After university studies at New York University and Vancouver Film School, my (still) teenager son has decided to accept a job offer as videogame designer at a large Swedish videogame studio. I’m incredibly proud of his achievements. To help him move there, and since I’m still considering what job or project undertake next, I’ve decided to spend a couple months with him in Malmö, Sweden. Yes, where crows wear vests and celebrate Oktoberfest in August.

Moving internationally is always hard, and even more so as a teenager. When you have as much experience moving internationally as I do, it feels less daunting; but it remains a serious effort and headache every time.

No country is perfect, and they key is to focus on the differences with your home country, and the areas with the biggest impact on your life. Depending on your personality and aspirations, your home country and the country you move in, that may be security, taxes, food, cost of living, social interaction…

In the case of Sweden, being a Nordic country, safety, security, access to nature, politeness, etc all all guaranteed and very nice. So let’s focus on the challenges:

  • Like in too many other countries, the theoretical step-by-step requirements are impossible as they corner you into a catch-22. Of course there’s always a way, otherwise nobody could immigrate to the country, but I wonder if government officials the world over care about making immigrants life easier, or if on the contrary, all that bureaucracy is designed to act as a deterrent to the very needed and positive immigration (according to every researcher and study done on the subject).
  • The theoretical order of paperwork is supposed to be: 0) Get a work contract signed by a Swedish company to work in Sweden.
    1. Register as resident (permanent address) with your work contract and your passport (if you are form the EU, otherwise you may require a visa and other steps).
    2. Request a “personnummer” (numerical identifier for taxes and social security), for which you need to be registered as a resident. Expect to wait between 2 and 12 weeks for that if everything goes well.
    3. Obtain a Swedish ID with your personnummer, after they snail mail your personnummer letter to your permanent address.
    4. Open a bank account with your personnummer, which may take up to 5 weeks (see below).
    5. Get BankID (a digital identifier widely used in Sweden).
    6. Rent an apartment via their government-centralized web portal (which requires you to pay 300SEK/year), BoplastSyd in the case of Malmö, after providing your personnummer and 3 months of paid salary into Swedish bank account
    7. Get a Swedish phone SIM after 6 months of living in Sweden (a legal requirement, apparently).
  • Some theoretical inconsistencies
    • You can’t do 1 without 4, but can’t do 4 without 2… and it’s all difficult without 7 (let alone without speaking Swedish).
    • You can’t do 4 or even 1 without 6.
    • etc
  • So, how do you do it? Here are some exceptions in some of the steps, if you ask nicely and have lots of patience:
    • Use your hotel temporarily as your permanent address, and quickly change it the minute you do have a permanent address. For that you will need to chose a hotel that will allow you to receive mail (most don’t).
    • Chose a bank that will allow you to open a “limited bank account”, for deposits/withdrawals/debit card only. Update it once you have all the required documentation. And be ready to have to schedule an appointment for account opening (around two weeks), and to have the account activated (two or three more weeks).
    • Signup at the rentals portal soon, even if you don’t have the required 3 payment slips and personnummer, as your “place in the queue” will improve, and you will be able to access many apartment at decent prices.
    • Use a relocation company or corporate housing to find a first apartment that will allow you to bypass the portal queues and the strict requirements. In return, be ready to accept smaller and more expensive options.
    • Use a prepaid SIM card for the Swedish phone number, and have your roaming data from an unlimited international plan, or use public wifis while you wait for the 6 months required to have a real mobile phone number+data plan.

Don’t get me wrong, ALL countries have messed up procedures and requirements. We just happen to be talking about Sweden, but don’t get me started about the UK’s internet contracts, the USA’s DHS/USCIS, Spain’s foreign wedding registry, etc.

Now on to the important part: living in Sweden.

All technicalities and bureaucracies aside, living in Malmö has, like everywhere else, advantages and disadvantages.

Some advantages:

  • Public transport and proximity to Copenhagen.
  • Good supermarkets.
  • Excellent bicycle infrastructure.
  • People are discreet and value silence and tranquility.
  • Appreciation and conservation of nature.
  • Wonderful redevelopment of the old shipbuilding port area (Västra Hamnen) with very nice architecture.
  • Awesome waterfront and supermarkets.
  • Parks, beaches and wildlife… including crows with vests!
  • Mälmo is quite a diverse city (which can not be said for the rest of the country).

Some disadvantages:

  • Price of some things (like fresh produce, or rent).
  • While English is widely spoken, you can’t expect to find it everywhere. Blessed be online image translators (how could I run the washing machine or dryer without them?).
  • Very conservative and puritan society (for example, they don’t sell alcohol on the weekends; not that I drink, but I find it retrograde).
  • More xenophobic and racist than they are willing to admit.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, or a brainy sociopolitical analysis. These are the quick impressions and experiences of a very proud father enjoying a break of a couple of months in Sweden.

I will write individual posts about specific details (the supermarket, the beach, etc), but I might also update this post with new anecdotes and experiences at a later date. If I do, I’ll mark it as “updated”.

Some photos here