Working in Sweden
UK students and graduates may find good work experience and job opportunities in Sweden’s thriving tech and manufacturing businesses, and will be attracted to the country’s high standards of living.
There are good prospects for engineers and specialists in IT, construction and healthcare.
This article was last updated before the Covid-19 pandemic and the end of the Brexit transition period in December 2020. It therefore does not reflect the restrictions to travel and changes to guidance brought about by the pandemic or the UK leaving the European Union. If you'd like to find out more, the foreign travel advice on GOV.UK includes information specific to every country.
The job market
Sweden offers one of the highest standards of living in the world, and combines a small, open and competitive economy with a well funded welfare state supported by relatively high levels of taxation. English is widely spoken, though having conversational Swedish is likely to be an advantage in the workplace. Job opportunities tend to be concentrated in the south, but there will also be vacancies in the more sparsely populated north and in the towns and cities scattered along the Baltic coast to the east. The Swedish economy is heavily reliant on foreign trade and its driving force is manufacturing. Engines and other machines, motor vehicles and telecommunications equipment are all key exports. Sweden is home to a number of innovative technology and communication businesses, including start-ups, and is also known for its strengths in design (IKEA furniture will be familiar to most UK-based job hunters) and its flourishing music scene. Although Sweden joined the EU (European Union) in 1995, it has remained outside the euro since the option of joining was rejected by the public in a 2003 referendum. It is not a member of NATO, and in recent history has pursued a policy of neutrality, including in both world wars. As a result Swedish statesmen have often been sought to fill major positions at the United Nations. Sweden has traditionally pursued a policy of being open to asylum seekers, and in the years from 2010 to 2016 the number of people seeking asylum in Sweden grew exponentially, reaching more than 160,000 in 2016. Many of these people were fleeing the Syrian civil war. Since then Sweden has introduced more stringent entry requirements.
Where can you work?
There are good prospects for engineers, construction workers and IT specialists as well as for healthcare specialists, including doctors and nurses. Timber, hydropower and iron ore are important natural resources in Sweden, and there are job opportunities in the related industries.
- IT and communications
- precision equipment such as bearings, radio and telephone parts and armaments
- motor vehicles
- home goods
- iron and steel
- wood pulp and paper products
- processed foods
There are numerous multinational companies headquartered in Sweden, including:
- Electrolux (manufactures household appliances such as fridges and washing machines)
- Ericsson (telecommunications)
- H&M (clothing retail)
- Ikea (furniture retail)
- Skanska (construction)
- Spotify (entertainment; music, podcast and video streaming)
- Volvo (vehicle manufacturing and marketing).
There are also opportunities for employment in the public sector.
Skills in demand: The Swedish Migration Agency and Public Employment Agency compile a lengthy official skills shortage list (this is only available in Swedish). It is routinely updated but engineering, construction and IT specialist roles are likely to feature, along with healthcare specialisms.
Language requirements: Swedish is the national language and is the first language of around nine tenths of the population. A number of national minority languages are also recognised, including Sami and Finnish.
English is widely spoken and some large companies use English as their corporate language. However, being proficient in Swedish will open doors when it comes to looking for work and will make it easier for you to build relationships with your colleagues.
Are UK qualifications recognised?
There is a structure in place for the recognition of UK qualifications. Sweden is a full member of the European higher education area and the Bologna process, so is part of the network that establishes the equivalence of higher education qualifications across Europe. You can find out more about this on the ERIC-NARIC website.
If you are a citizen of an EU or EEA country or have applied for a work permit, you can apply for an evaluation of your qualifications. You can find out more about this from the website of the Swedish Council for Higher Education, which evaluates foreign qualifications.
Teaching English as a foreign language in Sweden
There is demand for teachers of English in Sweden, but you’re likely to need a high level of qualifications and language ability to be eligible: for example, a degree, a suitable TEFL certificate and some proficiency in Swedish. There are opportunities to teach business people who wish to improve their English, and to teach in private schools.
You’ll need a suitable teaching qualification in order to teach in the public school system. You can apply to the National Agency for Education (Skolverket) for Swedish teacher certification.
What’s it like working in Sweden?
Trade unions are a well established part of employment in Sweden and play a significant role in determining pay and conditions. There is no law relating to the minimum wage in Sweden, as this is regulated by various collective agreements between trade unions and employers, which means that different sectors may have different minimum salaries.
- Average working hours: a standard working week should not exceed 40 hours. This is one of the lowest statutory maximum working weeks in the EU (the EU working time directive stipulates a maximum of 48 hours).
- Holidays: on average, Swedes have 33 days of annual leave, which is generous compared to the EU average (just above 25). It is not uncommon for Swedes to take long periods of holiday in the summer, even up to four consecutive weeks.
- Tax rates: Sweden operates a progressive taxation system, with lower tax rates for those who earn less. Generally speaking, income tax is relatively high. Local taxes range from around 29% to almost 35%, and there is also national income tax to pay, which kicks in at 20% if you are earning above around £37,000 and goes up to 25% if you earn more than around £57,000. In effect, the income tax rate can be as high as around 55%. You will need to pay income tax in Sweden after you have lived in the country for six months.
Don't forget to check your UK tax and National Insurance position with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) to ensure that you are not losing any UK pension rights.
Take a look at the TARGETjobs international vacancies page.
You might be able to find a job through the European Job Mobility Portal (EURES). Citizens of EU countries can make use of the ‘Your first EURES job’ programme, designed to boost European mobility, which is open to jobseekers aged 18 to 35 and aims to match employers who have vacancies that are hard to fill with skilled candidates from across Europe. You can find out more about EURES in Sweden and search for jobs on the website of the Swedish Public Employment Service.
You could explore Korta vägen, literally ‘the short cut’, an initiative run by the Swedish public employment agency to offer foreign academics a fast track to the Swedish employment market.
Newspapers with vacancies
Major newspapers (in Swedish) include:
CV, application and interview tips
When you are applying for a job in Sweden, think carefully about whether you need to submit your job application in Swedish. If the job advertisement does not specifically say that you can apply in English, an application in English may not be acceptable.
The format for job applications is broadly the same as in the UK. You need to research the company and match your skills to the requirements for the job. CVs are one to two pages long and include an overview of your work experience, studies, achievements and awards and special skills, as well as contact information.
The next stage of the recruitment process is likely to be an interview, which could take place via the phone or an online platform such as Skype if you are applying from abroad. There may then be further interviews or tests. At interview, you could be asked some questions that are not directly related to your working life. For example, you could be invited to talk about what you like to do in your spare time.
Work experience, internships and exchanges
Sweden is involved in Erasmus+, the EU programme for education, training, youth and sport for 2014 to 2020, which covers student exchange, work experience and volunteering opportunities and enables both undergraduate and postgraduate students to study abroad for 3 to 12 months.
The UK government agreed to continue funding Erasmus for at least the 2019 to 2020 academic year, but check regularly for updates on the Erasmus+ website.
Big companies such as those listed in the leading employers section above may offer internships in the same way as in the UK, and these opportunities will be listed on their websites.
Organisations offering internships in Sweden include the following:
- IAESTE, the International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience, offers science and engineering students paid industrial placements lasting between 6 and 52 weeks.
- ELSA, the European Law Students’ Association, offers international traineeships lasting between two weeks and two years to law students and young lawyers.
- IFMSA, the International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations, offers four-week professional or research exchanges for medical students.
You may be able to find a volunteering opportunity through the European Voluntary Service (EVS), funded by the European Commission, which gives people aged between 17 and 30 the chance to volunteer on projects ranging from the environment to social care. Placements last for between 2 weeks and 12 months.
Do you need a visa to work in Sweden?
British passport holders do not need a visa to enter Sweden, and are entitled to stay as visitors for up to three months. However, the current advice on travel to Sweden from GOV.UK is that if you wish to stay for longer than three months, you should get in touch with an office of the Swedish Migration Agency.
EU passport holders do not need work permits or residence permits to enter Sweden to work. If they have come to Sweden to work or study or have sufficient means to support themselves, they have the right to residence in Sweden and are free to start work as soon as they arrive.
If you’re planning to stay for a year or more you need to visit an office of the Swedish Tax Agency to provide notification that you have moved to Sweden and will then need to be entered in the Swedish population register.
If you are from outside the EU and wish to work in Sweden, you will usually need to apply successfully for a work permit before your arrival. You can find out more about how to apply and the work permit requirements from the website of the Swedish Migration Agency.
There is a one-year working holiday visa scheme for citizens of the following countries who are aged between 18 and 30: Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile, Hong Kong, New Zealand and South Korea.
Living in Sweden
- Cost of living: the cost of living is typically slightly higher than in the UK, but rental costs are cheaper – up to around 15% less. The cost of living is higher in Stockholm, the capital city, than elsewhere.
- Currency: Swedish Krona (not the euro)
- Health: if you are carrying an EHIC (the free European Health Insurance Card) you will be entitled to state-provided medical treatment on the same terms as Swedish nationals. You should also make sure you have travel insurance to cover other potential medical costs, including repatriation (being transported back to the UK if you are seriously unwell or injured).
Laws and customs: Same-sex marriage has been recognised in Sweden since 2009. There is a zero-tolerance policy on the sale, possession and use of drugs, including cannabis. Crime levels are generally low.
There can be harsh weather in winter, particularly in the north. From 1 December to 31 March and at other times when conditions are wintry, all cars, whether foreign-registered or Swedish, are required to have special tyres suitable for driving when there is snow and ice.
The Swedish term ‘lagom’, which means ‘just enough’, summarises an attitude to life that you may come across in Sweden – ‘all things in moderation’.
- Major religion: The Lutheran Church of Sweden is the dominant religion. Sweden is also home to Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Baptist, Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist communities.
- Type of government: parliamentary constitutional monarchy