Integration in Sweden – How to Integrate as an Immigrant in Sweden

Immigration and integration in Sweden

Sweden immigration facts, statistics and tips for a faster integration in Sweden.

Moving to a new country

Moving to a new country is exciting but it also gives you a long list of challenges. Challenges to overcome in order to perceive oneself as part of the society and being well-integrated.

Immigration in Sweden

Immigration facts

In September 2014, I talked to the Swedish minister for immigration and integration, Erik Ullenhag, after a presentation he gave at Linnaeus University in Växjö.
Some interesting facts he shared:

  • To “become Swedish”, it takes up to four generations (so called försvenskningprocessen, “process to become Swedish”)
  • 15% of Sweden's population is born abroad
  • 50% work as cleaner
  • 1/3 medical doctors

Then, I asked him the following question: “What to do to quickly integrate in Sweden?”
His answer: “Number 1 and most important: learn the Swedish language!”

3 types of immigrants

There are three different types of immigrants (according to former Swedish minster for immigration and integration, Erik Ullenhag):

  • Arbetskraftsinvandrare, migrant worker
  • Flyktingsinvandrare, refugees
  • Nöjesinvandrare, those who immigrate “for joy”

Check out 15 Signs You’re an Immigrant in Sweden

The 11 most common foreign birth countries in Sweden

Country2019
1Syria191,530
2Iraq146,048
3Finland144,561
4Poland93,722
5Iran80,136
6Somalia70,173
7Yugoslavia64,349
8Bosnia and Herzegovina60,012
9Afghanistan58,780
10Turkey51,689
11Germany51,436
“Note that the table above lists the citizenship the person had when arriving in Sweden”. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immigration_to_Sweden

How to integrate as an immigrant in Sweden

Integration in Sweden – quick guide

  1. Get “the papers” right. Understand which requirements you need to fullfil and legal documents you need to have in order to come to Sweden, live and work there. More infos about the formal process at Migrationsverket (Swedish migration board).
  2. Find a place to live – your own house, apartment, or shared living space with another person.
    Turn to Google and type: “lägenheter [the name of your city]”, “bostäder …”, “köpa hus i …”, or check out Blocket.se.
  3. Find an occupation Arbetsförmedlingen (Swedish Public Employment Service)
  4. Learn the Swedish language (Your municipality in Sweden probably offers free language courses as well)
  5. Learn social norms and rules. (For example, by reading my book “How to be Swedish“)
  6. Learn how to connect with Swedes. Read: How to make friends in Sweden
  7. Celebrate Swedish traditions (or at least be aware what's going on)
  8. Learn about your rights and duties.
  9. Pay taxes (Taxation in Sweden), useful information from Skatteverkett (Swedish tax agency).
  10. Find out which institutions and organisations which might help you live your life in Sweden. Sweden offers support and opportunities in many – sometimes unexpected – areas.
    For example, reach out to ALMI if you want to start a company in Sweden.

Sweden survival guide – How to survive Sweden (culture guide)

Integration challenges

The core of integration: how to accept and adjust to a new culture without neglecting your own. After all your culture (values and believes) are part of your core of self-identity. Coming to a new country with new values and behaviours challenges your identity, requires change and may lead to conflicts with people who knew you before you changed. This is an ongoing process.

In order to integrate in a new environment you have to accept that you might have to change and develop – and consequently become a different person than the one your friends and family are familiar with.

The further away you are from prevailing cultural attitudes, the more difficult it is to overcome integration challenges.

I think it's important to learn and at least partly understand the values, behaviours and ideals lived by the people around you in order to integrate successfully.

Setting realistic integration goals – lower your expectations

I have been living in Sweden for more than ten years. And although I feel rather well integrated, I understand that reaching 100% is pretty much unrealistic unless you moved to the country when you were a young child. But even then, sometimes the cultural impact from your parents can make you feel osvenskt (“un-swedish“) as friends of mine who moved to Sweden with their family explained to me.

Setting a goal like “I want to feel well in the new country and try not to offend or disturb other people around me with undesired un-swedish behaviour”, is more realistic than saying, I want to blend in so much that Swedes won't even notice I'm originally from another country.

Making friends in Sweden

In a previous post on Hej Sweden, I have assembled my best tips how to make friends with Swedes. You find the post here. For example:

  • Be aware of cultural differences
  • Be open to adjust
  • Meet Swedes who are more open to internationals
  • Consider bonding over a drink
  • Dare making awkward conversation mistakes

    More tips how to make friends in Sweden, here

I share my personal story how I made friends in Sweden in this post.

3 common reasons why some Swedes don't want to make friends with you

I asked a couple of Swedes why they might have a more reserved attitude toward making friends with people from other countries. Here are a few thoughts and considerations they shared with me:

  1. Assumed time restrictions
    They might believe you're only going to be around for a short while (e.g. when you're an international student).
  2. Poor Swedish knowledge
    Although their English is excellent, Swedes prefer communicating in Swedish.
  3. Not having the same cultural background/experiences
    Even if your Swedish is good, when you're with a group of Swedes, they might think they have to limit the topics they connect with each other and, for example, think they can't make jokes about Bolibompa (Swedish TV program for children).

Read the complete list with deeper explanations, here: 3 reasons why Swedes don't want to make friends with you

Learning the Swedish language

As mentioned before, Swedes speak excellent English. This makes it easier for you to quickly meet new people and have a chat. But only superficially.

It can happen that, in daily life situations, you might want to practice your new Swedish skills, but as soon as most Swedes hear you have problems expressing yourself fluently they usually switch to english. They mean well. They just want to show you that you that you don't have to speak Swedish in order to communicate with them. (And yes, sometimes they can be impatient and just want to proceed with their work instead of having to listen to your slow explanation that you need a new torkarblad (windscreen wiper blade).

Follow these steps if you want to learn Swedish fast

Is Swedish easy to learn? Here my answer.

Culture shock in Sweden

Before you leave to the new country, you are probably afraid of being confronted with unsolvable or painful situations. Once you arrived you are likely to experience the following three stages – common emotions, experiences and behaviour of immigrants. These stages can last days, weeks or even months.

3 stages – moving abroad

  1. Excitement
    You are curious about everything. You notice the differences from your home country. You find out that some things that are “normal” to you (e.g. certain street signs or foods in supermarkets) are different from what you are used to. “What is a farthinder and is there a restricted amount of candy I can scoop into my candy bag at the candy wall?
    You start noticing in what way your own culture is unique by recognising differences in the other culture. You can't wait to discover new aspects of life in the new country. You focus on the positive aspects.
  2. Exhaustment
    You experience feelings of anger, confusion and irritation.
    You start having critical thoughts about local customs. “Why can't I buy a bottle of wine on a Saturday afternoon?
    The first phase of excitement and discovery is over. You have started to establish routines. Now that you want to integrate – want to move within the new group as “one of them” – you suddenly notice that there are still plenty of misperceptions, misunderstandings and culture crashes.
    You wish you could just “live in a flow” but recognise that any interaction will demand an extra amount of effort in comparison to communicating with someone at home. And we're talking more than just the language barrier. You start finding things that are better in your country and don't shy away from expressing your annoyance and the urge to point this “benefit” to others. A phase in which you feel little to none willingness to adjust.
  3. Acceptance
    After some time of resistance, you understand that you either adjust your perspective on what has been perceived “weird” or you are going to face a life with bitterness and resentment. “Alright, I'll just plan my weekend wine consumption in advance then, and will always have bottle at home in case I get a spontaneous invite to a friend!
    You keep thinking some things are better in your old country but find a rhythm navigating through the new.
    You start understanding that there is no perfect country but that things are handled in different ways.

And then, one day, after several month or years in the new country, you go back to your home country and notice – now, having a new perspective – that many things that are weird but you haven't thought about it that way before. Leaving you with a feeling “I should tell them what great solution they found in your new country“. You experience a reverse culture shock.
You go home and realise that, although you are capable of navigating through two cultures, you're not fully at home in any of them anymore.

How easy/difficult is integration in Sweden?

Is Sweden good for immigrants?

Swedish institutions make it easy to support you with the necessary education and basic backup be able to strive towards a “good life” in Sweden. (SFI, Swedish for immigrants for example is a language course free of charge).

On the other hand, integration in the sense of making friends with Swedes, building connections and a network with Swedes can be hard. The further away your home culture is from Sweden's culture, the more difficult it become to feel integrated in Swedish society.
Often times, at least initially, internationals make friends with other internationals.

Check out the post:
Talking to Swedes – Conversation Etiquette, What to Do & Avoid in Sweden



Further reading

More about Sweden