Studying in Sweden: a rough guide for international students

Moving to a new country as an international student can be overwhelming.

Studying in Sweden: a rough guide for international students
The Niagra building. Photo: Malmö University

But you are by no means the first person to do so. Sweden is a popular place for international students – so there’s quite a bit of experience to draw on when trying to figure out which way is up.

So who better to turn to for some helpful advice than a student who has not only experienced those trials and tribulations but has also spent a year blogging for Study in Sweden as one of its digital ambassadors?

Read on to learn what Agnieszka Billewicz – who has just completed her first year of Malmö University’s Interaction Design programme – wished she knew during her first weeks of living in Sweden.

Getting around

Start with the basics! To get anything done you’ll need to move around. Public transport will probably be your best friend during those first few days. In Malmö, you can’t buy a ticket on the bus, so I had to buy a JOJO card from Skånetrafiken – a rechargeable card that you load with credit (they have similar systems in Gothenburg and Stockholm).


Personal number

If you are staying in Sweden for longer than one year, the first trip with your shiny new travel card should be to the local branch of Skatteverket, the Swedish tax authority. There you can register for a personal number (personnummer). Having a personal number will come in handy during your time in Sweden more times that you can count – without it you can’t sign a phone contract, get a store’s loyalty card, or utilize banking services like a debit card or mobile banking.

Sometimes there are ways around certain rules, but believe me, life is just easier for those who have a personal number. However, if you came to Sweden only for a semester or two, don’t worry, you can certainly survive without those magic digits.  


Bank account

Next step on your to-do list: visit a bank, where you’ll be sure to experience a proper Swedish queue (although after a visit to Skatteverket you should already be proficient in the Swedish art of standing in line).

Theoretically, it should be possible for you to open a bank account without a personal number. Practically, it might be difficult, or even virtually impossible.

Click here to find out more about studying at Malmö University

I know some people who succeeded with this challenge, and others who failed. My brief experience suggests success varies depending on the bank, branch, staff you meet at the counter, or – seemingly – the weather! If you are coming to Sweden for just a year my advice would be to ask yourself if a Swedish bank account is something you really need, there is every chance you can survive without one.


You might be able to live without a travel card, and you can certainly get by without a personal number or a bank account, but one thing that I am fairly sure you do need is a bike.

An odd necessity for living in a windy, cold, northern country like Sweden, but certainly the mode of transport of choice for many (especially in Malmö). As crazy as it sounds for people like me, who don’t ever bike in their home countries, bikes are the most basic mode of transportation in many parts of Sweden.


So get one and save some money on your bus tickets. Buying second-hand is the key (buy-sell site Blocket is a good place to start) to finding something a bit cheaper and far less likely to be stolen.

And just a tip, always lock your bike with a U-shaped-lock. And don’t leave it on the street overnight. Believe me, I learned that the hard way!


The next step in this whole Swedifying yourself affair is shopping. A key to feeling like a local is knowing your neighbourhood. In a loose student translation it often means: “Where can I buy cheap food and booze?”

A trick for saving money and staying healthy is buying your ingredients in the morning/early afternoon at fresh vegetable markets. Students in Malmö certainly should acquaint themselves in Mollevången, but every city has an equivalent!

Of course, when it comes to alcohol, you only need to know one word: Systembolaget. Yes, the Swedish liquor store monopoly is the only place you can buy ‘strong’ beer and liquor. The prices can feel outrageous, the opening hours rather inconvenient (closing at 3pm on Saturdays) – but the selection is usually good, and the iconic green and yellow sign is easy to find.


With your stomach full you can start worrying about filling your head. And my guess is that if you’re going to start studying you’ll need some books. First – check out your university’s library (here’s the one I frequented at Malmö University). The faster you do it, the faster you might grab some of the most desired copies of the obligatory literature.


If you have a prescribed reading list and you feel better having copies of the books in your home, try to buy books from a second-year student. Another option is buying books through an online bookstore, but make sure to check if doing so is really necessary – all of my course literature was accessible online.

Learn more about life as an international student in Malmö

Lastly, if you are a book-lover like me, take a stroll to the local city library where you can get a library card in a couple of minutes for free (take an ID or passport). It can give you access to mountains of books in different languages – plus movies, audiobooks, and a computer room. 

Working out

The last step in your acclimatization process is…the gym. If you are not a gym-goer you might want to re-think your habits, as Swedes tend to lead a very healthy lifestyle. It can seem like there’s a gym on every corner – but to sign up for full membership, you’ll most likely need a personal number. If you don’t have one, however, chances are you’ll have to sign up for a year of half year and be forced to pay up front.

Another option is to check out one of the free outdoor gyms (like Malmö’s Pildamsparken) so you can enjoy some fresh air and take in a bit of nature while you keep in shape.

Some final thoughts

Hopefully, now you’ll be able to tackle your new city like a local. Cycling on a bike paid for from your Swedish bank account; heading to the gym you joined using your personal number; and with library books and market-fresh vegetables clunking rhythmically in your basket. And of course, you’ll probably be cursing about the weather – another favourite Swedish pastime.

Whatever you decide, remember that all the above simply reflects my personal approach on the ups and downs of my first weeks in Sweden. It’s just one student’s experience – take it with a grain of salt, and don’t be afraid to make a list of your own. That way you can pass along what you learned to the next crop of students that show up next autumn.

Interested in studying at Malmö University? Click here to find out more

This article was produced by The Local Client Studio and sponsored by Malmö University.


‘It’s their loss’: Italian universities left off UK special study visa list

The UK is missing out by barring highly skilled Italian graduates from accessing a new work visa, Italy's universities minister said on Wednesday.

'It's their loss': Italian universities left off UK special study visa list

Universities and Research Minister Cristina Messa said she was disappointed by the UK’s decision not to allow any graduates of Italian universities access to its ‘High Potential Individual’ work permit.

“They’re losing a big slice of good graduates, who would provide as many high skills…it’s their loss,” Messa said in an interview with news agency Ansa, adding that Italy would petition the UK government to alter its list to include Italian institutions.

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“It’s a system that Britain obviously as a sovereign state can choose to implement, but we as a government can ask (them) to revise the university rankings,” she said.

The High Potential Individual visa, which launches on May 30th, is designed to bring highly skilled workers from the world’s top universities to the UK in order to compensate for its Brexit-induced labour shortage.

Successful applicants do not require a job offer to be allowed into the country but can apply for one after arriving, meaning potential employers won’t have to pay sponsorship fees.

Students sit on the steps of Roma Tre University in Rome.

Students sit on the steps of Roma Tre University in Rome. Photo by TIZIANA FABI / AFP.

The visa is valid for two years for those with bachelor’s and master’s degrees and three years for PhD holders, with the possibility of moving into “other long-term employment routes” that will allow the individual to remain in the country long-term.

READ ALSO: Eight things you should know if you’re planning to study in Italy

Italy isn’t the only European country to have been snubbed by the list, which features a total of 37 global universities for the 2021 graduation year (the scheme is open to students who have graduated in the past five years, with a different list for each graduation year since 2016).

The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, EPFL Switzerland, Paris Sciences et Lettres, the University of Munich, and Sweden’s Karolinska Institute are the sole European inclusions in the document, which mainly privileges US universities.

Produced by the UK’s Education Ministry, the list is reportedly based on three global rankings: Times Higher Education World University Rankings, the Quacquarelli Symonds World University Rankings, and The Academic Ranking of World Universities.

Messa said she will request that the UK consider using ‘more up-to-date indicators’, without specifying which alternative system she had in mind.