Grattis! You’ve finally found the sometimes-elusive expat job in Sweden. You’ve called your mum and uncorked the champagne – but now what?
Swedish work culture can take you off guard if you’re not prepared. Here’s a checklist to make sure you’re ready for what lies ahead….
1. Join a union
In some places in the world union is akin to a dirty word. Not so here. In fact, some Swedes might raise an eyebrow if you’re not in a union.
Yes, a union. There are many. There’s a union for civil economics, for physical therapists, for lawyers, for architects, for dentists, for veterinarians…you get the idea. Check out this list for more.
It’s certainly not a requirement to join a union, and you don’t have to, but there are many perks to being a member.
Not only will they back you up if there’s a conflict at work and give you advice on things like salary discussions, but many unions also have some sort of scholarship or stipend for members to take ”competence development” (kompetensutveckling) classes. Depending on your union that could be anything from learning French to an industry conference to a social media intensive course.
2. Join a-kassa
Congrats, you now have a salary. But what happens if you should lose it?
No one likes to think in those terms, but it’s good to be prepared – especially given that different types of temporary jobs are common in Sweden.
So join an arbetslöshetskassa. (Long name, we know – it’s affectionately dubbed a-kassa for short.)
Being in an unemployment insurance fund means you can get up to 80 percent of your salary if you become unemployed. That includes if you decide to switch careers and end up in between jobs for a while.
Sometimes banks and other institutions also require you to be in an a-kassa before they grant you a loan, for instance for a mortgage.
Again, there are multiple a-kassas to choose from – but one of the largest, and most affordable, is Akademikernas a-kassa, which is open to anyone with a Bachelor’s degree and working in Sweden.
You take it for granted that you insure your house and your car – why wouldn’t you insure your salary which pays for it all? Check out 7 reasons to join here or click here for more information.
3. Brace yourself for taxes
You’ve heard it said: Sweden has some of the highest tax rates in the world.
This is both true and false. Actually the rates are quite reasonable, and comparable to many other places in the world.
But it’s true that about 30 percent of your paycheck might magically ‘disappear’ each month.
However, the real magic is what you get in return. Free education (as long as you have a residence permit in Sweden, for the main purpose of something other than studies), almost-free healthcare and prescriptions, remarkably clean streets, paid vacation….In short, it’s worth.
Still, knowledge is power – so be prepared and plan the tax rates into your budget, don’t expect to get your full salary in your account each month or you’ll be disappointed!
4. Go on a diet to prepare for fika!
Another thing to prepare is your waistline and your bathroom scale….
Ok, we’re kidding. Sort of. We’re not actually recommending you go on a diet before starting work in Sweden.
Swedish work culture is all about balance. That means breaks are an important part of work life. In fact, it’s Swedish law (arbetstidslagen) that employees have to be able to take a break every five hours.
At many work places that break consists of fika – coffee and pastries. Cinnamon buns, cardamom buns, Danishes, cookies, biscuits, and more! And it is somewhat socially unacceptable not to partake. So be a Swede, have a Swedish fika, socialize with your colleagues, and enjoy those flakey pastries. But, well, if you want to maintain your weight, maybe start jogging to the office each day…
5. Plan your (very long) vacation months in advance
Hooray, you have a job! Now it’s time to start planning when you’re not going to work.
It might sound counterintuitive, but one of the most important parts of Swedish work culture is the time you take off. Everyone working in Sweden is entitled to 25 days of paid vacation each year, and some companies offer even more than that.
It’s also encouraged to not spread it out too much but to rather take a long period off – even a month at a time in the summer.
But obviously Swedish companies have to plan around that, and hire temporary cover during that period – so make sure to notify your boss well in advance of when you’re planning your Swedish holidays.
Oh, and be prepared to get even more in your bank account than you expected – not only is vacation paid, you get an extra amount (semestertillägg) to make sure you have the money to do something fun on your holidays!
6. Learn about types of leave
Speaking of not working, there are plenty of other reasons you might be gone from work.
You’ve probably heard about Sweden’s outstanding parental leave. But did you know you can also get leave for studying? In the public sector you can even get leave for trying out a new job….check out the details about this and other types of leave here.
7. Beware long notice periods
On that note, if you do end up looking for a new job or receive another offer, double-check your contract to see how much notice (uppsägningstid) you have to give.
Americans might be used to giving something like two weeks’ notice, and may be shocked to discover their contract in Sweden might require three months. Anything from one to three months falls in the ”normal” range – so check that out before you tell a new job when you can start!
8. Do your taxes (on your phone)
Finally, with all these perks and all those taxes comes one final duty: to file your Swedish taxes, of course.
Luckily, in Sweden it’s easy! Many Swedes just send a text and voila, they’re done. You can also do it online or via the tax authority’s app.