Stockholm is a gorgeous, green and peaceful city. Made up of 14 islands and home to a quarter of the Swedish population, there is plenty to love about Stockholm. Of course, it isn't perfect, but if expats can find a way to bypass the pitfalls and rather focus on the perks, they will discover that the Swedish capital can be a wonderful new home. To prepare them, we've listed a few of the pros and cons of living in Stockholm.
Accommodation in Stockholm
It is likely that, regardless of where they've lived before, expats will find the standard of housing in Stockholm to be quite high as far as infrastructure and build quality go. The majority of housing in the inner city is comprised of average-sized apartment buildings, while the outer city limits and beyond will offer plenty of villas and attached homes.
+ PRO: Clean and updated
Homeowners and Swedes in general tend to take good care of the properties they own and live in. This means that whether renting or buying, expats will likely find most places to have updated amenities and all fixtures and services in great shape, especially in Stockholm, where remodelling seems to be a popular pastime. The associations that run and care for apartment buildings usually see to it that trash, laundry, repairs and other building services are in order and regularly serviced.
- CON: Expensive and limited options
Relative to other Western countries, the cost of accommodation, whether renting or buying, is undeniably exorbitant in Stockholm. Prices are much higher in the inner city, so looking at options even just a couple of subway stops further will make a difference.
The rental market is a real mess; even locals have a hard time finding lasting and affordable rentals in the city. It is not impossible, of course, but it does take some diligence and possibly some networking. In fact, young families will often buy an apartment in Stockholm because of the tricky rental situation.
Lifestyle in Stockholm
Stockholm is referred to by many as the Capital of Scandinavia. There is a great deal of culture, a mix of nightlife, and a variety of restaurants to be found, yet the city still retains a quaint and calm overall vibe.
+ PRO: Outdoor/active lifestyle
Stockholmers love the outdoors and fill the warmer months with barbecues, sporting events, visits to the countryside, and soaking up the limited sunshine. They may complain about the long winters, but it doesn’t mean they don’t know how to make the most of them. During those colder months, the Swedish often take long skiing weekends, hikes in the snow, and go ice skating or sledding. Winters in Stockholm are not too extreme, but there is usually quite a bit of snow, which makes for great skiing, boarding and other fun snow-based sports.
- CON: Long winters
Winters in Stockholm are long and quite dark. In December, daylight only lasts for about six hours. For the high latitude it sits at, however, the city has better weather than one would expect. There may be a longer time to wait for spring, but sunny snowy days are frequent in Stockholm, and it’s important for expats to learn to make the most of these if cold and darkness bother them.
+ PRO: Green city
Stockholm is one third water, and one third green space. This makes for an abundance of parks to picnic in during the summer and possibly sled through in the winter. There are smaller islands to explore and countless waterfront restaurants, cafés, bars and attractions to enjoy. The city is clean and not very crowded at all. It’s easy to enjoy nature right in the inner city, as well as find a quiet forest to hike through not more than 15 minutes from the centre of town.
- CON: Limited opening hours
Stockholm, despite being such a tourist destination, has limited opening hours when it comes to many shopping and service locations. It is common for stores to close at 5pm on Saturdays, and for some boutiques and stores to even be closed on Sundays.
Safety in Stockholm
+ PRO: Low crime rates
Stockholm is a very safe place with low levels of petty crime, and even lower levels of serious crime. It’s one of the safest capital cities in all of Europe.
- CON: Theft and fraud
Some of the fancier areas of Stockholm, such as Östermalm and nearby upscale suburbs, are targeted for burglary. Stockholm has very low rates of such crime compared to other international cities, as stated above, but it is still important to be aware of this. Also, rental fraud is not uncommon in Stockholm, so expats must be aware of this when they are looking online for housing.
Working and doing business in Stockholm
+ PRO: Work/life balance
Swedes generally have around five weeks of vacation a year, plus a generous number of public national holidays. This, combined with a family-oriented culture, contributes to a strong sense of work/life balance, even in the capital city. Even the more demanding and fast-paced industries will have fewer working hours per week compared to companies in many other Western and Asian cities.
- CON: Slow summers and holidays
Because Swedes take so much time off in the summertime and during winter holidays, expect processes such as job searches or applications, visa processing, business deals or projects, and more, will be delayed during July and August as well as December and January. Expats should plan around this, especially if conducting a job search in Stockholm, as locals nearly all flee the city during the summer.
Culture shock in Stockholm
Stockholm is a tolerant and worldly city and is welcoming to all kinds of people and cultures. The Scandinavian shyness is likely the biggest hurdle that an expat will have to deal with.
+ PRO: Non-hierarchical and equal society
Most of Stockholm's – and Sweden's – workplaces, organisations, political groups, and the like, are decidedly non-hierarchical. It’s important to Swedes that everyone from the secretary to the CEO has a voice and is treated equally. Upper management doesn’t tend to get a great deal more benefits than anyone else in a company. This may feel unusual to some expats, but it makes for a society where many are comfortable in their workplace and can approach anyone without much bureaucracy.
- CON: Reserved culture
It is common for expats to complain that Swedes are hard to get to know. Even Swedes who are not from Stockholm can stereotype the city as a place where people are less friendly than the rest of the country. It really comes down to the fact that Swedes tend to be reserved and private, especially in public and with those who they do not yet know. Expats need to understand this from the beginning and know that social circles tend to be tightly formed in the city, but it certainly doesn’t mean that it is impossible to make friends. It's also important not to mistake shyness for rudeness.
Expats must be diligent, patient and genuine with the Swedes who they meet, respect their space, and the locals will certainly warm to them before long. It’s important to get involved in local social, business and sports clubs in order to help this process along. Learning the language is a major factor in making friends in the country. Stockholmers respond well to expats who are friendly, open and interested in them, but who don’t come across as too loud or opinionated.
Cost of living in Stockholm
+ PRO: Affordable cultural and leisure options
Culture is a highly valued part of Stockholm’s city budget, and locals are keen on putting together entertainment at a low cost – many museums and exhibits around town have little to no entry fees. It is relatively cheap to take the boats around the different islands of the city in the summer, as well as to rent bicycles. In the warmer months, parks often have free concerts and shows.
- CON: High cost of living
Generally, most other things in Stockholm, from housing to clothing, petrol to public transport, alcohol to movie tickets, are quite expensive. Expats should prepare to adjust their lifestyle accordingly.
Education and schools in Stockholm
+ PRO: Great bilingual schools
High-quality bilingual schools and other types of international schools are relatively common in Stockholm and nearby suburbs, especially compared to the rest of the country.
- CON: Strict homeschooling laws
Homeschooling in Sweden is heavily regulated and generally only allowed in rare and specific circumstances. This may be an issue for some expats.
+ PRO: Esteemed high schools and universities
The public high schools, colleges and universities located in Stockholm are some of the best the country, and Scandinavia, have to offer. Stockholm has a high number of students and is a vibrant place to study.
Healthcare in Stockholm
PRO: Accessible health insurance
Most expats will be covered by good health insurance, whether they are a student or have a residence visa through a job or a relationship. Visits and checkups will have a fee but these are usually quite low. Prescriptions are easy to pick up at any pharmacy and are usually quite affordable too.
- CON: Language and opening hours
Navigating the system, like many administrative scenarios in Stockholm, can cost some patience if expats don’t yet speak Swedish. Most healthcare documents and paperwork are in Swedish only, as well as the menus spoken over healthcare phone lines. Hours of operation for various types of clinics may be more limited than some expats are used to, like many services in Stockholm.