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Why bright minds from across the world are choosing to live in Stockholm

If the world is your oyster, where do you choose to go and why? Today, many talented people decide by looking firstly for a city that fits their lifestyle – and then for the right job opportunities.

Why bright minds from across the world are choosing to live in Stockholm
Photo: Anna Hugosson/mediabank.visitstockholm.com

When it comes to achieving this balance, Stockholm offers a rare combination: it’s a global tech and start-up hub, a leader in sustainability, and big enough to make an international impact while remaining highly livable.

The Local spoke with two talented international residents – one with a family and one single – about why they’ve chosen to make the Swedish capital their long-term home.

Thinking of making a move? Check out Invest Stockholm's Talent Guide and Entrepreneur's Guide

‘It’s small enough to get to know key players’ 

Martin Hennig is a senior digital transformation consultant for Stockholm-based NoA Connect. He lives with his wife and two children in Vaxholm – the picturesque, self-proclaimed capital of the Stockholm archipelago, from which the city centre is under an hour away by boat.

But he and his family could so easily be living a very different life. German-born Hennig previously lived in Dublin, briefly in London, and in Connecticut in the US, which he and his American wife Laureen left behind for Stockholm three years ago. 

“We chose Stockholm despite knowing we’d earn less money here,” he says. “We did not know the language – we’re still learning. We have no family ties to Sweden. And my wife had never set foot on Swedish soil before moving here.” 

Even by the standards of today’s mobile skilled workers, it would seem a brave move to have made. “We have no regrets and we’re happy with our decision,” he continues. “Our work-life balance was rather miserable, so while my wife's family in the US did not love the idea of us moving, they supported our decision in the end.

“Stockholm is a really interesting spot with lots of entrepreneurs, innovation and internationally significant companies in fintech, gaming and so on. It’s also small enough to get to know key players in a short matter of time.”

Photo: Martin Hennig and his wife Laureen in Vaxholm

‘We literally googled “best places to raise families”’

So, how did this all come about? Hennig’s only previous experience of Stockholm was on a brief Erasmus exchange programme in 2004. “I thought the city was gorgeous and felt very safe,” he says. When he and his wife began to imagine a different life, these positive memories came flooding back – after a little technological prompt.

“We literally googled ‘best places to raise families’ and Sweden was in the top results,” says Hennig. “I remembered how nice Stockholm is. We started looking for work via LinkedIn and realised that many jobs in our field don’t require you to speak Swedish.”

His wife, a business analyst, soon had an attractive offer. They decided to go for it and had just 12 weeks to sort out the move, with Hennig finding his job later that year. The couple are convinced Google put them on the right track – for family and much more.

Their first child was born in 2015 in the US – where there's no national statutory parental leave and the little you do get varies across states. Hennig says his wife was only entitled to six weeks of ‘short-term disability’ benefits, while as a father he got no parental leave.

Their second child was born after their move to Stockholm. “Needless to say that experience was completely different,” says Hennig – not least in terms of the generous parental leave and low childcare costs. “Our priority was a family-friendly society, a safe place that’s liberal, progressive, social. We love our community and we like our work and career outlook too. Home is a bit of a difficult concept for me – but this feels like home.”

Want to work in a global tech hub that values quality of life? Find out more about Stockholm

‘I was aware of the great energy in digital innovation’

Growing up as a digital native in the US, Erik Cativo knew from his mid-teens that Stockholm was a centre for cutting-edge technology. The invention of bluetooth at Ericsson’s Stockholm offices and early adoption of peer-to-peer file sharing both earned his attention. “I knew there was great energy in digital innovation in Stockholm,” he says.

Fast-forward to today and Cativo works at Ericsson in Stockholm himself as a senior UX designer. In September, he took a 28 percent pay cut to leave Washington DC for his new home. 

“I believe in the Nordic model,” says Cativo. “Salaries in US tech are high – but it comes at a price. To get the qualifications I needed, I took on US$40,000 in debt at four percent interest.” He could be paying off the cost for decades, he says.

So, what about the innovation that first made him aware of Stockholm? “I pay my rent digitally with Bank ID, I make payments with Swish – it really is a digitally advanced society,” he says. 

Photo: Erik Cativo in Stockholm

Cativo is an example of the highly talented people that a recent report on talent from Invest Stockholm says “call the shots” on who they work with and where. In a “hyper-connected” world, location still matters; the report cites evidence that “two thirds of highly talented individuals choose the city before they choose the company or the job”.

‘I found it easier to get by with English in Stockholm’

Cativo visited Barcelona, Berlin and Paris in 2017 while studying in Scotland. But after he returned to the US, it was Stockholm that stood out as the place he most wanted to return to.

“There was something about Stockholm that felt very interesting to me,” he says. When he decided to look for new job opportunities, he ignored headhunters in the US and the appeal of Berlin to focus purely on Sweden.

“I found it easier to get by with English in Stockholm,” he says. “The level of English proficiency in Berlin didn’t seem to be as high as here.”

He visited several Swedish cities and soon realised that Stockholm was the natural fit for his talent. His appreciation of his new home extends far beyond its tech scene, however.

“Stockholm is incredibly beautiful,” he says. “They do a great job of balancing modern design with older architectural styles. I’m also in awe of how quick and easy it is to get around – by foot, by bus or on the tunnelbana (subway). I can get across the entire city in 20 minutes.”

Cativo was also attracted by the potential for a relatively quick path to citizenship, which you can apply after five years in Sweden. “I believe that long-term I’ll have a better life here,” he says. “For myself and my future children.”

Looking for new opportunities and a better quality of life? Click here to find out more about moving to Stockholm – and follow these links for Stockholm's Talent Guide and Entrepreneur's Guide.

CHILDREN

How different is raising kids in Switzerland compared to the United States?

What can families anticipate with regard to raising children in Switzerland and in which ways does it differ from the United States? Here is a look at some of the main differences.

How different is raising kids in Switzerland compared to the United States?

Moving to a new country can come with a pretty big learning curve – especially if you’re moving with family.

Schools

Switzerland offers the choice between public, private, international, and boarding schools. Public schools are however the norm for the vast majority of kids – of about 5,000 schools in Switzerland, only about 300 are private.

International schools are a popular option for families that have been in international schools in other countries, or if they’re keen on their kids being immersed in and developing their English.

Some of the top boarding schools can be found in Switzerland, with families from all over the world sending their kids to them. Wait lists can be long, but this sleep-away option is available for kids ages 3-18. 

Approximately 95 percent of Swiss parents send their children to public schools because they are free and because the educational system is such high quality.

READ MORE: How much does it cost to raise a child in Switzerland?

Many international parents opt for public schools so their kids can pick up the local language and make local friends. Public schools in Switzerland are fantastic and your child will have access to a solid education complete with activities and outings.

There are physical education activities in addition to recess and bi-monthly trips for swimming lessons, and often ice skating in the winter. 

Parents and students alike will almost immediately notice a difference in the amount of homework that comes home.

Heather Wittkopp has two sons that go to a private school in the German-speaking region, near Zug. She recalls the struggles back in Pennsylvania.

“It was very stressful and we would constantly be studying. We fought about it. It was hours of homework. It was not a good situation.”

When asked if things have gotten better since their move to Switzerland about two-and-a-half years ago, her tone completely changes.

“Coming here to the international school was just eye opening. It’s amazing what they learn here, but it’s also that the pressure isn’t there. In the US you’re constantly memorising for tests. And here, it’s more like they’re teaching for the real world– like how to think outside the box.

They’re doing a lot of projects where you’re constantly with people and you have to collaborate and you have to work with all different types of people and figure out how you can work together in a team.”

Getting to-and-from school 

While the US has a heavy drive-to-school and drop-off culture, parents in Switzerland are actively encouraged not to use cars to bring kids to class. Most kids walk, though it’s common to see children on bicycles or scooters heading to school. 

There are high levels of social trust in Switzerland which means children, most as young as four and five years old, start learning to walk to and from school alone.

READ MORE: How to save money on childcare in Switzerland

Not only is this practice of raising independent children a family affair, the whole community is supportive and aware of it. There are crossing guards at all major streets who help students as they go to classes and as they go home for lunch or after school. 

When asked about her thoughts on the level of social trust and the independence culture, working mom, Lara Junod says, “It’s pretty amazing that in this day and age, you know, in 2022 with the world that we’re in, that this can still exist. It shows that people do look out in your community.”

Originally from New York, Lara has lived with her husband and six-year-old daughter in French-speaking Lausanne for the past three years. “They teach them here to be quite independent, quite young.”

International schools are a popular choice for foreigners in Switzerland. Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

International schools are a popular choice for foreigners in Switzerland. Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Home for lunch

A two-hour lunch break is scheduled into the day, allowing for students to head home and have lunch with their families. If the parents work, however, there are after-school programs for which children can be signed up.

These programs provide lunch and care for the two hour break and primary school children will return to school for the rest of the school day before coming back to the after-school care program.

In the evening when the program shuts down, children are either picked up or will walk back home on their own. 

READ MORE: What is emergency childcare in Switzerland and how do I access it? 

Extracurricular activities

Each canton offers weekly sports activities for children in kindergarten and primary school during the school year. The cost for the weekly activity is minimal and offers children something to do after school, gives them an opportunity to make new friends, and learn new athletic skills.

An example of some of these would be some of the traditional sports played in the US, but also fencing, sailing, American football, dance, and yoga, among others. 

Daycare Quality

What about babies and younger kids who aren’t old enough to start kindergarten? There is a mixture of for-profit and not-for-profit childcare throughout the country.

Some daycare centres offer full immersion in the local language while others offer bilingual care (the local language and English). In public, not-for-profit daycare, parents can still expect a child-focused curriculum that supports young children’s development and growth. 

EXPLAINED: What are the rules for homeschooling children in Switzerland?

It’s imperative to note that the cost for daycare in Switzerland is very high, costing around 2,500 Francs per month, per child, although some subsidies are available depending on the overall household income.

Due to this and in conjunction with traditional values, many children will stay home with a parent until they are of kindergarten age.

There are, however, play groups which allow for parents with babies and younger children to network and for both child and parent to socialise. Play groups can be for a couple hours at a time and are offered through churches and community centres several times per week. 

Home life

While things at home will probably carry on much as they would in the United States, there are some nuances to living in Switzerland.

For example, there are dedicated quiet hours to which everyone adheres.

From 10 o’clock at night until 7 A.M., people are quiet.

Additionally, there is a quiet hour from noon until 1P.M., so people can have a relaxed lunch and potentially quiet time for a lie down.

Finally, Sunday, in its entirety, is a quiet day.

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