Swedish For Immigrants (SFI)

When moving to a foreign place people often fret about not fitting in with the culture because of a language barrier. In Sweden I have never once encountered a significant language barrier, in part because Swedes love to speak English. In a sense, learning the Swedish language is made more difficult only by the Swedes eagerness to speak English with a native English speaker.

In an effort to encourage more Swedish speakers, the government offers free Swedish For Immigrants (SFI) courses. SFI classes are offered in nearly every city in Sweden, and there is different levels from beginner, to advanced. To apply for SFI  classes simply go to your nearest kunskapscentrum (just Google “kunskapscentrum”). The kunskapscentrum is a local government agency that exists to help people discover educational and career opportunities. When you apply make sure you have a passport or other identification, as well as documentation confirming you are a Swedish resident. You will need to fill out a one page form asking a few basic questions like address, personnummer, etc., as well as your current level of Swedish language skill. The levels are broken down A, B, C, D – A indicates a beginner, D indicates proficiency. Within each level there is a sub category of A1, A2, etc.

The final question on the application for SFI asks where you would like to study – there is a number of different programs in which you can enroll – ultimately the decision is up to you – how much time do you have to commit to studying, which school is closest, etc. After you have answered these few questions, your information will be submitted, and you will be reviewed for acceptance at the chosen school. While the process of applying takes only a few minutes, you must wait up to 4 weeks to start the SFI course. Once accepted you will receive notice in the mail, with a day you are supposed to come to class and begin the course.

Success in the SFI program is based largely on how much time you can commit to the studies, but also, what school you choose. I have had experience with two different schools in Stockholm (there is way more than two) – Eductus, and Hermods. I would never recommend Eductus to anyone – I was attending Eductus twice a week after work, for 2-3 hours. The classroom experience was extremely unprofessional and lacked any proper structure. After 2 months of Eductus, I switched to an online only course with Hermods. The Hermods course is quite thorough and educational. If you are pressed for time and still wish to study, I would definitely recommend trying Hermods – either online, or in the classroom. If you have the time for extensive classroom study, and live in Stockholm, everyone I have spoken with says the Folkuniversitetet SFI class is by far the best in Sweden. Again if you are in Stockholm, have the time and desire to learn Swedish – go with Folkuniversitetet as your first choice, and Hermods as your backup.

Because the SFI classes are free (and used to carry a monetary incentive to finish), there is no reason not to at least try the course. I have spoken with many other English speakers who are learning or have learned Swedish, and everyone (myself included) says the same thing – SFI is good to a point, but it is definitely a broken system of learning. In my personal experience with Swedish language learning, I have had the most success from using a combination of Babbel and Pimsleur. While they cost a bit of money, they fundamentals are much better and easier to understand. I would recommend signing up for a free trial and test the Babbel and Pimsleur learning systems – the combination of visual and audio makes for a much more pleasant learning experience.

In the next posts I will be discussing finding a job and working, as well as an ongoing commentary on life in Sweden. If you have any questions or comments please feel free to comment or send an email at movingtostockholm@gmail.com.



The Person Number (Personnummer)


At this point you have now received the residence/ visa card from Migrationsverket – now that you are officially registered within the country of Sweden you can attain a person number (personnummer). A person number essentially functions the same way as a social security number in the USA. To receive a person number, you must go to your nearest Skatteverket (literally “tax office), that specifically handles person numbers. Because Skatteverket has many different branches and areas of operation, I would recommend calling Skatteverket first to ensure you go to the correct person number office nearest you.

After locating the nearest Skatteverket person number office, you must collect all documents, paperwork, passport, residence card, etc. you have received up to this point, and bring them with you. Once you arrive at the Skatteverket office you will be greeted by someone inquiring specifically as to the nature of your visit, simply inform you need to apply for a person number. A one page application must be completed and then you will be entered into the cue, and wait to speak with a Skatteverket representative. The application is very straightforward, asking questions like birthday, arrival in Sweden, current address, etc. When you get called to meet with a representative they will go through the application, confirming everything listed with the documents you have provided. They will then photo copy your passport and residence card, and ask for a signature. After completion, you should receive a letter in the mail from Skatteverket containing your Swedish personnummer. This typically takes 2-4 weeks to receive.

It is worth noting a Swedish personnummer is simply your birthday followed by 4 digits so it reads something like YY-MM-DD-XXXX (year, month, day, 4 extra digits). If you are male, the second to last digit of the personnummer will always be an odd number, if you are a female, the second to last digit of the personnummer will always be an even number.

ID Kort

Attaining a personnummer is the first major step after receiving a residence card and settling in Sweden. The second major, and absolute essential step is getting your national Skatteverket identification card. Without this card you cannot open a bank account, establish a phone plan, etc. I want to immediately alleviate any concerns or reservations about getting the ID card – the process was extremely simple, and takes next to no time at all.

The process to receive an ID card starts online – you must first go to the Skatteverket website and find the wire transfer information, to wire 400 SEK directly to Skatteverket, which covers the cost of the ID card. After wiring the funds, you should receive a receipt from Skatteverket and some kind of notification from your bank. This verification of payment must be printed and brought with you to your nearest Skatteverket office that handles ID cards, view the full list of offices here. In addition to payment verification you must bring your passport, residence card, personnummer verification, and any additional supporting documentation.

When you arrive at your nearest Skatteverket that handles ID cards (if you are in Stockholm), you will be asked what you need to take care of, they will verify you have completed the payment properly, and then you are placed in a cue. At the first station you will meet with someone typing in your details and once again verifying payment in the computer. You are then measured, and entered into a second cue. When it is your turn in the second cue, you will sit down with a Skatteverket representative who will ask you to verify your details, photo copy your passport, take your photo, and ask for a signature. When this has been completed, you receive a paper printout containing the details of the ID card.

Within 2-3 weeks you will receive notice in the mail your ID card is ready to pick up from the same Skatteverket where you applied. To pickup the ID card, you need your passport or another form of identification, to be safe, I also brought all of my previous documentation and residence card as well. When you arrive at Skatteverket they will ask why you are there, you will be very clear saying you only need to pick up the ID card. You will be placed in a cue, they will verify your identity, you will then sign the actual card, as well as one more digital signature confirming the card has been received. When the confirmation has been signed, you are done, and have the official Swedish ID Kort.

Based on my experience, you can most definitely survive without receiving the ID card immediately, however, in terms of working you can do almost nothing without a person number. It is my strong recommendation to take care of the person number and ID card, as soon as you can. While there is very little information on the Skatteverket website, the entire process of applying for a person number and ID card is very simple, and streamlined.

In the next posts I will be discussing SFI, working, and an ongoing commentary on life in Sweden. If you have any questions or comments please feel free to comment or send an email at movingtostockholm@gmail.com.



Arriving in Sweden

You’ve been granted the visa/ residence permit, you’ve arrived in Sweden. Now what? As mentioned in the previous post once you receive the decision you have two options. Option one – you go to the Swedish Embassy in your country to get fingerprinted, residence/ visa card, etc. OR if Sweden does not require you to have a visa prior to entrance in the country (US residents can stay 90 days without a visa), you can leave for Sweden as soon as you get the decision, and take care of the fingerprints, residence/ visa card, etc. when you arrive in Sweden. For the sake of this post we will assume you have arrived in Sweden with only a paper copy granting you the visa/ residence permit.

Upon arrival the very first thing you must do is visit the nearest Migrationsverket office. Follow this link to the Migrationsverket website, find you nearest office, and schedule an appointment. Once you have booked an appointment, you simply show up at the designated time, at the spot in the Migrationsverket office dedicated to residence cards. Here you will present your passport, visa papers, and any other documentation you have received up to this point in the process. They will ask a few simple questions confirming the information you have provided up to this point, you will then get your photo taken, and sign your name confirming everything is correct. After this has been completed you are done at the Migrationsverket office and you should receive your residence card within 2-3 weeks, delivered to your home address. The entire process at Migrationsverket was extremely simple and straightforward, taking no more than 5 minutes to complete the process.

The residence card is essential to the process and you cannot receive a person number, bank account, etc. without first attaining the residence card. Bottom line, as soon as you arrive in Sweden, or prior to arrival, book the appointment and get to Migrationsverket. In my experience, I received the residence card after about one week.

In the next posts I will be discussing the person number, SFI, working, and an ongoing commentary on life in Sweden. If you have any questions or comments please feel free to comment or send an email at movingtostockholm@gmail.com.



You’ve applied, what happens next?

So, you’ve applied for your residence permit/ visa to move to Sweden – what happens next? Within this post I will cover the basics of what will typically happen, what to expect, etc.

As I briefly mentioned in the previous post, when applying on the Migrationsverket website, or when speaking to any employee from Migrationsverket, they tell you to expect waiting a minimum of 10 to 14 months. They claim to be constantly overloaded with applicants and not nearly enough qualified staff to grant visas. I believe they state such a long expectancy period to discourage people from applying so government employees can continue enjoying a 26 hour work week (I decided I gave Migrationsverket to much praise in the previous post). When you apply for the visa online, you will receive a confirmation email indicating the application has been received. Once the person you are moving to in Sweden has completed their portion of the application, you will receive another email indicating the application has been accepted and is under review.

In my case I applied on the December 23, 2013. My girlfriend completed her portion on December 27, 2013. On January 2, 2014 I received an email indicating my application had been reviewed and I needed to schedule an interview at a Swedish Consulate. In the USA Sweden has consulates or missions throughout the states. The Swedish Consulate in San Francisco happened to be nearest to me, I phoned the Consulate on Friday January 3, 2014 and set an interview for the January 14, 2014. After the interview, I received word the next day (January 15, 2014) my visa had been granted.

In my particular case, the entire bureaucratic process took 24 days. When I factor in the planning and educating prior to applying, I would estimate the total time at approximately 29 days – while it is rather expedited compared to what Migrationsverket says to expect, it still can vary. I have spoken with other applicants from USA who received a visa in 4 months, in another situation it took 14 days. Final thoughts – if everything is correct when you apply, I would imagine within one or two months you will be granted a visa.

In the next two posts, I will cover the consulate interview and post interview process in detail. If you have any questions or comments please feel free to comment or send an email at movingtostockholm@gmail.com



First Steps

Within this post I will be covering the basics of Migrationsverket, determining what application type suits you best, how to apply, tips on applying, as well as a few additional thoughts from my experience applying for a residence/ work visa.

So what is Migrationsverket? Migrationsverket, also referred to as the Swedish Migration Board, is the government agency of Sweden handling all affairs regarding moving to Sweden, working in Sweden, seeking asylum, etc. The Migrationsverket website is organized quite well and it is easy to navigate to find the proper applications to apply for residency. To begin, you must not be in Sweden. You can only apply from your home country. In my case this was the United States. Once you are in your home country, register on the Migrationsverket website and choose which application type suits your situation best. For most individuals seeking to relocate in Sweden, the reason is almost always “moving to someone” – for anyone planning to move with family, girlfriend, boyfriend, etc. go here to register on Migrationsverket and begin the application.

After registering, there are a few things you must put together prior to submitting the application. First and foremost, an up to date copy of your passport is required. The Swedish individual you are moving to must also request a copy of their Personbevis from the taxation authority. In addition to these two primary documents, if you are moving to someone you are in a relationship with compiling photos, plane tickets, and other documents helping to prove your relationship can be helpful and speed up the process. I also included images of relevant passport stamps in and out of Sweden, and letters from friends further verifying the legitimacy of my relationship.

Filling out the actual application is quite simple and very straight forward. The majority of the questions are about your family, your background, etc. as well as questions about the co-habitee’s family, background, and several questions about your relationship including first meetings, meetings since first meeting, plans for the future, and so on. When filling out the application you are given 1.5 hours to complete each page – I recommend registering, then filling out very short answers (1-2 words) so you can access the entire application and copy/ paste the questions into another document to review prior to submission. I initially registered with Migrationsverket months prior to applying, pasted the questions into a separate document, answered the questions completely, and then when I was ready to apply for real, registered again, filled out the application, and submitted.

After completing the required fields and reviewing, prior to submitting the application there is a one time fee of 1,500 SEK (about $230 USD). Pay the fee, press submit, and you should receive confirmation the application has been received immediately. Once the application has been received, an email is also sent to the person you are moving to. The email includes instructions to go to Migrationsverket and login (username/ password information provided in the email), after logging in, the co-habitee has 14 days to complete the same exact series of questions on the application.

Once you have both submitted the application, you must wait until the Migrationsverket contacts you. Their website indicates it typically takes between 10 and 14 month to hear from them. This scared me when I was first applying, but I came to realize it was extremely inaccurate. Surprisingly, Migrationsverket works rather efficiently for a government agency – I applied on December 23, 2013, on January 2, 2014 I received an email indicating I need to schedule an appointment with a Swedish consulate.

The process was much easier than I had anticipated and went very quickly. If you have any questions or comments please feel free to comment or send an email at movingtostockholm@gmail.com