The Honest Truth about the Cost of Living in Sweden for Expats

Many would-be expatriates dream of starting a new life in Sweden, and for good reason: the nation has earned a reputation for being at the forefront on technological and social innovation in Europe, as being relatively free of pollutants and other environmental health hazards, and for having unflagging educational standards (such as near-total internet connectivity in schools and the 42% of municipal budget that goes towards education). In the more respected “livability” polls, Swedish cities like Stockholm – which contains nearly a quarter of Sweden’s population – regularly make a strong showing (Stockholm is placed 10th on the lifestyle magazine Monocle's 2012 list, for example).

For some, Sweden is also attractive as the nation that features some of the most liberal and/or progressive social policies in the world (even vehement critics of these policies may find Sweden an interesting place in which to get journalistic experience and to generate more talking points). If nothing else, residents of Anglophone nations often find Sweden far easier to integrate into than some other European societies, owing to the high degree of local English fluency and the relative ease of picking up Svenska as a second language.Daily and monthly costs

“That’s all fine and good”, many potential transplants probably ask themselves, “but what is the price tag for all this?” Well, if your destination is Stockholm, you should not be surprised to find yourself living in a very expensive city – though it is not in the top 10 list that normally includes destinations like Paris and Zurich, spendthrifts can still point to other studies, like Bloomberg Businessweek's 2010 poll placing the city at #21 worldwide. Some notable daily expenses here, such as a $4 carton of eggs and a $2 can of beer, are brought out to illustrate the cumulative effect of such prices on one’s bank account.

Other sources place Sweden just behind Switzerland and, curiously, its Scandinavian brethren of Norway and Denmark, as one of the most expensive European countries for daily goods (in case you’re wondering, Belarus is the least expensive). Interestingly, the 2010 poll shows Stockholm rocketing up the charts in cost of living over just one year (it occupied place #80 in the 2009 edition). In at least one case, the Systembolaget state monopoly on wine and spirits allows for a high level of taxation on these, er, “necessities” (although for late night partyers, the Systembolaget's habit of shutting down inconveniently early on Saturdays may be a greater offense than any additional costs they demand).

Home rental costs in Sweden are not any more dramatic than they would be in the most desirable Anglo-American locations, nor are charges for other monthly expenses (see, for example, a $15 fee for recharging a mobile phone’s SIM card). While on this topic, it should be mentioned that the Migratsionsverket [immigration office] requires you to prove you have the means to support yourself for 10 months out of the year if you are to be granted residence in the country. Their calculations bring this survival cost to 7,300 Swedish kronor monthly, which would be roughly equivalent to 1,100 USD.

Is it all worth it?

Most people will concur that it makes sense for a higher cost of living to be commensurate with a higher quality of living, and Sweden does deliver in many respects here. The taxation associated with the country’s myriad social programs may grate on the nerves of the more libertarian-minded, yet – the very recent Stockholm riots notwithstanding – many find this a fair tradeoff for being able to reside in a largely crime-free country where one can leave their lunch behind at a given location and return later to find it still waiting for them.

Customer service is one area in which visitors from the U.K. and U.S. particularly like to complain that they are getting poor value for their kronor, citing indifferent restaurant waiting staff, non-existent shop attendants and similar inconveniences. However, this is certainly not exclusive to Sweden, and expat forums and travel guides are regularly abuzz with tales of lousy treatment from Moscow to Berlin. It is therefore difficult to tell where exactly Sweden falls along the “value for customer service” spectrum without going there and finding out for yourself.

Of course, none of the above costs should act as deterrents to those who truly feel Sweden is the one and only country for them: whether one wants to live in the world’s most secular society, or in one where the fika reigns supreme (this being the snack-and-coffee time in which business grinds to a halt), those who already have their minds made up about Sweden’s uniqueness will probably think nothing about shouldering additional costs to be there.