Stockholm is very similar to any major UK city, unless of course you arrive in winter when the temperature is -20°C and a thick layer of snow covers everything. In my article I describe basic facts about Sweden which can be very helpful once you move to this country.
The signs at the central train and bus stations are in English and the streets are packed with familiar branches of H&M, Clas Ohlson and Seven Eleven. If you’re ever in need of help, the locals are friendly and generally quite keen to be useful. I’ve asked for directions from cyclists, bus drivers and shop assistants and they haven’t let me down yet! Stockholm residents speak excellent English, so the usual waving and sign language isn’t necessary (unless you want to for tradition’s sake).
The biggest surprise I had when I moved to Stockholm happened when I tried to buy a bottle of wine. Alcohol stronger than 3.5% is only available to buy from one of the government owned shops, called Systembolaget. There are plenty in Stockholm but beware: they shut early on Saturdays and don’t open at all on Sundays.
Sweden’s relationship with its immigrants is tricky. While things appear good on the surface, critics complain of a lack of integration between immigrants and Swedish society. The nationalist party, The Sweden Democrats, obtained just under 6% of the votes at the national election in 2010 and gained seats in the Swedish parliament for the first time.
Coming from the UK, I have never experienced any discrimination while living and working in Stockholm—though there have been moments of red tape frustration. A common example among foreigners is opening a bank account. Even with a social security number and a guaranteed salary in Sweden, the first bank I tried to get an account with would only offer me a limited service, and did not allow me to have any internet banking facilities. The next bank refused me completely, but—third time lucky—I then found a bank that would take me as a customer.
Despite the recent economic crisis, jobs are still available in Sweden, but they can be tough to find for foreigners. The ‘Swedish Public Employment Service’, Arbetsförmedlingen offers advice for foreigners and a list of available jobs. I know people who found jobs through this service, while others found employment by e-mailing companies directly. I also know people who, after 2 years, are still searching for a job in Stockholm. From my experience, networking is often key to finding a job in Sweden.
A common issue with getting a job in Sweden is language. Some companies don’t mind at all if you can’t speak Swedish; some want fairly basic, conversational Swedish but have English as their working language; and others insist on fluency in Swedish—it really depends on the individual job.
Sweden offers private insurance for becoming unemployed. If you have been a member of one of the A-kassa unions for a year (it costs roughly 90SEK/£8.50 a month), then you are entitled to 80% of your salary if you become unemployed. Conditions are on the A-kassa website.
Many foreigners have told me that they find it difficult to meet Swedes and find Swedish friends, although I haven’t personally experienced this. One of the first pieces of advice I was given when it came to meeting Swedes was: make the first move! During an evening out, Swedes are definitely less likely to approach you than people would be in the UK, but once you start a conversation they are friendly and chatty.
Still, most Swedes go out to socialise with their friends and picking up a girl or guy in clubs is less common than in the UK. It’s often easier to meet people in other, daytime settings. If you want to try online dating, a few popular dating sites in Sweden are e-kontakt.se, parship.se and match.com.
Romance in Sweden is similar to the UK, but with a more gender equal twist. For example, a man might buy a woman a drink in the UK, but in Sweden this is fairly rare, and could even end up being insulting the woman. Also, it is not always seen as the man’s responsibility to call first; often the woman is just as likely to do so. Public displays of affection are fairly common and you will see couples holding hands and kissing while walking around the city.
After 3 months in Sweden, EU citizens need to apply for a Right of Residence. The ‘Swedish Migration Board’, Migrationsverket, has more information, including an online application form. In addition, if you’re planning on staying over a year, you need to get a social security number from the ‘Swedish Tax Agency’, Skatterverket.
Tourist guides for Stockholm usually name the famous palaces, museums and the stunning archipelago as the top attractions. These are all wonderful, but if you’re after a less well-known way to see the city, then book a roof-top tour of the Old Town. In the main square of the Old Town, there is the small Nobel Museum, where you can see every prize winner and buy souvenir chocolate Nobel Prizes!
In the summer, Stockholm has a midnight marathon, which, if you don’t fancy running in, is always a fun event to watch. In the winter, I recommend a trip to Hellasgården, where you can take a traditional sauna followed by a quick dip into the lake through a hole cut out of the frozen ice.
I arrived in Sweden in 2009 to take a PhD position at Stockholm University and have lived here ever since. I have a part-time job working for a publishing company in Stockholm, which I found out about from a friend. I first lived in a studio flat, which I sublet from a colleague at the University who was travelling abroad for a couple of years, before I moved in with my Swedish partner. We have been dating for a year. It took us 2 months before we had our first trip to Ikea for furniture.
Contribution by Michael Pawlicki
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