The red days are public holidays and the businesses will often be closed on these days.
Besides the great work-life balance, you also get a whopping 480 days (16 months) of paid parental leave (which parents of both sexes are entitled to) and Swedish dads must take at least some of those 16 months. The parental days don’t expire until the child is 8 years old, so you can take less in the beginning and use them when your child is a bit older.
15. Swedish food
This one is more of a personal favorite thing about living in Sweden. I love Swedish food! The supermarkets are well stocked with vegan and vegetarian options (I am neither, but like to eat vegetarian at least half of my meals) and the restaurants always have good meat, fish, and veggie options.
If you’re a fan of seafood (which I am not), then you’ll love Swedish food even more than I do. In Gothenburg, we even have a fish church (Feskekörka), which is a fish market in the city center.
Some typical dishes to try when you come to Sweden: cinnamon buns, princess cake, Swedish meatballs, sandwich cake, crayfish, pickled herring, toast Skagen, Wallenbergare and raggmunk (potato pancake).
Cost of living in Sweden
The best way to look at the cost of living in Sweden and all the major cities is by going to Numbeo. This site compares the data from cities all over the world, to give you a rough estimate of how much it costs to live in any country.
Since I have been living here for 7 years, I can let you in on all my expenses (1000 SEK is $114):
- Rent for 1 bedroom modern apartment in a good area, with a view: 9200 SEK
- Indoor garage parking: 1200 SEK
- Home & car insurance, tax and gas per month: 1200 SEK
- Bus card for 1 month: 775 SEK
- Bills (electricity, internet): 500 SEK
- Groceries for 2 people for 1 month: 2000 SEK
Split by two, it costs us about 7500 SEK per month to live in Gothenburg each month. This excludes eating out and shopping. Bear in mind it is more expensive living in Sweden’s bigger cities than the countryside.
When to visit Sweden
When to visit Sweden depends largely on what activities you plan to do. Summer, between May and August, is undoubtedly the best time to visit. The days are long and the temperatures often rise above 20°C.
If you plan on visiting in the Winter, then make sure you pack a few layers and wellies. It rains often and the temperatures often go below 0°C.
I hope you found my guide to living in Sweden useful! If you have any questions at all about life in Sweden as an ex-pat, then don’t hesitate to write a comment below – I will do my best to help you navigate through your move or life in Sweden.