An Expat’s Guide to Moving to Sweden

Sweden represents an ideal expat destination. Major cities such as Stockholm give all the excitement of a big city, but you’re still never far from the wilderness. Sweden is the fifth largest country in Europe, but it boasts a very low population density. Vast swathes of the country are filled with mountains, forests and wildlife, making it the perfect country for outdoor pursuits.

Whether it’s how community-minded the country is, how beautiful and well-run the major cities are, or the seemingly never-ending miles of countryside, it’s little wonder that Sweden is persistently touted as one of the very best countries in the world for expats.

Moving to Sweden

Sweden’s culture is surprisingly wide-ranging, having impacted everything from the cars we drive to the phones we use. Just a few of the household names that Sweden has given the world include ABBA, IKEA, Volvo and Skype.

One of the most noticeable national traits is just how family-friendly the country is. For example, workers in Sweden receive generous maternity and paternity entitlements and can reduce their workload by up to 25% at their request, right up until their children reach school age. So child-friendly is the country, that even some trains have toy rooms to entertain bored youngsters. For expats with families, therefore, there can be few better destinations.

No talk of Sweden’s child-rearing benefits could be complete without mention of the schools which, like the hospitals, are some of the very best in the world. That said, these high-quality establishments do come at a cost; taxes in Sweden are exceptionally high, with the average Swede paying 42% tax. It is not uncommon for higher-wage earners to receive less than half of their pay once taxes have been deducted.

However, relatively high levels of taxation mean plenty of money churning into public services. As a result, whether it’s the rail system, schooling or healthcare, you’ll find the country to be uniformly clean, efficient and punctual. This can make living here a truly pleasurable experience.

Sweden is a very politically stable country, with a strong history of human rights and equality. They have an official policy of neutrality and actively welcome immigrants and expats alike. At the time of writing, Sweden has accepted more political refugees than any other European country.

Sweden also has an enviable reputation for gender equality, with large numbers of women benefitting from senior positions. For example, nearly half of cabinet ministers are female, a figure that high above the international average.

Is it a good idea to move to Sweden?

Moving to Sweden is a great idea of many. Sweden offers residents a good quality of life, with a focus on healthy work/life balance and a comprehensive social welfare system that support citizens. There’s ample opportunity to enjoy clean, beautiful countryside and a focus on families and community.

What are the pros and cons of moving to Sweden?

There are many pros to moving to Sweden, including the great quality of life, focus on creating a healthy work/life balance and a social welfare system that supports families and individual’s wellbeing. The country offers fantastic education and healthcare, and its public services are of a high standard.

Some cons of moving to Sweden include the weather. Winters are often dark and cold, and some areas of the country see extreme cold temperatures. There is a high cost of living and high tax rate – although high wages and the great public services can sometimes provide a balance for this.

Can a UK citizen move to Sweden? 

Yes, UK citizens can move to Sweden. You will need a residence permit, as well as a work permit if you intend to work in the country. You will need to secure work in Sweden before you move there as you will need your employer will initiate the application for a work visa on your behalf.

How many Brits live in Sweden? 

It’s estimated that around 30,000 British people live in Sweden. The majority – around 5,000, live in the capital city of Stockholm.

Do they speak English in Sweden?

The official language of Sweden is Swedish which, while separate from Danish and Norwegian, retains enough similarities that most of these nationalities can understand each other. This is especially so in the south of the country, which was formerly part of Denmark.

However, a large proportion of the country speak excellent English as a second language. Being a compulsory subject in schools, surveys suggest that 89% of Swedes are fluent in English. Even so, it’s advised that expats move to Sweden with some knowledge of the Swedish language, to make it easier to integrate.

Alongside these two core languages, there are a number of minority languages that one might encounter. These include Finnish, Meankieli, Sami, Romani and Yiddish.

How much does it cost to move to Sweden?

The cost of moving your belongings to Sweden will vary depending on how much you are taking with you. Typically, prices can range from around £2,000 to £8,000. In addition to this, applying for a visa will have a fee – around £84 for adults and £34 for children.

Sweden Visa Requirements

If you want to visit Sweden for longer than 90 days, you will need a visitor’s permit. For this, you will need your passport and proof that you will be visiting someone in Sweden, such as a relative or friend, along with a copy of their ID card. Alternatively, you can use a visitor’s permit as a tourist. In this case, you will need to prove you have sufficient funds to support yourself during your stay, at a minimum of SEK 450 per day.

A visitor’s permit is typically used for three months, but can be extended to nine months in some cases.

If you want to move to Sweden to live long-term, you will need to have a job secured. Your employment contract will be used alongside your application, that will be initiated by your employer. You will need to prove you will earn a monthly salary of at least SEK 13,000 and also have accommodation.

You can also apply for residence if you are self-employed. You will need to submit a copy of your passport as well as proof of your business and income, such as bank statements and customers invoices.

You can also apply for a permit to study in Sweden. For this, you will need evidence you are enrolled in a Swedish educational programme, as well as your passport and proof you have funds to support yourself.

Can I live in Sweden permanently? 

You can apply for permanent residence status if you have held a temporary residence permit for at least four years.

You can also live in Sweden permanently and become an official resident if you have a family member who already has permanent residence status.

Employment in Sweden

Sweden has a competitive job market. It offers relatively high wages and a focus on healthy work/life balance, with very few people in Sweden working overtime or ever being encouraged to do so. Sweden provides generous holiday packages and also shared parental leave for workers as standard.

Is it hard to get a job in Sweden as a foreigner? 

It can be tricky to find a job in Sweden as a foreigner. Local Swedish citizens are protected by law, so companies will need to defend why they have chosen an expat over a local to fill a role. Having relevant and specialist experience, skills, and/or qualifications will help you to stand out when applying.

Often, being able to speak Swedish well is a must to find a job in Sweden. Many international companies have offices based in Sweden, so sometimes roles will be advertised as English-speaking. Even so, having a certain level of Swedish knowledge can put you ahead of the competition.

Can I move to Sweden without a job? 

To get a working visa, you will need to have a job secured before you move to Sweden. The employer will have to initiate your visa application and your employment contract will be used in your application. You will not be able to work in Sweden without a working visa.

What is the average salary in Sweden?

The average annual salary in Sweden is SEK 481,200, which is around £34,613. Salaries can range by region and also by industry. The average annual salary in capital city Stockholm increases to SEK 523,200, or £37,634. Engineers in Sweden can expect to earn around SEK 600,000, or £43,158 and tech workers’ salaries can rise up to SEK 1,560,000, or £112,000.

Cost of Living in Sweden

Sweden is known for having a high cost of living, although according to Numbeo, it is on average 5% lower than the UK. Prices can vary by region, with the larger cities being more expensive than rural areas, but still generally high overall.

Accommodation is particularly expensive and Sweden has been experiencing a housing crisis which has boosted the cost of rent and property purchases.

It’s estimated that a family of four in Sweden will require around £2,500 per month to cover costs, not including accommodation. An individual will need round £700 per month, in addition to accommodation costs.

Is Sweden cheap to live in?

No, Sweden is not really a cheap place to live. However, typically wages are high, so expats can still enjoy a good standard of living if they move to Sweden to work.

What is the average cost of a house in Sweden? 

According to Numbeo, the average cost of a house in the city centre in Sweden is £4,584 per square metre. A property outside of the city will cost around £2,771 per square metre.

Renting in Sweeden will cost around £659 per month for a one-bedroom home in the city and around £490 per month for the same size home outside of the city. Rent is around 33% lower in Sweden than in the UK.

How expensive is Sweden compared to the UK?

While Sweden is typically seen as having a high cost of living, in many ways it is cheaper or close to the UK. Food and groceries are similar in price, as the cost of public transport. In other areas, such as utitlities and child care, Sweden is actually a lot cheaper than the UK.

Using data from Numbeo, below is a comparison for Swedish costs compared to costs in the UK.

 Price in SwedenPrice in UKCheaper country
Meal for two in mid-range restaurant£57.50£60.00Sweden
0.33L bottle of water£1.35£1.12UK
Milk (1L)£1.03£1.05Sweden
Loaf of bread£1.88£1.08UK
One way ticket on public transport£2.52£2.50UK
Public transport monthly pass£60.02£67.80Sweden
Basic utilities£69.59£209.07Sweden
Fitness club monthly fee£27.16£32.03Sweden
Preschool child care£97.74£1,086.57Sweden

Healthcare in Sweden

Like the rest of Scandinavia, the Swedish government puts considerable emphasis on the presentation of universal healthcare for citizens. The results have been impressive, with a generous life expectancy among citizens, and one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world.

Expat residents will gain access to the same level of care afforded for nationals, meaning that one can look forward to exceptional standards of healthcare. In order to access the system as an expat one will need to provide a personal identification number (“personnummer”) which can be garnered from local tax offices.

If there is a downside to the Swedish healthcare system it is that waiting times can be extensive, which is why some nationals and expats alike opt for private healthcare. The standards of care are likely to be near-identical, but you will receive your treatment far sooner. Private care is most commonly paid for using international health insurance.

Lastly, note that in Sweden many otherwise freely-available medications are only available with a prescription. Visitors to the country may therefore want to consider bringing with them medications if their visit is only to be short-term.

The emergency services can be accessed in Sweden on the standard European emergency number of 112.

Is healthcare free for expats in Sweden?

Expats who stay in Sweden for more than a year can apply for a personnummer and access public health care. However, healthcare through this system will still not be free. Costs will vary by region, but basic healthcare will typically cost around £10-£15. Staying in a hospital costs around £8 per day for the first 10 days and then £4 per day after that. Concessions are made for those that require frequent healthcare and prescription medication, with an annual cap on fees for patients.

Does Sweden have good healthcare? 

Sweden has great healthcare. It frequently features in top ten lists for best healthcare in the world. It’s known to be efficient, with modern equipment and highly-trained healthcare professionals.

Does Sweden have better healthcare than the UK?

Recent data put Sweden has having the fourth best healthcare in the world. In the same ranking, the UK comes in 12th. There are many ways in which Sweden has better healthcare than the UK, including much shorter waiting times. Sweden has the most physicians per 1,000 people, with 5.3, and the UK has 2.8. The UK has more hospital beds per 1,000 people, with 2.4 compared to Sweden’s 2.0.

Health Insurance Sweden

Sweden operates universal healthcare, but healthcare in Sweden is rarely “free” – rather heavily subsidised. Expect therefore to pay small sums of money for most healthcare services. That said, the Swedish government places annual limitations on annual contributions, where after individuals will benefit from truly free healthcare.

In addition, expats should be aware that they will need to be paying into the Swedish system for at least a year before their coverage includes dental care. Until then, it will be necessary to pay for routine dental care out-of-pocket.

What is the best health insurance for expats in Sweden?

Whilst public healthcare in Sweden is good, many expats choose international health insurance so they can avoid the longer wait times that come with the public system. Expatriate Group provides flexible, comprehensive international health insurance for expats in Sweden, covering everything from hospital treatment, doctor and specialist fees, and outpatient surgeries.

Safety in Sweden

Sweden has a low crime rate and is generally a safe destination for travel. Like most countries, there is a degree of petty theft, but these are in no way more extreme than other European travel destinations.

In recent years, data shows there has been an increase in serious offenses such as lethal violence in recent years which has led crime to be a key issue that voters are currently concerned about. In 2022, fatal shootings in Sweden hit a record high, more than Denmark, Finland and Norway combined.

Due to the climate, Sweden does not suffer from the tropical diseases or parasites to be found in hotter countries. However, winter weather in Sweden can make travel rather more dangerous. Each year there are numerous car accidents due to snow and ice on the roads. Visitors who plan to drive in colder months should take particular care and even consider taking advanced driving tuition to safely deal with the conditions.

Does Sweden have a high crime rate?

The crime rate in Sweden is around 13,800 crimes per 100,000 people. It has remained consistently between 14,000 and 15,500 in the last decade and only dropped lower in the last year.

Where is the safest place to live in Sweden?

Recent data places Stockholm as the 10th safest city in the world when factoring in digital security, health, infrastructure and personal safety. This is part of the reason why so many expats choose to live in the nation’s capital.  

Money in Sweden

Sweden is one of the few EU countries that has opted to retain its original currency, instead of opting for the Euro. The currency is known as the Krona (sometimes Anglicised to the “crown”).

Sweden has a strong banking infrastructure, with ATMs found in many urban areas, currency-exchange offices plentiful and many businesses accepting credit cards bearing the Visa or Mastercard logo.

You will need a personnummer, a tax identification number, in order to open a bank account in Sweden. You can apply for this at the Swedish Tax Agency. You’ll also need your passport, residence permit and employment contract.

If you don’t have a personnummer, you can open a bank account, but it will be restricted, i.e., you won’t have a debit card or access to online banking. Sweden has strict laws about opening a bank account, so you’ll only be able to do so in person once you’re in Sweden.

Sweden has two types of income tax – kommun tax, which is typically around 24% and goes to services such as libraries, schools and roads, and landsting tax which is around 8% and goes towards things like healthcare. High earners also pay stat stax which is generally around 20%.

Swedish citizens will be taxed on all income that they earn, regardless of where it is sourced. In contrast, expats will only be taxed on income they earn in Sweden. Certain careers and industries will be eligible for tax relief, such as highly specialised roles in science and research.  

Education in Sweden

Education standards in Sweden are considered very high quality, as evidenced by numerous expat life surveys over recent years. Compulsory education exists between the ages of 7 and 16, with lessons typically being taught in Swedish.

There are also a range of private schools (known as “firskolor”), as well as a limited number of international schools in and around Stockholm. The lower population densities outside the capital mean that international schools can be much harder to encounter here.

Note that waiting times for entry into the few international schools can be considerable so expat parents will likely need to plan well in advance. The school year runs from mid-August through to the beginning of June in most establishments. This means that pupils benefit from long summer holidays when the weather is at its peak each year.

Weather in Sweden

It can be tempting to assume that all Scandinavian countries are very similar to one another; typically cold, snowy and mountainous. But in Sweden, you might be surprised to hear this isn’t necessarily the case.

Let’s start with the temperature. While the country can get cold in winter, summers can be positively balmy. Indeed, benefitting from the Gulf Stream, Sweden in summer can often be warmer than the UK. The highest ever recorded temperature here was a brow-melting 39.9 °C; not quite the year-round ski resort many people expect.

That said, snow is commonplace in winter, especially in the north of the country. Roughly 15% of the country falls within the Arctic Circle, where the majority of the snow falls. This brings us neatly to the mountains, which are almost exclusively confined to the sparsely populated, forested north. The main mountain chain here – known as “Skanderna” – neatly separates Sweden from its neighbour Norway and it is at such altitudes that the coldest of weather can be experienced.

Moving to Sweden Checklist

If you are moving to Sweden, you will need:

  • Valid passport
  • Money for flights and initial costs
  • To work out your monthly budget to cover accommodation, groceries, utilities
  • Flights to Sweden
  • Employment contract
  • Working visa and residence permit
  • Health insurance policy
  • Enrolment in school for your children
  • Proof of accommodation (such as a tenancy agreement or property purchase)
  • Local SIM card or mobile phone
  • To learn some basic Swedish phrases
  • Arrange furniture for the new home
  • Arrange Wi-Fi for the new home
  • Tie up loose ends at home, such as closing utility accounts and informing the tax office

Expat Questions

We answer your questions:

Can I move to Sweden without having a job lined up? ~ Andreas, Spain

No, you cannot move to Sweden and become a resident without having a job lined up. The exceptions to this would be if you are self-employed or an entrepreneur, in which case you can apply for a slightly different residence permit.  

I am moving to Sweden with my baby and husband. Will there be inspection from child care services after we move there? ~ David, UK

If your baby is very young, less than a month, a district nurse may visit to check their health. If your baby is older, you may be invited to visit a Children’s Clinic so they can be checked and their health can be monitored. You’ll be invited for your child to start the usual programme of vaccinations and regular health checks.

Child care services will only visit if there seems to be a severe issue with your child or with your accommodation, for example, if it’s dangerous for your baby to live there.