The following information aims at making settling into your life in Sweden as easy and comfortable as possible. Before leaving your home country, it’s a good idea to study some guidebooks and read up on Sweden. You may also get ideas and tips from the international office at your university; your university will also provide you with a student guide offering practical advice for day-to-day life in your town and at your university as well as an orientation programme at the start of your studies.
Register with the Swedish Tax Agency
One of your first steps after settling in should be to register at your local office of the Swedish Tax Agency (Skatteverket). You will then be given a ten-digit personal identity number (personnummer), or co-ordination number (samordningsnummer) based on your date of birth plus four extra digits. For example, if you were born on 25 May 1989, it might look like this: 890525-1045.
If your programme is longer than one year, you will receive a personal identity number, while students staying for a shorter period will usually receive a co-ordination number instead. This number will be an important part of life in Sweden and you’ll often need to use it when in contact with authorities. A personal identity number is also needed to access the Swedish healthcare system outside of emergency care. Learn more about personal identity number and co-ordination numbers here.
Visit the Tax Agency’s website for information on how to apply and what documentation you’ll need to bring with you.
Practical advice for life in Sweden from A to Z
Banks and post offices
Banks are generally open from Monday to Friday, between 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. Many branches have extended opening hours at least once a week (until 6:00 p.m. in larger cities). Banks are closed at weekends. Though banks generally will require a Swedish personal identity number to open an account, many universities have arrangements with local bank branches allowing international students to open an account. Check with the international office at your university for advice on opening a bank account.
You will receive your postal address when moving into accommodation. Postboxes can be found throughout each city to send letters; yellow post boxes are for national and international letters and blue for local letters. Packets can be picked up and sent at a number of places, including petrol stations, supermarkets and kiosks. Look for the blue and yellow sign near the entrance of outlets providing this service. You can also buy stamps at these outlets, many of which stay open late in the evening and on weekends.
The Swedish krona (plural kronor), also known as the crown, is denoted by the international currency symbol SEK. You may also see the symbol :- used to denote SEK (e.g. a sign stating that something costs 59:-). One krona contains 100 öre. Bank notes are available in denominations of 20, 50, 100, 500 and 1,000 kronor; coins in 1, 5 and 10 kronor. All major bank and credit cards are widely accepted throughout Sweden. (EUR 1 = approx. SEK 10).
Dates are often written in the order year, month, day. So 12 October 2014, for instance, is written 2014-10-12 (or just 141012).
Sweden, like most European countries, has right-hand traffic. The legal driving age is 18 and you are expected to have your driver’s license with you when driving. A foreign driver’s license is valid for a maximum of one year starting the date you register at the local tax office. After one year you need to obtain a Swedish driving license. The laws on drinking and driving are very strict and such behaviour is not only illegal, but socially unaccepted.
Electricity is standard European 220 volts and 50 cycles (Hz).
Emergencies and SOS calls
In case of emergency, dial 112 to contact the police, fire brigade or medical services. Emergency calls made from payphones are free of charge.
A Swedish identity card, or ID card (legitimation), is a card on which the bearer’s photo and personal identity number are registered. Having an ID card will help in any contact you may have with Swedish authorities. It will also make it easier for you to open a bank account. To obtain a Swedish ID card you must be registered as a resident (see Register with the Swedish Tax Agency above).
ID cards are issued by the Swedish Tax Agency (Skatteverket). Detailed information about how to apply for an ID card is available in this PDF brochure issued by the Tax Agency.
There are also national student cards which give discounts on domestic travel by air, train and bus. More detailed information on discount offers is included when you receive your card after joining a student union.
Public transport – buses, commuter trains, trams and (in Stockholm) the underground – is available almost everywhere in Sweden and provides a convenient, fast way to get around. Passes are usually valid for unlimited travel on the local network such as the underground (T-bana), local buses and commuter trains. In some cities, you may receive a student discount for public transport.
Prescriptions from Swedish doctors can be filled at local pharmacies (apotek); there are several chains of pharmacies operating in Sweden, including the state-owned Apoteket and others. These are open during normal shopping hours, though many are closed on Sundays. 24-hour service is usually available only in the major cities. If you take medication, it is a good idea to make sure that you have an adequate supply before leaving for Sweden.
Over-the-counter medicines may also be available at supermarkets or petrol stations.
Most international students in Sweden choose to use Skype and mobile telephones with pay-as-you-go SIM cards from companies such as Telia, Tele2, Comviq (in Swedish only), Telenor (in Swedish only), Tre (in Swedish only) and Halebop, that can be easily topped up online or at newsstands. If you don’t want to buy a mobile phone in Sweden it is often possible to use a phone from your home country with a Swedish SIM card. Make sure that the phone is not locked to your previous operator. Another option is to subscribe to a new mobile phone contract, but this is rare for students and usually requires a Swedish personal identity number (see Register with the Swedish Tax Agency above).
Shopping hours are generally between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays. Shops close between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. on Saturdays. In larger towns, department stores may remain open until 8-9 p.m. and some are also open on Sundays. Shops generally close early on the day before a public holiday.
Sweden is on Central European Time (CET), GMT +1. Daylight saving time (GMT +2) applies from the last Sunday in March until the last Sunday in October. Times are written according to the European system, e.g. 1 p.m. is written 13:00.
A service charge is included in the price in restaurants and taxis, but it is normal practice to leave a small tip (around 10 per cent) if you feel you have received good service.