New to Sweden: Your Guide to Thriving as a Newcomer in 2024

Sofia

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Hej and welcome to Sweden! You’ve chosen a land that not only boasts stunning natural landscapes but is also known for its quality of life. Sweden consistently ranks high in various global indices for education, healthcare, and happiness.

But statistics are just numbers until you experience the warm smiles of the locals, the security of an efficient social welfare system, and the freedom to roam in the country’s beautiful natural parks. Even if you’re new to Sweden, rest assured that you’re in a place that values both individual freedom and collective well-being.

In the coming months, you’ll be discovering what ‘lagom’ really means, why everyone stops for ‘fika’, and how beautiful it is when the sun never sets—or never rises, depending on the season!

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Finding a comfortable home is your first step to settling into Swedish life.
  • Sweden’s efficient public transportation makes commuting easy and eco-friendly.
  • Networking opportunities and community events are plentiful for meeting new people.
  • Grocery shopping in Sweden offers a mix of familiar staples and local specialties.
  • The country is moving towards being cashless, making digital payments essential.
  • Public services like healthcare and libraries are easily accessible and reliable.
  • Swedes are generally proficient in English, but learning Swedish is appreciated.
  • Weather varies by season, making layering and appropriate footwear essential.
  • Outdoor activities and sports are deeply integrated into Swedish culture.

Cultural Nuances

Let’s begin our cultural exploration with the word ‘lagom’—a term that you’ll hear often and will come to appreciate. There’s no exact English equivalent, but think of it as the Goldilocks principle of ‘just the right amount.’ In Sweden, it’s a guiding philosophy that seeps into every aspect of life, from work-life balance to social interactions, even to how you sweeten your coffee.

The concept of lagom serves as a reminder that balance is key, and that extremes are usually best avoided. As you integrate into Swedish society, you’ll find that understanding lagom can go a long way in helping you feel at home here.

The Joy of Fika

Next up is ‘fika’—a tradition that you’re absolutely going to love! Pronounced “fee-ka,” it’s more than just a coffee break; it’s a sacred Swedish institution. It’s that slice of the day when you pause everything else to enjoy a cup of coffee or tea, often accompanied by pastries like cinnamon buns or cookies.

Whether you’re at work, at home, or out with friends, taking a moment for fika is a social ritual that everyone partakes in. It’s a time for relaxation, conversation, and for enjoying the present moment—a mindfulness practice that comes with cake, what’s not to love?

Punctuality Matters

The term ‘Swedish timing’ may not be globally famous, but here, punctuality is considered a form of good manners. Swedes are generally sticklers for time. If a meeting is set for 3 PM, you’ll find everyone gathered and ready to start at exactly that time—not a minute late, but also not too early.

Being punctual is a sign of respect for other people’s time, and it’s something that’s appreciated both in professional settings and social gatherings. So, don’t underestimate the power of being on time; it speaks volumes about your commitment and respect.

Getting Settled

new to sweden

Finding Your Home Sweet Home

So, you’ve touched down on Swedish soil, and the first order of business is securing a place you can call home. Sweden offers various housing options ranging from apartments in the city to picturesque houses in the countryside.

Housing agencies are a valuable resource here, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the local property market. These agencies can help you find a place that suits both your budget and lifestyle, making the process less daunting. Remember, finding the right home is an essential step in feeling settled and comfortable in your new environment.

Easy Commutes: The Swedish Way

Once you’re all set up at home, the next thing to consider is how you’re going to move around. Thankfully, Sweden boasts one of the most efficient and eco-friendly public transport systems in the world. From metros in the city to trams, buses, and even boats, you’ve got options! Transport passes are usually valid across various types of public transport, making commuting incredibly streamlined. Oh, and don’t forget to try the trains; they offer some of the most scenic journeys you’ll ever experience!

Building Your Support Circle

Feeling a bit isolated is entirely normal when you’re new to a place, but in Sweden, you’ll find numerous ways to meet people and build a support circle. There are community centers and expat groups that organize regular events, where you can meet other newcomers and Swedes alike. These platforms can be invaluable not just for socializing but also for networking and even professional growth.

Whether it’s a casual fika meetup, a language exchange gathering, or a traditional Swedish celebration, you’ll find ample opportunities to be part of the community.

Navigating Daily Life When You’re New to Sweden

Grocery Shopping

Once your house is sorted and you’re getting the hang of moving around, you’ll naturally want to stock up your kitchen. Swedish grocery stores are well-organized and offer a variety of products catering to both local and international tastes.

You’ll find the staples like bread, milk, and vegetables, but also uniquely Swedish items like knäckebröd (Swedish crispbread), lingonberry jam, and, if you’re feeling adventurous, surströmming (fermented herring). Feel free to explore these new flavors; who knows, some may become your new favorites!

Learn more about shopping in Sweden here.

Embracing the Cashless Culture

Sweden is marching steadfastly towards becoming a cashless society, and you’ll notice this in your daily life. From cafes to taxis, most places prefer card payments or mobile payment apps like Swish. Opening a bank account in Sweden is generally a straightforward process and is highly recommended for ease of transactions. Once you get your bank ID, you can use it for a wide range of digital services, making your life a lot easier.

Understanding Public Services

Sweden prides itself on its efficient and easily accessible public services. If you find yourself needing medical attention, healthcare facilities are top-notch and usually offer services in English. Pharmacies, or ‘apotek’ as they are locally known, are well-stocked and staffed with knowledgeable pharmacists who can guide you.

Public libraries offer a wealth of resources, including free internet access and often workshops or classes that you might find interesting. Postal services, too, are reliable, making it easy to send and receive packages from back home or anywhere else.

Communication

The Swedish Approach to Language

The first thing to ease your mind about communication is this: Swedes generally speak excellent English. Many are fluent and quite accustomed to switching between Swedish and English, especially in larger cities like Stockholm, Gothenburg, and Malmö. So, even if you’re just starting to learn Swedish, you’ll be able to get by quite comfortably in most situations.

Starting with the Basics

While it’s true that many Swedes are proficient in English, learning some basic Swedish phrases and greetings can go a long way. A simple ‘hej’ (hello) or ‘tack’ (thank you) can make daily interactions more pleasant and show your enthusiasm for embracing the local culture.

There are numerous language apps and courses available that cater to different learning styles, so you can find the one that works best for you. Plus, you might find that locals are generally supportive and appreciative of any effort to speak their language.

Navigating Professional Settings

In professional settings, emails and official documents are usually written in Swedish, but don’t let this intimidate you. Your colleagues will understand if you’re more comfortable corresponding in English, and many offices even provide Swedish language courses for their international staff. The key here is open communication. Don’t hesitate to ask for help or clarification when you need it; people are generally understanding and willing to assist.

The Art of Swedish Small Talk

Swedes are often described as reserved, but this doesn’t mean they are unfriendly. In fact, once you crack the ice, you’ll find that most are quite warm and engaging. Small talk might not be as prevalent as in other cultures, but it does have its place, especially during fika or communal lunches. Topics like the weather, outdoor activities, or Swedish traditions are good starting points. And of course, a little humor goes a long way in breaking down any initial barriers.

Weather and Dressing

The Four Seasons, Swedish Style

Sweden is a country that truly experiences all four seasons, each with its own unique beauty and challenges. The winters can be harsh, especially in the north, but they also offer the opportunity to experience the magical northern lights and winter sports like skiing and ice skating. Spring brings the cherry blossoms and thawing lakes, while summer is celebrated with almost endless daylight and outdoor activities. Then comes fall with its stunning palette of colors, as leaves on trees change from green to shades of red, orange, and gold.

Dressing for Success, and Weather

SeasonEssential Clothing ItemsAdditional Tips
WinterInsulated jacket, thermal leggings, bootsOpt for boots with good grip for icy conditions
SpringLight jacket, walking shoesAlways carry a light raincoat
SummerT-shirts, shorts, sandalsSunscreen is advisable for outdoor activities
AutumnSweaters, medium-weight jacketLayers work well for varying temperatures

One essential aspect of feeling comfortable in Sweden is dressing appropriately for the weather, and the secret to this is layering. In winters, a high-quality, insulated winter jacket, thermal leggings, and water-resistant boots are crucial. In the warmer months, you can go lighter but having a raincoat or umbrella at hand is always a good idea. The Swedish saying “Det finns inget dåligt väder, bara dåliga kläder” sums it up perfectly: “There’s no bad weather, only bad clothing.”

Consider the Right Footwear

Footwear deserves a special mention. During winter, icy conditions can make walking a challenge, so opt for boots with good grip. In contrast, summer is the perfect time for comfortable sandals and walking shoes, especially if you plan on enjoying Sweden’s beautiful natural parks. A handy tip is to look out for seasonal sales; stores often offer good discounts on quality items that are both stylish and functional.

Smart and Casual: The Swedish Dress Code

In terms of everyday attire, Swedes tend to lean toward the smart-casual style. You’ll see a lot of neutral colors like black, white, and gray, but feel free to express your own personal style. In professional settings, unless you’re in a very formal industry, the dress code is generally relaxed. A pair of smart trousers and a nice top or shirt will usually do the trick.

Embracing the Leisure Activities

The Great Swedish Outdoors

If you’re someone who loves nature, then you’re in for an absolute treat! Sweden’s “Right of Public Access” law, or ‘Allemansrätten,’ allows everyone to roam freely in the countryside, forests, and even private lands. It’s the perfect opportunity to go hiking, camping, or berry picking. Canoeing, kayaking, and fishing are also popular, especially during the warmer months. Just remember the rule of thumb: “Don’t disturb, don’t destroy.” Take care to respect nature and the privacy of others.

The Love for Sports and Fitness

Swedes take their health and wellness seriously, and it shows in the abundance of sports facilities and gyms available. Whether you’re into team sports like football (soccer) or individual activities like swimming or cycling, you’ll find plenty of options. In winter, ice hockey and skiing take center stage, offering a whole new set of adventures. Many municipalities have well-maintained public sports facilities, so participating doesn’t have to break the bank.

Arts and Culture at Your Fingertips

If you lean more towards the arts, Sweden has a vibrant cultural scene that you’ll find both intriguing and accessible. From art galleries and museums to music festivals and theaters, the options are endless.

For those interested in history, the country’s rich Viking heritage provides a fascinating backdrop to numerous historical sites and museums. And let’s not forget the Swedish tradition of ‘kulturnatt’ or ‘culture night,’ when cities open up a variety of cultural venues for free events and exhibitions. It’s a must-experience!

Finding Your Own Pace

Remember, leisure is personal; what brings joy to one person might not suit another. The beauty of being in a new country is that you have the opportunity to try things you’ve never thought of doing before. Maybe it’s the thrill of watching a live ice hockey game, or perhaps it’s the peacefulness of a solitary fishing trip. It could even be joining a local choir or taking up traditional Swedish folk dance. The sky is the limit, and your options are as broad as your willingness to explore.

Related: Family Reunification in Sweden: Where to Start

ABOUT Sofia

Sofia is our Relocation Expert, who brings first-hand experience in moving to Sweden from abroad. She moved to Sweden over a decade ago and navigated the complexities of relocation herself.

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