Stockholm, Sweden Report of what it's like to live there - 01/15/17
Personal Experiences from Stockholm, Sweden
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
This was my first overseas post.
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
US vagabond. Travel to the States takes between 6-12 hours, depending on where you're going.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
US government gig at the embassy.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Housing for embassy employees is scattered across the city and nearby suburbs. Families usually live on the island of Lidingo in houses or duplexes, while couples and singles live in Stockholm. Apartments in Stockholm are generously sized for the city, and most Swedes will be envious of your space. Housing is notoriously difficult to procure, and while GSO does its best to accommodate people's needs, not everyone will be happy. Finding secured parking within the city is also challenging, so if you plan on buying a car at post, ask for parking in your housing questionnaire. Commute times range from a few minutes walk to an hour by public transportation.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
This is an expensive city (a standard cocktail out costs about $20), so be prepared to leave without savings. Having the DPO helps a lot, and Americans get many things shipped to us via Amazon.
The grocery stores are well stocked, though smaller than in the US, and contain fewer choices than at a Giant or Safeway. All kinds of produce are available year-round, though prices are reflected in off-season fruits and vegetables.
3. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Eating out in Stockholm is an expensive endeavor. Restaurants are generally very good, and chefs take their work seriously. However, service lags behind what you'd find in the US. There are delivery services (foodora.se), but again - very expensive. Delivery of two burgers and fries from a local burger joint will run nearly $50.
The best deal for eating out is at lunch. The daily special (dagens lunch) at most restaurants will run from $10-15 and generally includes coffee and salad.
4. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
No problems inside housing, though ticks are an issue outside in summer months.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO is a godsend. I don't know what we'd all do without Amazon.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Again - expensive. A lot of embassy employees share help. I hire a person to clean every two weeks, and it costs about $50 for four to five hours.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There are all kinds of gyms and fitness studios here. There's crossfit, yoga, pilates, swimming, gyms and spas. Prices range from what you'd find in the US to a bit more. Swedes are very health-conscious, and the availability of gyms and relatively modest pricing reflects that. For basic gyms, most people use SATS or Nordic Wellness. The gym at the embassy is small and depressing.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
Sweden is moving to a non-cash society. We tell visitors not to bother getting cash at the airport because they'll never use it. Credit/debit cards are a must.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Everyone in Stockholm speaks English. Swedish is nice to have, but completely unnecessary.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
It depends on the level of disability, but generally not. Sidewalks are wide, though sometimes made of cobblestone. Buildings have ramps and elevators. Busses and the T-bana are accessible for wheelchairs.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Public transportation here is terrific. Many people get to the embassy via bus or T-bana. It is very safe, clean, and beautiful. Uber and taxis are also available.
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
Parking in Stockholm is challenging, but on par with NYC or SF. Parking tickets run between $60-100 per incident. Drivers here are very courteous, and there are many newish cars on the road. I have not heard of any burglary or carjacking in or around Stockholm.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
The internet here has been reliable and somewhat reasonably priced. We used ComHem for both cable and internet and the price is comparable with that in any major US city. HOWEVER: You can't get anything done in Sweden until you have your "personnummer." Nada. Zip. Zilch. You can't get a bank account, and thus can't sign up for services that require a Swedish credit card. The embassy seems to have gotten better at offering dongles that work for newcomers, but don't expect to have internet at home for at least six weeks.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
A number of people bring unlocked phones and get a pay-per-month plan. We use Comviq, and each month we pay 95kr (about $10) for 200 minutes of talk within Sweden and a gig of data. Extra data can be purchased separately.
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
We have a cat and a dog and have had great luck with local vets and boarding. Swedes care for and respect animals, and it's reflected in local laws that limit leaving dogs alone at home for more than six hours. There is no quarantine.
Having a dog is the best way to meet Swedes, who generally keep to themselves and are difficult to get to know.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
Most EFMs do not work. The vast majority of local jobs require fluent Swedish, and there are very limited opportunities at the embassy. Best to telecommute if you can bring work with you.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
None, really. This society does a fairly good job of providing for its at-risk and underserved community.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Swedes are very stylish. Think: skinny jeans (for men and women), blazer and tie (men), and expensive shoes. There is one formal occasion (Marine Ball) hosted by the embassy each year.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Local medical care is excellent, though different from in America. My husband and I have both had procedures done here, and while the standard of care has been very good, doctors prescribe painkillers and antibiotics reluctantly. The embassy has contacts with an American doctor here who is more attuned to the needs and expectations of her American patients.
2. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
There is zero air pollution here. I've never breathed better than I have in Sweden.
3. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Celiac sufferers rejoice! Swedes experience an unusually high prevalence of gluten sensitivity and lactose intolerance. I've never seen more alternative diet-friendly items in a grocery store. Additionally, pretty much all restaurants offer gluten-free, vegetarian, and lactose-free options.
4. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
The winter here is a real challenge for those of us who need sunlight. December is manageable, as the city lights up for Advent and Christmas. Once January rolls around, the lack of light becomes an issue. The embassy provides SAD lamps for every house, which helps, but it's a good idea to plan a trip in January or February to a sunny location.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Stockholm is definitely on the cooler end of possible overseas assignments. Summer months are lovely, with temperatures in the upper 70s(F). Winters can be cold, but thanks to Stockholm's location on the Baltic, it is never as cold as in other parts of the country.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
The embassy community is small, and smaller still if you don't have children. Morale varies family to family, but people tend to go through some version of the winter blues at some point. It's easy to feel isolated here, but with some effort, it's possible to find connection within the community.
2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Stockholm has a thriving nightlife, which singles take advantage of. Many people get together in small groups at home, as drinking and eating out a lot gets very expensive.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
This city can be great for everyone!
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Yes! Stockholm has an annual pride parade that draws people from across Scandinavia. The country is well known for its acceptance of people across the spectrum of sexuality/gender.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Sweden is really progressive when it comes to gender equality. Less so for ethnic differences. The recent surge of migration across its borders has strained the country in numerous ways. That said, Swedes aren't really religious themselves, and I think it's difficult for them to understand any kind of religious devotion, much less those that don't reflect their tolerance for women, LGBT, etc.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
We've traveled a lot since we arrived, including trips throughout Europe. We've been able to explore Sweden, as it's easy to get around via car, and the countryside is beautiful. Think: Scandinavian Vermont.
Christmas is a really lovely experience in Sweden. There's none of the garish commercialism that you find in the US. The focus here is on bringing light to the (literal) darkness, family, and food. St. Lucia Day concerts on December 13th are a beautiful start to the Christmas festivities.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
The museums in Stockholm are interesting and plentiful. The island of Djurgarden hosts a number of them, including Skansen (a must-visit Swedish version of Colonial Williamsburg) and the hilariously interactive ABBA museum. The parks throughout the city are beautiful and worthy of exploration.
The Stockholm Archipelago is definitely worth a visit (or ten). There are many islands which are doable via a day-trip.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Everyone leaves with a Dala Horse and at least one sheepskin.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Stockholm is a beautiful, magical city. The architecture is charming, and it's been a joy to explore. There are a lot of parks and nearby open space, so if you've got a need for nature, it's generally no more than a few blocks away.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
This is a place people want to visit! Our doors were always open to friends and family, which oftentimes kept us from exploring more of Scandinavia. If we had it to do over, we would have been a bit less hospitable in order to protect our own experience of Sweden. This bed and breakfast is closed.
One thing to note: Swedes leave Stockholm every July for the whole month to decamp to their summer homes. Much of the city shuts down, and it's a good time for you to plan a trip as well. The city also closes down the week between Christmas and New Year's Eve.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Absolutely! I love Stockholm, and I will miss it dearly when we leave.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Tropical clothing. Summer days are warm, but not hot.
4. But don't forget your:
Warm duds! Pack your snow pants, furs, and boots. Vitamin D for winter months is also useful.