Carlie: Hey there, it’s Carlie with the Expat Focus Podcast.
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My guest today moved to Sweden from the UK, for love. But she felt a connection to the country long before meeting her partner. Katy Hetherington has quickly accumulated loads of first-hand experience in how to navigate different aspects of Swedish life – everything from getting set up, to getting a job, becoming a citizen, having a baby and even building a house. She’s going to share her top 5 things to know before moving to Sweden.
Katy, this is a bit of a spoiler alert. We do happen to know each other.
Katy: That’s right.
Carlie: And my first thought when I was preparing to interview you for the Expat Focus podcast is that you have packed a lot into the few years you’ve been living in Sweden. And I feel like it’s a place where you are always meant to end up. Is that how you feel as well?
Katy: Absolutely. I think, you know, it goes back to when I was a little girl. I was mad on the Swedish pop group, Roxette, to the point of obsession. And I’m still love their music today. And so I always thought, hey, wouldn’t it be great to live in Sweden one day? And this is from a little girl living in Adelaide at the time, in Australia. And my parents were like, oh, you are never gonna cope in Sweden. It’s too cold. And I’m like, oh, alright. You know, we’ll see.
So yeah, I mean, that was always at the back of my mind. And you know, I was living in London up until sort of, you know, almost five years ago. And I met my current partner while I was living there. Well, he was living in Stockholm and I was living in London. And we did a long distance relationship for about a year. And I took a decision to move to Sweden where he lives. So it was almost, yeah, meant to be kind of thing.
Carlie: And we’re going to talk through five things to know before moving to Sweden. I can’t imagine anyone being more suited to this topic because in the five-ish years that you’ve been in the country, you have bought and sold an apartment, you’ve built a house, you’ve become a citizen. You’ve had a baby, you’ve gotten a couple of jobs, you’ve changed jobs. I feel like you’ve ticked all those really important areas that foreigners need to navigate in a new country that can be quite difficult. Did you expect to be doing so much so quickly?
Katy: Absolutely not. I think when I first came here, you know, the goal is to be employed. I think, you know, I didn’t want to be in a situation where I was relying on my, my boyfriend to support me. And that’s just me because I’ve always been an independent person, earning my own money. So the challenge for me was, you know, getting in the Swedish system and getting a job. So I think, you know, that was kind of first and foremost. And I was really lucky that I found work pretty much when I landed. And we can get into that a bit later
Carlie: And then I suppose life just happened. And here you are, you know, with a child, a brand new house in Sweden.
Katy: Absolutely. And I love living here. I genuinely do. And I think, you know, for any expat, there is always a going to be a period of adjustment. And I’m still adjusting. I don’t think you can ever feel completely settled in a country where they don’t speak your native language. And you know, I think, you know, you will, you will learn to adapt. And I definitely feel more Swedish than I did when I moved here.
Carlie: I do find that interesting actually, because in the five things list that you sent to me in advance of our chat, you haven’t mentioned anything about the language. So before we move into the points that you think are really important, can I ask about how you’ve gone learning Swedish and how you’re getting by today?
Katy: Yeah, absolutely. So when I knew I was moving here, I actually I took a course in London at Westminster University and I did Swedish level A1. So I sort of thought, well, look, if I’m gonna move to the country, I wanna set myself up as much as I can in advance. Because I didn’t know what sort of time I would have when I actually got here. Yeah, I did a half year of Swedish and I felt that really helped me in terms of basic Swedish and sort of getting to know some vocabulary.
So I knew how to sort of navigate a supermarket, order off a menu and, you know, basic hellos and goodbyes, and that sort of thing. And I thought that was great. For me, I would’ve loved to continue to, kind of, do my sort of education in a more formal setting, but life got in the way.
So my Swedish, it isn’t great. I think I can understand more than I can confidently speak and I’m continuing to work on that. But I think watching television, reading Google, translating, you know, doing the day to day kind of helps build up your vocabulary and your understanding. Whereas my grammar might not be great, but I have a go and I can genuinely kind of muddle my way through basic conversation and understand most things.
Carlie: I fully believe in really making an effort when you are in another country to try to speak the language. But is it the case that life might be made a bit easier by the Swedish level of English?
Katy: Absolutely. You know, everyone speaks great English, even people that think their English isn’t terrific. It’s pretty good. And I think, again, it’s a matter of confidence and you know, willingness to speak in English. But sometimes when I try and speak in Swedish, if I’m out, they’ll switch to English. I get a bit lazy sometimes. Sometimes I’ll go into a cafe and I’ll go, yeah, I smashed this conversation, and they didn’t reply to me in Swedish. Other times my accent is just so strong, they immediately just revert to English. So I think it really depends on the day, but yes, also, you know, the people around you. And also your job. My job is in English. People, you know, they practice Swedish with me, but it’s not expected for me to speak Swedish at work,
Carlie: Getting into the five things you should know before moving to Sweden. Katy, number one on your list is get a personal number. I’m guessing this is like a UK national insurance number?
Katy: Yeah, pretty much. It’s basically a government identifier. So if you’re born in Sweden, you automatically get one issued to you when you’re born. Anyone who comes into Sweden, including, sort of, Swedish citizens, kind of by family descent, actually have to apply for one. And I think this is a really critical piece of paperwork that you need to do when you come here.
The kicker is, in order to get a personal number, or personnummer as it’s called in Swedish, you need to be here for at least one year. They won’t issue one to you if you’re only planning on being here for six months or so. So I think it’s quite important if you’ve got a work contract or you wanna stay here, you’ve gotta prove that you’re willing to, kind of, settle in Sweden and be part of Swedish society for a period of time.
So this personnummer actually helps you to communicate and identify yourself with the government, health authorities and banks. So I think those are three pretty important things that you need to set up when you move to a new country. So I encourage people to look at the Swedish government tax authorities, Skatteverket, and they’ll actually step you through how to actually apply for one and how you’re eligible for one.
My own personal experience is that I came here moving to live with a Swede, and I was also an EU citizen at the time. I’m actually a British citizen. I’m an Australian citizen, and now a Swedish citizen. But before Brexit we were obviously able to freely live and work in this country, but I still needed to apply this number.
Carlie: You said that you can’t actually get the number until you’ve been in Sweden for 12 months. So how do you manage in the 12 months beforehand?
Katy: No, so, well, if you come here and you have the intention to be here for 12 months, then they will give you the number.
Carlie: Oh, earlier? Right.
Katy: That’s correct. So, what happens is that there will be a period of waiting when you do apply and you get your number. So that can be six weeks. That can be two months. That could be three months. It really depends on the backlog of people applying. I was pretty lucky. I came in with a work contract and living with a Swede, and it was within six weeks I got my number. Within that period of time, I couldn’t properly open a bank account, I couldn’t join a gym, and I had trouble, actually, opening a contract for a mobile phone.
There are ways to get around that. Of course, I had, you know, living with a Swedish citizen. He gave me a credit card under his name, vouched for my mobile contract, and also the job contract kind of opened a few doors as well. But once you get that number, you can actually have a proper bank account, not just a debit card, but also access to internet banking, which is super important to pay your bills. So I had to have my bills paid for me. I gave money of course. But, you know, actually, if you’re on your own, I think it’s gonna be super challenging.
Carlie: I was just about to ask that actually, if you are not lucky enough to be moving to Sweden and have the support of a local who could go guarantor for you, provide you with an address for these sort of things. How do other expats do it? Have you heard anecdotally about how other foreigners manage?
Katy: I guess, they keep their accounts open in their home country. I think it’s really important not to shut everything down before you move, you sort of need to keep multiple eggs in baskets, I think. And I think that should be the case until you are fully set up. So, they’ll be transferring using credit card, you know, money transferring like Revolut, transfer wise, getting access to money that way. So I think those sort of things keep you going for a while, using a credit card, of course, and paying it off in your home currency.
I had to be paid by a check, which is pretty unheard of these days. And I had trouble, you know, is the bank gonna actually accept it, because they will charge you a good fee to actually deposit it into your account. So you don’t wanna be continuing to be paid by check either.
And when you get this number, it obviously opens up the digital world. Because we have an amazing range of digital apps that you can actually download and access. Bank ID is something that we all use in Sweden. And it allows you to actually identify yourself with authorities, make payments on your credit card, log to certain things. It really is the key to unlocking a lot of services here in Sweden. So this number is kind of critical.
And we also have an app called Swish, which is basically allowing you to pay anyone using their telephone number. So it’s quite a secure way to make payments to other people. So that’s quite common as well. And we also have a digital mailbox, a letter box service called Kivra, where physical letters that might pop into your mailbox actually land into this digital box, it’s actually quite handy. But this is all unlocked through this personnummer and through bank ID. So it’s kind of like, you need to kind of get these steps in order, in order to kind of start living, I guess, in Sweden.
Carlie: Now, second on your list for five things to know before moving to Sweden, Katy, is get a job. And it sounds like you were in a really fortunate position to have a job when you landed in the country. Is that right?
Katy: Yeah. I was really lucky. I’m so grateful that I didn’t have to wait too long to start working here. I just randomly started applying for work in English in my field, which is communications. So I’m already in a niche industry. And then of course I’m kind of limiting myself because I only speak English. So I applied in advance. I use LinkedIn, I used you know, the general sort of job websites and sent my resume through. And I actually started interviewing before I got here and I ended up getting offered the job before I actually moved here.
So that was my experience. Other people might not be so lucky. Some people will already have a job contract through their work, might be transferred to Sweden, and that makes life a lot easier. If you come here for love, which is what I did, or, you know, if you just love Sweden and you want to live here, it’s gonna be a little bit harder. But it’s not impossible. But you really have to use all the resources that are available in order to get in front people. Networking is probably the number one thing here in Sweden. It’s not what you know, it’s who, you know.
Carlie: And what did you find different about the job search process, particularly narrowing down jobs that you could apply for to just those that had English as a working language? Was there anything specific to Sweden?
Katy: I chose to focus on international companies. I think that’s your best bet if you are in a corporate position and you wanna work in English. I think sort of start there and then see what’s on offer. If you’re working in other industries, I think it’s quite different. I think that’s where you might need to a step up your language proficiency a bit quicker than I have. We have Swedish for immigrants here in Sweden. So you can actually learn Swedish for free, if you have a personnummer.
My recommendation, if you know that you’re coming to Sweden, is to start learning Swedish before you get here, because you’re gonna be so busy doing other things that you might not have the opportunity to kind of do that. It really depends on your industry
Carlie: Here in France, I find it’s really common for foreigners without much French to get into teaching English, for example, or babysitting. Is it sort of the same situation in Sweden? Do you find a lot of foreigners end up in those sort of jobs while they’re trying to set themselves up?
Katy: I feel there are lots of different job opportunities for people coming to Sweden with basic Swedish or good English. You might have to do a job that is completely to what you used to do, and that can mean taking a lot less pay. And that can mean doing things like waitressing, bar work, perhaps working restaurant, maybe working in a factory, Uber driving. You know, there’s a range of jobs that you don’t necessarily need a lot of Swedish for. So you might have to be prepared to actually do something that you perhaps don’t wanna do or didn’t expect to do when you first moved here.
Carlie: And what are the salaries like?
Katy: I would say the salaries are actually a little bit lower than what you might be used to in your home country. And taxes are quite high. Don’t be scared by that. But it kind of off-sets it because cost of living is a comparatively lower. So, I was on a consulting salary in London. My salary was relatively high but my cost of living was very high. And when I moved here, I’m paying less money on mortgage payments than I would have in rent. So, I think it all is relative. But be prepared to not have your usual salary and also equip yourself with as much knowledge as you can in your industry, in terms of your salary range that you’re entitled to
Carlie: Number three, Katie, on your list of five things to know before moving to Sweden is about finding a place to live. Now for yourself, you moved in with your partner, your Swedish partner, when you moved to the country. For people that don’t have that soft landing, how do they go about looking for a rental, for example?
Katy: Yeah, so I think expat groups here in Sweden, on Facebook, are a really great source of information. So, I follow Brits in Sweden and Aussies in Stockholm, for example. And you can ask around, does anyone have places to live? So you might find a connection that way. Some people might use Airbnb for several weeks or long term service apartments or hotels while they find their feet. In the long term, if you want a firsthand rental contract in Stockholm, you are virtually not gonna get it. So I think you need to be prepared for that.
Carlie: Just throwing truth bombs out there.
Katy: Yeah. I mean, people are on these lists of first hand rental contracts in Stockholm for about 20 years before they might get one, which sounds almost impossible. So, what do people do? They all get a second hand rental contract. So, a person renting an apartment will rent it out. So it’s, yeah, it’s quite common. So you look on, you know, sort of websites. We’ve got a website here called Blocket, where people might advertise, they might be going away for six months and they might want hold their apartment that they’re renting, but they’ll rent it out.
Carlie: So this is essentially subletting. Sounds like subletting culture is huge there
Katy: That’s correct. It is huge, especially in Stockholm. And be prepared to pay double, if not more than the usual price on rentals. So yeah, that’s a big sting for a lot of people, and people might not be expecting that. If you are prepared to live a little bit further down the train line and commute in, you might find it a lot easier to get a rental. And I’m just talking about Stockholm. So, if you are planning on moving in other cities around Sweden, and there are many, you know, Gothenburg, Malmö, you might find a different situation than here in the capital.
Carlie: So you can’t expect to just walk into a real estate agent and say, hi, can I have a look at your list of available rental properties?
Katy: No, it doesn’t work like that here. And I don’t have an experience with renting. My partner does, and he was lucky that he knew someone, who knew someone to get his apartment that he rented for many years, here in Stockholm. So that’s how he got his. Again, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. So, they are available. But yeah, you kind of have to look on these websites and troll through yourself. Real estate agents, typically, are not super helpful unless you wanna buy.
Carlie: Sounds like if you are not a people person, you might have trouble really getting in Sweden and finding that, you know, that hidden market of how people trade homes and find jobs and refer people to each other.
Katy: Yeah, I’ve never actually thought of it like that, but you’re right. I think, if you’re typically shy, you really have to try and get out of your comfort zone and it can be a little tricky, because Swedes are typically shy too. It’s quite an interesting dynamic.
Carlie: Speaking of getting to know people, number four on your list is making friends. Why is that so important to consider as part of your move to Sweden?
Katy: I think if you are moving on your own, it’s really important to have people around you that you can kind of bounce off, you can socialize with. And I think, if you’re coming here with a partner, you also need other people outside of that relationship to connect with and to chat with. It’s taken me, personally, a long time to start making friends. I think it is typically easier to make friends with other expats, if you wanna make friends with Swedes, I think it’s a slower burn. Swedes are typically know their friends from childhood. They kind of max out their friendship circles. I’ve actually heard someone say that, I’m sorry, not to me, but yeah, I’m sorry, I’ve got enough friends.
Carlie: Wow. They have a cap.
Katy: Yeah. A colleague of mine from the US, he said that he was hoping to make some more friends in this one person said exactly that. So, I’m not saying that all Swedes would say that, but I thought it was quite interesting.
Carlie: I actually have taken to joining a few sports associations here in France, for me, roller skating lately, to make friends with French people. And that has been a really big progression for me to move outside of those expat circles. Not that I don’t like my foreigner friends, they’re amazing and they’re my cornerstone, but it feels really good to be getting in a bit more with more French people.
Katy: Absolutely. Hobbies are a big thing here in Sweden. So if you’re into sports like paddle, which is kind of a form of tennis, that’s a big thing here. If you like to go to the gym, you might find a local gym where they’re quite friendly, and get to know people that way. I think sport and activities is a big part of Swedish culture. So, if you can get into that, running clubs, you know, there’s a range of them. So, if you can sort of join one of those, I think it’s a really great opportunity.
Carlie: Katy, you are now a mom. Have you found that that has opened a new social circle for you as well with local parents?
Katy: Yeah, absolutely. I’ve met a few moms and I know a mom to be as well, who I’ve become really good friends with. I think that definitely helps. And also, I think where you live also helps. I’ve moved from Stockholm a little bit further out. And I think it has a little bit more of a community feel, where people are a little bit more willing to spend time and talk and get to know each other. So I think it really depends on where you are, but I think, yeah, being a mom definitely opens up doors and that will continue. I’m sure as my little one grows and starts going to school.
Carlie: Can we speak for a moment about how Sweden handles parental leave? Because I absolutely love it and think it is so progressive and more countries should be doing the same. I believe it’s the fact that mother and father can essentially share the time off? And it’s not all lumped onto the mom as the primary carer?
Katy: That’s right. You are entitled to 480 days parental leave between two parents. I think 90 days is reserved for each parent exclusively, that’s to encourage people to take parental leave and that also applies to adoption leave as well. So there’s a very big emphasis here in Swedish society about family. And I think, as you say, it really, it helps both parents get to know their child and to sort of, you know, nurture them and have that opportunity to actually take time out of work and care for their baby.
Carlie: It is so refreshing to see a country normalizing a bunch of dads pushing the prams, going for coffee, having their few months off while mom goes back to work full time. I know it happens in other countries in other relationships, but it’s certainly not as much the norm outside of some of the Nordic countries. And I really hope more of the world follow suit there.
Katy: I agree. I think that’s one of the first things I noticed when I came here and they’re actually here, they’re called latte pappas. So you will often-
Carlie: That’s so boujee.
Katy: It is, yeah. But I think it’s nice. I think it’s a great bonding opportunity for them. And you know, I think they, they value the opportunity to spend time with their kids.
Carlie: Speaking of lattes, it brings us to our final point on your five things to know before moving to Sweden. And that is drink coffee. If you are not a caffeine fan, you may have a little trouble?
Katy: Yeah, that’s right. I think maybe coffee is in Sweden as what tea is in England. So, you know, we have something called Fika here, which is essentially a pause in the day. It could be time in the day, normally morning or afternoon for 10, 15 minutes where you’ll drink coffee and you’ll eat something sweet, like a cinnamon bun or prinsesstårta, princess cake, or something similar. And it’s an opportunity just to connect with your friends or your colleagues at work. So it’s very ingrained in Swedish society. (inaudible) is a thing here, and it’s to be embraced. And so if you don’t like coffee, maybe, you know, try it or try something else, you know, you’re not obligated to drink coffee.
Carlie: Yeed to learn to like it, no?
Katy: Exactly. You’ll notice coffee is quite central. Coffee is drunk pretty much all day, to my horror, because I’m a bit sensitive to caffeine. So they’ll have it in the morning, you might have it at Fika, you’ll have it after your lunch. It’s you know, almost included in most lunch menus for free. And then you’ll have it in the afternoon. You might even have it after dinner. That’s a lot of coffee. That’s a lot of caffeine.
Carlie: I mean, this is heaven for me. This sounds perfect. You know, I still get weird looks here in France when I choose to have milk in my coffee in the afternoon, but…
Katy: Yeah, it’s certainly a unique part of the culture. And you know, I like a cup of coffee, I still like my tea, I’m still a bit British in that sense, but I also fully love the idea of it. The fact that when you’re at work, if you don’t take a Fika, especially when you are new to the job, it’s kind of frowned upon. So I really encourage people to, you know, take 10 minutes, go and have a chat with your colleagues, connect over something sticky and sweet and something, you know, black and strong. And yeah, just, just embrace it for what it is.
Carlie: Katy, you’ve compiled a little list of useful resources that I’d like to chat through. Some of them are websites that anyone moving to Sweden is going to get very familiar with. Others are newbie guides. There’s a few resources here for parents. Tell me about some of them on your list and why you find them so useful.
Katy: You know, some of them I mentioned were sort of, I guess, more, you know, ‘’how to’’. So like I mentioned the Skatteverket website, which is kind of your first port of call, when you move to Sweden. They have a lot of great information in English. So start there and work out what your rights are, what you need to do when you move here. Others are a little bit more of the softer sort of side. You know, there’s a website called The Local Sweden, which is Swedish news in English, which I find really invaluable. Radio Sweden also has news in English, which I thinks really great too. But equally, I love podcasts, and there’s a podcast called Swede As, which is on a bit of a hiatus at the moment, but a lot of Australians will know. Tania Doko from the pop group Bachelor Girls.
Carlie: Bachelor Girls. Yes.
Katy: And she and Urquhart, they both host this podcast and they’ve got lots and lots of episodes and they touch on a lot of Swedish culture. And they’ve got a really great sense of humor. So I encourage people to kind of, you know, methodically go through those episodes and actually kind of get a sense of what it really is like as an expat to live in Sweden.
Carlie: You’ve also recommended things to watch. And I really like this because as a foreigner in France, I’m always looking for French TV shows that will help me understand, you know, a bit more of the slang and pop culture of life here.
Katy: So before I even came to Sweden, and I guess when I did move, I think I rewatched it, it’s a show called Welcome to Sweden. There was only two seasons. Greg Poehler is in that and he helped write it. And it’s a fantastic insight to life in Sweden from an American’s perspective. So I enjoy watching that.
Sort of more local TV shows, there’s a show called Solsidan, which has been going here for years. It’s a Swedish comedy show about life and love just outside of Stockholm. There’s a lot of very well known Swedish actors in that at show. And I love it, even though I can’t understand it a hundred percent. I still enjoy watching it because the visual kind of helps you and it kind of helps you understand the language. And I always watch it with the subtitles on, Swedish subtitles.
And there’s also some other ones. Wahlgrens värld, with Swedish celebrity singer Pernilla Wahlgren. She’s been known on the singing and the entertainment scene for a number of years as she entered the Eurovision song contest. And she has some children who are very well known here as well, Bianca Ingrosso, Benjamin Ingrosso. So I like watching that, again, from a cultural perspective and a comedy perspective, cause they’re quite hilarious
Carlie: Being a new mom, what are you getting into in terms of Swedish children’s programs? But I’m guessing your child is of course introduced to the Wiggles and bluey as of half Aussie?
Katy: Absolutely. I’ve already done that. So she actually really loves The Wiggles. I’m really glad.
Katy: Absolutely. It’s fantastic. But here in Sweden, particularly for the littlies, there’s something called (inaudible) which are these kind of little characters, they’re cartoon characters, different colors and they kind of just babble, really. But they have a lot of singing, a lot of Swedish songs. And I actually took her to a concert for her first birthday, only a couple of weeks ago, she quite enjoyed it.
Carlie: Aw, so cute.
Katy: It was, it was really great. I mean, as she go grows older, I think she’ll continue to like it. But one of their songs, they have like a lullaby, it’s one of the top songs in Sweden because every parent will play it for their children to get them to go down to sleep at night and we even do that with her. So yeah, recommend that. And of course, Pippi Långstrump, or Pippi Longstocking, as most people know. Anything Astrid Lindgren, the kids are introduced to that quite early and they love all the songs from that. So I think those are kind of my top two recommendations.
Carlie: Katy, just to end, it sounds like you really smashed your move to Sweden, let me just say. But if you had to go back five years and do it again, is there anything that you would approach differently?
Katy: Yeah, I think if I had more time, I would’ve learned more Swedish before I got here because I really feel that that’s kind of fallen over the more structured learning. Just because my job and life and having a baby has sort of gotten in the way. So I would do that again. I think I have embraced the Swedish culture, but I think also when you first move to a country, there’s always a little bit of resistance. So don’t let go of your culture or cultures because, you know, I feel like I’ve got several now, but really embrace the country for what it is. You know, learn to like the local cakes and sweets and food. Learn to try and interact with Swedes how they want to interact. I’m not saying that you should change yourself as a person, but kind of try and embrace it a little bit more for what it is. And I think, you know, you will kind of have an easier time to settle into the country and enjoy the country too.
Carlie: Well, Katie, thank you so much for sharing your five things to know before moving to Sweden here on the Expat Focus podcast.
Katy: Thank you, Carly. It’s been an absolute pleasure.
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