Moving to Sweden

For future lab members and others who have chosen to immigrate to Sweden for work/study, this is a page with practical information that hopefully can make the process smoother. It's based on my experience in Uppsala in 2022 as a non-EU citizen.


1) Got a job? Get the visa documents ASAP!

First, note that ALL work and study positions need to be advertised publicly for 2 weeks in Sweden. If, like me, you got your job another way other than by applying to a posted job ad (I got a grant that required I be at a Swedish university in order to use it), this requirement still exists! For example, did you get a postdoctoral fellowship? Your employer must create an ad to which you can then apply, and for which you will (probably) be the top candidate. The employer then needs to justify why you are the top candidate and have that approved. Eventually, they will be able to issue you a document that you can use to apply for a work permit (see #2 below). In the case of doctoral students, your supervisor must also craft a detailed individual study plan that must also be approved prior to you getting a hosting agreement document that you can use to apply for a visa. https://internt.slu.se/en/support-services/education/doctoral-education1/recruitment-and-admission/ So.. celebrate getting the position, but then immediately push for the documents you need to apply for the visa. That may require advertising your position so that you can apply to it. Do it quickly, because that process can be slooooowwwwwwwwwwww.


2) Get in the housing queue!

It will take your employer some time to issue your documents, so in the meantime you can get in the housing queue. To live in Sweden you either buy, rent from the owner (1st hand, long term / unlimited contracts), or rent from somebody who is renting from the owner (2nd hand, more expensive and short term contracts only). If you want to rent first hand, or want to have the option to rent first hand, you have to wait in a housing queue (2 years for Uppsala area, 7-8 years for Stockholm area!!!). It costs a small fee each year to stay in the queue, and it won't be ready when you are ready to move... you will probably rent 2nd hand at first. Even if you hope to buy something, renting 1st hand in the meantime may still be useful.. keep your options open. Get in the queue now. It's called "Bostadsförmedling" and in Uppsala it's this site: https://www.bostad.uppsala.se/

3) Apply for a visa!

Once you have a document from your employer, you can apply online at Migrationsverket (https://www.migrationsverket.se/) for a residence permit in Sweden. The online application form is quite easy, but do it carefully. A mistake could cost you months. Also you have to pay an application fee. When I applied this was 1500 SEK per person. When I applied using my laptop, none of my credit cards or ones that I borrowed from family worked. I called the migration agency and after eventually getting through to a person, I was quickly given the answer you must complete the payment section from a mobile phone?!!?!. Somehow the website code can sense that you are on a phone. This is not specified on their website, but from a phone payment worked. I have heard rumor that they have since fixed this glitch. The approval process took 3 months for me. This is despite having a long-term contract from a recognized Swedish university and a valid passport and no criminal convictions, etc. There is no way to see where you are in the queue, but there is a processing time app on the website that can estimate how many months your case will take. There is no way to speed it up. Your employer is powerless to speed it up (unless perhaps your employer IS the migration agency). You just have to wait. You can visit Sweden as a tourist during that time, but you are recommended to inform the migration agency about your plans. You are not supposed to wait in Sweden for a decision because this could potentially cause rejection...please read/call wherever you can to check the current regulations and possibilities.


4) Get your fingerprints and picture taken!

Once your case is approved, you need to have your picture and fingerprints taken (biometrics). Do this right away. If you have the ability to travel to Sweden without the visa, for example if your country has a tourist-visa-on-arrival policy with Sweden or you still have a valid residence permit in another country that gives you that right, you can submit your fingerprints in Sweden by making an appointment at the nearest Migrationsverket office (but see #5 below before you book travel). They will tell you to come back in around 2 weeks to pick up your card (this time without an appointment). However, if you are from a country that requires a visa to enter Sweden, you need to then make an appointment at the Swedish embassy in your own country. They will send your biometrics to Sweden, Sweden will check them out, print a plastic residence permit card, and send it back to your country. Then you can pick it up. Before you book travel, see #5 below.


5) While waiting for your residence permit...

  • Do not cancel your home bank account! As will be discussed later, getting a bank account can take months. Don't do anything that might jeopardise your home bank account. You will need it. Also, note that once you get a Swedish account, it may be restricted for some time. For example, Nordea did not allow me to make an international bank transfer until I had an account for 6 months!!

  • Arrange for temporary health insurance! Everybody who is registered in Sweden with a "personal number" has access to cheap healthcare. Having a "personal number" IS your insurance. However, it will take a long time to get your personal number, AT LEAST 1 MONTH and probably longer. Make sure you are covered by something in the meantime. A travel health insurance policy is one option, and there are others.

  • Find a place to live. Unless you visited Sweden before to check out properties and have a lot of free cash, you probably are looking to rent, at least at first. And unless you started your visa application process years before you planned to move and got in the housing queue, you probably will rent 2nd hand. We found a place using a combination of these sites: Blocket (https://www.blocket.se/) and Qasa (https://en.qasa.se/p2/sv/). One strange thing to look out for... our apartment has no doorbell. When somebody rings, it's supposed to go to a cell phone. But our building doesn't work with foreign phone numbers, so we can't order food to the flat without waiting outside. Strange thing to keep in mind, but doorbells are useful... maybe check that your house has one or has a system that works with foreign numbers.

When writing to landlords, in addition to being polite and describing how great you are and how well you'll take care of the house, you may consider name dropping local people related to your employment (like your PI or head of department) and putting their email address as a reference, to help prove you are really coming and that you know people established here. You may also consider decorating your messages to landlords with a couple touches of Swedish ("Hej", "Tack så mycket!"), because it indicates an intention to be a community member, and could have a calming effect and help you get an interview...


6) Apply for a "personal number"!

The residence permit card, despite looking like an ID, is NOT an ID. It is not even accepted by post offices to pick up packages. You need to next apply for a "personal number", and once you get that, to apply for a SWEDISH ID CARD. Take your residence permit and other documents as mentioned on their website and go as quickly as possible to the nearest Swedish tax agency (https://www.skatteverket.se/) and apply for a "personal number". As discussed earlier, this number not only lets you do so many practical things, but it is also your health insurance. Getting a personal number can take a long time. They said to us 4-18 weeks. I have heard stories of it taking many months. In our case it took 2 weeks! Great luck. They only mail you a print out of the number. You need a SEPARATE APPOINTMENT to get a card (see below). While waiting for your number, have a look at #7 below, and consider booking an appointment for your ID card because appointments are sometimes not available locally for months! If there is good availability for appointments, you can wait to get your personal number.


7) Got a personal number? Do all the following at once:

  • Book an appointment to get a Swedish ID CARD! Again, this is done with the Swedish tax agency (https://www.skatteverket.se/) at the same office (or any other Skatteverket office in Sweden). You must make the appointment online and pay a fee and take proof of that payment to the appointment. After the card is issued, you will be notified and you can pick it up from Skatteverket. Note that using Google Translate on your web browser can make this site malfunction. Memorize the buttons you need to press, then turn off the automatic translate function before you press them.

  • Try and get a bank account: It's very difficult to get a bank account. And the banks are supposed to give you an account, but for reasons I do not understand they drag their feet and resist until you have a plastic Swedish ID card (#7). They say it's because of fear of money laundering but it's not clear that is the real motivation is for keeping university students from opening bank accounts. Handelsbank, Nordea, and Swedbank all said you must have the plastic card. However, S.E.B. bank allows you to apply with just a personal number, so you can try without one. Also, some banks also require that you have an income to open a bank account, even if you have a savings you'd like to bring to Sweden. Unfortunately, S.E.B. and Swedbank would not allow my partner who moved with me to open an account, because she did not yet have a job. They suspected she might be a money laundering risk - totally outrageous! Furthermore, many banks have waiting times of weeks or months for appointments to open accounts. It is worth calling ahead to make sure a bank may be able to offer you and any family members an account, so nobody gets turned down for not yet being employed, or for not yet having a plastic Swedish ID card yet.

In the end, we started with accounts at ICA bank because these are easy to get relatively quickly without yet having a plastic ID card. These accounts let us get bank cards and transfer our money to Sweden. The disadvantage of ICA bank and other internet banks (as a first bank) is that they do not let you get "Bank ID" if you do not yet have it. "Bank ID" is required for many online services. As a foreigner, the bank must have an in-person office in order to grant Bank ID, and ICA bank does not have in-person offices. We next applied to banks with in-person offices. However, many banks (Swedbank, Handelsbanken, SEB bank) illegally denied my partner her own account because she did not yet have a job, citing a money laundering risk. The only bank at which we were both successful was Nordea, a major bank with in-person offices in Uppsala. The waiting time for an appointment was about 2 months, so we used ICA our bank accounts in the meantime and closed those accounts once we got got Nordea accounts. This allowed us to finally get Bank ID.

If you want to transfer money from your new Swedish bank account to another country, but they don't let you because you haven't had the account for 6 months yet, you can use a website like https://wise.com/ to do it.

  • Register for dental healthcare subsidies and a European Health Care card: Register at https://www.forsakringskassan.se/. The dental subsidies will save you money in Sweden, and with the European Health Insurance card you can travel to Germany for example and pay the cheap Swedish rates. These are all free services for you, but they don't give it to you automatically, and the registration process can takes months, so get started right away. If you have Bank ID it is easier, but it's not worth waiting until you get it. You don't need the plastic Swedish ID card to apply! You can fill and mail in a paper form to get the process started. If this or any process gets stalled, just call and complain. It sometimes can speed things up.