Life Abroad
10 min

Pros and Cons of Living and Studying in Sweden

Anastasia Vetoshnikova moved from Russia to Stockholm with her husband, who was granted a ​​Visby scholarship in 2014 to study at the Royal Institute of Technology.

Anastasia has been living in the capital of Sweden for seven years now. StudyFree asked her to share her opinion on the pros and cons of living and studying in this country.

What’s Good About Studying in Sweden

A shorter list of subjects. Graduate programs at local universities involve few disciplines, but they are studied more substantially. The ability to memorize does not matter here. What’s really valued is the analytical skills. 

Good student accommodation. In Sweden, there are no residence halls where four people share one room. Instead, you can live alone or with a roommate in a student apartment.

There are two types of apartments. The first one is a studio with a bathroom and a kitchen. The second type is a small apartment that has a bathroom but there is a shared kitchen for all the apartments on the floor. Five years ago, we used to pay €500 for a 23m2 studio in the center of Stockholm. These apartments are not the property of the university but are rented to international students.

Easy communication with professors. You immediately feel it in Sweden. Everyone addresses each other on a first-name basis. As a student, you feel confident and relaxed because professors don’t throw their weight around. It’s nice to talk to them about the learning process.

Study rooms. Students can book special rooms in the library for group work. It’s very convenient if you need to get together with other students to discuss a project or just work in silence.

In addition, as a student, you get access to the university archives where you will find all kinds of publications, articles, and research. Evidently, Swedish students have all the resources to study efficiently. 

Home is a place for rest and comfort. That's why Swedish people study anywhere but home. They would go to a library, a café, or even a hotel lobby. Going to university is like going to work here.

Thesis defense. In Sweden, a student has an opponent who goes through and thoroughly analyzes the thesis project in advance. The opponent may be both a professor and a student. The defense is always open and everyone in the audience is free to ask questions. As a graduate, you will also be offered to analyze someone else's work.

What’s Not So Good About Studying in Sweden

Problems with finding a place to live. An international student has a limited choice of apartments. You can only pick those in the list provided by the university. 

Finding an apartment before you move to Sweden is almost impossible. No one is going to help you look for an apartment when you are not even in the country yet.

To rent an apartment, a foreigner has to hire an agent. Another scenario is that the company that hired the person arranges housing in advance. You can also use Blocket to find an apartment.

Academic writing. Having to write in academic English is the greatest challenge for many international students. Professors expect students to write correctly and in an academic style. If you don’t stick to it, you will have to keep making necessary corrections to your work until it is done properly. Otherwise, you’ll get a failing grade.

Since many of us do not learn specifically how to write in academic English, problems often arise here and it takes a lot of time to master it on your own. 

Misunderstandings when receiving feedback. Finding out their grades may have an element of surprise for international students because they get fewer points than expected. Meanwhile, the feedback from the professor is still positive. Students just don’t get why yesterday the professor smiled at them and said they had done a good job, and today they have a C. 

If you want to know what the professor thinks of your performance, you have to just tell them that you are pursuing a high grade and ask what you need to do to improve your result. In this case, you’ll find out exactly what you need to work on. The thing is that, in Sweden, a C is not something to be ashamed of. You are still good.

What’s Good About Living in Sweden

High standard of living. Sweden tops many rankings. For example, Sweden ranked first (99.7) among the world’s best countries for women by CEOWORLD magazine in 2020. Five Swedish universities are among the top 200 in the world. Besides, Sweden regularly ranks among the world's top ten happiest countries.

Accessible environment. Sweden has developed an accessible environment for people with disabilities, parents with strollers, and seniors. Inclusive transport, elevators and ramps everywhere make it much easier to get around. 

When you come to Sweden as a student, bike lanes and solid transport infrastructure is great news too. It’s cool that you can use all modes of transport, including electric trains, with a single travel ticket. You can go far into the suburbs or visit the Tyresta National Park, which is 20 km from the city center.

Continuing education. Swedes have the opportunity for multiple training and retraining, all for free. You can enroll in a university after 40, or quit your job as a lawyer to retrain into a potter, for example. 

Foreigners with a residence permit in Sweden also enjoy this opportunity. Language courses or refresher courses are free of charge. If you come to study for a two-year master's degree, you don't have to pay anything to learn Swedish. To do this, you need to apply for a personal identity number. It is assigned to international students who register their residence in Sweden. 

Low social stratification. Sweden is not the type of country where the city center is filled with fancy cars or where your boss’ salary would be fifty times higher than yours. The income level is pretty even. Electricians and construction workers can get just as much as bank workers, for example. Income differences are not so bad here due to the advanced tax system, where the more you earn, the more you pay in taxes. Besides, situations, when there is a huge pay gap between bosses and employees, are not common here. The average gross salary in Sweden is 36,100 kronor (300,000 ₽).

Love for nature. Swedes love nature. They enjoy it and protect it in all kinds of ways. The country has many parks, nature reserves, and green areas. Spending time in the woods is one of the most popular activities here, and this love is extremely contagious. The cities are comfortable and eco-friendly too, offering plenty of space, air, and parks.

Sweden is one of the world’s leaders in introducing green technologies. The demand for electric and hybrid cars is increasing every year. Waste sorting and recycling are mandatory here. When you come to your student apartment in Sweden, you’ll have to figure out what types of trash the four bins in the kitchen are intended for.

What’s Not So Good About Living in Sweden

Heavy taxes. For a while, you're going to keep wondering why people have to pay so much here. However, remember they get a lot too.

Sweden has some of the highest taxes in the world. The progressive tax rate shows no mercy to those who earn good money. They have to pay 60-67% income tax.

Everything is taxed here, including benefits and retirement pensions. When someone tells you their salary, you should deduct at least 30% from the amount, because that's the minimum income tax rate.

Rental and housing prices. Housing prices are growing at a blistering pace. Although new homes are actively being built in Swedish cities, there is still a housing shortage in the capital. Finding an apartment may take a while and renting one can be pretty costly.

To buy an apartment, you need to save up for a down payment of 15%. However, before you can buy it, you will also have to go through a bidding process that can raise the price significantly. I wrote a whole article about how to buy an apartment in Sweden.

Short daylight hours. When hearing about Scandinavia and Sweden in particular, you most likely imagine fields covered with snow, cozy houses, and beautiful mountains. That's all true, only the snow is common for the northern part of the country. In Stockholm, which is the destination for most international students, it doesn't snow often. 

It rains a lot from November to April. Sweden switches to wintertime, so it gets dark very early. During the darkest winter months, twilight begins soon after one p.m. After three, it's already completely dark. For example, on December 15, the sun sets at 2:47 p.m. 

All this cannot but affect your mental health. A lot of people here know how it feels when you are constantly confused about what time of day it is and just want to sleep all the time. As a remedy, Swedes use tons of candles and generously decorate trees and windows with lights. 

Challenges with making friends. Swedish people are very friendly and polite. However, foreigners often find their behavior misleading. One may keep smiling at you and talk to you quite eagerly, but you cannot become their friend or just get a little closer with them. You might even find out that they think of you as a pain in the neck when smiling at you. How come? 

The point is that Swedes tend to avoid conflict so they will hardly tell a new colleague, for example, that they don’t like her. Instead, they will simply try to stay away from her.

Making friends in Sweden is believed to be hard. I don’t think that Swedes aren’t friendly. Quite the opposite. They just need some time to get to know the person.

By Anastasia Vetoshnikova