How was life in Sweden for me as a foreigner? I got to spend two months living in Sweden. Some people asked if I’d moved there for good
How was life in Sweden for me as a foreigner? A few years ago, I decided to build my dream lifestyle as a freelancer, an individual that can work remotely from anywhere in the world. This was before the pandemic made this dream become a reality for all of us. Luckily, my journey has been full of great surprises and in 2022, I got to spend almost two months living in Sweden. Some people asked if I’d moved there for good.
Since Sweden isn’t seen as a great destination for digital nomads or as a holiday destination, I want to share some personal insights on how life is in Sweden, what it has to offer and how you will get to experience it as a foreigner.
Is Sweden expensive?
Most digital nomads and budget tourists stay away from Scandinavia, thinking that the lifestyle there is beyond their budget. After two months in Sweden, living in 2 different locations and a few hotels, I can give you a more comprehensive answer to this.
Overall, Sweden is expensive. But in the context of European countries, is not more expensive than other Central European cities. Of course, even in Sweden, it will make a huge difference if you decide to stay in Stockholm, the capital city, or a smaller city a few kilometres away from it. If you decided to stay in a village, the costs decrease exponentially.
Lifestyle in Sweden
Another big factor is your lifestyle. Cooking at home, choosing the right supermarket to do your grocery shopping and planning your travels will immensely help you stay within your monthly budget.
The two most expensive things in Sweden are rent (I’m also referring to long-term rentals, but also Airbnb) and restaurants. Of course, with a bit of planning, you can make it work for you.
Just for you to get an idea, here are some prices to expect in Sweden. As of 2023, you would need at least 3,000 Euros to live in a room in or around Stockholm and 2,000 Euros to live outside Stockholm.
The thing is that Sweden is advertised as an expensive country. But nobody stops to think how it is Sweden expensive. Since Sweden is designed for its residents, the prices are for those who make a living in Sweden, where salaries start at about 2,500 Euros per month, depending on the location. But services are always outstanding, and there is no such thing as bad quality items, service, accommodation or food. The expectation of the public is so high, and most places are owned by the government that there is no room for competition where corners are cut in an effort to lower prices.
Life in Sweden as a digital nomad
My purpose for 2022 was to explore more of Scandinavia. Since my base is in Bucharest, Romania, I decided to drive all the way to Stockholm so that I could further explore the peninsula. Bear in mind that car rentals are some of the highest costs, and since I was planning to stay for at least two months there, the rental was not an option for me.
For the first three weeks, I stayed on an island (Lidingö) nearby Stockholm. There are many islands around, and this is called the Stockholm archipelago. In fact, well-off people live in houses on these islands, as they prefer to stay away from the busy city. And all of them are well-connected to the city through busses, trams, metro and ferries. From my house, it would take about 30 minutes to the city centre using public transport. I don’t recommend driving in Stockholm either, because parking is always troublesome and expensive.
Note that even if you are not from the EU, you can still go to Sweden as a digital nomad. Check here the conditions that apply to you.
Accommodation in Sweden in Stockholm
Because I failed to plan this trip too much in advance (which you should have), all good-priced Airbnbs were already booked for that time.
Obviously, the best time to visit Sweden is during summer. You also get the super early wake-up call from the sun at around 4 am. And you get to bed at midnight, not knowing exactly if the sun is setting or a new day is about to start.
Note that during summer, most Swedes go on holiday for two weeks and up to one month. And that happens in July or August. Now, imagine that an entire nation gets off for one month, and you can guess what happens to all hotels during that time.
Luckily, I was able to find a nice family willing to rent me their house while they went on holiday. It must have been pure luck and the fact that she was also Romanian and probably checked me out online and saw I am indeed a professional traveller.
The luck was that they had the cutest traditional Swedish house in one superb suburb of Stockholm. And it really made all the difference. My boyfriend and I really enjoyed staying there.
After three weeks there, we venture off for our first two-week road trip in Norway.
Accommodation in Sweden in a village
After this first trip to Norway, we spent another full month in Sweden. But this second time, I had found a perfect traditional Swedish cottage in a picturesque village (called Arboga) only 1.5 hours away from Stockholm for a fraction of the price. I don’t usually plan too many of my trips in advance, but when I do, I find gorgeous gems like this one.
Since we were located in a village, there wasn’t much going on, and without a car, it would have been difficult to get there because trains are expensive in Sweden. But other than that, it was perfect for us since we had a car, and we could drive all over the area to explore bigger cities around, such as Örebro, Västerås, Eskilstuna, Uppsala, and the famous Sigtuna. I wrote a list of the most famous landmarks in Sweden for you to visit.
After this month in a Swedish village, I resumed my Norway road trip, driving from South to North, reaching North Cape. You can tell I love road trips, right? And if you’re interested in more of my personal opinions, check out my love manifest for Norway.
Can I be a digital nomad in Sweden?
It depends. Sweden does not offer any digital nomad visa. However, if you stay for a shorter period of time, you could work from Sweden, although you should know that is technically not allowed. But this is really hard to check, especially if you only stay for 2-3 months as I did.
In my case, I am a citizen of the European Union (which includes Sweden), and I do not require a visa to travel to Sweden. Remember that there aren’t any borders between countries in the European Union. But even for me, I’m not allowed to stay for more than three months in a place without registering there, and that is more complicated in Sweden than in other countries.
Stockholm and the other cities
When it comes to Sweden, you really need to differentiate between life in Stockholm and the rest of the country. The capital city is by far the most expensive place to stay or go out. You’ll need a considerably higher salary to stay in or around the capital city, and there’s no way around it. Even expats have a hard time finding a place to rent that they can afford, and the apartments are usually tiny. Eating out in Stockholm is expensive, and if you add drinks to the bill, you’ll probably need at least a week before you forget about the splurge. And the locals feel the same.
The great part about Stockholm is that government-owned museums are free, and they have many affordable entertainment options. Except for the fact that ferries around the city are included in the public transport system (for which you can buy a monthly pass even as a foreigner), you can always check out Gruna Lund. The famous attraction park is part of the city’s soul and an unmistakable part of the skyline. During summer, they host big-name concerts at least weekly, if not more, and you can buy a summer pass that grants you access to all of those.
Of course, this is just an example of an activity in Stockholm, but I believe it paints a good image of the overall perks given to its residents. All in all, Stockholm is not a cheap place to live in, but if you count all the perks and advantages, you get more than your money’s worth. And I find it hard to find any other city in the world that can do that for you.
Facts about living in Sweden
Few people know that Sweden is sometimes called the China of Europe. I’m not saying this to belittle anyone, but it is a fact. The laws and the way everything is organised in Sweden make it very difficult for a foreigner to stay around for long if they are not registered there.
As with most countries, Sweden residents have a Swedish personal identity number, which effectively tracks their every move. In order to do anything virtually in the country, you need to first apply to get this number. Of course, you would need a good reason to get it, such as getting a job there, having a family there or something similar.
The Swedish personal identity number
This identification number is needed if you want to spend more time in the country, but you need it to open a bank account, buy anything of value and even join the local gym. Without it, you are just that – a foreigner. My boyfriend had luck in finding a local gym that allowed foreigners to join for the summer, but the price was higher than what the locals were paying. This number is used for tax purposes, and since cash isn’t expected anywhere in Sweden, the government knows your every move whenever you spend money. Pretty much like having Big Brother spying on you all the time.
But I managed to stay in Sweden even without that personal number. I booked my places on Booking.com and Airbnb, and for supermarket purchases and petrol, you can pay with whatever card you have.
The truth is that the Swedish community wants to take good care of its residents and offers many tax discounts and financial aid to those who need it. Families pay fewer taxes, depending on how many children they have. Gyms are some of the cheapest in Europe, and they also receive public transport discounts. Sweden is an ideal country to move there if you plan to have a job and a family, and they will offer you all the comfort and security you need.
What I love about Sweden
Sweden is about getting what you paid for and living a comfortable life.
If I were to eliminate all the bad services in any other European country, I would end up with more expensive services than in Sweden and probably of worse quality.
Scandinavians have a different perspective on life, and they will not change it. While they do have immigrants from all corners of the globe, bringing them international cuisine and adding flavour to their daily boring life, the standard is where most of us would call it higher-end.
All services are good, things work as planned, and people are helpful if you ask for help.
All payments are electronic. Sweden is a cashless society. During my two months spent in Sweden, I never had to use cash, and most places even had signs saying that cash wasn’t accepted. I have no idea what the Swedish crowns look like.
What I like less about Sweden
Sweden has a culture of privacy, and it’s truly hard to make any friends, especially as an adult foreigner. It’s also almost impossible to make small talk, as most places are either automated or don’t require you to talk to anyone. Life is constructed in such a way that you don’t ever need to talk to someone if you truly don’t want to. So if this sounds like you, then move to Sweden, and nobody will ever bother you.
What’s more, in Swedish culture, giving gifts is not seen as an ordinary thing. They appreciate it, but it seems like the Swedish would prefer not to receive anything because this practically obliges them to return the favour. And as soon as possible. So if you ever make a gift to a Swede, do expect to receive something back shortly. But that’s their culture, and I don’t complain about it. I am simply an observer.
Buying alcohol and drinking in Sweden
Scandinavia is famous for its high alcohol addiction rate.
And that has a consequence for everyone living in Sweden or travelling to Sweden. While most restaurants and pubs will sell alcohol, the prices are some of the most expensive in Europe. That’s because restaurants need a special alcohol licence to sell alcohol, which obviously is more expensive than in other places.
But when living in Sweden for longer, you might want to get some beer to keep in the fridge. Normally, you would buy them at your local supermarket. But that isn’t the case in Sweden, where you need to do all your alcohol shopping at a Systembolaget. This is a shop owned by the Swedish government, which regulates all alcoholic beverages. While any restaurant will sell you alcohol if you’re 18, you must be over 20 to buy it from the alcohol supermarket. Yes, it’s a supermarket just for alcohol. They will even ask for ID, to make sure you are allowed to buy it, so bring an ID with you.
The bright side is that it isn’t as expensive as you’d expect it to be in a country that tries so hard to keep you from drinking. And the alcohol offer is vast, as these stores have some of the most extensive alcoholic ranges I’ve ever seen. You’ll find some of the best-imported beer, cider, wine or champagne in these places. And in case you want a specific type of beer which they don’t usually bring at your local Systembolaget, you can always ask the staff to order it for free so that you can buy it later. As long as you obey the rules, the rewards are massive.
Driving in Sweden
As you can imagine, just from looking at the map, Sweden is a huge country. To get to see and experience it, you will need to drive a lot. Except for spending a week or so in Stockholm, which doesn’t require a car, the rest of the places you’ll want to visit are scattered around, fortunately, mostly around Stockholm.
Sweden had a good network of highways. Everything is well connected, there are petrol stations on the highway, and everywhere you need them. Roads are in good condition, and there’s the infrastructure to get you everywhere you’ll want to go.
Sweden doesn’t have a road toll system in place, as is the case with most European countries. That means that you don’t need to purchase a special sticker for your car or a vignette to drive in Sweden. But, there are a few special roads or bridges that will charge an electronic fee to cover the price of the construction. This changes every time, as the tolls are only charged for a finite amount of time until the costs have been covered.
Another permanent toll is the city congestion tax, which is charged electronically in Stockholm (you need to register on the ePass24 app, which is also valid for Norway). Basically, depending on the day and time you want to drive in Stockholm, a specific fee will be charged. During rush hour, the fees are the greatest, while there’s no fee at night. Also, there’s no fee in July, when the Swedes go on holiday.
Also, drinking and driving is illegal, and there are random police filters to try to combat this behaviour.
Did I enjoy spending my summer in Sweden as a digital nomad?
Yes. I am also hoping the Swedish government will not track me down and punish me for spending two months there.
I love that I could swim in the Baltic Sea near Stockholm, and get a ferry from the centre of Stocksholm to get home as part of the public transport. Also, I loved the convenience of Swedish society, the well-maintain infrastructure, outstanding services and the great quality of everything.
Tell me what you think!