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The spine of Scandinavia, Sweden is a gorgeous Nordic country in northern Europe blessed with picturesque topography, thousands of islets and inland lakes, verdant boreal forests, majestic mountainscapes and a coastline that runs for thousands of miles from the fragmented islands and fjords in the temperate south to the sub-Arctic 'land of the midnight sun' in the north. An increasingly popular expat destination, people from all over the world are choosing Sweden for the prospect of a balanced, prosperous life in a country that combines high technology and liberal values with respect for traditions, not to mention an abundance of economic opportunities and extensive, efficient social welfare.
Stockholm, the capital city and most likely expat destination, is built on an archipelago of 24,000 islands. Most expats moving to Stockholm thrive in what is one of Europe’s most attractive, vibrant and interesting metros. Each of the 14 islands at the centre of the city has its own character and range of entertainment options. Housing supply is somewhat under pressure, though; rental prices are high, and decent, conveniently located apartments can be difficult to come by.
The country also boasts a reasonably healthy job market, with ample opportunities for highly qualified expats in specific sectors, such as IT, energy and media. Despite strict immigration laws, around a fifth of the Swedish population comes from a foreign background, especially in large cities such as Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö.
High tax rates mean that Swedish salaries are fairly modest, but expats with residence permits will enjoy the benefits of an extensive state social network which provides free and high-quality education, healthcare, childcare and security. Sweden is also a world leader in liberal values, pioneering LGBT rights, gender equality and providing extensive parental and maternal privileges for employees.
Expats moving to Sweden may find the language difficult to learn, but since Swedes generally speak excellent English and enjoy practising it, the language barrier is easily overcome. Swedish culture may, however, be a little more challenging for expats to adapt to.
A common thread running through expat accounts of living in Sweden is the difficulty in connecting with the reserved and introverted Swedes and integrating into local life. Expats who are prepared to enjoy their status as outsiders will be better prepared for the occasional awkward encounter.
Winters can also be a shock for expats who move to Sweden from warmer climates. During the winter months of December to March, temperatures drop below zero, snow falls in clumps, and sunlight makes a reluctant appearance for only a few hours each day. Winter also heralds Sweden’s biggest unexpected danger: falling ice from city roofs. It would be wise to heed the warning signs.
Sweden balances ultra-modern cities with expanses of untouched wilderness, and the famously modern populace still takes great pride in its traditions. It is a safe, yet consistently surprising experience for expats; even for those who tend to complain about the locals before renewing their stay here time and time again.
Population: Around 10 million
Capital city: Stockholm
Neighbouring countries: Sweden is located in northern Europe and shares borders with Norway to the west and Finland to the northeast. To the east and south of the country are the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Bothnia.
Geography: Sweden is a heavily forested country with two-thirds of it being made of forest and woodland. Mountains and hills are dominant in the west and a small part of the country lies north of the arctic circle. The lowest elevation in Sweden is in the bay of Lake Hammarsjön and the highest point is Kebnekaise. There are also over 95,000 lakes in Sweden, many of which are used for water power plants.
Political system: Unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy
Major religions: Christianity is the major religion in Sweden. Islam is the second largest religion in Sweden, but is only practised by around five percent of the population.
Main languages: Swedish is the official language and is spoken by the majority of the population. English is also widely spoken, especially in the cities and within business circles.
Money: The Swedish crown or krona (SEK) is the official currency in Sweden and is divided into 100 ore. Credit and debits cards are widely accepted.
Tipping: Although service charges are built into restaurant bills, an extra tip of 7 to 10 percent is expected. It is normal to round up the fare when paying for a taxi. While not expected, tips are appreciated for good service in hotels.
Time: GMT+1 (GMT+2 from the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October)
Electricity: 230V, 50Hz. Standard European two-pin plugs are used.
Internet domain: .se
International dialling code: +46
Emergency contacts: The emergency number in Sweden is 112 and it can be used to access police, ambulance and fire services. Operators generally speak good English and the standard of the emergency services in Sweden is very good.
Transport and driving: Cars drive on the right-hand side of the road in Sweden. Sweden's public transport system consists of buses, trains and boats. Swedish rail services are excellent and the bus network is extensive.