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Taking an exchange semester in Sweden as a US student: 7 key things to keep in mind

Applying to an exchange programme can be truly stressful, considering each application and country has its own set of unique requirements. For those coming to Sweden from a US university, here are the key things to bear in mind when wading through the administrative parts of the application.

Taking an exchange semester in Sweden as a US student: 7 key things to keep in mind
A lecture hall at Stockholm University. Photo: Cecilia Larsson Lantz/Imagebank.sweden.se

Apply to the programme through your university

Most exchange programmes in Sweden are arranged by either your home university or another university within the United States that allows others to take part in their exchange. 

Each university has their own requirements – whether it be writing an essay or a GPA minimum – so it is essential that you make a list of required documents and make sure you're eligible.

And each university also has its own specific turnaround date, but should at least give you your decision with enough time to apply for a residence permit. Apply as soon as possible to save yourself from added stress later on, and to allow yourself plenty of time to deal with the next steps on this list.

READ ALSO: Why international students are flooding to Stockholm

Select your classes

Depending on the university, you may have the ability to choose classes at your leisure, but in other cases, you need to inform the university months in advance about the classes you wish to take. You will likely be asked to provide a first and second preference for around four to six classes. These can fill up quickly, and it may not be as easy to add and drop classes as it is back home, so choose carefully.

It is also important to know that Swedish universities use the ECTS, or European Credit Transfer System, in which a standard class is equivalent to 7.5 points. Bachelor's and master's programs in Sweden are referred to by the number of points it takes to fulfill them, so you may hear Swedish students referring to their program by “180 hp.” or 180 points.

Seek out housing

While most universities in Sweden offer housing for students, they may not offer enough to meet demand, and there is a major housing shortage in many large cities.

Even if your home university has a formal agreement with one in Sweden, housing might not necessarily be guaranteed. For those who were denied university housing, a solution may lie in a university Facebook group or using other websites such as bostad.se, where you can look at apartments for rent.

READ MORE: Don't panic! How to apply for student housing in Sweden

Apply for a residence permit

Tackle the residency requirements. In order to be able to study in Sweden for any period up to a year, you must have been admitted to full-time study at a university and you must apply for a residence permit through the Swedish Migration Agency (Migrationsverket).

The application requires you to attach several documents, including a copy of your bank statement proving that you have the means to reside in Sweden and the letter of admission from the Swedish university. It is essential that you apply for this as soon as you can, because you need to have a decision from the Migration Agency prior to arriving in Sweden.

When you get to Sweden, you will have 90 days to visit your local Migrationsverket to get your biometrics taken. It is a good idea to arrange this appointment as soon as you can, because wait times can vary from days to weeks.

Apply for financial aid or a scholarship

Studying in Sweden can be expensive.

Some American universities offer specific study-abroad scholarships to students, while others offer to provide financial aid for those going abroad. Even if you have the means to study abroad, any sort of financial help will offset costs, especially unexpected ones that may arise during the duration of your semester, so it's well worth doing some research to see what you're eligible for.

READ ALSO: Six money-saving hacks for students in Sweden

Arrange health insurance

Accidents happen. If you reside in Sweden for less than a year, you will be unable to automatically access Swedish health insurance. Some universities in Sweden do offer health insurance, but it is important to find out the specific details about what services are and are not covered for international students. You should also check with your American health insurance provider, because some do offer to cover services outside of the United States.

Regardless of your health insurance status, everyone has access to 1177, a free 24/7 hotline which provides medical advice (also in English) but also can help arrange an appointment at your local doctors' surgery or hospital. There is a small fee for medical appointments even if you have health insurance, but this is significantly more expensive without any coverage.

Start learning the language

It's possible to get by in most Swedish university towns using English alone. However, in order to best understand your surroundings and appreciate the culture, it is highly recommended that you start to learn at least some basic phrases in the language.

Sure, Swedes are some of the best English speakers in the world, but that doesn't necessarily mean people go around speaking English all the time; their native language is Swedish, after all. And for the many exchange students who find themselves compelled to extend their stay in Sweden, knowing Swedish will go a long way in expanding your job opportunities and friendship circle.

FOR MEMBERS: Vocabulary guide: the words and phrases you need to know as a student in Sweden

Vocabulary guide: the words and phrases you need to know as a student in Sweden

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ECONOMY

EXPLAINED: Sweden’s rising prices and what’s being done to stop them

Sweden is experiencing the highest inflation in 30 years. What's behind the price rises and what can the government do about it?

EXPLAINED: Sweden's rising prices and what's being done to stop them

What are the factors behind the increase in prices in Sweden? 

The biggest single factor has been the rise in oil and gas prices, which has pushed up transport and manufacturing costs across the world, pushing up prices more or less across the board. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has also disrupted the production and transportation of goods, leading to shortages as the lifting of restrictions releases pent-up demand. 

Finally, most countries have been running expansive fiscal and monetary policies. The US, for instance, has so far sent out $1,400 cheques to 127 million households. 

SEB’s senior economist, Robert Bergqvist, told The Local that Sweden if anything faced slightly lower inflationary pressure than other countries. 

“One reason why Sweden has lower inflation is that we still have slower wage growth, because we have wage agreements that last for three to four years,” he said. 

READ ALSO: 

What has the government done to help people in Sweden? 

Quite a lot. 

In January it offered an electricity rebate of up to 2,000 kronor per month to all those hit by high electricity prices.

On March 14th, it launched a package of subsidies for car-owners. 

This included a pay-out of between 1,000 to 1,500 kronor to every car-owner in the country, which has cost the government 13.9bn kronor. 

It also included a temporary reduction in tax on petrol and diesel to the lowest level allowed by the European Union. The government said that this would reduce the price by 1.3 kronor per litre. This will reduce the government’s tax intake by 3.8 billion kronor. 

Finally, it has also a temporary increase in housing benefit for families with children, which could provide up to 1,325 kronor in extra benefits a month between July and December this year. 

Are the other political parties satisfied? 

Of course they’re not. This is an election year.

The Moderate Party are pushing for a tax cut that will reduce the price at the pump by five kronor a litre for diesel, and “several kronor” for petrol.

The Sweden Democrats party has proposed a package it claims will reduce the price of diesel by 9.45 kronor and petrol by 6.50 kronor, at a cost of 34bn kronor. 

The only party that is against reducing fuel tax is the Green Party, which instead wants to pass 20bn kronor to households living in the countryside to help them deal with the additional costs. Subsidising fuel, the party argued, meant “filling Putin’s warchest”. 

What about economists? 

Robert Bergqvist said that Sweden’s relatively strong government finances meant that it could easily afford to be this generous to lessen the pain for citizens. 

“It’s nothing that will jeopardise the very strong government finances that we have,” he said. “Sweden can afford a more expansionary fiscal policy.” 

The only risk, he argued was that having what he called a “slightly more expansionary fiscal policy” could end up pushing prices up even higher. “It could be a bit inflationary,” he said. 

What can Sweden’s central bank do? 

Controlling inflation is one of the key purposes of a central bank, and Sweden’s Riksbank is instructed to aim for inflation of two percent. 

The Riksbank’s current position is that there will be no increase in interest rates until the second half of 2024. But the prices rises of the last six months will almost certainly force it to act sooner. 

In an interview with Sweden’s state broadcaster SR last week, the bank’s governor, Stefan Ingves, said that the bank would need to change its position. Most economists in Sweden now expect a rate rise in the second half of this year, or at the start of next year. 

Ingves’s deputy, Anna Breman, said in a speech on Wednesday that it, now “now looks like it would be reasonable to bring forward a rise in interest rates”. 

Will Sweden manage to get prices under control? 

Bergqvist said he believed that the Riksbank had a relatively short window in which to act if it was to avoid the risk that high inflation expectations become firmly established among companies and wage earners. 

“We have new wage negotiations which will start at the end of this year, and you will have new wage deals in the first quarter of next year,” he said. 

If the unions expect higher inflation in the coming years, they are likely to push for more generous wage hikes, which could in turn lead to rising costs for companies, and so increase inflation still further. 

“When I talk to companies and households, everyone says that we have an inflation problem, that prices are going up, and I think we haven’t seen the worst yet,” he said. “I think inflation will continue to rise. Companies say costs are rising and that it’s also quite easy to raise prices right now.” 

If the Riksbank does not take action soon, he argued, then high inflation expectations will become more too established to reduce much higher interest rates, which could cause a recession.  

“And that will make it much more difficult for the Riksbank to bring inflation down to two percent,” he said. 

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