Stockholm, Sweden Report of what it's like to live there - 08/18/08

Personal Experiences from Stockholm, Sweden

Stockholm, Sweden 08/18/08

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

Have served at several other foreign posts.

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2. How long have you lived here?

A few years.

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3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

U.S. Government.

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4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

9 hours direct flights or transfer through mainland Europe.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Housing is divided into two main types: apartments downtown and houses in the suburbs. Apartments have advantages of walking to work and near all the action, but can be noisy all year, hot in the summer and small. Suburbs of course require longer commute and house maintenance. Some houses have had pest problems. GOPs are often in poor condition.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Here's the catch to Stockholm:it's expensive. And I mean EXPENSIVE.Prices can shoot you straight into depression. The grocery stores have everything you need, but most people heavily rely on Commissary orders (organized about 2x/yr) and mail order grocery stores as much as possible.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Anything you can carry. Especially high price items such as clothing, electronics, winter gear, sporting gear, shoes, boots, car parts and oil, liquor of any kind. Don't plan on making any major puchases locally (underscore this!).Order it off the internet or do without.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Plenty of decent restaurants and tons of sushi bars. For American food we have McDonalds, Burger King, Hard Rock Cafe, TGIFridays, Pizza Hut, Subway.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

Swedish mail is fast but expensive. US$2 to mail a letter to the States or EU.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Ha ha ha!! Maids run about US$12/hr and are not very good. You can bring one in with you - this is very expensive and a difficult procedure.

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3. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

MC, Visa, Am EX. and plenty safe ATMs

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4. What English-language religious services are available locally?

All available but limited in scope.

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5. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

Cable TV broadcasts plenty of US/Brit programs in english with swedish subtitles: costs about $60/month. SKY satellite from Britain can be obtained to, at greater expense. International Herald Tribune available for about $3/day.

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6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

None. I have never seen so many english-speaking foreigners in my life. You'd think you were in the states sometimes. Just ask in English- they will understand you perfectly, from the bus driver to the grocery clerk to the car mechanic.

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7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Little. The sidewalks are well maintained and there are elevators in all the subway stations. Handicapped people are often out and about in the city.

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Transportation:

1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?

Right.

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2. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Public transportation is wide spread but expensive - about $3.00 one way for bus or subway using multijourney passes. The subway is limited in scope and most people must rely on buses for at least part of their journey - buses are slow and often full so they don't always stop for you. It's not fun to stand outside in the cold, dark winter waiting for the bus.

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3. 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?

Any car is fine, but you will need snow or studded tires required by law from 1 Nov to 31 March. Owning a car is expensive here - you must pay for registration, yearly inspection, license plates and other car-related costs that are usually waived at other posts. Not to mention the cost of gas - currently about $9.00/galloon. You will get some of that cost back in the form of tax refund, but it is still very pricey. Oil changes at the dealer can run US$300; at the local mechanic US$75. Parking costs a lot, too, and it at a premium. Traffic downtown can be a gridlock nightmare. Ride your bike!

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes. About US$80/month.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Embassy will issue one for employees. Spouses have a variety of options from a variety of suppliers. All pricey.

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3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?

Skype.

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Pets:

1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

Plentiful. Doggie daycares abound but there can be long wait lists. Expensive. Very dog friendly society.

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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 spouses are able to find some sort of job in the Embassy, usually part time. Parents with children under school age tend to stay home due to lack of childcare.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Natty. Look casual but smart in public. Ties and suits at the office.

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

Excellent. Clean, fresh air everywhere you go.

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2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Little. Usual petty crime; no car jackings or muggings. Parked car break-ins and rare home break ins.

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3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Health care in general is not as good as you would hope. Dental care is fine, and many people have babies while at post and by all accounts the care is good. Seasonal allergies are terrible.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Sunny and warm but not hot in the summer. No night. Damp and cloudy fall. Mild winter temps with snow. Dark Nov-Feb.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

Employees are split between a few schools, mainly the Post school, SIS; the British School (BIPSS); Sigtuna boarding school for grades 9 and up. A few families use Swedish schools. SIS is planning to move to a new, bigger facility in the next few years. SIS offers IB program for HS kids and IPC for K-8.Classes are small. Some facilities, such as school playground, are poor but teachers are generally quite good and conscientious. BIPSS runs preschool-Grade 5 and is on a British curriculum and mentality. It is a very small school with limited facilities, etc, but nice playground. Sigtuna is approximately 45 minutes from town and is quite good academically, but is lax on drinking and drugs. Teens should be ready to make mature choices. There are wait lists for all schools.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

Schools will work with you on this.

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

Unless you are an EU national, local daycare will be unaccessible. Several bilingual Montessori preschools plus SIS and BIPSS offer preschools.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Huge. Endless. Lots of Americans married to Swedes. Lots of Eriksson and Citibank expats. Almost every Swede has a relative in the US.

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2. Morale among expats:

At the Embassy, morale is not as good as you would expect. Morale among other expats is much higher.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

Whatever you want it to be. Not too many work events. Most are happy hours.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Yes. Stockholm is a modern, clean, safe city. It offers plenty of restaurants, nightclubs, concert and sporting events, museums, everything you would expect from a first rate city. It has tons of marathons. If you are the athletic and outdoorsy type, you will be very happy and busy here. Swedes place a high priority on physical fitness. They all seem to be extremely skinny and buff.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Yes. They have an annual Gay Pride event each summer and in general are extremely tolerant.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Swedes don't go to church and shun organized religion. They think evangalists are nutters. This is an extremely egalitarian society in reference to gender. Men and women are seen as equal in all things: work, home, and children related.

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7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Endless. All the big city things, plus tons of recreational activities only 15 minutes from downtown: boating, ice skating, sailing, hiking, riding, skiing (mainly cross country), running marathons, camping galore, dog sledding and caribou sledding up north, hunting moose in season, fishing, fishing, fishing. There is also nice shopping, movie theatres, bowling alleys, etc etc etc!! Can you think of it -- they have it here.

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8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Dala horses, crystal, candle holders.

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9. Can you save money?

Difficult, but can be done. Dining out and bar hopping will wipe out your bank account.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Yes. You can live well and without the daily fear of getting your head blown off. You can drink the water. There is english TV.Drivers follow the traffic laws. What more could you ask for?

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Convertible.

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3. But don't forget your:

Furniture. This is an unfurnished post. You'll need a room fan for the summer. Bring all the winter/summer sports gear you can think of. Bring hair clippers! Men's haircuts start at US$35.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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7. Do you have any other comments?

A terrific post with only two major drawbacks: the expense and the faultering morale at work.

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