My name is Amanda and I’m an American who has been living in Sweden for six years as of the time I write this article. During my time in Sweden, I have applied for four different visa types listed throughout this article, therefore I am writing this from a mix of personal experience and research. And no, it wasn’t an easy process. Yes, it was often times scary. But I found a way to persevere and several applications later, I am still safely living here. I hope my knowledge can benefit some of you as well!
*DISCLAIMER: I am not a lawyer, and I am not giving legal advice. The purpose of this blog is to inspire you based on my own experiences so that you can make your own decisions based on research and proper legal consultation with a qualified lawyer. By continuing to read you agree that you will not hold me legally liable for anything.
You’ve decided that you want to move to Sweden, or already live in Sweden and decided that you want to continue living here. Logically, the next step is to figure out how you will support yourself financially – you need to get a job.
It’s quite well-known that many foreigners struggle to find a job in Sweden, even if they are qualified in their home countries and have a competitive professional background. In Sweden, things work differently and the job market has many hidden rules that aren’t obvious.
As the founder of Intertalents in Sweden, we hope to help highly qualified professionals – usually those with University education or many years experience in their expertise – to actually have a fighting chance to get a job and stay in Sweden. So, continue reading if you’d like a glimpse into this process, beginning with the first step – learning the legal.
Why is learning the legal the first step in the process? Because your entire strategy will revolve around this very crucial point. This is a ‘make or break’ aspect of the job search process, and if you aren’t properly prepared you could lose everything you’ve been working so hard to obtain in Sweden by getting deported, or the least saying goodbye to your Swedish dream life.
As a foreigner moving to or living in Sweden, it’s extremely important that you do your research first regarding permit requirements. If you are already an EU citizen, you likely do not need a permit to live or work in Sweden. But sometimes, you need some version of permission to live in Sweden long-term. Let me give you a real life example of what happened to a friend of mine. She decided that she wanted to move to Sweden from France to live with her Swedish boyfriend. Although she didn’t need a work permit in order to get a job, she did need to apply for a Sambo visa (more on that below) in order to get permission to officially reside in the country. This gave her permission to apply for a personal number, change her legal residence to Sweden, and so on. It is part of the legal process of relocating. Since she is from an EU country, she does not need a visa sponsorship from a job in order to work, or even to enter the country.
According to Migrationsverket, If you work, study or have sufficient means to support yourself, you automatically have right of residence in Sweden and therefore need not apply for a residence permit or contact the Swedish Migration Agency.
Notice how they say you have to have a reason: work, study, or can already financially support yourself. Since my friend in the story above had none of those, she had to apply for someone to support or sponsor her. Here you can find more information for EU citizens who want to move to Sweden and what their legal requirements are from Migrationsverket (the Migration Agency of Sweden): https://www.migrationsverket.se/English/Private-individuals/EU-EEA-citizens-and-long-term-residents/Work-study-or-live-in-Sweden-for-EU-EEA-citizens.html
However, despite the fact that they say EU citizens do not need to contact Migrationsverket for permission to live in Sweden, they are still liable to other government agencies such as Skätteverket (the tax office).
According to the website Sweden Abroad, As an EU citizen you have the right to work, study or live in Sweden without a residence permit. The right of EU/EEA citizens to stay in Sweden without a residence permit is called right of residence. You have right of residence if you are employed, self-employed, a student or have sufficient means to support yourself. If you have right of residence in Sweden you do not need to contact the Swedish Migration Agency.
Another post on Quora states, ‘EU citizens have the right to stay in Sweden for three months to find work. Once work is found (or a person can prove a steady flow of income and/or money to sustain themselves) then they can register at the tax office and subsequently stay in Sweden. They become liable for income tax in Sweden.’
So, in essence, you have to find some legal reason to continue residing in Sweden after 3 months.
Not an EU Citizen
Now, if you are not an EU citizen then things get much, much more complicated… but not impossible. Join any Expat in Sweden Facebook group and you will find endless complaining and warnings about just how hard it is. And yes, it is a very difficult road ahead for you if you are not an EU citizen or native Swedish citizen. Not always though, and it can be a lot less difficult if you have the right information from the beginning as well as the proper expectations. It doesn’t have to be as hard for you as it is for others. You’re here reading this blog now, properly researching, and already that gives you an advantage. Read more to gain some hope about this process.
If you are not an EU citizen, here are all the visas you can consider as a legal means to move to Sweden or live there:
- Visiting Sweden
- Study visa
- Business visa
- Work permit
- Sambo visa (living with a partner)
- Protection and Asylum
- Moving to live with family
The above is not a comprehensive list but is a simplified version of what most people end up applying for. Visit www.migrationsverket.se for the official list of options you have from the main source itself.
Here is my own summary based on personal experience and those of others I have met living in Sweden who have also experienced applying for these applications. Please note that again, this is not a legal counsel and also the laws are constantly changing around visa rules, and they may have changed since the writing of this article.
Migrationsverket website says, If you want to visit Sweden and you are a citizen in a country outside the EU, you may need to apply for a permit before the visit. Which permit you need to apply for depends on how long your stay in Sweden will be. If your stay in Sweden will be less than 90 days you may need to apply for a visa (for some countries). If your stay in Sweden will be more than 90 days you need to apply for a visitor’s residence permit.
Basically, some countries who are not in the EU require an approved visitors visa just to even enter the country for less than 90 days, like Pakistan for example. Other countries require no visa before entering if staying less than 90 days, like the U.S.
This can become complicated if you want a family member to visit you while living in Sweden. When you have a processing application and already live in Sweden, it can be a risk to leave before it is approved because you could potentially be denied entry back into the country until it is approved – though not always the case, it is only a maybe (though a risky one). Those who do not require a visitor visa have a much higher chance of being let back into the country while a visa processes than someone who would need a visitor visa.
There are several visas that fall under this category, such as a study visa for a semester at a Swedish University, and applying for a visa to look for work after studies (which was recently extended from only 6-months, like it was back in the time period when I needed it, to one year as of 2022. You just have to prove that you can support yourself financially during that time period. Migrationsverket will be mad I said this, but what many people do is take out a loan from their home country or borrow from family members to prove they have the funds and either send it back if they get a job sooner, or don’t need it in the end. I don’t know why this is frowned upon, as long as you are really supporting yourself legally!).
You can also get a special permit to study as a researcher or for a PhD in Sweden. However, I have heard stories that at the moment some visa rules make it difficult for researchers to stay in Sweden or extend their permit after their researcher visa expires. Make sure to check out the Migrationsverket website to find out more before you commit to this option. Although, there are open discussions right now in politics on how to make it easier for this group of talent to have an easier time staying in Sweden.
One important thing to note (that I wish someone had told me when I first moved to Sweden) is that in order to qualify to extend your permit after studies are completed in Sweden, you need at least 13 consecutive months spent studying in Sweden with an approved study permit (not 12 months, which makes it tricky) and you have to have passed all your classes or at the least, have a certain amount of credits earned in that time period. I came to Sweden as an exchange student at Jönköping University and was able to meet the requirements, but not everyone does. Keep a close eye on that 13 month requirement.
A final note I will add about this particular visa option: this is the easiest entry into Sweden. It is the easiest to get accepted with this visa application if you do not yet live in Sweden and want permission to move here. In terms of cost of University, it can certainly be higher if you are a foreigner and not from the EU. However, I moved to Sweden as an exchange student and therefore didn’t have to pay anything other than my usual payment to my school in the U.S., and I had financial aid. So, options exist! Get creative. If you are committed to coming to Sweden, consider going back to school for 13 months, because that will buy you 2 years in Sweden due to the 13 months of approved study visa, and one year searching for work after studying visa. Then, if you get a job, that will get you another 2 years.
Oh, and yet ANOTHER thing that I wish someone had told me before I thought this was my easy pathway to citizenship after 5 years of living in Sweden – school doesn’t count towards your 5 years. Yes, I cried too at this thought. The only thing that counts is the time you are a tax paying citizen through work sponsorship or some other visa that requires your investment into Swedish society – just not the study visa. That is 2 years spent buying from Swedish businesses not considered as a tax paying citizen. Take that into consideration. Also, if you want more information on creating a proper strategy towards long-term Swedish citizenship or another way to find entry into Sweden, contact a lawyer who can help with your individual scenario. Generally, it takes at least 5 years of consecutive residence in Sweden and visa extensions to be eligible to apply for citizenship, and even this number is up for debate (Swedish politics want the number of years to be higher).
You can apply to sponsor yourself by applying for a business visa, meaning you will be self-employed or start your own business. Make sure you read that again: you can sponsor yourself. Applying for a business visa takes some extra preparation, such as preparing your accounting forecast and proving that you are already experienced in the industry you want to start a business in. I know a few people who applied for this visa, and I myself have applied for this visa twice. Let me explain.
During my second year in Sweden, I was desperately searching for a job going on 13 months. Soon, my visa would expire and I was running out of time. I had told a friend about my concerns and he shared his own inspiring experience with me. When he was in a similar situation (about to run out of visa time), he switched his visa (he was already living in Sweden for awhile) from a study permit to a business permit and registered himself as an enskild firma business (a sole trader) and decided to work as a consultant in the field he was initially looking for a job in. He found a company who was willing to hire him as a full-time consultant and he got paid the same salary as a full-time employee, though he was now legally sponsoring himself. This was helpful because the companies that were scared to hire him because of the visa process now had an alternative option.
This inspired me, and knowing I had no other options left, I took a leap of faith and applied for a business visa as a self-employed consultant. But truthfully, I wanted to work in a full-time job as an employee. What no one else tells you when you’re in this situation is that business visas take a long time to be processed. Most likely someone isn’t even opening your paperwork for at least a year, but on average it takes 18 months. Once a business visa is approved, you are stuck with it. However, if you get a job offer within that time frame of 12-18 months then you can switch your visa application back to a work permit. This is what I did, and in fact did get a full-time employment offer while working as a self-employed consultant. I promptly switched my application from pending business visa to a work permit, and was approved within 1-2 months.
I must make a disclaimer here, though. Do not abuse this option – some have, and it may have a negative effect on future laws imposed by Migrationsverket that hurt all of us. If you apply for a business visa, do your best to approach it as a serious business. Consider registering yourself as an enskild firma (Sole Trader) or AB (Limited Company) along with the application, though it is not necessary! Make sure you have all your papers in order. Even if you have no customers yet, intend to deep within your heart. If you get no customers over the months, at least try your best. Remember, all you need to do is either be successful at this business or get a full-time job offer before they begin processing your application. Yes, I said what I said. Most people will not address this, but I believe if this option is used sincerely with the best of intentions that you can buy more time to live in Sweden.
Additionally, you can apply for this outside of the country to gain access but note that you will not be allowed to enter Sweden until it is already approved, versus my example above which relates to extending an already existing and approved application. In fact, that is the golden rule of applying for any visa in Sweden – always extend before your current approved visa ends. It is much harder to get approved when living abroad as you have to prove you can fully financially support yourself and your family, among other things. Check out the requirements on their website to learn more: https://www.migrationsverket.se/English/Private-individuals/Working-in-Sweden/Self-employment.html
In a personal example I know, there are some students from Pakistan who decided to open their own convenience store after finishing their studies. They applied for a business visa, opened the store and were successful, and were approved based on this. I also know someone from Russia who successfully co-owned a store with a Swedish person and after applying for a business visa, he was not approved (I’m not sure the reason why). So if you plan on riding this visa all the way out to approval, know that it may be one of your hardest options to attempt. If you have money though and an already successful business, it could work. I also know of an American YouTuber who was not allowed to use her online income as a source of financial support because it wasn’t steady enough to appease Migrationsverket requirements. My suggestion is to try to talk to others directly who used this option, and learn from there – both the successful and unsuccessful ones.
The almighty work permit – this is a really popular option because it is one of the easiest to maintain and be self-sufficient. It can be obtained for those who live both inside and outside of Sweden, although it can be trickier and harder to get if you do not yet live in Sweden (though not impossible). If you don’t yet live in Sweden and want this permit, be advised that the approval time can be very long and you have to wait outside of the country while it processes – which deters many companies from taking this option. You can increase your odds by making yourself a specialist in an industry that is in short supply, making friends with Swedish recruiters (check out my Networking in Sweden course for more guidance on this), join an international company from your country with a location in Sweden and see if you can transfer, or simply just write that you live in Sweden already on your LinkedIn or CV to get some interaction and when they ask where you live, say you plan on moving to Sweden in 1-3 months.
I always found it unfair that companies will overlook someone who is willing to live in Sweden, because the processing time is generally about same for both and many companies won’t let you start working until the work permit is approved (although legally they are allowed to if you have an already approved visa you are extending). Therefore, are you really doing much more than stretching the truth if you say you are planning to be in Sweden soon? If you do get the job, you would be in Sweden in that amount of time anyways. I always recommend this to someone who wants some sort of practice or even a chance to hear back from a Swedish recruiter for a job post, otherwise the chances are honestly extremely low. Be prepared to get creative here.
Some important things to know if you are applying for a work permit while already living in Sweden: you cannot leave the country with guarantee of reentry while it is still processing, though you may still be able to get back in (see above under visiting visa section). Processing times can take anywhere from 1-2 months for fast track (although as of early 2023 people are reporting it has jumped to 3-4 months with fast track companies, which are companies that hire many internationals and are already pre-approved to meet collective agreements with Migrationsverket, including for example IKEA or Spotify), and other contracts taking between 4-6 months, sometimes 8 months if you live abroad. If you get approved for a work permit, it usually lasts for about 2 years then you have to reapply and prove that you have met their requirements during this entire time, such as regular income and insurance provided by the company. If you lose your job during this time, then you have 3 months from the last day of employment to update your visa.
Usually, the Migrationsverket is unaware that you have lost your job unless you or your company informs them on your own. However, if you do not update your visa within the 3 month deadline after you become legally unemployed, they will find out in retrospect because eventually you need to apply for a new permit and they will make sure you met previous requirements first before approving the new one. I usually wait until the very end of the 3 month deadline to extend my visa because I know that once I do, I will be ‘trapped’ within the country again, unable to travel for fear of risking being banned from reentry. I want to enjoy my travel freedom while it still exists. Many expats are angry by this lack of freedom and even call it a human rights violation, as people will miss the funerals or weddings of family members because of this, and are often waiting between 1-2 years to be approved (or even denied). Recently in 2022 there was a petition to allow non-EU citizens to travel back home while their permit processes, you can view (and hopefully sign) it here: https://www.change.org/p/allow-non-eu-residents-to-travel-back-home
There are many more rules to know about applying for a work permit, and I encourage everyone to start with the Migrationsverket website: https://www.migrationsverket.se/English/Private-individuals/Working-in-Sweden.html
I have found helpful groups on Facebook that I recommend you to join to ask your questions and see the experiences of others, I will list them below:
- Sambo residency applications from WITHIN Sweden for AUS, CA, NZ, SK & CL
- Work permit – Sweden
- I väntan med Sambo inifrån på Migrationsverket/Waiting in Sweden Sambo
- Sweden Work Permit & Permanent + citizenship
Link to entire spreadsheet: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/13j72JLpi3Mc4MOpJoMOq3qc4-tWPGv7tL6ap3vZLz1Q/edit?usp=sharing
Sambo Visa (Living with a Partner)
Do you want to move to Sweden to live with a Swedish partner, or did you meet a partner and want to stay in Sweden to live with them? This is an interesting visa type because there are different rights depending on who you fall in love with. Yes, I just wrote that Sweden decides on your ability to live with a partner in Sweden based on where they are from and where they stand in society.
For example, if you fall in love with a Swedish citizen (whether you live in Sweden or want to move to Sweden), then you must apply from abroad in your home country and wait on a decision to be made. These waiting times are notorious for being very lengthy, usually from 8 months on the fast side and up to three years on the lengthy side. However, if you fall in love with an EU citizen who is not Swedish but still have the right to live in Sweden, then you can live with them and can wait in Sweden for your decision to be processed.
Many people have expressed dissatisfaction at this law because it affects Swedish citizens who seem to have less rights to wait with their loved ones than EU citizens. In the case of being a non-EU citizen, do check with a lawyer to understand your unique circumstances as sometimes people can live with a spouse in Sweden while waiting on their decision and sometimes they must return to their home country until a decision is made.
I personally know a couple where one was a visa holder of a work permit who was financially supporting his wife and they applied for a sambo visa. She then had to leave the country, return to her home country and they were apart for about a year until it was approved and she could move back to Sweden to live with them. Also, having a child and being married does not necessarily make your case easier or be approved faster. Partners have lamented that they were unable to attend the birth of their child due to the sambo visa rules.
Additionally, if you plan to move in with an EU citizen (who is not Swedish) then apply for a Sambo visa, make sure you are living together for several months (most lawyers recommend at least three) and change your residence to match the same address as theirs to show commitment to your decision. Another interesting fact is that with a sambo visa you do not need to commit to a legal marriage to be given the same rights to live with a married spouse. You can simply move in together, then apply for a sambo visa as a cohabitating (romantic) couple. Same-sex relationships are also allowed, although I have heard stories of first-hand accounts where same-sex relationships faced higher levels of scrutiny, such as drop-in home visits unannounced and extensive proof of their romantic relationship in terms of producing photos, phone call records, etc.
If you decide to apply for a sambo visa and want to continue living with the partner in Sweden while waiting on a decision, be prepared for a thorough investigation to prove the validity of your relationship. A marriage license and biological child are not enough to prove that your relationship of worthy of approval, and in fact, there have been heart wrenching stories of families being separated from each other for long periods of time or even deported forever, including wives and husbands. There are many factors that go into making these sorts of decisions from Migrationsverket and the reality is, the decision is often subjective (in my opinion) because each case handler will decide differently depending on their personality, bias, and the facts of their case (and dare I even say, based on their mood sometimes it seems).
When trying to prove the validity of your sambo relationship, you may experience all sorts of unpredictable behavior from Migrationsverket. In some cases, there were multiple unannounced visits to the home to make sure the couple were actually physically living together. Then I have heard cases from people first hand that describe a series of calls meant to ‘confuse’ the applicants (in the words of the person who experienced this) where both sambo partners would receive calls on the same day, usually minutes apart and when the case handler at Migrationsverket knew they were at work or not in the same physical space. The questions were meant to test their ability to prove their relationship and sometimes include things like what are the names of their spouses family members, what is the square meter or layout of the apartment they share, at what time does one partner leave for work and which route do they drive or which bus number do they take, and sometimes other questions that may not even be knowledgeable to the applicants if they don’t absorb information well (such as how many locks are on the door).
Based on the stories I have heard, be prepared for anything and make sure you have as much evidence and preparation as possible. As of the time of writing this article, I have never applied for a Sambo Visa but I have joined groups online where others discuss these questions openly and where you may find more answers for your particular situation. Here is the list of some Facebook groups you can join when applying for a Sambo visa:
- Sambo residency applications from WITHIN Sweden for AUS, CA, NZ, SK & CL
- Kärlek är inte tourism https://www.facebook.com/groups/282751113154756
- I väntan med Sambo inifrån på Migrationsverket/Waiting in Sweden Sambo
Learn more from Migrationsverket website: https://www.migrationsverket.se/English/Private-individuals/Moving-to-someone-in-Sweden.html
Protection and Asylum
As of 2023, there is a lot of focus on this particular visa application as it has been abused often in the past and therefore, resulted in more strict visa laws being passed with the new Swedish elections. At the same time, world events have created new situations where individuals are seeking Asylum in Sweden with a genuine need for protection, such as those from Ukraine or Afghanistan. It has been noted in various articles and other news sources that visas under this category are becoming more difficult to obtain due to previous abuse of this option, but there are still those being accepted now.
Those who wish to learn more about this category should start by seeking advice directly from the Migrationsverket website: https://www.migrationsverket.se/English/Private-individuals/Protection-and-asylum-in-Sweden.html
Moving to live with family
This option is not very commonly use by most foreigners hoping to move to Sweden, mostly because the requirements are quite high in terms of legal status and financial support that must be present. The Migrationsverkey website says about this category (which falls under a similar category as the Sambo visa):
In exceptional cases it is possible to get a residence permit to move to a family member in Sweden who is not already, or is not going to be, your husband, wife or cohabiting partner. This could apply, for example, to children over 18 years and parents of an adult child living in Sweden. Parents who want to move to a child aged under 18 years also have the possibility of applying for a residence permit. The family member in Sweden must, in most cases, have been granted a permanent residence permit. The family member may have a temporary residence permit if the person has been granted a permit as a refugee or a person in need of subsidiary protection, or on the grounds of specially/exceptionally distressing circumstances or impediments to enforcement, and is considered to have well-founded prospects of being granted a residence permit for a longer period.
The list above is in no means meant to be comprehensive, they are simply a summary of the most commonly applied for visas and my own knowledge and experience within these areas. Use this information as a resource rather than legal consult, and if in doubt hire a lawyer.
Regarding my own experience with hiring Migration lawyers, I cannot recommend someone directly as I was not very happy with the lawyers who I have services by. This is mainly because I felt that often they had differing opinions and advice of the same law or situation, and also that they took on so many clients that they did the minimal amount of work to help me and also get paid. In one instance, I was able to search visa laws on my own and argue my own case successfully to change the decision asking me to leave the country while I waited on a decision to then being allowed to stay in the country while I waited on my decision.
Another word of advice regarding lawyers – only hire a lawyer if (1) your company offers to assist you with a highly qualified lawyer of their own, (2) you have already tried to manage your application on your own and hit a roadblock (3) only want temporary consulting on a specific issue, but can manage most of the application process yourself. In my own experience, I would not recommend any lawyers who used to work for Migrationsverket in the past. You might think that they have a lot of knowledge about how the inside system works (which is partly true), but depending on how long they worked there they may have a mentality that is more like a case handler and less like a lawyer. Most case handlers are assessing you and your case, whereas lawyers have the mindset that you should have a positive decision – case handlers are neutral and in fact, working for the country of Sweden rather than for the foreigner. Of course, I cannot speak for all lawyers and say this applies to every single one who worked for Migrationsverket, but I can say based on personal experience that it is best to handle the application on your own to save money and only use lawyers if you get a good reference, it’s offered by your employer, or you are in real trouble.
If you truly need legal advice (for free), call Migrationsverket and ask them on the phone, write an anonymous email which they allow on their website, or browse meticulously through the Aliens act (2005:716) document where you can find loopholes to persuade a case handler to grant a decision in your favor: https://www.government.se/government-policy/migration-and-asylum/aliens-act/
In conclusion, deciding which permit you need in order to obtain a job in Sweden is an incredibly important task. It will determine how long it will take you to move to Sweden, if you qualify, what your strategy should be, and if you already live here if you can even stay or not. Every situation is unique and requires research, on reputable websites such as Migrationsverket.se or with a qualified lawyer with a good reputation. If any information in this article is inaccurate or has been updated due to new laws being passed, readers are welcome to reach out to me to inform of these changes at firstname.lastname@example.org.