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expatinsweden

Simrishamn Beach in October

WOW. Nine months. I’ve officially spent nine months living in Sweden. But seriously… where has the time gone?

Before we dive into this I want to start by saying that I love Canada with all my heart. I am forever grateful for the ultimate lottery of being born in one of the world’s best countries. And for the endless opportunities growing up in Canada, and being a Canadian, has provided me.

But, even though Canada is great (and still #1 in my heart)…

I’m convinced that other countries could learn a thing or two from the Swedes. Life in Sweden is a bit slower, a bit more balanced, a bit more “lagom” (if you’re like whaaaat is that?… I explain it a bit more about it below).

And after living in Sweden, I have some takeaways. Here are the best things about living in Sweden.


1. LAGOM

You probably have heard the Danish concept of “hygge,” which has become synonymous with Danish lifestyle, and is being emulated around the world. Similarly, the Swedish concept of “lagom” is something that has been hyped internationally (I mean, even Vogue was talking about it). However, I had a difficult time actually understanding this concept until I began to immerse myself in Swedish culture.

Lagom |là:gom|: Neither too little, or too much; just right. Doing, being, and having just enough.

This principle is truly indicative of the Swedish lifestyle. Simple, balanced, and, above all else, contentment. It is about living life in moderation, and appreciating what you have in that very moment.

I think the outside world has this view of hygge or lagom as a bunch of Scandinavian’s sitting around cozy fireplaces eating kanelbullar (cinnamon buns) – this isn’t true. It is a principle that is ingrained in the culture of the locals, and not something that, in my opinion, can easily be mimicked.

However, I still think that many other countries can learn a bit from the Swedish lagom principle about being content with what you have, and being a little more selfless. Because, ultimately, the reason Sweden has been coined such a great place to live is because they focus on the common good, where hierarchy and status is not important, and everyone is living their own definition of “lagom.”


2. FIKA

Surely you’ve heard of the Swedish concept of fika. It is easily one of the most famous Swedish concepts. But what does it really mean?

Fika |fi:ka|: a Swedish concept meaning “to have coffee” or “coffee with friends,” is typically coffee accompanied by a sweet treat, and is a moment to slow down, and appreciate the good things in life.

Before I moved here, I was aware of the concept. But I was certain it was just a fun gimmick. Boy, was a wrong.

Fika is a way of life in Sweden. We have “Fredagskaka” or “Friday cake” at work. We get together with friends and family for afternoon fika on the weekend (or even after work). It is a concept dating back to the 19th century and is an integral part of Swedish culture.

And while I love a good cup of coffee and a sweet treat, fika is so much more than that. It is an opportunity to take a break from the nuances of your day to just be with the people closest with you. To catch up. To bond. To tell stories… and laugh. And I mean, how special is that?

See Also: My favourite spots in Malmö for fika.


3. SOMMARSEMESTER

Or, in English, summer holidays.

Taking time for yourself – and enjoying time with your families – is important. That’s why 5-6 weeks of paid vacation is standard in Sweden.

And to add to that, Swedes believe that vacation should be enjoyed for longer than one or two weeks at a time. In fact, in Sweden it is normal to take up to four or five weeks of vacation straight, especially during the summer.

After working at a global Swedish-owned company, I can confirm that Swedes live by the principle that work is important – but that in order to be the best employee, you need take care of yourself (and your family). And that means taking time off without questions or feelings of judgement, whether it be to take a mental break, spend time with family and friends, or see the world. And this is something that I think that countries around the world could learn from.


4. “DET FINNS INGET DÅLIGT VÄDER, BADA DÅLIGA KLÄDER”

Translation: There is no bad weather, there are only bad clothes.

This is easily one of my favourite Swedish sayings. Despite living in the north, Swede’s love to be outside.

In Sweden, the number of summer days a year is limited. Most days hover around 20 degrees, however it is not unusual for it to be 15 degrees and rainy in July. And let’s not even get started on the cold, dark winters.

What does this mean for the locals? They make the most of every single sunny day – and spend lots of time outside, even if it’s a bit chilly (or rainy… and it can be very rainy in Malmö). During the summer, it is not unusual, or frowned upon to leave the office early just because it is nice outside. The reason why: nice days are limited, and should be enjoyed. Especially when it is light out until 10:30 pm. As far as Swede’s are concerned, they can make up for it at the office during the cold, dark winter.

However, that doesn’t mean Swedes don’t make the most out of every day. It is not unusual to see Swedes bundled up on a sunny day in March, outside on a patio, having fika with friends (likely with a baby bundled up in a stroller next to them – because yes, the stereotypes are reeeeal. And on that note, the stereotype of fathers on a solo stroller walks with their babies are true too).

See Also: A photo diary of autumn in Skåne, Sweden.


5. SWEDE’S ARE MULTI-LINGUAL

Jag talar Svenska (“I speak Swedish”).

Okay, no I don’t. But I swear I’m working on it. However, learning Swedish is proving to be quite the challenge, because in order to live in Sweden, you really don’t have to speak Swedish.

Did you know that Scandinavian countries are home to some of the best English-as-a-second-language speakers in the world? I mean, after years of cheering on the Detroit Red Wings and their Swedish roster with perfect English, I already knew this. But I didn’t realize that there is some crazy statistic like more than 95% of the population is fluent in English.

This makes it very difficult for an expat like me to learn to speak Swedish – because locals love to practice their English with native speakers.

With that being said, many of the Swedes I’ve met speak more than two languages. They are taught English in school and movies and TV shows are not dubbed (which means they are also expert subtitle readers). Because of this, they have this inherent interest in learning new languages.

Needless to say, I’m totally inspired. And am hoping that in due time, I can add “proficient in Swedish” to my CV (but I am not getting to eager yet, because this learning Swedish thing is no joke).


6. YOU DON’T NEED A CAR

Living in Sweden? No car required.

Locals that live in the city almost exclusively travel by bike. In fact, Malmö is littered with bike lanes and is often considered one of the most bike-friendly cities in the world.

Alternatively, you can take public transit. You can get virtually anywhere you need to go by bus and/or train – even rural villages. And the public transit operates at nearly all hours of the day, which means you always have an option to get where you need to be.

After living for most of my life in a city where you need a car, never could I have imagined have a 30 minute walk/bus ride to work everyday. But, truthfully, I love my commute. It is a time to get fresh air and listen to my favourite podcasts – all while helping reduce the carbon footprint. Which brings me to my next point…


7. ENVIRONMENTALLY-FRIENDLY

Surely, at this point, everyone in the world has heard of Greta Thunberg (but in case you’ve been living under a rock, she’s the Swedish teenage environmental activist who has been actively advocating around the world for climate change).

However, after living in Sweden, it doesn’t surprise me that this young environmental trailblazer is a Swedish native – because Swedes are very conscious of the environment.

As I mentioned before, it is not unusual for locals to rely on bikes and public transportation (especially with the price of gas). Additionally, simple initiatives like recycling and composting are made very easy. And don’t even think about buying a disposable water bottle, or using a plastic bag, because you’ll surely be judged. And besides, Swedish drinking water is some of the cleanest (and tastiest) in the world!


8. HIGH TAXES, HIGH REWARDS

Daycare? Free. University? Free. Cleaning services? Subsidized. Healthcare? Mostly free (you’ll never pay more than 1,000 SEK or roughly 100 EUR per year). I could go on and on about all the fantastic government-incentivized programs.

And let’s not forget the parental leave. 480 work days, which is often shared by both parents (yes, you heard that right, it isn’t weird for new dads to take parental leave; in fact, 90 days are required to be used exclusively by the father). This parental leave can also be used until the child is eight years old, which means it also isn’t uncommon for parents to only work four days a week or take extended summer holidays to spend with their families.

Of course, these programs come with the stigma of being costly. And although some of that is true, my income taxes certainly aren’t any higher than they were in Canada (although, sales taxes are a hefty 25%). Despite the stereotype that the Nordic countries are expensive, I don’t feel like my cost of living is higher here than it would be in Canada.

With many basic everyday bills, like cellphones, internet, and education being very affordable, the only thing that is expensive are the “luxuries” like entertainment (going out to eat, or going to the movies), cars, and gas. And really, I’m happy to reallocate that 90% savings on my monthly cellphone bill to a night out with friends, anyways.

See Also: You can read more about my favourite spots for a night out in Malmo here.


9. JANTELAGEN

I know, another word you likely can’t pronounce. This is a Scandinavian principle that guides how Swedes choose to act, particularly in the workplace.

Jantelagen |jantɛˌlɑːɡɛn|: You are not to think you’re anyone special or that you’re better than anyone else.

Don’t boast. Don’t brag. Stay humble and grounded. Never make anyone else feel inferior to you. No one needs to know about your rank in the hierarchy of your company. Or your new, expensive car.

That, in a nutshell, is Jantelagen.


10. PROXIMITY TO THE REST OF EUROPE

For a travel bug like me, this is easily one of the best things about living in Sweden. I can travel, door-to-door, to Copenhagen Airport in 30 minutes. And Malmö Airport, also nearby, offers budget connections to many European cities for cheap weekend getaways.

Not to mention, there are so many cities accessible by train, including some incredible cities within Sweden (for example, you can get from Malmö to Stockholm in four hours by train, or 50 minutes by flights … which I’ll be doing in a few weeks, so stay tuned for that story!).


And those are, in my opinion at least, the absolute best things about living in Sweden.

Is there anything I missed? If so, add it to the comments below! And if you’re considering moving to Sweden, I’ve wrote all about the Swedish visa process here. You can also read more about expat life in Sweden here.


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Streets in Malmö
Sweden Visa // Sweden Sambo Visa // Sweden Working Holiday Visa // Applying for a Visa to Sweden

When I was researching about moving to Sweden, I had a really hard time finding the information I was looking for online. For that reason, I’ve had so many people reach out to me over the past couple months about the process of moving to Sweden. Mainly, about how to get a Swedish visa.

The more time I spend here, and the more I talk to fellow expats, I have realized that the Swedish Migration Agency isn’t very clear in their rules and regulations. So – I wanted to put together a post highlighting what I’ve learned so far, in hopes that it may help someone in the same situation as me.

Disclaimer: I am by no means a migration expert, and I am not claiming to be. Additionally, the migration agency in Sweden has been known to have some [err, a lot of] grey area in their rules, so my experience may not be the same as other migration cases. If you have any questions, email me and I’ll try to help [or I may know another expat in your situation that you can reach out to].


The Swedish Visa Process

As a Canadian under 30 years old, I was able to apply for a Swedish Working Holiday Visa [WHV]. However, I realize that places me amongst a small minority. So here, I’ll highlight my experience with the Swedish WHV, as well as some other visa alternatives.

Swedish Working Holiday Visa [WHV]

The Swedish WHV is available for young people between 18 and 30 years old, from Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile, Hong Kong, New Zealand, South Korea or Uruguay. To apply, you just need to provide a copy of your passport, a bank account statement showing 15,000 SEK in available funds, and a valid health insurance policy [I purchased mine from an insurance broker in Canada here]. Additionally, they want to see proof of a return plane ticket, or enough funds to purchase one.

Once you submit the application, you’ll expected to receive your response within 3 months. It took me about 8 weeks to get a response. The whole process was very quick and easy.

Now, here is what they don’t tell you about the Swedish WHV [and what I wish I would have known].

You aren’t given a Swedish personal number on this visa, which means you can’t do very basic things like get a gym membership or open a bank account. This makes it particularly difficult to find a job, because you can’t get paid if you don’t have a bank account. In order to open one, you need to obtain a letter of employment, and then apply for a coordination number with the tax agency. From there, you’ll get a very basic bank account.

Additionally, I’ve heard from fellow expats that their places of employment weren’t particularly helpful in getting them the materials they needed to open the bank account. Based on this, you need to find specific employers who are experienced with WHVs. They exist, and I’ve had a very pleasant personal experience, but it is just something to be wary of.

This is in no way meant to deter anyone from getting a WHV, it is the perfect quick and easy way to just get here. However, just be wary that some serious limitations exist.

Swedish Sambo Visa

The ‘Sambo Visa,’ or cohabitation visa, and is granted to expats who are looking to move to Sweden to be with a Swedish citizen. The reason we didn’t choose this visa is because it often takes 12-18 months to process. Additionally, they prefer that you have lived with your partner for at least six months prior to applying, and at the time Sebastian and I were in a long distance relationship, so taking this route was risky. However, if you meet the basic requirements and have flexibility to wait, this is the best visa to have, as it is the most secure.

I’ve talked to many expats like myself who came here on a WHV and applied to – and transitioned to – a Sambo visa while within Sweden; however, the Swedish Migration Agency is making it much more difficult to do this.

I am part of a couple ‘support groups’ on Facebook for people applying for a Swedish Sambo Visa [I’ll link them below], and the general consensus is that other expats are being required to leave Sweden to apply for their Sambo Visa. As a result, after spending time here, often on a WHV or student visa, they are being mandated to leave the country for extended periods of time. Many of these people have resorted to applying for temporary WHVs in other countries, like Denmark or Germany, because they don’t have to be in their home country, they just need to be out of the county.

As a result, just be cautious if you’re planning to come here on a WHV and transition to a Sambo Visa. This may not be as easy as you hoped.

  • If you are waiting for a Sambo Visa within Sweden, I would recommending joining this Facebook group: click here
  • If you are in Sweden on a WHV and applying for a Sambo Visa, this Facebook group is very helpful: click here

Swedish Work Visa

Now, a Swedish Work Visa is a great way to get to Sweden. However, this will require getting a job offer before you move, which isn’t always easy.

I’m super happy to share that I received an exciting job offer from a large international company within three weeks of arriving to Sweden. This company has employees from all over the world, and has the resources to help me with everything visa-related, which has been such a relief.

There are a few things I wish I would have known before moving here that helped me land my dream job.

Here’s a few tips for you:

  1. Know your skills, and be ready to convince an employer why you would be a better fit for the job than a Swedish employee. If they are going to invest the time, and money, to sponsor you, they need to be convinced that you can possess a unique skill set that makes you best suited for the job.
  2. Focus your search on large, international companies [specifically ones with English as corporate language]. There are many companies in Sweden that operate primarily in English, and they are more likely to have the resources necessary to facilitate a visa sponsorship. Additionally, if you get a job from a Migration Agency ‘certified’ company, you can get a work visa in as little as two weeks. If you’re looking to work in Malmö/Lund, message me for details on some of these local companies.
  3. Use your network – join support groups, reach out to other expats, and get an understanding of the employment climate in the city you’re hoping to move to. In Malmö, I found this ‘Expats in Malmö‘ Facebook group particularly helpful and eager to give advice. If you’re Canadian, you should join the ‘Canadians in Sweden‘ Facebook group.
  4. Look into teaching English. I have been told by locals who are teachers that there is a serious shortage of English teachers in Sweden. Therefore, many of the international schools are no longer requiring a traditional teaching degree; if you have a degree, or some form of expertise, they may hire you to teach. Get in contact with local schools and see if they are willing to work with you [these institutions also have the resources to support a visa application].
  5. And finally, reach out to employees at companies you’re interested in. And connect with recruiters. This was the most critical step for me. I essentially landed my dream job by subscribing to LinkedIn Premium and personal messaging the manager of a position I was very interested in. In that message, I explained that I was already in Sweden [likewise, you can explain why you are motivated to move to Sweden]. I was told by the hiring manager that they often get applicants from all over the world, and that had I not personally messaged to explain my situation, I would have likely been overlooked as ‘just looking for a visa.’

I was already in Sweden when I was invited for my first interview, despite applying to jobs for months before. And it was also once I was in Sweden that I started getting the attention of local recruiters. With that being said, I do not think it is impossible to find a job beforehand, and I am confident that had I networked a bit better, targeted the right companies, and known my resources, that I could have landed a job prior to arriving. And that means you can too!


What Else Should I Know?

When I made the overseas move, I was following my heart to be with my boyfriend, who is a local. Therefore, I just simply had to arrive and everything was set up for me. I had an apartment to move in to, a partner with a local bank account, and a network of locals that I had already met, and who were eager to introduce me to their city.

Here’s a few things you should know before moving to Sweden.

Swedish Housing Market

This is perhaps the biggest challenge, because to say the housing market is hot would be an understatement – it is basically on fire. I only have experience with the market in Malmö, where there are brand new apartments going up all over the suburbs. And yet, they can’t seem to keep up with demand.

If you’re planning to move well ahead of time and are looking to get first-hand contract, sign up on Boplats Syd here. By paying a subscription fee you get placed in a queue, and from there you express interest in apartments. The interested person who has been in the queue the longest will be offered the apartment. For older apartments, there are applicants that have been in the queue for years. However, if you’re able to pay a bit more, there are options available for brand new units. We were recently able to sign a lease for a brand new apartment fairly close to the city centre after only six months in the queue.

There are also a ton of second-hand contracts available. Although these are a bit more risky, they are definitely the easiest option.

Where to Live

Sweden is exceptionally safe. However, even the safest cities have their not-so-safe areas [even still, despite what the media says, remember that everything is relative and Sweden doesn’t have many ‘no-go zones’]. It may seem ‘easy’ to get an apartment in certain neighbourhoods; but, this also may not be a suitable place to live. Do your research, and reach out to local expat communities. They should be able to provide you advice.

Cost of Living

While this absolutely varies depending on the city and I can’t speak to all regions of Sweden, I don’t personally find Malmö to be much more expensive than life in Canada. Most day-to-day necessities are comparable, and despite being hot, the housing prices in southern Sweden aren’t anywhere close to major Canadian cities, like Toronto or Vancouver.

I’ve also found huge cost savings in not having a car. In Sweden, driving is quite unaffordable. Insurance and parking in major cities is expensive. And don’t get me started on gas. In Malmö, you can bike or take public transit everywhere. I can honestly say that not once have I missed not having my own car.

Making Friends in Sweden

The common consensus that I’ve heard amongst is that Swedes don’t like to make new friends. And while this may be true for locals, the expat community is amazing. I’ve only been here for a few weeks and I’ve already had several fika and drink dates with other expats. I’m starting to feel like I’m finding my community.

The key: Don’t be shy. Join groups. Message fellow expats. And all in all, embrace and be open minded to change.


Resources

I have called out these resources throughout this post, but here is everything I referenced consolidated into one section.

  • Waiting for a Sambo Visa within Sweden Facebook group: click here
  • In Sweden on a WHV and applying for a Sambo Visa Facebook group: click here
  • Expats in Malmö Facebook group: click here
  • Canadians in Sweden Facebook group: click here
  • Boplats Syd Website for Apartments: click here
  • Information on the Swedish Working Holiday Visa: click here

Any Questions, Message Me!

I had SUCH a hard time finding the Swedish visa and migration information prior to moving here. After spending a lot of time talking to expats, I wanted to consolidate all my newfound insights into this [hopefully] helpful little tool to help you get a Swedish visa.

And if you want to see more of what day-to-day life in Sweden looks like, follow me on Instagram, read more about expat life, or check out my blog posts about Sweden.

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Lilla torg, Malmö

Canadian Expat // Canadian Expat in Sweden // Life in Sweden as a Canadian Expat

Hey everyone! I’ve been getting a lot of requests for a week one update. How have I been settling in? What have I been up to? How is Screech (my cat) adjusting? I’m officially unpacked, caught up on sleep, and I’m dishing all the details with my week one update about life in Malmö, Sweden.

How’s Life in Sweden?

Simply put: GREAT. I’m finding my bearings in this new city and so far I’m really enjoying it. From a cultural perspective, life Canada and Sweden is similar.

Malmö
Exploring my new neighbourhood

Perhaps the biggest difference from home is that Malmö is a fairly densely populated city which means I can get virtually anywhere I need to go by foot within 20-30 minutes. It is also an extremely bike-friendly city and I’m planning to get my own bike soon so I can REALLY fit in with the locals. I absolutely love that driving is discouraged, and that between public transit and shared pathways, getting around this city is a breeze.

We’re also settling into our brand new apartment. Although we’ll be living in the midst of a construction zone for a bit as the new neighbourood develops, the apartment itself is beautifully modern and the location is central. Being brand new, the developers really thought of it all. And after living in a 100 year old (very charming) apartment, the small luxuries of a brand new space are so exciting. We’ve been to Ikea three times so far, as well as antique shops and local stores, and are having so much fun decorating the space. I can’t wait to share with you our little Scandinavian oasis in the next few weeks!

Day to day life has been great. I’m spending my unemployed days searching for work (leads, anyone?), writing, wandering, and unpacking/getting organized. As someone who has always had a job, I was admittedly a bit worried about unemployment but so far, I have kept very busy. I’ve even been going to classes at an international yoga studio right around the corner from my apartment called Yoga Roots.

Yoga Studio
Yoga Roots Yoga Studio

Finally, my cat Screech is doing great and has officially adjusted to her new life in Sweden. The overseas move went way better than I could have ever hoped for [I truly was prepared for the absolute worst]. I’m going to post more about this in a separate post, providing guidance on how to move a cat overseas. I realize that this doesn’t apply to many of my readers, but it is a resource that seemed to be lacking when I was doing my own research, so I want to share some of my tips with others.

What Have I Been Up To?

I’ve spent a lot of time exploring Malmö this past week. Here are a few highlights.

Swedish Coffee

Everyone has told me that Sweden has an incredible coffee culture. And while most days I’ve tried to make coffee at home to save money, I have definitely had my fair share of fika time. Verdict: the coffee definitely lives up to the hype.

Noir Coffee, Malmö
Noir Coffee, Malmö

Food Culture

I’ve also spent some time getting to know the food culture in Malmö. Aside from ordering sushi (twice), we’ve ventured out to explore a few different restaurants and bars. My favourite experience was at Malmö Saluhall, an indoor marketplace with food vendors and restaurants. We picked up a few take-home goodies [including a traditional Sweden dessert called Semla] and ate ramen at Pink Head Noodle Bar – it was fantastic.

Pink Head Noodle Bar Malmö Saluhall
Pink Head Noodle Bar, Malmö Saluhall

Stay tuned for more on the food culture, I’m going to have so much more to share soon including some highlights from Copenhagen this upcoming weekend!

Shopping

Anyone who knows me well knows that I love to shop. I’ve been lusting over Scandinavian-inspired clothes at so many local shops, but I’m resisting the urge to buy until I have a job. So window shopping it is!

Another thing I’m obsessing over: Scandi-inspired interior design. I fell in love with a local store called AB Småland this past weekend. I honestly wanted to buy everything in the store for our apartment, so thankfully I had Sebastian with me to be the practical voice of reason. We settled on a couple rugs for the bedroom, and I can’t wait to go back and buy lots of little plants once we have some shelving in place.

AB Småland, Malmö
AB Småland, Malmö

That’s it for my one week update on life in Sweden!

We’re spending this Saturday in Copenhagen, and have a couple upcoming trips planned that I can’t wait to share with you. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, in case you missed it, check out some of my other city guides here.

xx,

Madeline

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