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10 tips for your move to Sweden

Like any other country, Sweden comes with its own laws, regulations and traditions. And honestly, getting your papers in order as newly arrived in Sweden can be quite demanding. So, from getting registered with the right authorities to finding a job, here are ten things to take care of once you’ve arrived in Sweden. Make note of the chronological order, which you’re advised to follow.

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Photo: Melker Dahlstrand/imagebank.sweden.se

#1 Get a residency permit, or renew it, at the Migration Board

This is almost always step one for expats in Sweden. Sweden’s Migration Board is called Migrationsverket, and it handles issues relating to immigration, asylum, visas, permits, and citizenship.

Maybe you already secured the necessary residence permit required to legally reside and work in Sweden before arriving – through a job, family, or for study purposes. But all residence permits have expiration dates, so you may want to locate your nearest Migration Board field or head office in case you need to renew permits or have other visa related issues.

#2 Register with the Tax Agency and obtain a personal identification number

The most important requirement as a new resident is to get registered with the Swedish Tax Agency called Skatteverket. This registration process (folkbokföring) ensures you’re added into the system for tax collection, personal identification, marital status monitoring, mailing address information and insurance purposes.

By registering with the Tax Agency, you will be assigned a unique personal identification number called personnummer (similar to the British National Insurance number). Your legal identity in Sweden hinges on this key number and it is used for everyday official tasks such as opening up bank accounts and getting paid by your employer.

#3 Get insured

Once you’ve obtained your personal identity number, your next step should be to register with the Swedish Social Insurance Agency (Försäkringskassan). Every resident is entitled to certain benefits such as basic healthcare, parental benefits, child allowances, disability coverage and other insurance payments, so getting set up with the Social Insurance Agency will ensure that you are covered, should something unforeseen occur while you’re still settling in.

#4 Get a resident ID card

Once you’ve got your personal identity number and you’re registered with the Social Insurance Agency, obtaining a Swedish resident identification card (identitetskort) is a logical next step. A Swedish ID card is your primary form of identification around the country. It is used for opening bank accounts, using credit cards, picking up packages from the post office, and verifying your age before entering certain clubs or purchasing alcohol.

Please note: When you’re obtaining the Swedish ID card for the first time, you will need someone else who is already registered and has their own Swedish ID card to accompany you to the Tax Agency in person to verify your identity. For those relocating to Sweden without family, this means taking your work boss, a colleague or a friend with you.

#5 Open a bank account

This one is quite simple: First, take care of steps two and four! Opening a Swedish bank account usually requires a Swedish ID card, or at least a Swedish personal identity number plus a valid passport. Once you’re done with steps two and four, walk into your Swedish bank of choice and proceed.

Sweden’s four main banks are Swedbank, SEB, Nordea and Handelsbanken. Whichever bank you choose will help you obtain the necessary credit/debit cards and banking services you need. Setting up your own bank account in Sweden is recommended. Most bills and salaries are automatically paid online, and Sweden has an extensive network when it comes to internet banking.

#6 Find a job or start your own company

If your residence permit (stamped in your passport) also allows you to work in Sweden, you should consider registering with the Swedish Public Employment Agency called Arbetsförmedlingen. The agency can help you find jobs that match your existing skill sets, education level and work experience, and can also provide a free job coach to help guide you through the application and interview process. Workinginsweden.se is another helpful website.

If you’re interested in starting your own company (eget företag), you will need to register your company name through the Swedish Companies Registration Agency (Bolagsverket) and obtain an F-skatt status through the Tax Agency for tax purposes. The Companies Registration Agency provides a step-by-step guide to help you set up your own company.

Business-sweden.se and Verksamt.se are other useful websites if you want to start a business in Sweden.

#7 Find a flat

Perhaps you arranged temporary lodging or rented a room before arriving in Sweden and may want to move as temporary arrangements come to an end. Looking for your own place to stay can be a challenging task in larger cities such as Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö, where available housing remains relatively scarce.

You can rent ‘first-hand’ or ‘second-hand’ in Sweden. First-hand (första hand) means you sign an agreement with the owner of the building, while second-hand (andra hand) means you sign an agreement with someone who owns the flat or has the first-hand contract on the flat.

To get a first-hand contract, you need to register to be put on the municipal waiting list (bostadskö) and it can take anywhere from a few days in some municipalities to up to ten years for central locations in cities like Stockholm for a first-hand contract to become available. Contact information for all municipalities can be found here.

As a new resident, you’ll probably be renting a flat from someone who sublets in a second-hand arrangement. It is extremely important to make sure that the tenant co-operation board of the building (bostadsrättsföreningen) or the landlord has signed off on second-hand leasing. If you rent a flat from a subletter who doesn’t have permission, you run the risk of being evicted (to make a long story short).

Useful websites for finding flats in cities around the country are Bostad Direkt, AndraHand.se (only in Swedish) and Blocket.se.

#8 Learn Swedish

Here you obviously don’t have to wait until the previous steps are completed. Begin today! Learning Swedish will not only make your integration into society a lot quicker, but can also open doors to other insider aspects of the culture that speaking Swedish affords you.

While many employers pay for Swedish classes for their foreign employees, there are also state-subsidised courses that can be taken for free or at minimal costs (usually for teaching materials). The most notable programme is called SFI – Swedish for immigrants (Svenska för invandrare).

SFI courses are offered through each local municipality’s adult continuing education programme (kommunal vuxenutbildning, or komvux) so you will need to contact your local municipality. There are four SFI levels – A,B, C and D – and each course usually spans 1.5–3 hours per day several days a week for a period of three to four months, so it’s a major time commitment, especially if you are working full-time.

#9 Pay taxes in Sweden

Sweden is well known for its developed social welfare system, and if you move here you will have to help finance it by paying taxes. The Swedish Tax Agency is responsible for collecting taxes, which vary upon income.

The system is quite straightforward if you’re employed by a company, with taxes automatically deducted from your salary every month. The Swedish Tax Agency has an overview in English.

For the self-employed, the tax structure is more complicated. If you plan on starting as a sole trader, you will need to register for F-skatt (the ‘F’ stands för företagare – entrepreneur). The Swedish Tax Agency has a brochure explaining how F-skatt works, and is generally happy to help out.

You’re also advised to find a good tax accountant to guide you through the process of identifying which taxes you’re responsible for, ensuring your taxes are paid and making sure your annual tax returns are filed properly.

#10 Get a Swedish driving licence

Sweden has a reliable transportation network of trains, buses, trams, ferries and airlines, so you can live in Sweden without the need to get a driving licence (körkort). However, if your job requires one or if you’d like the freedom of occasionally renting a car, you may be able to drive on your foreign driving licence for up to one year.

After one year as a resident and if you plan on purchasing your own vehicle in the future, you are required to obtain a Swedish driving licence.

The process of getting a Swedish licence requires submitting an application (körkortstillstånd), paying all necessary fees, studying for and passing a series of theoretical and practical exams including an ice-driving/slippery surface driving test (halkbana), and finally scheduling your driving test through the Swedish Transport Administration (Trafikverket).

Note that EU and EEA driving licences are valid in Sweden and you do not need to trade them for a Swedish one.

Switzerland and Japan are special cases as licences from these countries can be exchanged for a Swedish one without taking a driving test – but you must do so within a year of being registered in Sweden. In addition, you must meet the personal and medical requirements that apply for driving licences in Sweden – this includes an eye examination certificate, health declaration and for some categories of licence, a doctor’s certificate.

Check with the Transport Administration to see what rules and regulations apply to your existing driving licence such as how long you can drive on it before getting a Swedish licence and which exams you’re required to take or exempted from.

Last updated: 31 March 2014

Lola Akinmade Åkerström

Lola Akinmade Åkerström

Lola Akinmade-Åkerström is a Stockholm-based freelance writer and photographer whose work has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, BBC and CNN among others. She's the editor-in-chief of Slow Travel Stockholm, contributes as a photojournalist to the Swedish Red Cross and has also been Sweden.se’s photoblogger.