Despite Sweden excelling in areas such as education, personal safety and environment, the country fell to 42nd place out of 67 countries in the InterNations Expat Insider 2016 survey, released in full on Monday.
The Nordic countries all ranked in the bottom ten when expatriates, which is the term used in the survey, revealed how easy they had found it to settle in, with Denmark performing the worst in 65th place, Norway in 63rd, Sweden in 62nd, and Finland in 59th place. Of Sweden-based expats, 36 percent gave a negative response in the 'feeling at home in the local culture' category, more than the global average of 22 percent.
A total of 60 percent said they did not find it easy to make Swedish friends. Some 33 percent of expats in Sweden rated the general friendliness of the population negatively and around one in four (26 percent) rated the attitude of Swedes towards foreigners negatively.
“Sweden's disappointing 42nd place in the overall league table is mainly due to its abysmal ranking in the 'Ease of Settling In Index',” InterNations co-CEO and founder Malte Zeeck told The Local.
“Expats have a hard time feeling welcome in this country; they perceive the local population as unfriendly and distant, and they have trouble finding new friends, especially Swedish ones. So perhaps international companies should make sure that their expat employees feel welcome right from the start and help them settle in their new social life as well,” he added.
While The Local's readers and staff alike often say that Swedes are warm and genuine friends once you get to know them, the way to their hearts can be as long and cold as the Nordic winters.
Another survey by HSBC last year ranked Sweden as the worst country in the world for making friends.
“It's one of the best places to live, that's why I came here. But in Australia you can go up to anyone in a bar and start a conversation – you don't do that in Sweden. It's very hard on a social level when you arrive in a country for the first time,” one expat told The Local at the time.
But not all of our readers agreed the Swedes are as unfriendly as their reputation would have it.
“I've not noticed yet Swedish people do not want to talk to strangers. I've had several little chats with complete strangers in Sweden. (…) To me Swedish people are very friendly and welcoming,” commented a Belgian expat on The Local's Facebook page.
“I have never had a problem in Sweden making friends. (…) I found I could wander around a market and talk to people easily. I could do the same in stores and restaurants,” wrote an American reader.
The survey by InterNations, which defines 'expats' as people who live in a different country than the one they were born in or whose nationality they have, quizzed some 14,300 people of 174 nationalities in 191 countries about various aspects of their lives. Only sample sizes of at least 50 respondents per country were used in the final report.