This page aims to make your move to 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. Your university may also be able to give you good tips, and they will provide you with practical advice for day-to-day life in your town and at your university. Most universities also organise an orientation programme at the start of your studies.
Register with the Swedish Tax Agency
One of your first steps after moving to Sweden should be to get registered at the Swedish Tax Agency (Skatteverket). This will help you get a personal identity number (personnummer). This is a kind of social security number that will be very important for you during your time in Sweden.
Our page on personal identity numbers gives you all the info you need, including how to apply for one of these numbers.
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 will generally 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 your university’s international office for advice on how to open a bank account. Major Swedish banks include SEB, Nordea, Handelsbanken and Swedbank.
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, 200, 500 and 1,000 kronor; coins in 1, 2, 5 and 10 kronor. (EUR 1 = approx. SEK 10).
All major bank and credit cards are widely accepted throughout Sweden. The country is very much a cashless society: you will rarely need to pay with bank notes or coins, not even for small purchases. Some stores may even only accept payment by card. On a day-to-day basis, many Swedes also use the payment app Swish. (You’ll need a Swedish bank account to get Swish).
Dates are often written in the order year, month, day. So 12 October 2014, for instance, is written 2014-10-12 (or just 141012). Week numbers are also commonly used in Sweden (e.g. 10-16 November 2019 being W46).
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. Driver’s licenses issued outside of the EEA are valid for a maximum of one year, starting from the date you register at the local tax office. After that one year, you need to obtain a Swedish driving license. Driver’s licences issued within the EEA are valid for as long as the licence itself is valid. Sweden’s laws on drinking and driving are very strict; driving drunk is both illegal and seen as entirely unacceptable.
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), includes the bearer’s photo and personal identity number. 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 Tax Agency; they have created this PDF brochure to detail exactly how to apply for an ID card in Sweden.
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 like aspirin or painkillers 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 that can be easily topped up online or at newsstands. Common mobile phone companies include Telia, Tele2, Halebop, Comviq (in Swedish only), Telenor (in Swedish only), Tre (in Swedish only). 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 your phone is not locked to your previous operator. Another option is to subscribe to a mobile phone contract, but this is uncommon among international students and usually requires a Swedish personal identity number.
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, stores may remain open until 8-9 p.m. on weekdays, with some even open for a limited period on Sundays. Shops generally close early on the day before a public holiday.
You will receive your postal address when you move into accommodation. Postboxes can be found throughout Sweden to send mail: yellow postboxes are for national/international letters, blue postboxes for local letters. Packages can be sent and picked up at a number of places, including petrol stations, supermarkets and newsstands. 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.
Locally, you’ll find buses, commuter trains , trams and ferries almost everywhere in Sweden, making it convenient and fast to get around. In Stockholm, you can also use the underground (tunnelbana). Most regions have their own local transport company: e.g. in Gothenburg you’ll need to buy a ticket from Västtrafik, in Malmö/Lund from Skånetrafiken, in Uppsala from UL, in Stockholm from SL, etc. You might be able to get a student discount (see Student cards below).
For long-distance travel, trains are an excellent option. Nationally, there are two main train operators: SJ and MTR. Both offer 15-20% discounts for students. If you book with SJ less than 24 hours before departure, you can score cheap last-minute (sista minuten) tickets. Long-distance buses like Flixbus, Nettbuss or Ybuss are another alternative.
Recycling and pant
Swedes care a great deal about the environment. To become a real Swede, start recycling your trash! You’ll find recycling stations everywhere, both in public places and in your student dorm/apartment building. Depending on where you live, you’ll be able to separately recycle bio waste, glass, paper, plastics and metal.
There is a separate recycling system for drinks cans and plastic bottles. Look for the little black-and-white “pant” symbol on your empty can or bottle, then take it to a grocery store. Most grocery stores will have a pant machine. When you return pant, you’ll get a money coupon in exchange, which you can use to pay for your groceries.
Most universities provide their students with a university-specific student card with your name and photo on it. This can let you borrow books in the university’s library or access uni buildings outside of working hours. You may need to join a student union to be able to get your university-specific student card.
There are also national student cards, like Mecenat or Studentkortet. These offer great discounts to public transport and a range of stores, cafés, restaurants, gyms and other services. Apply here for a Studentkortet card. Mecenat is often automatically included in your university-specific student card. If it isn’t, you can apply here for a Mecenat card.
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 already included in the price in restaurants and taxis, so tipping in Sweden is rare. However, if you feel you have received exceptionally good service, you can consider leaving a small tip (around 10 per cent).
Sweden has four distinct seasons: spring (March to May), summer (June to August), autumn (September to October) and winter (November/December to February/March). Because Sweden is such a large country, the weather during these seasons will depend on where you live. Generally speaking, differences between winter and summer will be more pronounced the further north you live.
In the south and on the west coast (including Gothenburg and Malmö), winters are shorter and milder. Because the air is relatively humid here, it can feel colder than it actually is. Snow is rare in the far south. In the summer, temperatures range from 15 to 25 degrees Celsius.
Central Sweden stretches from the border with south Norway to Stockholm on the east coast. Here, winters are colder (with average temperatures just below zero in January), but less humid and sunnier. Snow is common in this part of Sweden. Summer temperatures range from 15 to 25 degrees Celsius.
In the north of Sweden, winters are more severe. The winter nights are very long and dark. There is a lot of snow, and sub-zero temperatures last for several months. On the flip side, the north of Sweden offers the longest summer days, with the most sunshine. And don’t forget the northern lights!