Today is our second anniversary of living in Sweden together. Two years ago we came to this country along with a trunk packed fully with our lifetime equipment. After two hours drive from Karlskrona to Markaryd, we collected the keys from our landlord (hyresvärd) and entered an empty flat that was supposed to be our home for the next years.
Of course, in the meantime, we moved to another city, moved a company from Poland to Sweden, made friendships and experienced some disappointments but never, for even a while, thought about coming back. We have found our home.
On this special occasion, I decided to prepare a list of 24 thoughts to celebrate our 24 months in Sweden. Let me know if you agree with any of them or if your experiences are completely different.
Sweden is hard to start, easy to live
I admit that we moved here cheating a bit. Tomas had before Swedish personnummer, which allowed us to rent an apartment first-hand and avoid any troubles with private individuals hiring their flats illegally, not allowing tenants to have pets (and we have two cats and a dog so the possibility to move with them was crucial).
Without Tomas’s personnummer, our start and living in Sweden would be much harder. I’m going to risk saying painful. But as soon as you have this identity number, life gets much less complicated and simply enjoyable.
If you want to feel well in Sweden, you need to have a good attitude
Sweden is extremely special when it comes to many daily aspects of life. Not all of you will feel well here as citizens, that’s for sure. I believe that to feel at home here you need a specific set of characteristics to be able to handle Swedish culture. Patience, calmness and an open mind are certainly one of them.
I think some nations will assimilate faster, others never. We are the case who felt good immediately, as soon as we touched Swedish ground and feel bad every time we come back to our homeland. But people who come here just for money and there is no more reason, often feel very miserable. This point is the starting point of many thoughts I’m going to mention later.
It is as easy to love as to hate
The same things that will cause someone falls in love with Sweden immediately will cause pain in others. One loves no rush, others would say it’s pain in the ass when you have to wait for getting your case in the office closed. Some people will feel intimidated by having their personal information online and available. Others will say it’s convenient. There are a lot of examples and we can discuss them long. The point is to notice those things and accept them.
Everyone has time
People make jokes about “lagom” but it is indeed the way of life of the Swedes and the world order in Sweden. There are no “last minute” tasks, work-life balance works perfectly. That means waiting for certain things to be done – your application considered, doctor’s appointment booked, warranty claim closed. I love that because it gives me much more peace at work where I can plan the next steps in every project and know there will be no deadlines in five minutes. That’s the thing I appreciate the most about working with Swedish clients. But at the same time, many expats hate that and prefer the more lively way of living 🙂
The value of your work is high
At work or in professional relations, you are always treated as a specialist in your field. It doesn’t matter what you do for a living. You may be a shop assistant or a corporate manager – you are valuable as a person and your work is valuable to others. I can see that clearly while pricing my services – they may be too expensive for people but I’m going to hear exactly that: “Sorry, it is too much for me at the moment”. Not questioning my expertise, trying to get any discount.
The office is for you, not you for the office
During your time in Sweden, you are most likely going to have to go to some offices – Swedish Tax Agency (Skatteverket), Swedish Social Insurance Agency (Försäkringskassan), Swedish Pensions Agency (Pensionsmyndigheten) and many others. You’ll quickly discover that people who work there genuinely want to help you solve your case. I’m not saying they are always the best-informed people (it happens that they don’t recognize Poland as an EU/EEA country) but you can be sure your visit will flow in a friendly atmosphere. No judging, no trying to catch you on some neglects, no impatience.
Everything has to be easy
I’m unsure if it’s that way because the Swedes just like simplicity or because it just needs to be that way with so many immigrants from different parts of the world. If you can imagine the IKEA manual, you probably know how almost everything works here. Tax forms are easy and short, and tax law is even easier (you just need to know it but they make it easy for you by writing articles on Tax Agency’s website). Almost everything may be done over the Internet (booking appointments, sending applications, signing documents).
Sweden is a tax haven
This is a controversial opinion. Taxes in Sweden are relatively high, of course. Not to mention one of the highest VAT (moms) rates (base rate 25%). But taxes in Sweden are also beautiful. First of all – you can clearly see where they are going. You feel safe as a resident and have good healthcare, schools, roads, etc. Secondly, you can use a catalogue of tax breaks and pay fewer taxes than you normally would. The only problem is – you have to know about them. Solution? Website of Swedish Tax Agency or a good tax advisor.
Nobody judges you
Sweden is a multicultural country at the moment so I have an impression nothing is “strange” or “inappropriate” anymore. Do you feel like going shopping in your PJs? Someone may notice but wouldn’t judge. You can look however you like, wear what you want, have colourful hair, and long nails or, on the contrary, be plain and beige. That’s your freedom and nobody asks – they just care about themselves.
A smile may be fake as long as it makes me happy
Many people say that Swedish people are nice to you just because they wear masks. Well, this may be true – politeness is just what they mostly are. But, to be honest, I don’t care if someone is nice to me because he/she is a nice person or because it’s what they must do. The only thing that matters to me is my well-being and the lack of a stressful atmosphere. Does it matter what they say behind my back? I don’t think so.
Sweden is a country of chances and possibilities
“You may be whoever you want” gets its true meaning here. It is common to try different things in life and change direction multiple times. People go to universities often not right after high school but much later, when they have some professional experience and already know what they want to study or what is needed in their professions. It’s not that rare that someone decides to rebrand, even if their career is successful. And the state is supportive – students get funds from the Swedish Board of Student Finance (CSN – Centrala studiestödsnämnden), higher education is free for citizens and residents of EU/EEU countries and there are many courses available to gain new skills.
Networking is everything
Almost every aspect of living in Sweden is based on testimonials. When renting an apartment, they’ll ask about your old landlords’ references. While applying for a job, it’s essential to give contact information to people who can confirm your previous experience and attitude at work. If someone is looking for a company to do a redecoration, they will ask friends for recommendations first. That’s why companies like ours (IT and marketing services) may struggle at the beginning with jumping into this system but understanding that is a first step to success.
The Swedes don’t isolate, they just already have their company
Another statement we hear about Swedes is they are a very closed and isolated nation and spend most of their time with other Swedes. It’s always advised that expats find company among other expats and don’t even try to make friends with Swedes. I get the impression that people forget that expats left their lives, friends and family whereas Swedes have those people all the time in Sweden. As an expat, it is just easier to find friends among others who struggle the same way, feel lonely and are intentionally seeking new contacts to build their social network in a new place.
Think, when was the last time when you were intentionally searching for friends from abroad in your homeland while you already have friends from your school, university or work? Exactly. To meet Swedish people you just need to be where they are and if you’re a nice person, there’s no problem with making good friends with them.
Transparency is a thing
Personal information about all Swedish residents is publicly available everywhere. If you Google someone’s name, you can find their address, phone number, date of birth, , owned cars, properties, and companies. When you text a proper number with the car’s plates, you’ll get owner data in response. Last but not least, you can check the financial results of every company registered in Sweden.
I love this transparency and find it very convenient in many ways. Latest example? Someone parked a car in the garage at our place – in the next 10 minutes, we knew who’s the owner and could ask him to move his car.
Associations are good for everything
The most visible example is unions that work as a substitute for labour law. They regulate conditions of working in Sweden as well as minimum wages for different branches. But people in Sweden just love to belong. We have Hyresgästföreningen which takes care of all tenants that are members negotiates rent rises and gives legal assistance if needed. All stores have their loyalty programmes, discounts and user accounts. It is always profitable to join. I sometimes laugh that if there’s anything that could be a subject of any association, it probably already exists in Sweden.
Apartments are so functional…
Renting apartments instead of buying own ones is very popular. And those apartments have to be in specific standards. Tenants need to have access to at least a washing machine (if not combined then separately with a wash dryer). There are also limits on people living in a specific area to prevent overcrowding. Popular are separate rooms for wardrobes and stand-alone wardrobes are usually quite capacious. Another example is the number of bathrooms – in apartments with 4+ rooms, there needs to be another WC (besides a proper bathroom).
More and more apartments are going through renovations when tenants change. We moved twice into freshly renovated apartments – they always look the same. White walls, wooden floors, tiles in bathrooms (and sometimes also bathrooms and kitchen).
…as well as all residential areas
Residential areas are always well designed, focusing on accessibility and convenience of residents. Each district has preschool and at least an elementary school, clinic, and a bunch of stores (small ones or chain stores) as well as recreational areas – parks, skateparks, swimming pools, libraries, gyms and other places to actively spend free time. Libraries are equipped with computers with a fast internet connection, printers and scanners which make them perfect places to study or work. Everything should be within reach of around 15 minutes on foot.
Nature is within reach
Sweden offers probably every kind of landscape you can imagine. Seashores, mountains, huge lakes, skerries and much more. Spending time outdoors is not a rare thing – there’s even a saying that there’s no bad weather, just bad clothes. People try to get benefits from every second spent in nature which works well for both mental and physical health. It works – after moving to Sweden I’m sick significantly less often and I think it’s beautiful.
Swedish summer is stunning
We experienced two summers in Sweden, however, didn’t have a chance to embrace it fully. In both years we had some things to deal with in our homeland so we could have just a glimpse of summer. This was enough to say – Swedish summer is the most beautiful summer I’ve experienced in my whole life and I’ve been here and there. The temperature is just perfect, rarely goes above 30°C, even in the city. You feel like you want to explore and enjoy the moment, not die (and that happened to me a few times in Wroclaw, Poland and many more places).
I love the idea of common laundries
I remember when I first visited Sweden in 2012 I fell in love with the idea of common laundries and thought it was so convenient. Although I now have my own washing and drying machine, I still like to use common laundry to wash bed sheets and bigger things.
Laundries often have industrial capacity washing machines and dryers, a special room with warm air where you can hang your laundry, and mangel. You book your timeslot and have it for yourself. Why laundries are popular? Because, as I mentioned before, every tenant should have access to a washing machine but in old apartments, they weren’t installed. That’s how they handled it. Although these days more and more rented apartments have their appliances, laundries are still available in many buildings.
Sweden is a country to start a family
When I was still in Poland I couldn’t even think of starting my own family and having a human child (cats and my dog still on board). I didn’t want my future child to have to go to a Polish school and grow up in a country where homophobia and nationalism are fine and the economic situation is so unstable. Now I feel safe – if it comes to both my health and economy.
I am a sole proprietor. But I can imagine that for people working in a job position, there are some important aspects. Long maternity/paternity leave, parental allowance, leave when your child is ill, great preschools and schools in general… I can talk for a long about this. Sweden creates a friendly environment for children’s development.
School teaches how to learn and make mistakes
From my school years, I remember mostly learning by heart and forgetting as soon as the test was passed. I remember also teachers that wanted to catch me on my mistakes more than teach me something and build my curiosity.
When I started attending Swedish classes, I was terrified about what happens if I don’t know the answers. Unnecessarily. Making mistakes is a natural thing in the learning process so nobody punishes you for that. And I only wish I could experience that kind of school as a child. I’m happy that my kids would have this chance.
I’ve never been taken care of that much as it comes to my health
This could also be a controversial statement. I have some chronic diseases – insulin resistance, PCOS, and hypothyroidism. For years they’ve been treated wrong or not at all and doctors refused to do more advanced examinations to discover what causes those diseases in my case or what I can do to improve my comfort of living.
Here I’ve got a referral for all possible tests, nobody ignored my symptoms and I felt safe, and taken care of. Clinics are modern and well-equipped. As strange as it may sound – it’s just a pleasure to be there. What’s more, during all appointments you can book a translator to help you with communication if you need it. Completely free of charge.
Nowhere is ever perfect
This may be the obvious truth. There are no perfect places in general. Some places can be perfect for a while – a short trip, holiday, or one or two months. But there is no place where as a resident you can say it’s 100% perfect. I see the differences, there are some things I’d change, both pros and cons living in Sweden. But there’s no other place I feel that much at home. There’s no other place where I feel that happy. Sweden gave me a new life and although it’s not perfect, it is still “mine”.
This list was based on my personal opinions and experience. I’m aware many of you may feel completely different. I’d love to read your stories in the comments. My plan for LikeSweden is to create an awesome community, a safe place for everyone living in Sweden or sharing their love for this country. I wouldn’t be more proud if a year from now I could say I succeeded. Keep your fingers crossed and let’s stay in touch!