Stockholm, Sweden Report of what it's like to live there - 09/26/20
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 is our sixth overseas assignment. We've also been posted to Lagos, Moscow, Lisbon, Mexico City, and New Delhi.
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?
Washington, DC is home. Takes two hours to get to Germany, then another seven-eight to get to Dulles. Can also connect through London; total time is around the same. Layovers are two to four hours. Lots of airline options (United, American, Lufthansa, SAS, British Air, etc).
3. How long have you lived here?
Three years (wrapping up a four year tour).
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Diplomatic Mission (US).
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Amazing. Housing here is very nice all around. Couples, singles, and some families live in downtown Stockholm in apartments, which are smaller and may lack convenient parking, but downtown Stockholm is awesome. You can walk to endless shops, cafes, restaurants, and parks and public transport is clean, efficient, and takes you everywhere. Families tend to live on the island of Lidingo (where we live), in stand-alone homes with yards. Our house has a view of the Baltic and is walking distance to endless trails, a grocery store, and a metro stop (on the island, which takes you into the city in about 30 minutes). Houses on the island are larger than downtown apartments and have storage space and garages, but of course require a longer commute to get to the Embassy. It's a tradeoff but I don't think there is an obvious better choice between downtown apartments and island homes, it just depends on preference.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
You can get everything here, but it's maybe 20-30% more expensive, on average. Not as terrible as we'd heard before coming here, but I do notice that things seem cheaper whenever I travel back to the States. That said, the produce seems fresher, more organic, and all around more healthy here. Swedes take pride in locally sourced goods and they are very health-conscious, which is good.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
We tend to order Tide pods, bounce sheets, maple syrup, favorite deodorant, and random stuff on Amazon . You can find local/European replacements or brands for all of that locally without difficulty. Chocolate chips, too.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Anything/everything. Stockholm has become a gourmet city with Michelin-rated restaurants, lots of delivery options, and ethnic cuisine of all types in abundance. The exception is a good burrito joint. Chipotle could make a killing here.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Embassy has dip pouch and DPO. Pouch takes around three weeks, DPO in non-pandemic times takes around half that time.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
You can get house help for around US $40/hour over-the-table. No idea about under-the-table options, though I'm sure they are out there. This is a first-world country with a high standard of living so you pay the price to get house help.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Embassy has a sad, dank basement gym with no windows. Local gym chains are abundant. SATS is the most popular with locations throughout the city and on the island of Lidingo. It is modern, big, well equipped and even the Marines use it. They offer an Embassy discount. I think we pay something like US $30/month, so a buck a day. Not bad.
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?
Yes, Sweden is a cashless country. I haven't had cash in my wallet for two years. Use debit/credit cards, SWISH on your phone (like Venmo), Apple Pay, anything other than cash. Often, if you try to pay with cash in a store or restaurant, they will look at you in disgust and inform you that they don't accept cash. It's strange to go back to the States now and shove paper bills and coins into my wallet and pockets. Cashless is the future! You'll get a good glimpse of it here. Works seamlessly, for the most part, and once you get SWISH on your phone, you don't even need your wallet to go out. Even taxis take it. The metro system uses an app. Your phone becomes key to everything.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There's an English church across the street from the Embassy that is popular with expats.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
I'd say none. Swedes speak English fluently except for little kids. I was not given language training before coming here and it has only been a hinderance with websites and phone messages that aren't translated. For in-person interactions, I've never had a problem in any situation just using English.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
No, Sweden is an accessible city.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Yes and all are safe, convenient, and reliable. The metro system is pricey though. You pay $3 to get on the system and can use it as much as you want for about an hour and a half. The you have to pay again. So if you are cruising around the metro for an hour and half, three bucks is a good deal. If you somewhere, then hang out a couple of hours and head somewhere else, then hang out for a couple of hours and head home, that will cost you $9. It adds up fast.
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?
Volvo SUV or any reliable AWD for the winter. And you must bring or buy winter tires. Volvos are everywhere since they are Swedish, so very easy and reasonably priced to service and repair. Other European models would also be fine. The winters in Stockholm can be mild, but you'll still have some days with ice/snow. The law requires that all cars switch to winter tires in November and back to summer tires in March. AWD SUVs are great for road-tripping. Roads here are excellent.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes - embassy helps you get setup. Connections are fast and not too expensive. Most homes are connected with fiber-optics. I think we are getting over 100mbs speeds so we stream everything.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
If you bring an unlocked phone you'll have your choice of service providers. Sweden is now rolling out 5G thanks to Ericsson. Costs per month are reasonable/comparable with US. You can also get pre-paid SIMs if you prefer.
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?
Not much available on the local market, though one spouse is teaching at a Stockholm University. The Embassy has two Community Liaison Office (CLO) Coordinators, and a good seasonal hire program for kids.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Not sure, but there are NGOs here and other groups that would likely welcome volunteers.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business attire in the Embassy. Swedes tend to dress smart business casual (slacks, jacket, no tie). Women are fashionable.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
This is a very safe post. No concerns out of the ordinary.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Good local medical options. I've seen Swedish doctors, dentists and physical therapists - all are good. Their bedside manner is more direct and clinical (no warm and fuzzies), but they are competent and the facilities are modern and clean and reliable.
3. 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?
Amazing air quality year round. Blue skies, picture perfect sunrises and sunsets, postcard-worthy forests and islands and waterways. This city is beautiful year round.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Pollen in the spring with birch trees and grass can be bad.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
SAD can be an issue during winter months. Embassy issues families and offices SAD lamps, which I use just because I like the bright light. Also, Swedes are not the friendliest lot, so it can be tough to make local friends. Social scene can be a bit isolating. Swedes are also very independent people, in general.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Beautiful in all seasons. Springs that are mild and colorful, summers that are beautiful for any type of activity, falls that rival New England's, and real winters with white Christmases. Love it all!
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
SIS (IB program) and BISS (British curriculum) are the two most popular. Our kids went to SIS and though the IB program is grueling and extremely difficult, they learn a lot and are well-prepared for college. Both schools are small but student bodies are friendly. Teacher quality is good overall. I've seen better, but I've seen worse.
2. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Neither of the schools have good sports facilities. Lots of kids find sports opportunities locally. Our kids ended up joining a local/municipal tennis team. The Swedish kids and instructor all spoke English so just switched to English when our kids showed up, which was nice. There are fields everywhere in Stockholm to soccer or other games. Running can be done everywhere on beautiful trails through woods and around lakes. Water sports (kayaking, SUP) are also good options in the summer.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Morale is fine. Lack of coordinated social scene makes it tough to find your friend group, but overall there is enough to do in and around town that people find their groove. It's a medium-sized embassy, so folks do hang out after hours but not a ton.
2. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Better for couples and families, I think. I've heard single women, in particular, have had a rougher time socializing unless they are into clubbing and hanging with the young, hip crowd.
3. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Yes, it's a very tolerant city in that regard.
4. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Stockholm is a pretty homogenous and white city. That said, I've never felt racial tension here. There are pockets of immigrant communities that are not well integrated and, like elsewhere in Europe, the right wing conservative parties that are anti-immigrant have gained ground in recent years, but overall prejudices are relatively low. Gender equality is big throughout Sweden.
5. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Every weekend feels like a vacation. We have trails out our door for running around lakes or by the Baltic. We SUP and kayak in the summer. We mountain bike in forests nearby. We travel for weekend escapes to quaint towns and eat in gourmet restaurants everywhere. There are world class museums, opera houses, theaters, concerts, and film festivals. Trips into the archipelago to explore the islands are amazing. You can camp, hike, or travel up north to see the Northern lights. Skiing on the border with Norway is excellent. Ferries to Estonia, Finland, Latvia make for easy weekend escapes. The midnight sun in the summer means hours and hours to be outdoors and enjoying get togethers. It's all wonderful.
6. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
It's clean, modern, well run, safe, and beautiful. Best combination.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
I'd retire here if I could.
2. Do you have any other comments?
Incredibly, there are people who come here and don't like it. One person complained to me about the pizza crust in Stockholm being worse than the crust in the US. Others don't like winter or aren't fans of hiking/biking, being in the outdoors. Still others were disappointed that this isn't a "promotable" post. If you are cut from that cloth then don't come here, it's not for you.