Across the pond

2016 began with a very big decision for the Madsen family – we were leaving Australia and moving further north; Sweden to be exact.

I wont go into the reasons for going. Instead I’ll go into some of the experiences that’s come out of this. It’s a big decision, upping your family from one country to another; selling your home, cars, furniture et al. But as with many other experiences in life, it has it owns rewards.

First and foremost – Sweden. Yeah, it’s cold and really dark during winter. Definitely  a big difference from Perth, Western Australia. That being said, Sweden makes it relatively easy for Nordic citizens to settle in. You don’t need a visa or anything else. And yes, I’m a Danish national so I fit into that category very easily.

…What to do first

If you’re ever considering going to Sweden, be aware that the first thing you WILL need to sort out is the “skatteverket ID”. Basically it’s your tax ID. Uh, shouldn’t be a surprise seeing as swedes really love paying tax. This is a two-stage process. First step is to register for the ID itself. This takes 4 weeks to process. You need to do this in person and make sure you read the details of what documentation et al you’re likely to need. Expect to spend a good part of the day waiting in line as well.

The ID

Without the “skatteverket ID” you can’t:

  • Get a mobile phone subscription, internet access (fiber, DSL etc)
  • Register your public transport card (yes, you can buy it, add funds to it, but you cannot register it)
  • Get a bank account
  • Access the library
  • Get paid
  • pretty much everything that requires you to identify yourself…

The second step is to get the ID card – because, well, yes the card is somewhat more important than the actual ID. The reason why? simple, it’s an official government ID that verifies that you are who you say you are and that your ID is valid. This ID card is a photo ID. Once you get this ID you’re set to go and can get your bank account set up, access the library, get paid etc. What you can’t do, till you have a full income is get a mobile phone subscription. It takes about 2 weeks for the card to arrive and you’ll have to pick it up in person.

Yes, a mobile phone subscription actually has an additional requirement. You must have an income. Doesn’t matter how much money you say you have sitting in the bank. A credit check is actually run against you and if you don’t have an income it’ll come back negative and you’ll be rejected.

The ID card is the holy grail of IDs for foreigners – with it you can pretty much do anything. Without it, well..not so much.

The biggest problem for the period of time where you don’t have your ID is that you’re a non-entity.

Now that’s the practical out of the way. Had to be said as it’s incredibly important that the “skatteverket ID” is attended to ASAP.

…But wait, there is more

As mentioned, it’s a big decision to move. So where do you move to? Ah, here’s the biggest issue with Stockholm in particular. The rental market is tough. It took us quite a while to find a place to rent. And don’t expect to find anything below 12,000sek that’s worth living in. That’s quite expensive compared to what your repayments on, say a mortgage is here in Sweden. The interest rates are crazy low here and has unfortunately pushed the housing prices way up. I mean, stupidly high. So, finding a place to live. That’s a tough one. Don’t go into central Stockholm, unless you really have the cash for that.

Sweden has two types of rental agreements. First-hand contracts, which are between you and the owner directly. It’s the cheapest by far but there’s generally a waiting list around 2-4 years so you might as well forget that. The other is a second-hand contract. Where the landlord has “bought” the apartment/house from the “owner” (yes, doesn’t make sense, but there you go) and you end up paying quite a bit more. Probably averaging around 2x the cost of a first-hand contract. Luckily most utilities are included in the cost (if you get a fair landlord). We got a great landlord and water, electricity and even our fibre internet connection is all included in our rent.

Here’s where, as a foreigner, it becomes a bit hard to manage – most landlords will want to meet you in person before they will sign a contract with you. Doing this from overseas is not easy – so try to find a proxy that’s willing to assist, otherwise, forget about it; buy a tent instead. Most landlords will also want to see that you can pay your rent; so proof of employment can be very important. Not always, but it can be.

Expect also that things will take 4-8weeks to finalise for a rental. There’s a lot of paperwork to sign and it’s all very official. You might also want to ensure that your landlord has gotten permission from the owner to rent it out. If not, then you could very easily get booted out the minute you set foot in the apartment; wave goodbye to your deposit et al.

…The journey

For practical reasons I left Perth before my wife and kids. There was a lot of things to resolve before they could follow and my wife really pulled out all her magical powers of organisation to get things finished. Honestly don’t think this move would have been possible if it wasn’t for my wife’s effort and the help of a lot of our friends.

Lucky for me, the rest of the family followed 2 weeks later.

We also got here at the right time of year. There was still some winter left, but we managed to avoid the deep winter and incredible cold (-15c or below) and still got a taste of snow (much to my kids’ delight).

We’re now in April and getting a good deal of sunlight – this of course also means the weather is getting better. e.g. the cold is pretty much gone. Expect April to hit between 11c and 3c. Light rain is common too.

…What to expect from Sweden?

Well – first and foremost, expect things to cost a wee bit more than AU at least. Petrol is about 2x the cost of what we saw in Perth. The easiest would be if you just take the cost in AU and automatically add 25% on top for most other services and/or products. It’s a bit of a head-bender when you see a bottle of water being sold at 15:-

Another thing is the language – unless you’ve had a babelfish embedded, Swedish is nothing at all like English. But the swedes are more than happy to accommodate you and speak English to you. That’s initially really good because you don’t have to look like a failing, unemployed mime when ordering your food or asking for direction. After a while it becomes a nuisance as you will need to learn the language and the best way is just to start speaking it.

Sweden does also offer SFI; not sure what it stands for but it’s language schooling for migrants – sign up for that as soon as possible. We’re going to be enrolling fairly soon.

Another part is the public transport – you’ll love that for sure. It costs about 790sek for an adult to pretty much have 30-days of public transport. That’s cheap folks – especially compared to AU prices.

I mentioned interest rates are low and housing being expensive? yeah, think i’ve already covered that. It’s important to keep in mind tho. Also, if you do get a job then it’s likely that you’ll be able to purchase quite a few things without paying MOMS for it (E.g. VAT, GST) which is 25%.

sb-logotypeLastly, alcohol – yeah, that’s a tough one. Nearly all super markets stock alcohol…not. it’s light/mid-strength only. For the good stuff you have to go to Systembolaget; a government run liquor store. Kid you not. Full-strength alcohol can only be purchased at this place. Prices are what you’d expect. about 25% more than what you’ll see in AU. Selection, very limited. However they do have to order home pretty much anything that you want. Might want you to buy 6 or more bottles of it, but they will order it in.

…Schools – for the kids that is

Education conceptMan – here’s probably one of the biggest changes for us coming from AU. The school system here is brilliant. And i mean brilliant. The school we enrolled with is local to us. It’s a public school (we’re used to having to put the kids through private school in AU if you want a good education, and lets face it, that’s not even a promise with the quality of private schools plummeting) but incredibly organised. We literally had a meeting with the headmistress on a Friday afternoon, and the girls started the following Monday. They have an interpreter available and have been teamed up with other students who’s bilingual. Big bonus. Plus, your kids get fed at school. Breakfast if you want, but a hot lunch is always served.

Once you have your “skatteverket ID” you can enrol your kids. Doesn’t take much, just contact the school and set an appointment to see them. Easy Peasy.

…Pros and Cons

weather - stockholmIt’s an adventure; Whatever reason you have to move across the pond, make it an adventure and you’ll do fine. A lot of people think it’s a massive move and full of risks, but remember that in Sweden you’re very heavily protected as an employee. That limits the risks significantly once you’ve landed a job.

Another benefit here is that everything is incredibly organised and it all communicates/integrates. It’d almost be scary if I wasn’t already Danish and familiar with the amount of knowledge the government has about you.

Some things that’s not so good – well i touched on housing. That’s a really big problem, but not just for migrants. Get registered on, pay the fee and start looking. It’s cold as well. If you don’t like the cold, don’t go here. Winters are bad for beach-goers. It gets dark and you’ll get close to 18hrs a day without the sun (at least if you go this far north). The same goes for summers of course. Some really, really long days during summer.

The industry is booming here – ok, when i say the industry i mean IT&T. Stockholm in particular is a start-up heaven. Nearly 90% of all VC funding for start-ups in Europe are expected to go to the north. That means that IT is a big thing here.

This also means that the job market really needs more people. Especially technically skilled people. Which of course is good for us geeks.