Swedes are the best in the world at speaking English as a second language, according to the global EF English Proficiency Index and most large international firms, as well as plenty of tech companies and startups recruiting talent from abroad, use English as their working language.
Still, for those who make the move without a position lined up, knowledge of Swedish can be a major advantage in a highly educated and competitive job market. Less than 8% of the Swedish population is unemployed, but this jumps to 17% among foreign-born residents according to Statistics Sweden.
The Swedish government offers free language classes for immigrants, called SFI.
“It can feel bizarre that so many jobs ask for Swedish when almost everyone speaks perfect English,” said Briton Webb, who relocated to Stockholm from Paris with his former Brazilian-Swedish partner and their daughter in 2014, and now runs Gymgo, a fitness startup, with a fellow British colleague. The duo used ALMI, a government-funded body that provides free advice to foreign entrepreneurs, to help them navigate their way through the paperwork.
“It’s really quick to set up a business here but without ALMI it would have been more of a struggle. They helped us a lot with all the administration and translation.”
Getting a visa
EU and Norwegian citizens are entitled to work in Sweden — or move there in order to look for a job — without obtaining a visa.
However, those from most other countries generally need to apply to the Swedish Migration Board (Migrationsverket) for a work permit, demonstrating that they already have an official job offer from a Swedish employer.
There are a few exceptions. Working holiday visas for up to one year are granted to 18-to-30-olds from Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Korea. Those relocating to Sweden in order to live with a Swedish partner (or a foreigner who already has a work permit) can apply for a residence permit before securing a job.
The Swedish workplace
Stockholm places a greater focus on work-life balance than other world capitals.
“It's a very different experience to when I worked in the UK and clients wanted to stay in touch on weekends and during the evening,” said Canadian Ameek Grewal, 29, who relocated from London to Citibank’s Nordic headquarters a year ago.
While initially finding it “frustrating” having to wait longer for client responses, he now appreciates the “mutual respect” felt in Sweden.
“I’ll wait until office hours to call or email my customers and at the same time I know I won’t be phoned when I’m on holiday,” Grewal said.
Sweden frequently scores praise for having the largest proportion of working mothers in the EU and was recently ranked the fourth most gender equal country by the World Economic Forum.