Monday, April 26, 2010

Moving to Sweden – Cost of Living

It's time again for some information that can be useful to everyone planning a potential move to Sweden. There's been quite a few already:
Moving to Sweden – What to Bring
Moving to Sweden – The Swedish Language
Moving to Sweden – Finding a Place to Live
Moving to Sweden – The Metric System and You
Moving to Sweden – Getting a Cell Phone
Moving to Sweden – Getting from the Airport to Stockholm City
Moving to Sweden – The Weather
Moving to Sweden – Swedish Citizenship Test
Moving to Sweden – Public Holidays
Moving to Sweden – Finding a Job
Moving to Sweden – Culture Shock: It's the Little Things
Moving to Sweden – Making Friends
Moving to Sweden – The Laundry Room
Moving to Sweden – Marijuana
Moving to Sweden – Most Common Jobs and Salaries

But now it's time for a Moving to Sweden post that delves into the nitty gritty. Stockholm is usually listed as one of the most expensive cities in the world. Sweden as a whole is usually listed as one of the most expensive countries in the world by all kinds of different standards. If you’re planning on moving to Sweden it is something you’ll need to accept and be prepared for.

I have managed to live a pretty inexpensive lifestyle here in Sweden, mostly because I am dirt cheap and put my money to travel instead of dinner out in Stockholm. Lately though, I’ve been receiving quite a few questions about the cost of living in Sweden.

Instead of actually doing some sort of research, I just saved all of my receipts for one week. Sunday to Sunday. It’s a pretty normal week for me. I did go out a bit more than I might in a usual week which included a couple of dinners, but take this for what it is. I’ve separated my expenditures into different categories and then added rent, which didn’t actually get paid this week but tends to be a necessity.

And so, a look at my week. First, the fun stuff.

703 SEK in bars and booze. This includes drinks for a couple of buddies and all those delicious chili nuts that I eat every time I go out. I can’t help myself.

149 SEK in books. Akademibokhandeln has a three pocket books for 149 SEK deal right now. I can’t help myself.

77 SEK for fika. I am not good at the whole fika thing. Mostly because I don’t drink coffee or tea, but I make exceptions. The sun was shining and it was a chance to sit outside for the first time this year in a t-shirt.

All in all, I had fun for 929 SEK.

Now, food. Because I need to eat.

75 SEK for dagens lunch. It was a Thursday so I enjoyed pea soup and pancakes.

237 SEK for dinner out. One nice dinner, one hamburger dinner before drinking.

613.41 SEK for groceries. I usually end up at the grocery store once or twice a week. Mostly because my fridge is too small to handle anything more than that. This week was one of the big shopping trips.

Total for food then was 925.41 SEK. And all of it delicious. Except for maybe the hamburger.

Next were a few miscellaneous purchases.
50 SEK worth of birthday cards. None of which showed up on time.

36 SEK worth of stamps for said birthday cards.

100 SEK for a refill on my SIM card.

That’s a total of 186 SEK. The kind of things that I tend to forget about, but always pop up.

Next come some expenditures that didn’t actually happen this week but are pretty important nonetheless.

Transportation. Kind of. I pay 300 SEK for a parking space for my car. I don’t drive very often so I did not fill up my tank this week. Or for the past few weeks actually so you’ll get no gas costs information from me.

Because I don’t drive all that much, I use public transportation. 690 SEK for a 30 day card with SL. It will get you on the busses, trains, subways, and trams in Stockholm. It does good work.

And finally, the moment you’ve all been waiting for. Rent. It’s the big expense in all of our lives. Since living here in Sweden, I have been in three different apartments. I have paid between 3500 SEK to 4200 SEK. They have been small, but because of that, I’ve managed to live very inexpensively. Right now, 3600 SEK includes my rent and internet access every month.

So those costs that are important, but that I haven’t actually paid this week, add up to 4590 SEK. For the sake of argument, we’ll file those away under monthly costs, seeing as how they cover me for one month.

My weekly costs for having fun, eating, and trying to be brotherly by sending birthday cards resulted in about 2040 SEK.

My monthly costs for having a roof over my head, and a way to get myself from point a to point b cost me 4590 SEK.

Four weeks every month, plus my monthly costs, we’ll call it a cool 12750 SEK per month. Assuming a 7.2 conversion rate for SEK to USD, I’m living comfortably, for about 1770 USD per month.

I have two caveats to all of this. One was already mentioned. I am cheap. Seriously. I buy cheap food. I buy cheap beer. I don’t eat dinner out on a regular basis. I don’t fika on a regular basis. I’m cheap. I cannot stress this enough. And, as always, ladies, I am single.

Also, I would like to point out that I was on a business trip on Friday and so my expenditures there were covered by work. Although, I usually bring my lunch four times a week (see the delicious pea soup and pancakes above) so it shouldn’t skew my average week too much.

Currently, Migrationsverket requires you to prove that you are able to support yourself if you plan to study here in Sweden. They assume you can support yourself for 7300 SEK per month for 10 months out of the year. Just about 1000 USD per month for ten months. My experiences lead me to respectfully disagree.

Having now revealed far more than even I think necessary, I hope that this brief look at my wallet helps when you plan your move to Sweden.

Welcome to Sweden. And cost of living.

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  1. I heard Stockholm is expensive. I haven't lived long enough in that city (just short visits now and then) to really experience it, but we always think that Sweden is the cheapest of the three (Denmark and Norway) due to the low currency.

  2. My costs are usually around 10 000 SEK. But I'm a PhD student and I get some discounts.

    Getting below 8000 is hard. You will not be able to eat lunch or dinner in restaurants, thus you will have to bring a lunch box every day to work.

  3. I spend around 8000 each month, 3400 SEK is rent, but i get 900 in Bostadsbidrag each month + my 8100 SEK student loans each month (except summer.. so then I just live on what I've saved up. So I spend 8000, save 1000 a month for those long hard summer months. My point is, even if you're cheap, you CAN live even cheaper. Those 700 SEK for booze and fun is definately not as much as I could spend.

  4. We actually just moved to Sweden--Friday!--and are in the countryside. So far I'm impressed how expensive the appliances are and how cheap the produce. I have no more info.

  5. Interesting. I'm. . . let's call it "frugal", too, and when we visit my husband's family, I definitely notice that practically everything in Sweden is expensive. Makes it hard to buy souvenirs, though we have had luck at thrift shops (where you also find much more interesting things than your standard souvenir fare).

    When we have visitors from Sweden, they tend to do lots of clothes shopping while in the US. They come with almost-empty suitcases to leave room for the shopping spree.

  6. thanks for the post. very informative and sounds like it is a good idea to save up quite a bit of money before moving over there just as backup.

    Are there nearby cities that are cheaper to live in that you can train in for work in Stockholm that are cheaper? And are utilities usually included in the rent cost?

    Also, was wondering what a good wage or salary would be from a job to be able to live in Sweden? Especially since taxes take out so much, what SEK range per month or year should be enough to live and get around in Stockholm or nearby areas?


  7. @Eric Hyett

    If you can, try to stay away from the big cities. Big City = Expensive.

    The utilities are sometimes included in the rent, sometimes it's not.
    Try to find a place where the water and heating are included, and where you only have to pay for electricity.

    If you stay away from the cities then you have more options.

    A nice apartment that cost 15.000SEK in Stockholm, maybe only cost 4500SEK in a smaller town (I haven't done any research, it's just an example).

    I live in a very little town in the southern parts of Sweden.
    And I only pay 4700SEK a month, all utilities included. The apertment has 4 rooms and is about 80square meters in size, new kitchen, new floor, new bathroom etc.

    So you can live quite cheap in Sweden, if you only stay away from the big cities.

    How much money you need to get by in Stockholm mostly depends on your rent cost. If you get a cheap apartment like Hairy Swede then you don't need so much money (use his calculations).

    But if you want the best Stockholm or the suburbs has to offer, then you must have a really well paid job since some apartments are so extremely expensive, it's like buying a small house EACH MONTH!

    Let's see if Hairy Swede agrees with me, he is more of an expert on Stockholm than I am.

    Anyway, let me be the first to welcome you Eric to Sweden, hope you like it :)


  8. Geez, I pay 10.000:- a month for my are you getting yours so cheap?

  9. @thisindonesian – it is expensive, but I think you may be on to something, especially when it comes to Norway.

    @Lukáš – very true, and it is important to note that I live cheaply as a non-student. Living cheaply as a student is very different.

    @tippz – very true, and as I mentioned there were a few things this past week that happened much more than usual. Like going out three nights in a row.

    @antropologa – Ive managed to never have to buy an appliance in this country.

    @Michael – oooh, frugal is a nice word. Ive heard of lots of people who pull the empty suitcase and clothing trip from the US to Sweden.

    @Eric – yeah it can definitely come in handy. Living outside of town is of course much cheaper, the farther away you get from the city center, the cheaper it will be. Utilities depend, I have always had them included in my rent.

    The salary is completely dependent on jobs and where you are living, but the povertyline tends to be defined (after conversion) as about $20,000 per year.

    @anonymous (Martin) – very good points. Stockholm is probably much more expensive than other cities in Sweden, so I definitely agree. Living away from the city center of Stockholm will definitely lower your costs.

    @Anne – Im sneaky impressive. And live in an apartment the size of a shoebox.

  10. The cost of living depends a lot on where you live. As people and you say, Stockholm is expensive. Living as a student in Uppsala I can get away spending around 5000 a month. Around 2800kr is rent, and I'm a small person not eating much food, and what I eat is really cheap. Really, really cheap: porridge and lentilsoup and so on. And I bike everywhere I go. I have a fika maybe 3 times a month and sometimes buy clothes, but never expensive ones. When I go out, there are very cheap alternatives for students here in Uppsala, where a beer doesn't cost you more than 25-30kr. You can probably get away even cheaper than I do, but it requires you to be a certain kind of person, I think.

    You seem to be doing pretty good, being able to travel as much as you do.

  11. The cost of living there does not seem all that expensive to me ironically, but then I think it's because I live in California and a one bedroom apartment around my area is 6400kr. That's a "Modest" area. It goes higher the closer into to "Downtown" one lives. In San Francisco a studio apt was 10,000kr and that was back in the early 90's. I shudder to think of it now. Cost of living here does not balance out when employment wage and medical care is taken into factor. I'm fairly sure if I worked it all out as thoughtfully as yours, most of CA will make Stockholm look cheap. lol

  12. @Anne

    Like I said in my previous post, move away from the city and you can find a nice and cheap apartment.

    All my friends have about the same rent cost as I have, since they all live outside the big cities.

    The fact that you (maybe) have to commute when living outide the city is the only downside.

    I live about 65km outside Göteborg, and it only takes me about 50-60min to get there by train. And I'm fortunate to have all my train costs paid by my employer.

    But even if you have to pay the train costs yourself, it's still a good solution.


  13. Thanks, I know its cheaper in the 'burbs. I'm not really complaining... my husband and I have a big, furnished apartment in the middle of the city, first-hand (technically) so we don't have to worry about getting kicked out. I just didn't realize one could live alone for so cheap in Stockholm. Its promising! Now if only they could widdle down the 27-year waiting list for apartments on Gamla Stan...

  14. I have lived in Copenhagen and now living in Oslo. It's indescribable how filthy expensive things are here :(

  15. The rent might be cheaper in cities fairly close to Stockholm..say Nyköping or Enköping. But foodprices, and going out to eat more than a pizza will definitely be more expensive....and the range/quality will be less/worse. I wuld go for one of the nicer older suburbs along the subway lines of Stockholm./be

  16. Wow... Why do you spend 700 on drinking? That's where all your money is going... :P
    I also agree with Martin, Stockholm is more expensive than the rest of Sweden.
    I'm actually a little surprised... I've always thought Oslo would be the most expensive city in the entire world. ^^

    I think Sweden is a very inexpensive country to live in - but if you spend a lot of money on drinking, partying and eating out you're losing a lot of money real fast.
    My plan, which seems to be working, is to go out once a month, possibly twice. That way, you can have real fun that once and not feel like your going out just because you should. And then I carefully choose who I'll go out with.

  17. If cut out all the fun and socializing, you can live even cheaper. Trust me, I know. I have practically no life, but let me tell you one thing, I have money. I don't use it very much, though...

  18. I don’t have much experience with US prices. I think it was about the same when I was in NY as a traveler, eating out, beer, entrance fees etc, so not a very complete picture. I compared lots of prices in Canada though. The produce and groceries is about the same, some things cheaper some things more expensive. Generally though cheaper consumer products. But the main thing I think you are missing in your calculations is everything that is for free in Sweden. Free education for example. Universities are totally free of charge. You actually get money, “studiebidrag” (study subsidies), from the government to study! Free school lunch up til 18 years. Free dental care until you’re 19. Cheap health care with a “högkostnadsskydd” (maximum cost). For example, you never pay more than 900 SEK/year to see a doctor (some dental care included), you never pay more than 1800 SEK/year for drugs. Then if you have a family, subsidised day care for the kids. 480 days of parental leave with 80% of the salary. You also have the right to take care of your kid at home if they get sick, again, you still get your salary. 4 weeks of vacation by law, normal vacation is 5-6 weeks. Etc ... I can go on for ever. All these benefits have to be paid somehow. One example is “moms” (sales tax?) which is 25 % on most items and 12% on food. In US about5%? That alone makes 20% difference on most consumer products.

    I’m not saying what system is right or wrong, but there is a big difference in the systems and the big picture. So a calculation based on a week of consumption seems a little weak to compare it truly.

    Me? I haven’t paid a cent for my education and have a salary of more than 30 000 SEK a month. I now have a leave of absence (by law you are guaranteed leave of absence for studies) and study at university for free, paying the living costs with my saved money.

    The more I have travelled the more I have come to appreciate all the benefits of Sweden.

    Welcome to Sweden – It’s different :)

  19. An excellent post by Per.

    Simply put, the taxes are high in Sweden, but much is free (more or less).


  20. Are universities free or is that up to the age of 19 as well? I am over 25 yrs old and was looking at the technology universities so was wondering if that is free or not. Also are these benefits for citizens only, permanent residents, immigrants, or everyone?
    Side note, been learning Swedish on my own for over 6 months and was wondering if I was working in Sweden how you could take Swedish classes at the Swedish institute.
    By the way great post by Hairy and great comments and input. A lot of useful information from this post :)
    and by the way I live in California, and sales tax is 8.25% but none of the paid benefits like over there.

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  22. Per said "you never pay more than 1800 SEK/year for drugs"

    That is pharmaceutical drugs. Party drugs are on your own expense. :)

  23. Ha ha ha! True, that is not included.

    Free universities: Free for Swedes up to age of 55 or something I think. It's been free even for foreigners, but they are gonna start with tuition soon (except for Europeans I think, ERASMUS). 2011 the tuitions start I think? All other benefits are for citizens, we pay your education, we can't give you everything ;) I think though if u study here for 2 years u get the health care (and more?). Don't know the details. Check and, think u'll find some info there.

  24. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences with us. I am going to continue my studies in Sweden and your blog is helping me very much.

    waiting to see more...

  25. Oh how I wish I was able to be cheap when I was living in Sweden, though the fact the cost of living in Sweden is that much greater than Australia I had no concept on what was cheap or expensive (our VAT is only 5% and fresh fruit and veg and most dairy is VAT free) and just gave up on trying to live on a budget; and I have a bad habit of forgetting my usual frugal spending every time I'm overseas.

    My rent killed me as I'm a student and the fact students don't work part time in Sweden like I usually would at home made paying my bi-monthly rent of 9540SEK excruciating, but I did have decent sized flat. I only got by thanks to my savings, government loan and fortnightly social security payments and my parents sending me money.

  26. @ Per
    You are so right, all those benefits need to be included. Do you pay a fee per month for your medical? We do in Canada. Does your medical include massage, physio or other therapies like chiropractic? Just curious.

  27. No fee, the health care is founded by taxes.

    Most employers offer free massage for their workers (and often during working hours).

    I have only been to hospital once. At first I was called to examination, it cost me 300SEK.

    Then it was time for the operation, 2 doctors, 1 anesthetist (think it's spelled like that), 3 nurses.
    And the operation took about 6hours and I spent 6 days at the hospital. And this cost me... nothing.


  28. @Juni
    Guess you got some answers above. When it comes to massage, physio or other therapies like chiropractic; I am almost certain it is included IF your doctor says you need it (your doctor subcribe you treatment? Not sure of the English here) But sorry never been that sick so never tried it myself.

  29. Martin, in which "landsting"? In Stockholm you have to pay 80 kr each day you spend in hospital.

  30. @Izi – absolutely, and I feel fairly confident that Stockholm is the most expensive out of all the places in Sweden.

    @Lyn.n – it is all relative, coming from Colorado, this was a hell of a shock to me.

    @anonymous – true, and a little time on the train is good for reading.

    @Anne – hey Im up to three years now. By the time Im 50 I could maybe get myself a place in the middle of town.

    @thisindonesian – Ive heard bad things about just buying a pizza in Oslo.

    @anonymous – good advice.

    @Ellen – well the sad thing is that that only averaged out to be about three drinks per night. Mostly because a large portion of that money went to delicious chili nuts.

    @Robban – balance Robban. Balance.

    @Per – maybe, but as I said… I did no research for this at all. It was just money that left my wallet.

    But I will say that if you are working in Sweden, those things aren’t free. Which is painfully obvious around tax time.

    But youre right, Sweden does good work with handing out the benefits. I need to take more advantage of them now that Ive been paying into the system for so long.

    @Anonymous (Martin) – free and free.

    @Eric – universities are still free, but starting next fall they will no longer be free to non European students.

    Some of the benefits are available to just about everyone who is living in Sweden whether a citizen or just on a student visa.

    A lot of people take Swedish courses at night while working here. Ive talked with friends who have done it, they say it is difficult but doable.

    @Priscila – YES!

    @Mazui – well played.

    @Per – is also a good one.

    @Mehdi – glad to hear it, good luck with the studies!

    @That Girl – it seems more and more students are working while studying. I remember when I studied abroad in Uppsala very few people seemed to work, that seems to be changing. Or maybe I just have more ambitious friends this time around.

    @Juni – A lot of those massage things will be covered by work.

    @anonymous (Martin) – yup. Although Ive never been offered a massage during working hours.

    @Per – where I work that sort of thing falls under the friskvårdsbidrag.

    @Ulrika – going to have to leave that one for Martin to answer.

  31. @Ulrika

    I was living in Jönköping when I visited the hospital.

    80SEK isn't very much though...
    If you had to pay the real cost it would be much higher (500-1000SEK per day or maybe even more).
    And the operation (if you had one) would be very very very expensive.


  32. Paying taxes if a bummer of course, although when disaster strikes you kind of get a new perspective. My dad caught a very serious lung infection and wound up in intensive care for 3 months. His treatment cost around 8 000 kr/day. He payed 80 kr/day which was covered by his workplace. The rest was paid for by tax money.

    Now I don't complain as much when I see the tax deducted column anymore. ;-)

  33. @ Per well you don't have to be sick to need a massage :)
    @ Hairy how nice to get a massage at work, I think I'd like a job in Sweden ;)

  34. From a month last year (Living in a "nice" suburb to Stockholm):

    Rent: 1443
    Telephone: 237
    Internet: 299
    Insurance: 150
    Food and drinks: 1689
    Other (including a plane ticket for 1866kr): 3304,5

    Total: 7122,5

  35. Is it difficult/really expensive to be a vegetarian in Sweden? I heard from a friend that it's very hard in Norway, is it the same in Sweden?

  36. J.B, how do you get a rent in a nice suburb for 1443? It might be possible if that is the monthly cost in a bostadsrätt, but then you need 2 millions first to buy it så you must include the mortage cost.

  37. Well to be honest it is a bostadsrätt and I should have included the morgage but I pay it bymonthly and not that month, but it is around 1000kr (low interest rate, yay) so actual cost of housing would be around 2,500 kr a month.

    And you don't need 2 million for an apartment in the suburbs, those are city prices,

  38. @anonymous – just saying hello.

    @Charlie – true, when it comes down to it, it becomes that discussion of what people value. The safety net that the Swedish system provides is something that a lot of people appreciate and so the high taxes are accepted.

    @Juni – hell, Id like a new job in Sweden if massages are offered.

    @J.B. – that is the cheapest damn rent I have ever heard of in Sweden.

    @anonymous – I don’t think so. But I love meat and am probably one of the worst people to ask. Despite my love of meat, I do know of a couple of vegetarian restaurants in town so Im sure there are more available.

    @anonymous – good call.

    @J.B. – alright, that’s starting to sound a bit more reasonable.

  39. I have a friend who lives in Sweden. She is a true vegetarian. She told me that being a vegetarian in Sweden is too expensive. That is why she is planning to move back here in our original place.

  40. clearly just another reason why people should eat meat.

  41. Dear All,

    I am looking at Immegrating back to Sweden after 12 years, The issue is that I will be bringing my family (Wife and 2 Kids) with me back, now I know that I need to pay Medical AID/Insurance for the first year after that it will be paid for by the TAX pool, I did a base calc on my costs here in South Africa and found that my Monthly expenses would dropp by 9000SEK to 21000SEK/Month, I had Comuter pass (SL) for 2 x Adults and 1 x Child, Rent (3 Bedroomed flat), Croceries, Cell, Viechle Finance (150000SEK Car) Private Unit investment, Insurance (Private House Hold and 3rd Party), Water and Electricity.

    Can someone please validate this.


  42. If you can get by with a family of four on that, very impressive!

  43. I am a student looking to study in Sweden. I have EU citizenship since I was born in Sweden, but also American citizenship since my mother is from the US. I have grown up mostly in the states. I was wondering if you know anything about how studiebidrag works? I don't know if I can get it without being "skriven" in Sweden or not. It would help a lot to get 2500 sek per month if I plan to study there, I just don't know how it all works. I also have no idea how hard it is to get into Swedish universities..

  44. pretty sure you need to be registered as living in Sweden. If not, I've missed out on a lot of money over the years. check out the CSN website to be sure though. They have a FAQ page and also options in English.

  45. Hey. Your blog is righteous. I was worrying about costs of moving to Sweden. Then I remembered I live in Chicago. Even being a couple steps over your frugality, probably just to start until I learn the lay of the land, I'm still gonna be saving money. Chicago blows goats...