Living In Stockholm

Living in Stockholm: Everything you need to know about moving to Sweden’s capital city

Over the past 60 years or so, Sweden has developed a reputation as a fantastic place to live. Even with those notoriously long winters, the country has a well-developed welfare state and is an excellent place to raise children. Many expats move to one of the country’s major cities, so what’s it like living in Stockholm — its capital?

Stockholm has attracted foreign talent over the past few years for several reasons. Its tech sector is booming, with the likes of music streaming giant Spotify and the fintech company Klarna having their headquarters here.

The city’s work-life balance is a huge pull for expats from countries where that’s deemed less important, such as the United States.

Everything sounds rosy so far, but many foreigners have a hard time in their early days after moving to Sweden. Once you get yourself settled, you can build a life you’re happy with.

To help you prepare, we’ve put together this guide to life in Stockholm — written by someone who spent time in Sweden’s capital city.

What is Stockholm like?

Stockholm is the largest city in Sweden and — completely disregarding Janteloven — dubs itself the “Capital of Scandinavia”. Just over 975,000 people live here, with around 2.3 million people inhabiting the metropolitan area.

Many would argue that Stockholm isn’t a big city by global standards. However, it’s the largest city in the Nordic region, beating its nearest competitors Copenhagen and Oslo for this particular crown.

Geography-wise, Stockholm is on Sweden’s eastern coast. It melds into Lake Mälaren and the Baltic Sea, and water is a significant defining factor in its geography. The city center consists of 14 islands, each connected by various bridges.

Stockholm’s city center starts around Gamla Stan, its oldest (and most touristic) district. Other central neighborhoods include Södermalm, Norrmalm, Östermalm, and Kungsholmen.

Most of the architecture in these districts consists of pretty colorful houses, while Gamla Stan is lined with several cobblestone streets. However, the city’s skyline also features a few examples of modern architecture.

Another defining characteristic of Stockholm is its close proximity to nature. You can find several pretty islands, along with forests, nature reserves, and national parks — all within easy access from the city center by public transport.

In Sweden, everyone has Allemansrätten — which is the right to roam.

Living In Stockholm

What’s living in Stockholm like? 

Stockholm is well-known for having a high quality of life. Summer days are long and seem to never end, and you’ll get surprisingly warm temperatures combined with stable weather. If you want to live somewhere that enables you to experience all four seasons, Sweden’s capital city is perfect.

In contrast, the winters are long, cold, and dark. Temperatures often sit below freezing, and the sun drops below the horizon before 3pm on the shortest day. Meanwhile, autumn is defined by beautiful orange tinges, and spring provides the opportunity to watch cherry trees blossom.

When you first move to Sweden, you’ll quickly pick up one word: Fika. In the same way that hygge is embedded in Danish society, Fika is a crucial part of the day for many Swedes.

While many foreigners make a big deal of it, the act is surprisingly simple; it simply involves taking some time away from your schedule, usually accompanied by a cinnamon bun and some coffee.

If you’re moving here as a single person, it’s good to keep in mind that Fika is also a common first date in Sweden.

Speaking of cinnamon buns and coffee (and love, we guess), you’ll quickly realize that both have a special place in many Swedes’ hearts. People in the country drank over 7kg of coffee per capita in 2020, making Sweden one of the biggest consumers of coffee on the globe.

As for cinnamon buns, Swedes eat over 300 of these sweet treats on average annually.

Despite these indulgences, you’ll also notice that Stockholmers are active. The city has several beautiful parks and running routes, along with multiple gyms — both indoors and outdoors.

Stockholm is also reasonably bike-friendly during the summer, and it’s not uncommon to see people get around on two wheels once the snow has melted.

Do I need to learn Swedish to live in Stockholm?

Sweden’s official language is Swedish, spoken throughout the country and in parts of Finland. But if you don’t have any knowledge yet, we’ve got some good news: Swedes speak excellent English, and you can easily get by without knowing any Swedish.

However, not speaking Swedish will present several difficulties if you plan to live here long-term. First and foremost, it’s impossible to fully integrate into society and understand the culture if you don’t learn the language; making friends will also be significantly more difficult than it already is.

Not knowing Swedish will also put you at a significant disadvantage if you’re looking for a job. Yes, many companies operate in English — but others will still list proficiency in Swedish as a requirement or preference for openings.

Because most Swedes speak fluent English, you’ll need to have skills that are impossible to ignore to stand out to employers. Even in companies that use English as their business language, many Swedes would still rather socialize in Swedish where possible.

Luckily, Swedish isn’t difficult to learn if you already speak English — and it’s even easier if you already know Norwegian or Danish. Many words are similar to English, such as Morgon (which is pronounced as “moron”, and means “morning”) — and god (good).

It’s worth asking your employer or university whether they offer Swedish classes. You can also get started before you move with tools like Babbel and Duolingo to learn the basics, along with this free course by the Swedish Institute.

Do I need a residence permit to move to Stockholm?

Sweden has long positioned itself as one of the world’s most open societies, and 26.3% of the country’s 10.45 million people have a foreign background.

The rules for moving here differ depending on where you come from, and you’ll need to deal with more paperwork if you’re immigrating without holding EU or Nordic citizenship.

EU, EEA, and Nordic citizens

Citizens of the EU, EEA, and Switzerland are free to move to Sweden to work, study, or start their own business without much paperwork. You can stay in Sweden for up to three months without applying for a residence permit; after that, you’ll need the necessary documentation to remain in the country for longer.

To register as a resident in Sweden, you need to plan on staying in the country for at least one year. In addition to work and study, you can also move to Scandinavia’s largest country if you can prove that you can support yourself financially — such as having sufficient savings.

If you’re not an EU citizen, but you’ve lived in another EU country for at least five years and can support yourself financially, you might be able to move to Sweden under special rules. Not all countries are covered, but you can find out more about that particular permit on the Migration Agency’s website.

Residence permits can cause several issues for couples. However, if you’re an EU citizen with a non-EU partner, you can still move your family to Sweden. Your family can stay for as long as you’re legally allowed to live in the country.

Nordic citizens can move to Sweden without applying for a residence permit.

Non-EU, EEA, and Nordic citizens

If you’re from a non-EEA or Nordic country and you don’t have heritage from a member state, moving to Sweden is more difficult. You’ll need to go through this process if you plan on living in Stockholm as an American, and the same is true for Brits moving from 2021 onwards.

When applying for a permit as a non-EEA citizen, you must not enter Sweden until your application has been approved.

To apply for a work permit, you need to have a job offer from a Swedish employer — and they need to have advertised the opening in Sweden, the EEA, and Switzerland for at least 10 days beforehand.

If you want to study in Stockholm, you’ll need to apply for a residence permit if your program lasts longer than three months. If your stay is shorter than this period, you can get an entry visa instead.

Various other residence permits are available for foreigners who want to try living in Stockholm. If your partner already lives here, you can apply for a permit to join them.

Once you’ve lived in Sweden for a certain amount of time, you can apply for Swedish citizenship if you meet specific criteria.

You can find more detailed information about Sweden’s residence permits here.

Are people in Stockholm friendly to foreigners?

Although Stockholm is a progressive city and its inhabitants are pretty open-minded, making friends here is notoriously difficult. While the Swedes are typically polite and friendly, they don’t tend to talk to strangers, and some nationalities might find them blunter than what they’re used to.

Life in Stockholm can be hard before you make friends, and you should expect this process to take time. However, people will be happy to help you if you need assistance when out and about in public.

How to make friends in Stockholm

While getting to know the Swedes on a personal level can be difficult, the good news is that you’ll make lifelong friends once you finally build that rapport. To make friends when living in Stockholm, your best bet is to start with other expats.

Stockholm has a significant international population, and you’ll find plenty of people in the same boat as you. Consider joining meetups and events and sharing your experiences.

Before focusing on making friends, it’s also wise to care for yourself first. Use your first days in the Swedish capital to reconnect with your hobbies or pick up new ones.

A couple to get you started include:

  • Photography
  • Running
  • Soccer

Another good idea for making friends with Swedes is interacting with Swedes who have moved from other parts of the country. They might know some people in Stockholm, but they’ll probably want to make new friends just as much as you do.

Living In Stockholm

Is it expensive to live in Stockholm?

Scandinavia isn’t known for being the most budget-friendly corner of the planet, and Stockholm has a reputation for being an expensive city. However, you might not find that your bank account has such a hard time — depending on where you’re from.

According to Numbeo, the average cost for monthly rent is 14,724.55 Swedish Kronor (SEK) for a one-bedroom apartment in Central Stockholm — which is just under $1,550. If you’re open to living in Greater Stockholm instead, the cost drops to 10,309.52 SEK (roughly $1,085).

One thing worth noting is that certain grocery items can be pretty expensive in Stockholm. Meat is generally high-quality, thanks to strict local regulations surrounding animal welfare. Naturally, the price is also higher; you’ll pay roughly 107.68 SEK ($11.36) for 1kg of chicken breast filets.

Sweden has strict alcohol sale laws, and the cost of booze is higher than in Denmark — but lower than in Norway. Expect to pay 70 SEK ($7.38) for beer on average when you’re in a restaurant or bar.

The good news is that Stockholm is less pricey than several other major cities — despite arguably having a higher quality of life.

The Swedish capital is 9.59% less expensive than Copenhagen, and you also won’t need as much money to live a good life here compared to places like New York City and Los Angeles.

What is Stockholm like from an employee’s perspective?

Swedish culture places a strong emphasis on working to live. If you’re from a country where the opposite is expected, such as the US or Japan, you might experience a huge culture shock when living in Stockholm.

On average, the Swedish working day lasts 40 hours per week. However, it’s not uncommon for people to leave early on Friday afternoons — or to pick up their kids from school. You’ll also get generous annual leave amounting to at least five weeks per year.

If you plan to have kids in Stockholm, you can certainly pick worse places. You and your partner will have 480 days of paid parental leave to share between you, and you can also receive compensation if you need to care for an unwell child and take time off work to do so.

You’ll pay a lot in tax, but Stockholm salaries are much higher than in many parts of the world. Plus, the money you hand to the central government isn’t all bad; you’ll benefit from excellent health care and more.

How difficult is it to get a job in Stockholm?

If you want to live in Stockholm, you’ll need a way to support yourself financially. And if you’re not interested in the self-employed route, that’ll typically require finding a job.

Since it’s the capital city, Stockholm has a lot of job opportunities. However, you also face stiff competition. Many Swedes are well-educated and — as we mentioned before — speak at least two languages.

You’ll also need to remember that many jobs aren’t advertised and if you don’t already have a network, finding something that fits your skills and interests might be tricky.

To improve your chances of landing employment, consider the tips listed below:

  • Learn Swedish; if you don’t yet speak it to a high level, prove that you’re in the process of doing so.
  • Start networking before you visit Sweden; websites like LinkedIn and Twitter can help massively.
  • If your current employer has an office in Stockholm, ask them if they’re open to relocating you.

While we’ve said that getting a job is difficult, don’t get disheartened. If you really want to live in Stockholm, you’ll find a way to make it work if you’re persistent enough.

Is Stockholm boring?

Many people think that Stockholm is dull, and if you’re used to a fast-paced metropolis, you might find the predictability of everyday life a little tedious. However, calling Stockholm boring is unfair; you’ll find plenty of fun activities to do throughout the year.

Some of the world’s most creative minds inhabit Stockholm, and their legacy is clear for everyone to see. Its music scene is unparalleled, with the likes of ABBA and Avicii making their mark here. Throughout the year, you’ll find plenty of concerts featuring some of the world’s biggest artists.

Stockholm also has numerous excellent museums. Skansen is an open-air museum that’s well worth your time, as is the Vasa Museum; both are on the scenic island of Djurgården.

Speaking of stunning scenery, Stockholm has plenty of beautiful nature within the city centre and beyond. Djurgården is worth spending a sunny day on, and the Stockholm archipelago is easy to explore.

For your summer vacation, consider going further afield and visiting Åland — the Swedish-speaking batch of islands that belongs to Finland and is in between Stockholm and Turku.

Stockholm is also a great place to explore, even if you do nothing but wander around its streets. Monteliusvägen is perfect for enjoying a view of the city at sunset, and Södermalm is a blend of quirky locals and excellent bakeries.

Stockholm also has a vibrant nightlife scene, and you’ll find something to fit your needs. A couple of things worth noting, though, are that the bouncers can be difficult to deal with, and you’ll need to buy alcohol from Systembolaget if you plan to drink before heading out.

Even if you want to escape the city for a few days, Stockholm has plenty of enticing day trips. The university town of Uppsala is reachable by commuter train, and pretty Mariefred is another place worth exploring.

Is it difficult to find a place to live in Stockholm?

One of the biggest pain points for locals and expats alike is Stockholm’s housing market. Renting in the city center is extremely challenging, and you’ll have a huge battle on your hands to secure a rental agreement.

Instead of looking at the central districts, consider casting your net further afield. Stockholm has an excellent public transportation system, and you’ll often still be within a short distance of the city center. The metro network is extensive, and all lines feed into Stockholm Central Station.

Neighborhoods worth looking at in and around Stockholm for housing include:

  • Solna
  • Lidingö
  • Täby

If you’ve got the money, you might want to consider buying an apartment instead of renting; doing so will make your life much easier. And if you’re in your early phases of moving, consider getting a short-term rental and searching for something more long-term when you arrive.

Places you can look for apartments when coming to live in Stockholm include:

Living In Stockholm

What’s life like in Stockholm without a car?

Many cities require you to have a car if you want to get around with ease, but Stockholm is not one of them.

As mentioned before, the city is well-connected by public transport. You’ll find a large network of buses operating through the center and its suburbs, along with an efficient metro system and a couple of ferry lines.

Stockholm also has a commuter train, though extra costs apply if you’re going to Arlanda Airport and beyond. You can also get the tram into the city center, depending on where you live.

Stockholm’s public transport system is unified by a single ticket and operated by SL. You can purchase single tickets and passes that are valid for lengthier periods; you’ll find ticket machines and staffed booths at metro stations, but using the app is easier.

What should I remember for my first winter in Stockholm?

Stockholm’s winters are a talking point for locals, and they’re an inevitable part of living in the Swedish capital. Snow is not uncommon, and you’ll also have to deal with short days; on 21st December, which is the shortest day of the year, the sun rises at 08:43 before going down again at 14:48.

You’ll also have to deal with low temperatures. In January, for example, the thermometer usually ranges between 0 and -5ºC — but you might experience -10ºC and below in some instances.

If you want to make the most of it, the best advice we can give is to copy the locals. Keep your social calendar filled with interesting events, and keep up your exercise routine. You should also alter your diet to include more vitamin D and supplement this with fish oil or pills.

The last thing you’ll want to do when it’s cold outside is, well, go outside. However, you should spend a bit of time outdoors each day. Go for a walk to your favorite café, or get the ferry to one of the nearby islands — as long as it’s safe to do so.

Alternatively, you can always do what many Scandinavians do and head somewhere warm for a few weeks.

Is Stockholm a nice place to live? In short, yes — but you must do your research before moving

Stockholm has a high cost of living, but this is countered by a higher quality of life; it’s one of the best places to live in Europe. Yes, you might have to curb the small talk and learn to control your amusement when you see the word “fart” mentioned (it means speed, just in case you were wondering).

But with countless coffee breaks, acres of green space, and a rich history worth exploring in your free time, who cares about the cons of living in Stockholm?

Sweden’s capital is a green city with an excellent workplace culture if we speak generally. You can enjoy plenty of boat trips throughout the year, and Copenhagen and Oslo — along with the Arctic — are within easy distance by plane.

You’ll also find several small beaches to kick back on those rare sunny days, plus much more.

Stockholm is a great place to live, but it’s not the only city in Sweden with a high quality of life. If you’re a little more open to exploring the rest of the country, consider checking out our article about the best places to live in Sweden.

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