20 things to know before moving
Moving to Sweden? Then these 20 pointers will come in handy.
1. Swedes love their coffee
Few people drink more coffee than the Swedes. In Sweden, coffee drinking is fostered through a tradition called 'fika' – in which friends, family or colleagues meet for coffee or tea, often with something sweet on the side. Most Swedes will enjoy at least one fika a day as an opportunity to bond.
Check out the recipe for chocolate balls, one of the Swedes' fika favourites, below.
2. Physical queues – and digital solutions
At a pharmacy or your local grocery store’s meat counter, you’ll be forced to exercise patience as you wait to be served in a numbered queue. Many businesses have a ticketing system – usually a small machine hung on a wall that dispenses number notes. Once you grab your ticket, you’ll have to wait until your number shows up on a screen before you can proceed to the counter.
But let it also be known that Sweden is a highly digital country, with plenty of online solutions. Many errands at the Swedish Tax Agency, for instance, can be done electronically. In 2023, nearly 7 million Swedes submitted their tax returns online. How's that for saving the paper in paperwork?
3. Do learn Swedish
Swedes are widely rated as one of the best at English as a second language. Therefore it might take you longer to learn Swedish, and the Catch-22 is that fluency in the language is crucial to full integration. Knowing some Swedish will also help you in your contacts with the authorities, the Tax Agency for example.
For many, a first step to learning Swedish – both spoken and written – is SFI courses ('Swedish for immigrants'). 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. Here’s a contact list of Sweden’s 290 municipalities.
SFI courses can improve your grasp of Swedish significantly, but don't forget to insist on speaking Swedish with Swedes along the way. Practice makes perfect!
4. You will see fathers pushing prams
When it comes to equality between the sexes, Sweden is one of the leaders, and the men definitely pull their own weight in staying home and raising infant children.
In Sweden, couples are entitled to 480 days of paid parental leave, and this time can be shared between parents.
5. Swedes are informal with names
Your doctor, your university professor, your economic advisor – they will all address you by first name and expect you to do the same in conversation. That’s pretty much standard in Sweden, regardless of job titles – which are also dropped. There are of course a few important exceptions to the rule. Should you be inside a courtroom, or face a political minister or someone from the Swedish royal family, you better get the titles right.
6. You are bound to try lingonberry jam…
In Sweden, lingonberry jam is widely used to accompany a variety of dishes, from meatballs and pancakes to porridge and black pudding (blodpudding). But make note, lingonberry jam is rarely used on bread, despite its sweetness.
7. … and you will squeeze food out of tubes
To prepare you for your first visit to the cold foods section of a grocery store, understand that in Sweden, tubes are also used to package foods such as caviar, mayonnaise, mustard, and other similar condiments. At some point, you’ll probably squeeze some caviar from a tube onto half a boiled egg for breakfast.
There is a societal code of conduct in Sweden which really has no direct translation. Loosely translated, the word lagom means ‘just enough’, ‘in moderation’, ‘appropriate’ and other synonyms you can pull out of the dictionary. When used in reference to societal behaviour, it means blending in appropriately without extreme displays of emotion.
We won't go into the details of this social phenomenon here, but you are bound to come across it at some point. Some will argue that lagom is a norm, some will say it's something of a cliché. Time for you to find out!
The right of public access
Allemansrätten – the right of public access – allows the public to roam freely, even on private land to some extent, to camp overnight and to pick mushrooms and berries.
The right also brings responsibilities – to treat flora and fauna and other people’s property with care. It can be summed up in the phrase ‘don’t disturb, don’t destroy’.
9. The Swedes are an outdoorsy bunch
Okay, maybe not everyone. But many. In Sweden, all year round there’s at least one activity that can be enjoyed, come rain, shine, or winter blizzard. And the government has made it easy to enjoy Sweden’s nature by giving people the right of public access, allemansrätten.
10. July is a slower month
Full-time employees in Sweden are entitled to at least 25 days of paid holiday per year, and many take out a large chunk of these during July – statistically the country's warmest month. So generally speaking, service will be slower. Many small businesses shut down the entire month.
11. Melodifestivalen – not so lagom
Melodifestivalen (link in Swedish) – the national event through which Sweden’s representative at the Eurovision Song Contest is decided – unites large parts of the population. Held every February through March, it is a particularly welcome distraction on long dark winter nights. Come May, the Eurovision Song Contest is just as popular – though some Swedes prefer the ice hockey world championships, which usually coincide with the international music event.
12. Take off your shoes!
You’ll quickly notice that shoes are taken off when entering private residences in Sweden. Some explain it with the simple fact that Swedes spend a lot of time outdoors during winter and are prone to dragging in dirt. Others say it’s a sign of respect for the home. Either way, you might want to think twice before wearing full lace-up boots when visiting folks.
13. Winters are cold and dark
It’s no secret that Sweden’s geographical location makes it prone to cold, dark winters. At the depth of winter in some northern parts of the country above the Arctic Circle, you might get as little as three hours of sunlight per day.
So, winters may be rough, but you’ll be rewarded during summer. Long hours of daylight and moderately warm temperatures make Sweden one of the most beautiful places to be in during May to August.
14. Be on time
It is common knowledge here that ‘time’ should be respected at all times, regardless of whether you’re going for an interview or a friendly fika. Meetings will start on time with or without you. The train leaves on time with or without you. Swedes value punctuality.
15. The state-owned alcohol monopoly
While you can purchase alcoholic drinks in restaurants and bars, if you’d like to take a sip from the bottle in the privacy of your own home, you’ve got only one legal option of buying stronger alcohol, and that’s from one of the roughly 400 state-run liquor stores (Systembolaget).
16. Keep that plastic bag
Since 2020, Sweden has a levy on plastic bags, currently at SEK 3 (Swedish crowns), which means most supermarkets will charge you SEK 6 or 7 per plastic shopping bag at the check-out counter. Needless to say, keeping a plastic bag and re-using it will save you money. You can obviously also bring your own carrier bag or opt for paper bags, which are cheaper.
17. Special days celebrating food
Sure, Swedes celebrate Christmas, Easter, Midsummer and Walpurgis Eve. But almost as important are the days celebrating foods: Shrove Tuesday (Fettisdagen), which in Sweden calls for a semla; Waffle Day (Våffeldagen) on 25 March; and Cinnamon Bun Day (Kanelbullens dag) on 4 October. Feel free to gorge on said food all day long without guilt.
18. It is safe to drink the water
Drinking tap water is the norm in Sweden. The water is clean and fresh, so you can save both money and the environment by not buying bottled water.
19. Business casual means jeans
General everyday fashion in Sweden is simple, relaxed and casual. This same concept has seamlessly seeped its way into more formal business settings. Unless your colleague is meeting foreign clients or attending a high stakes board meeting, chances are they are wearing jeans and a long-sleeved shirt.
20. Not all education and healthcare is free
The Swedish healthcare system is largely taxpayer-funded. For routine doctor’s office visits, the maximum amount you may have to pay during the course of 12 months is SEK 1,300.
Universities in Sweden are free for citizens of the EU/EEA or Switzerland. Since 2011, students from other countries are charged for studying at Swedish universities. The universities set their own fees, which vary between SEK 80,000 and 295,000 per academic year.