Why did you move to Sweden?
I wanted to experience a different culture as a local, not as a tourist. After a few weeks of soul-searching and checking which countries I can get in, I had a rating of contenders. Sweden came out on top.
When did you move to Sweden?
2.5 years ago (2015)
What do you wish you knew about Sweden, when you first moved here?
How long and expensive it is to get a driving license here. And that I should sign up for all the major cities' rent queues. Actually, it’s expensive to get any kind of lessons here, or any kind of services. Also it’s hard to just do a check-up with a doctor. If you’re not hurting, there’s no problem yet. So I do my medical checkups in Ukraine (especially when it comes to the dentist). I wish I knew that as soon as I get my personnummer, my personal data would appear on a few Swedish websites (birth date, phone number, full address). It’s relatively straightforward to pull your phone from there, which I did (and which seemed strange to my Swedish coworkers). But knowing my name, the whole internet still also knows exactly where I live. For some, this is not a comfortable thought.
How would you compare the Swedish work culture to your home country’s work culture?
All parents arrive to the office early and leave at 15:00. At home my teammates would get to work around 11:00. Also in my home country we didn’t have fika :) And when we went out for a dinner with the team, it was way less formal than here in Sweden. At my first job interview I was surprised to hear about the interviewer’s family (“Hi, my name is Sven, I have two daughters”). Later I heard more introductions like this in work and interview settings. And Swedish programmers stay in the same company for a way longer time (on average). It’s almost impossible to fire them, which is also very different from Ukraine. I was surprised to learn that when you’re sick, you don’t get your salary on the first day, and only get 80% afterwards. I was also surprised to learn you get more money for vacation days. And it’s way more common to officially use nicknames for your colleagues.
What’s your favourite part about living in Sweden? Why?
The nature. It’s so gorgeous and has all the facilities. And you can go anywhere. You can also go anywhere in Europe (well, Schengen). As for the little things, drinking clear tap water is very convenient.
What do you struggle with the most in Sweden? Why?
Unnecessary language barrier in the workplace. It’s not that the Swedes wouldn’t understand you or be able to talk to you. It’s just an inconvenience for them, so you don’t get to apply for a job you’re qualified for. Some recruitment agencies admit it is a problem, but many people just assume it doesn’t exist. Meanwhile, most of the job ads for IT are in Swedish.
Any tips for people doing the work permit application?
Check if you will be able to leave and re-enter Sweden during the processing time. When applying, have the exact starting/quitting dates for all your jobs handy. And general Migrationsverket tips: you might get different answers to the same question from different Migrationsverket officers. So if you’re unsure, ask at least two of them. In my experience, when you write them an email, they tend to copy-paste a somewhat relevant text from the website and not answer the actual question. Calling them on the phone works better. A lawyer once told me that it’s not possible to get a binding answer from Migrationsverket, so when it comes to laws that are open to interpretation, you just gotta manage risks. If you lose your job, you have 3 months after your last salary to find a new one. This renders A-kassa less useful until you get a permanent permit. And if the worst happens (I mean deportation), there’s a 6 months “cooling down” period, then you can try again. Don’t forget to read the FAQ page on Migrationsverket’s site.
What’s the current state of you work permit application? When did you apply for the first permit/extension?
I recently got approved for an occupation-specific work permit (not dependent on the employer anymore). My first permit came in 2015 after a few weeks of waiting. My first extension also came in 2015 and it took 4 months. The second extension took a bit over 1 month (my employer used a consultancy).
How did you go about finding an apartment in Sweden? Any tips for people who are apartment hunting?
The main tip is to make a Swedish person do it for you :) When you’re new in Sweden, you don’t have any ‘points’ in any of the queues to apartments. And technically there’s no way to get a first-hand contract. Unless you know someone. I’ve seen time and again how a landlord who claims to have absolutely no apartments available, suddenly discovers a free one when asked by someone they know. So your HR or your boss might know a landlord, and that might be your best bet. Another solution is to give in and buy an apartment, which is a different kind of quest.
Did you find it hard to open a bank account? Can you describe your experience?
There’s a well-known catch 22 with getting a personnummer and a bank account. You get around it by going to Forex and making a bank transfer there. Once I had my personnummer, there was no problem opening a bank account whatsoever.
What has surprised you about living in Sweden?
So many things. Lakes. Lactose-free assortment of stuff. How easy the Swedish winter is. How safe the roads feel. Many kinds of candy. Slightly longer pauses in speech (you might feel like a Swede has finished talking, but nope!). Tall people everywhere. Protein-enriched puddings and alike. Tons of people running. Door-opening buttons and other details that make life easier for all kinds of people. The little pebble stones everywhere during winter (and the machines that clean them up come spring). Cheese in tubes. Uncut pizza. Renting videogames from the library. Semlor.
Do you speak Swedish? Do you think it’s necessary to learn Swedish in Sweden?
I speak very little Swedish, but I read it alright. If you want to integrate and plan on spending more than a couple years here, it’s absolutely necessary and vital. And it opens up many events and courses/hobbies for you (not to mention jobs). “Handbok i svenska som andraspråk” is my favourite textbook because it’s a) very practical, b) explains the subtleties of what sounds more formal/polite and what sounds more informal/friendly. By saying it’s very practical I mean it explains a lot about Sweden (like the types of houses and the meaning of the second to last number in personnummer) and gives examples of things like a cover letter, a note to the tax office, the questions they might ask you if you call 112, the topics appropriate for a fika at work, etc. So it’s less “here’s a list of fruit words, and here’s Present Simple” and more “Here are the actual things you need in your adult life in Sweden”.
Did you find it difficult to make friends in Sweden when you first moved here? If so, why? If not, why not?
It was a bit difficult since everyone at work was older, with kids, and had quite different interests from mine. And in my small town it’s hard to find a group of people doing some hobby in English. But once you’re in, you’re in.
What advice would you give to someone moving to Sweden?
Make sure you know what you want. Chances are, for 70% of those things you’ll need to know Swedish, but it’s not that hard to learn. And don’t be afraid. It’s a safe and rather awesome place to be in. P.S.: When your Swedish is ready, check out the flashback.org forum. People discuss all the things there, from tax deduction to relationship problems. If you’re looking for a list of good/bad districts in a Swedish town, this forum probably has it.