Currently Browsing: Sweden

Buying an apartment in Stockholm

Geoff and I just bought an apartment in Stockholm, and there are definitely some differences in the process from what you might have experienced buying property in other countries.

Here are the steps we have gone through:

1. Visit hemnet. Hemnet is the place where all of the properties in the Kingdom of Sweden is listed. You simply put in the specifications:

The area you are interested in searching in. For example: Södermalm or Östermalm.

Avgift: Avgift is basically like rent – you pay this price every month when you live in an apartment building. Newer buildings tend to have higher avgift than older ones. These tend to range from around 2000 SEK a month to 4500 SEK, but I did see one as high as 8,000 SEK. Often this covers water and heating. Sometimes also internet and cable TV. The property description will tell you what’s included and isn’t.

Pris: Your minimum and maximum price amount for the property.

Rum: How many rooms you are looking for. Keep in mind the living room is considered a room, so if you want 2 bedrooms and a living room you’ll need a 3 room apartment. Some are listed at 2.5 room apartments – this is either a tiny little bedroom for a child, or a bit of extra space in a room that could fit a desk.

Boarea: The minimum amount of square meters.

Bostadstyp: If you are looking for a house, apartment, etc.

2. View the property. Once you find a property you like, you’ll want to go along to see it. You normally find the viewing times located on the righthand side of the page (visningar). Many of the real-estate companies also have a handy SMS reminder service where you can type in your phone number and they will text you a few hours before the viewing to remind you of the details.

Once you get there you remove your shoes (and try to somehow manoeuvre yourself though the field of shoes) and then are met at the door by a real-estate agent and they will take down your details and give you a brochure of the apartment. You then join 40 other people in squeezing around a 65 square meter apartment.

3. Bidding. Within a day or two, the real estate agent will give you a ring to ask if you are interested. If you are you will be subscribed to a handy SMS update list where any bids that come in for the property are SMSed to your phone. A month or two ago my phone went insane as I was bidding for one apartment and had another as backup (neither of which we ended up buying). If you want to bid you can send a text message (!!!!) to the agent with your bid, or you can call or email it in. Initially I decided the call option seemed like the best idea, as the thought of texting in a bid seemed utterly bizarre to me – but 3 apartments in I started texting away – also receiving an encouraging text from the agent praising me for figuring out the Swedish bidding process (?!).

Biding can also be tracked online if you look up the property listing.

The bidding can go on for days – For some apartments the bidding went of for 4 or 5 days – the one we ended up buying was an almost 2 week process. I asked the agent if there was a cut off point or if bidding goes on, gladiator style, until the last man standing, and he said they do tend to start pressuring you after a certain number of days to wind down the bidding.

Also on the topic of bidding – like everywhere else in the world there are very obviously techniques here to try and encourage the prices to go through the roof. One that I’ve noticed is when you are initially called by the agent to ask if you are interested they sometimes try and pressure you into making a bid there and then. One woman informed me that I was one of 60 people she would be calling (oh my god!!!! the competition!!!!!) and that if I was keen I should put in an arbitrary bid of 5,000 SEK or so. I am sure 60+ people were at the viewing, but I am also quite aware that many of them probably lived in the area and wanted to see what a similar property sold for, or were simply getting a feel for what is available for sale in the area. I’m very sure 60+ people were not bidding, and sure enough from what I saw, only 5 did in the end. I’m also quite sure the only bid I need to put in is the one that buys me the apartment, and that 5,000 SEK bids to ‘show my interest’ are both unnecessary and also, kind of dodgy. I decided that I didn’t really want to buy an apartment from her.

Because the bidding is fairly secretive – i.e. you don’t know if cousin Sven is texting in bids to push the price up, you also need to be fairly strict and keep to your budget – don’t allow the agent to keep pushing you up that little bit extra. I’ve read an example on a Swedish website where the bidding kept going up until the person reached their maximum amount and said that were out – the agent then said ‘Oh well the other bidder might drop out – let me call them’ – which makes it fairly obvious something fishy was happening. If this happens to you and the mysterious other bidder does drop out – and this could happen legitimately as well – then you can go back and negotiate the price downwards – don’t let them pressure you into agreeing to your maximum amount.

4. Best time to buy? The IMF recently warned of a Swedish housing bubble. I’m not a financial expert and can’t make an informed comment on this topic – but I can say that the prices in our area of Sweden are absolutely insane, and have increased significantly even from last year. I recently spoke to a real estate agent who informed me that buying straight after summer is the most expensive time of the year as there are few properties available, and many eager buyers. She told me that November is the best time of the year to buy in Stockholm in terms of value for money.

5. Signing the contract. After a long drawn out process it was time for us to sign the contract. We went to the real estate agency and met the couple that owned the apartment, signed a ridiculous number of documents and sorted out our payment.

6. Awaiting board approval. Here in Sweden apartment buildings have a sort of board that, among other things, needs to approve new tenants into the building. The real estate agent told us it’s more of a formality, but I do know at least one couple that had to go in for an interview before being approved.

7. Getting the keys. We had a very short settlement period – only 5 weeks as the people who owned the apartment we bought had already bought a house and wanted to move out quickly – this short time worked for us too as we are currently renting. We returned back to the real estate agent for the keys and once our final payment went though, the apartment was ours.

8. Renovations. From what I can tell, you can’t just renovate your apartment as you desire – in terms of tearing down walls. You’ll need to ask board approval for that. For fixing floors, painting and so on, we haven’t needed approval, but I have no idea if this is just our building, or all of Sweden.

Make sure if you hire a company to renovate for you that you ask for rot-avdrag. This gives you 50% off the work done – for some reason in Sweden renovations are tax deductible. I thought you’d need to claim it afterwards, but luckily found out that you ask first and the renovation company will claim it.

This might also be a good place to mention hiring a cleaner is also tax deductible here – it’s called rut.

We have to pay our avgift quarterly, but that’s it really. Once the renovations are over, we’ll move in and I’ll be very glad to not have to look at Hemnet for the foreseeable future!

Swedish Sunday: Swedishness – a video

This hilarious video on Swedishness was doing the rounds a few weeks ago. It’s got it all: equality (even for the Prime Minister), consensus, liberal attitudes to sex and religion and of course the famous paternity leave.

The Expressive Swedish Language

Now that I’m back in Sweden I thought I’d share a little snippet of the expressive Swedish language (why use a sentence when one word is enough!) that has been doing the rounds on Facebook for the last few days.

The last one – ‘Du’ literally ‘you’ (not even ‘hey you’) is something I’ve heard quite a bit here and remember the first time when I heard it looking a little strangely at the women who shouted it to her husband in a shop – if only I knew sooner that it was totally normal!

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I’ve no idea where this photo is from – but if you have seen the original source just comment below or email me and I’ll add it in!

Immigration Policy in Sweden: Part Two

This is a continuation of my previous article on the history of Swedish immigration and integration policy. 

Until 13 December 1989, Sweden had a more liberal policy approach to asylum applications than the rest of Europe and extended grounds for asylum to ‘de-facto refugees’ (Ålund & Schierup 1991 p.22). These were refugees that did not suffer a personal threat, but whose home country was dangerous and thus felt it was not safe for them to remain in those conditions. This liberal policy also extended to army deserters and pacifists (Nordin 2005).

After that date, Sweden began to accept refugees strictly under the principles of the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, otherwise known as the Geneva Convention. This move was in response to critics who felt the more liberal policy allowed those who were ‘not real refugees’ (Nordin 2005 p.42) to enter Sweden, and also in order to reduce the ever increasing number of asylum applications the nation received, and the economic and social pressures this resulted in.

Despite restrictions in asylum policy, in the 1990s over 100,000 Yugoslavs sought refuge in Sweden after the collapse of their nation (Migrations Verket 2009) and in 1994 alone, 83,598 refugees from around the word claimed asylum (The European Migration Network 2005). 1996 marked a period whereby the government sought to tighten long-term immigration by introducing measures in which refugees would be issued temporary residency permits, rather than permanent ones, with the intention of returning refugees to their home countries once it was safe to do so (Westin 1996).

In 1997 Swedish integration policy shifted to one that encouraged self-support and self-sufficiency by the immigrant and refugee population of Sweden and also resulted in the creation of a National Integration Office. This office was responsible for aiding integration in Sweden through the creation of programs to assist in the process as well as monitoring integration progress (Geddes 2003). This policy also sought to reduce xenophobia and discrimination in Sweden and create mutual respect for cultural differences, in part through municipality consultation with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that could assist in promoting integration and anti-discrimination measures. However, the municipalities displayed very limited interest in maintaining these NGOs, and even with government funding, they did not receive enough money to take any cases of discrimination to the courts.There are a number of larger independent NGOs in existence that assisted with the 1997 Integration Policy (Diakité 2006), but it is evident that by this time municipalities in Sweden were attempting to not comply with government policies and this integration policy was not as successful as it could have been.

A series of laws were passed in 1999 to ban direct or indirect discrimination of immigrants and refugees (Geddes 2003), however ‘… actual developments since the beginning of the 1990s suggests that Sweden is moving closer to the exclusiveness, selectivity and increasing brutality of fortress Europe’ (Ålund & Schierup 1991 p.8). This tightening of immigration and asylum policy coincided with Sweden’s entry into the European Union (EU) in 1995.

However, with the enlargement of the EU in 2004 to include ten new countries, Sweden was one of only three EU member states to allow the citizens of the new member states the right to work without first requesting a permit (Westin 2006). In 1996 Sweden signed the Schengen agreement, allowing the free movement of people between the other states who are party to the agreement.

Sweden continues to accept refugees from all over the world, and in per capita terms, is amongst the highest asylum-receiving nations in Europe. For the past 15 years, refugee migration and family reunification has amounted to between 60 and 80 percent of total migration to Sweden (Lemaître 2007) – although this number had fallen to 31 % by 2011. An important development in family reunification for parents and children occured on the 18th of January 2012 – The Migration Court of Appeal ruled that if family connection could not be proved due to lack of official documentation that DNA testing could be used instead.

In 2011, 29,670 Asylum Seekers came to Sweden – a decrease of 7% from 2010. Of this number, 2,657 were unaccompanied children, mostly from Somalia and Afghanistan (The European Migration Network 2011) – this is a substantial increase from 2005 where the number was 398 (Riksdagen). Currently, Municipalities can accept unaccompanied children on a voluntary basis and as such, there has been a shortage in placements for this group of asylum seekers. There has been debate in Sweden regarding whether or not Municipalities should be legally required to offer places for unaccompanied children (The European Migration Network 2011), and this remains unresolved to date.

In 2012, Sweden’s municipalities are responsible for assisting refugees with integration and receive a government grant per refugee – they offer Swedish for Immigrants classes (SFI), and contacts with job seeking services, schools and child care facilities – all of which are intended to allow refugees to enter the work force as quickly as possible. On December the 1st 2010 reforms were implemented to increase the speed of integration – this has been met with some challenges such as lack of housing in areas where work is available. Other attempts have been made to increase participation in the work force such as Step-in-jobs, which basically means that the government will pay a grant to cover up to 80% of the position in an attempt to encourage Swedish companies to hire more people of foreign background (participants are required to attend SFI at the same time). There also appears to be attempts to encourage a greater level of immigrant entrepreneurship.

In 2007, the Swedish Integration Board was discontinued by the Alliance for Sweden coalition as the government felt it had not achieved its targets. The tasks undertaken by this board were transferred to other government agencies, including the new Ministry of Integration and Gender Equality. On the 1st of January 2011 the Ministry of Integration and Gender Equality was closed and integration issues were taken up by the Ministry of Employment. The current Minister of integration is Erik Ullenhag, who appears to have an open policy towards immigration and speaks of encouraging more openness within Europe.

Sweden is currently working together with other EU member states to create a Common European Asylum System (CEAS) (theoretically) by 2012, according to the 2009 Stockholm Programme (which is itself a result of the 2004 Hague Programme). It remains to be seen whether or not the 2012 deadline will be met given it is already nearing the end of December – that said, the Cypriot Presidency of the EU seems to have made some positive steps forward as recently as the 25th of October.

On the 15th of December 2008 legislation was passed to make it easier for Swedish companies to hire workers from outside of the EU/EEA. From the 15th of April 2010, Sweden implemented a rule in which proof must be given that adequate support exists before a family member can be brought over – in other words the person already resident in Sweden must be able to financially support as well as providing housing for the family member before a residency permit can be granted – this rule does not apply to refugees. There has also been some restriction regarding those coming to Sweden to pick berries with companies needing to provide transportation, accommodation, food and guarantee salary even when berry harvests are low (The European Migration Network 2011) – this is in response to exploitation of these workers in the past, although how effective this has been is debatable as there have been plenty of reports in 2012 showing that this is still continuing.

On a related note, the introduction of tuition fees for University in autumn 2011 for students from outside of the EU/EEA/Switzerland saw a reduction of 79% in the number of foreign students enrolling at Swedish tertiary institutions (Högskoleverket). Since this initial drop in applications from students outside of the EU, applications from this group have risen by around 20% in 2012, but it will be interesting to see what percentage of this number actually transfers to enrolment.

Want to read more? Here are my references:

Diakité, A M 2006, ‘The Policy and Strategies Used in the Integration of Immigrants in Sweden’, The English International Association of Lund, Briefing Paper No. 2006:20

Geddes, A 2003, The Politics of Migration and Immigration in Europe, Sage Publications, London.

The European Migration Network, ‘Annual Policy Report 2007 – Sweden’ & ‘Annual Policy Report 2011 – Sweden’ – these are brilliant resources for those who want to know more about this topic.

Lemaître, G 2007, ‘The Integrations of Immigrants into the Labour Market: The Case of Sweden’, OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers, No. 48.

Mahama, T 2006, ‘Multiculturalism and Policymaking. A Comparative Study of Danish and Swedish Cultural Policies since 1969’, Masters Thesis, Dalarna University College, Sweden.

Malm, T 2005, ‘The Impact of Immigration on Europe’s Societies: Sweden’, The European Migration Network.

Migrations Verket, ‘History of The Swedish Migration,’ The Swedish Migration Board.

Riksdagen – The Swedish Government website.

Westin, C, 2006, ‘Sweden: Restrictive Immigration Policy and Multiculturalism’, Centre for Research in International Migration and Ethnic Relations, Stockholm University.

Ålund, A & Schierup C 1991, Paradoxes of Multiculturalism – Essays on Swedish Society, Avebury, Aldershot.

Other sources are linked to in the above article.

Immigration Policy in Sweden: Part One

For those of you who are interested to learn more about Swedish immigration and integration policy, I’ve written a two part summary from WWII onwards – here is part one.


From 1850 to 1930 Sweden was largely a nation of emigration, with over 1.3 million Swedish citizens emigrating to the United States of America, Australia and Canada (Migrations Verket 2009). This trend was to change with the outbreak of World War II and Sweden’s ability to remain, at least officially, neutral. This neutrality shifted Sweden from being a nation of emigration to one of immigration as a result of accepting refugees from neighbouring countries during 1938 to 1948, including 30,000 Nazi concentration camp survivors (Westin 2006).

Immigration to Sweden continued to grow substantially from 1948 to 1971 as a result of labour immigration. This too was as a result of Sweden’s neutrality during the World War II. While most of Europe’s devastated industries were recovering, Sweden’s infrastructure remained intact and the nations’ export industry was experiencing growth (Westin 1996). At this time, Sweden had a free immigration policy regarding labour immigration and during this period 550,000 Finns, 60,000 Yugoslavs and 20,000 Greeks moved to Sweden for labour employment purposes (Westin 2006).

In 1951 an agreement was reached allowing Nordic citizens the right to live and work within any of the other Nordic nations, ensuring a supply of labour from Norway, Denmark, Finland and Iceland. Sweden did not have an official integration policy during the 1950s and early 1960s, with labour immigrants expected to integrate themselves into Swedish society. As there was a plethora of available jobs and opportunities, this did not constitute a problem at the time (Westin 2006).


While no formal policy was implemented during this period, that is not to say Sweden ignored immigration policy altogether. Rather, Sweden made the decision at the end of the 1960s that immigrants should be considered permanent residents and that immigration policy was to ensure that these immigrants be on equal terms to native Swedes (Hammar 1985). This consideration of immigrants as potential citizens was in stark contrast to the German Federal Republic and a number of other European countries at the time who implemented guest worker policies.

During this time the government also worked closely with the powerful Swedish Trade Union Confederation (LO) in order to ensure that foreign labourers were paid the same as Swedes in order to prevent cheap labour importation from other parts of Europe. In 1968 the Swedish Trade Union Confederation was able to influence the Swedish Social Democratic Party to implement more restrictive immigration policies that required non-Nordic citizens to obtain work permits before they arrived in Sweden (Malm 2005). This effectively reduced the amount of non-Nordic foreign labour entering Sweden (Migrationsverket) from this point onwards.

In 1968 the government established the Swedish Immigration Board which was created to regulate migration and was responsible for the integration of immigrants and refugees (Geddes 2003).

In 1975, an immigration policy was implemented which focused on multiculturalism as an important element in Swedish society and was based on the principles of equality, freedom of choice and partnership. ‘Equality’ represented the intent to give immigrants the same standards of living as the rest of Swedish society and ‘freedom of choice’ represented initiatives by the government to ensure that immigrants of ethnic and linguistic minority groups would be given a genuine choice between retaining their cultural identity or taking on a Swedish cultural identity. Lastly ‘partnership’ represented the mutual benefits of immigrant and minority groups working together with the native population (Ålund & Schierup 1991).

This policy also allowed foreign citizens the right to vote in local elections, but not national elections (Ålund & Schierup 1991). Rather Sweden introduced dual citizenship in order to allow previously non-Swedish citizens the ability to vote in national parliamentary elections (Westin 1996). Equality, freedom of choice and partnership allowed immigrants the ability to access the welfare state benefits while at the same time maintaining their cultural identities (Ålund & Schierup 1991 p.3). This multicultural policy also intended to prevent the occurrence of ethnic conflicts and the formation of segregated immigrant communities within Sweden. This policy was considered proof that Sweden was becoming a multicultural society (Westin 1996).

The 1975 immigration policy was primarily aimed at the integration needs of southern European labour migrants. However by the time this policy had been passed, the majority of immigrants to Sweden were not labour migrants. This was as a result of the 1973 oil crisis which reduced the need for the recruitment of foreign labour to Sweden as unemployment levels rose and immigrants were not able to find jobs as easily as native Swedes (Geddes 2003). Rather, refugees from developing countries became an increasingly large group within Sweden from the 1970s onwards, and consequently family reunification increased measurably as well. This resulted in organisational problems in Sweden due to lack of qualified translators and language teachers (Geddes 2003).

During the 1980s asylum seekers arrived in Sweden from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Somalia, Kosovo and a number of Eastern European nations with numbers reaching upwards of 20,000 to 30,000 a year (Lemaître 2007). After 1985 Swedish immigration policy began to shift away from a multicultural focus to one that was based around Swedish language learning and culture.

For those of you would would like to read about this is more details, I’ve included my references:

Geddes, A 2003, The Politics of Migration and Immigration in Europe, Sage Publications, London.

Lemaître, G 2007, ‘The Integrations of Immigrants into the Labour Market: The Case of Sweden’, OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers, No. 48.

Malm, T 2005, ‘The Impact of Immigration on Europe’s Societies: Sweden’, The European Migration Network.

Migrations Verket, ‘History of The Swedish Migration,’ The Swedish Migration Board.

Westin, C, 2006, ‘Sweden: Restrictive Immigration Policy and Multiculturalism’, Centre for Research in International Migration and Ethnic Relations, Stockholm University.

Ålund, A & Schierup C 1991, Paradoxes of Multiculturalism – Essays on Swedish Society, Avebury, Aldershot.

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