Are you ready? Are you out of your mind excited to move here and go to IKEA to try and sincerely pronounce the words of the furniture now you live in Sweden? To try and get through as many conversational steps with a Swedish cashier as possible before you have to say, “Talar du engelska?” To eat meatballs and then ring your mum and say, “They’re actually called köttbullar. I’ll make some for you when I’m back during winter break. My friend showed me her grandma’s recipe, you’ll love them.” Here is some stuff that I hope can help you through your first week here in Uppsala! (I’ve only had a first week here in Sweden in Uppsala so this is all I can offer folks, sorry! But a lot of the steps – particularly the administrative ones – are replicable in other cities in Sweden. It’s just more the specifically social activity ones which may be tailored to Uppsala. Let’s go through it day-by-day, and I can let you know (from my own little experience) what is good to do RIGHT AWAY, and what can just wait a hot second until you have a little more time to have a lie down and a think!
Day One – Incoming
You’re going to be tired! It’s a long flight from wherever you’re coming from! Maybe there was a crying baby sat next to you on the flight and you were sat there like: “Why is it socially acceptable for this baby to scream right now and not me?” Be kind to yourself. Uppsala International Office run shuttles from Arlanda Airport to Uppsala, so make sure you check out their schedule and see if you can get yourself on one of those. If for some reason you miss out on that, no worries! The 801 bus with UL departs outside the terminals. Tickets are around 90kr, you can’t pay cash on board, so either download the app at the airport using their WiFi or pay with your card on board.
Go and collect your housing key. Make sure you have screenshotted the directions to the housing office/building you need to get to. Bring a portable charger, just in case. There is street WiFi in the city centre called !UppsalaWiFi, just in case you get lost. There’s also WiFi inside of Uppsala Centralstationen (the train station/the last bus stop where the 801 stops).
Drop your bags off, go out and get a SIM card for your phone. You can get one from Pressbyrån or from a little corner shop maybe, or you can wait and with an arrival packet at the university there will (probably) be a free one in there too. If you get a SIM card which you top up every month, there is probably a student plan, so check online when you top up. But get one ASAP – you might have to buy a WiFi router (look on Facebook groups for cheap ones) depending on your accommodation. And text your mum/dad/sibling/partner. They’re worried about you!
If you have room in your outbound luggage, pack a blanket that will cover you for your first night, just in case you get there late and don’t have time to get the bus to IKEA. You’ll also be too tired to go to IKEA. Leave that adventure until tomorrow.
If there are any problems with your room (there probably won’t be!) take photos of them on your phone to document that something wasn’t right when you moved in, which you can report sometime soon!
Sleep. You’re going to have a hectic week – best to get recuperated and try to get used to the time difference now.
Day Two – Good morning I live in Sweden now!
Wow wake up you live in Sweden pal! This is really fun!
Make sure you’ve packed a couple of tote bags and head out to find a supermarket. Don’t look for it with maps. Just walk. This will be the best way you get to know the city, and you will find one soon enough – look out for ICA, Hemköp, COOP, Willys, Lidl etc…these are all the words you’ll want. Bags cost extra at the supermarket – thank goodness you packed those totes am I right! Do a food shop to last you a good week or so – long enough to last you throughout the next week’s antics. Focus more on having stuff for breakfast than for dinner – you might end up at the Dr. Falafel van or in a nation pub for food after orientation events, so breakfast is maybe a better place to focus on. If, however, you really want to prioritise saving money, head to supermarkets on the outskirts of town by bus. There’s ICA Maxi and Willys in Stenhagen (get bus number 5 there then walk for a bit), or there is COOP in the same direction as IKEA. There’s a lot of savings to be had at the bigger stores on the outside of town, as a rule. Again with the buses, get the UL app or pay with card on board.
If you’re living somewhere with a shared kitchen, unpack your food and make sure you’re putting it on the allocated shelf and fridge space for your room. If you meet people in there – talk to them! You’ll be living with them for at least a while, and they might just become your new friend.
At this point, if you didn’t bring much at all from home, go to IKEA. Get the number 6 bus towards IKEA/COOP. In my experience, the cheapest duvet is still nice and warm. I bought a double because I knew I didn’t want to live in Flogsta for the full year, and if I got lucky I’d move somewhere with a double bed (and I did!). So in the meantime if you start out with a single bed, you can just fold one layer under the other to make it super warm: great for the winter in Sweden. If you have a communal kitchen, there are lots of things that will have been left behind which are pointless on doubling up on. If you’d get squicked out by sharing pots and pans, then go wild! But if not, those are the kinds of things which will be likely in your kitchen anyway. Have a little look around your kitchen before you go, ask your neighbours what the protocol is for sharing stuff. For accommodations like Klostergatan, all the stuff is included in the kitchen anyway, so you don’t need to get anything apart from if you want to use the little stove in your room. For others like Flogsta, the kitchen has seen oh so many moons of students, so is brimming with old bits and bobs. Alternatively, just get the essentials, and then head back another day with some new friends to do the quintessentially Swedish experience together.
Okay PHEW you’ve done the stuff to like…make you survive. Now let’s get into the nitty gritty. I think it depends what kind of person you are in terms of how you approach the next few steps. Listen to your soft heart and big brain in your head: are you the kind of person who will freak out if organisational things aren’t lined up soon after you get there? Will you feel overwhelmed? If so, maybe follow this as a rough guide for how to assimilate yourself as quickly and easily as possible with Swedish organisation and bureaucracy. If you’re more of the approach that you want to meet lots of people first in order to feel at home somewhere….well then just switch it up a bit! I’m going to take the approach that it’s good to do as much organisational stuff as possible interspersed between social activities….because I didn’t do this when I got here. But for now, you’ve done your food shop and been to IKEA – it’s probably a little late in the day, so either head to your kitchen to meet some new people, or, if they’ve started, head to some of the orienteering events put together by the student nations!
The nations put on everything from tours of the city to beerpong to games of Kub outside in Ekonomikumparken. My advice for if you first want to meet people: walking tour of the city. I met maybe 10-15 people within 2 hours. Do I speak to any of them now? YES! Just one, but LITERALLY if it wasn’t for that walking tour and me going up to her because I thought she seemed cool, we wouldn’t be the BEST MATES we are now! Below is a picture I took of her 4 days after I met her on that tour, then at a gasque we went to 4 months later, then us in VENICE just last month! Life is funny! Take the chance! Go on that walking tour! My parents literally have pictures of me and her in their house now.
Day Three – Organisation
I hope you went out last night and met some people! Just talk to anyone at this orientation events honestly: everyone’s in the same boat. Sure, you’ll meet people who you’ll awkwardly pass in the street for the next few months because you just didn’t vibe right, but you’ll also meet people who you go for beers or fika with or you end up doing a cruise to Talinn with because why not!!
But let’s get serious for a second. Sweden is a very organised society. There are certain steps for doing things, and if you do them promptly and correctly, living in Sweden on a day to day basis can be a breeze. I know this, because I have seen other people do it successfully, and felt like a mess because I did not go and get my Swedish ID from the start. So. Let’s start at the top. Let’s treat the next few days as your organisation days. And let’s do it step by step.
- Go to the University to register your IT account. There is a specific fair for this, so make sure you check out via Uppsala University’s International Office when that is (it may not be on your actual third day there). You get your email address there, and you get set up with lots of great logistical things. You also can sign up for the International Students’ Gasque there, and it’s a great place to meet people. This will help you feel anchored to the institution, and is a must-do to register properly with the university.
- Go to Skatteverket and apply for a personnummer. Raeed wrote a fantastic post on the documentation you will need for this. If you are staying more than one year, you will need a personnummer. In the meantime, the university automatically generates a “T” number for you (a temporary one), so if you are required to fill in your personnummer for anything university-related and some external things before you get your actual personnummer, that’s what you need. But go to Skatteverket, and go early because queues can be long. Take all the documentation you need, and apply for your personnummer. Once you have your personnummer, you can apply for your Swedish ID. DO THIS. DO THIS. DO THIS AS SOON AS YOU GET YOUR PERSONNUMMER. I, somehow, have survived a year without doing it, and I am a dumb infant for not having done it. With a Swedish ID card, you can get a fully-functioning bank account and card (not just a Maestro one where you can’t order online, goodbye ASOS for me), you can get Bank ID/Mobile ID and Swish and a whole host of things. Bank ID/Mobile ID is how you do a lot of daily tasks very painlessly, like booking a doctor’s appointment, checking your bank account without needing lots of random information, registering your change of address. Swish is the currency sharing platform which ALL SWEDES use. I have been at a huge loss this year not having it. As soon as I get back in September, one of the first things I’m doing is going to put in my application and pay 400kr to get my Swedish ID. Enough is enough. (Disclaimer: it may take a few weeks to get your personnummer….).
- Go and get your library card from one of the libraries around the city, and ask one of the librarians to show you how checking out books works (or else, ask if there are group tours of the library set up).
- Go and get your university access card. Again, because I am disorganised I haven’t had one this year, much to my peril. It means you can get in university buildings after normal opening hours. On Sundays when I’ve wanted to do a little studying in Engelska Parken, I’ve been seen hovering outside the doors waiting for someone to hopefully come out so I can study. It is no way to live, my friends. Get your own one. You’re a responsible adult now! (This is a message that is yet to resonate with me clearly).
- Register with a doctors. An urban myth that needs to be dispelled: Swedish healthcare is not entirely free. If you go to the doctors’ surgery for any reason, you pay 150kr for the visit generally speaking (or somewhere in that region). If you have to go lots and lots of times, then they end up capping the amount you pay. But do be prepared to pay to see the doctor. Either walk into a local surgery or call one up. Best to do sooner rather than later, as you don’t know when you’ll need one!
- Register for Basic Swedish courses! The class registration is open from August 1st to August 27th, with a schedule being released on September 3rd if you have made it into a class. The link is here. They are VERY good, VERY free, and a fantastic way to meet new people too!
Day Four Onwards – Miscellaneous
I’m not gonna tell you how to do your whole week, I’m not your mom! But I hope these tips are helpful for some of the more serious stuff when you get to Uppsala. When you move here, you could try and look for a bike straight away on the Facebook groups, but so many people are looking for them you have to be a speed demon to get one. So my advice is leave it a month or so. Unless you live in Flogsta or Kantorsgatan and really need a bike to get in to the city quickly, I’d wait it out. But when you do get one: customise it with a bell and good front and back lights. The police can fine you if you don’t have these things! You can find all of these things being re-sold on student groups.
The same goes with joining a nation. You can get temporary nation cards whilst you’re figuring out where you like. That being said, if you want to see about moving accommodation quite soon after you get in, see which nations have a housing lottery going on. That’s an allocation of houses which is randomly given out once a month by a nation. They have one right before the beginning of the semester, so my tip is to research which nations are having the lotteries, to see what might work for you. Otherwise, take your time with picking a nation! They all have very different personalities and different perks, so see which one you like the feel of. Remember, you accrue one housing point every semester you are with a particular nation, so if you do stay loyal to one and work at one/get involved in their working life, you can get on the list for nation housing for semesters to come.
More broadly, if you are keen on the idea of staying in Sweden, register in a housing rental queue in the big cities. Stockholm’s apartment rental queue really can be fifteen years long. Best to get on it now and see, if that’s what you want to do.
Potentially wait to get a bank account until you have your personnummer and a Swedish ID, if you want to get a good account set up, with standing orders and online expenditures included.
Learn basic words in Swedish and use them from the start. “Hej.” “Tack.” “Kvitto?” “Ja.” “Nej.” Swedish people WILL confidently switch to English to help you out from the beginning, but the quicker you go into situations accepting that you will embarrass yourself with your Swedish but that’s all part of the fun of it and it will get better, the sooner you will get to grips with the language.
Walk without maps (particularly in the daytime).
Download the UL, SL and SJ apps, for travel in Uppsala and outside to Stockholm.
Go to lots of orientation events! Register for events if needs be as they book up quickly! If you’re a sociable person, say yes to lots of new experiences! Cruise to Tallinn with exchange students? Sure! BBQ in the park in 15 degrees? Why not!
Get used to how the sale of alcohol works in Sweden by reading up on Systembolaget, particularly their opening and closing times if you like a little tipple.
Make sure you have an EU friendly adapter for your electronics.
In the first few weeks, while it’s still August perhaps, see if winter coats are on sale – get a really thick one, NOT polyester as that won’t keep you warm. You might be able to get it cheaper if you get it now.
If you’re susceptible to mosquitoes, get insect repellent. You’d be surprised how many pesky ones there are here in August.