The tech hub that offers work-life balance as well as digital innovation

Cities today don’t just compete on raw economics. They’re also in competition to show themselves as leaders in sustainability, digitalisation and quality of life.

The tech hub that offers work-life balance as well as digital innovation
Photo: Getty Images

For many talented individuals with an international mindset, such factors matter more than a higher salary or other financial incentives.

A recent report on talent from Invest Stockholm suggests the Covid-19 pandemic could see such people “shunning ‘megacities’” in favour of sustainable cities that match their lifestyle values. 

Here, we look at how Stockholm compares internationally in terms of sustainability, as a tech hub, in broader digitalisation, and in the standard of English.

A city that protects the planet

Stockholm has long had a reputation for sustainability – and was named the first European Green Capital by the European Commission back in 2010. So, what about now with major cities everywhere eager to prove their green credentials? 

In the latest Arcadis Sustainable Cities Index (SCI), designed to look at sustainability “from the perspective of the citizen”, Stockholm ranked second to London among 100 global cities. The rankings are built on three pillars – people, planet and profit – which closely align with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Stockholm ranked number one globally on the ‘planet’ pillar, thanks to investment in sustainable infrastructure (including measures to promote cycling), low emissions and good air quality. This is no surprise to Irish-born Elaina O’Shea, who chose to move to Stockholm partly due to her desire “for an active, outdoor lifestyle”.

“Everywhere is reachable by bike, tap water tastes great, the air is so clean and housing is dry and warm,” she says. “As a cyclist or runner, I can go anywhere without choking on car fumes. The mentality in business also prioritises reducing waste.”

Photo: Elaina O’Shea

Stockholm also comes in the top ten of the Arcadis Sustainable Cities Mobility Index for urban transport. The city was one of the pioneers in introducing a congestion charge to reduce road traffic at peak times and is currently expanding its metro system.

Heating and hot water in apartments comes mainly from district heating with much of the power generated from biofuel and household waste. 

A city of unicorns … where people come first

When you think of start-ups and unicorn companies, you probably think firstly of Silicon Valley. But did you know that Stockholm produces more billion-dollar companies per capita than any region except the Californian tech hub?

Looking for new career or business opportunities? Get free advice on how to get connected to Stockholm

Spotify and Skype are perhaps the biggest names to emerge from the Swedish capital, while gaming giants like King and Mojang (the developer behind Minecraft) have also made their mark internationally.

O’Shea has previously lived in London and Dublin but says when she decided to go into the tech industry, she knew she wanted to make Stockholm her home.

“Ireland is thought of as a tech hub but Stockholm is savvier,” says O’Shea, who now works in software as a service (SaaS). “The flat hierarchies in Stockholm mean things happen faster when people have great ideas.”

Photo: Ting Liu

Ting Liu, a software engineer originally from China, moved from Berlin to Stockholm just over a year ago. She has also lived in South Korea and Spain.

Like O’Shea, she finds Stockholm to be highly efficient while still encouraging real work-life balance. “In South Korea, the work ethic is insane and leaves you exhausted,” she says.  “There are lots of tech opportunities in Asia. But money isn’t everything and I prefer to have a life.” 

In fact, her salary isn’t much different to what she earned in Seoul, she adds, but in Stockholm “you feel respected as a human being”.

Digital society: helping you get things done

International residents are used to dealing with bureaucracy. But it doesn’t mean they want to tolerate it being unnecessarily – or tortuously – slow. In Stockholm, there’s not much to fear with the city offering residents more than 100 e-services across many areas.

The European Commission’s Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) ranks Sweden as one of the EU leaders in digitalisation; it comes second behind only Finland and well ahead of major economies like the UK, Germany and France.

Residents and businesses benefit from fast broadband throughout Stockholm and residents have a huge choice of fast payment options, as Sweden leads the race to become the first almost cashless society.

Liu says getting a German work permit required lots of paperwork and took almost three months, she says, whereas in Stockholm she got one in under a week.

“In Berlin, you do lots of things by sending letters and you still rely heavily on cash. In Stockholm, you can always pay by card and lots more things can be done online. You don’t need to make an appointment and visit the registration office just to change your address.” 

It’s easy to get by in English

International residents of Stockholm find the level of English in the city also makes their lives far easier. Liu says she hasn’t started seriously studying Swedish due to the pandemic and her preference for face-to-face learning. 

“Everyone here, including the cashiers in the supermarket, speaks fluent English and that’s a big advantage,” she says. “In Germany, I didn’t speak the language and quite often I couldn’t communicate with people outside of work.”

Sweden has long been one of the worldwide leaders for English as a second language and recently placed fourth globally in the English Proficiency Index.

Want new opportunities and a better quality of life? Get free, tailor-made advice on business in Stockholm – and follow these links for Stockholm’s Talent Guide and Entrepreneur’s Guide.

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Seven gorgeous Swedish holiday homes for less than a million kronor

Fancy owning a beautiful red wooden cottage in Sweden for the same price as a shed in London or New York? It's the best time in years for foreigners to buy property in the Nordic nation, thanks to the weak krona.

Seven gorgeous Swedish holiday homes for less than a million kronor

With its chilly winter climate, famously expensive restaurants and unfamiliar language, Sweden might not seem like the obvious place to move to or buy a holiday home in. But if you’re paying in foreign currency, now may be the time to buy.

Swedish properties offer owners the chance to enjoy some of Scandinavia’s most pristine lakes and deep green forests alongside historic towns and villages. Plus Sweden has longer days and more sunlight than much of Europe during the summer months, when temperatures can regularly climb to 25 degrees in the south.

In general, Swedes look for holiday homes closer to the coast and nearer to major cities, so prices are much lower inland near smaller towns. Central Skåne is a good bet for warmer weather and easy access from the rest of Europe, but if you want really cheap prices you should head further north.

Here is an entirely impartial selection of properties costing less than a million kronor (at the time of publication: €90,084, $96,691, £79,023).

Andåsen 152, Härjedalens municipality

This red wooden summer house in Härjedalen, northern Sweden complete with its own sauna is a steal at just 450,000 kronor (€40,380). Although the property ad states that it only has two rooms, you’ll actually have access to two wooden cottages.

The first has one bedroom, as well as an open plan kitchen/living area with a woodburner and an open fireplace, and the second has a large reception room with windows in three directions as well as your very own woodburning sauna.

If that wasn’t enough, you’ll also have access to a guest cottage with space for up to four people to sleep.

The cottages are located by Andåssjön lake, on a small hill surrounded by forest and ten minutes away from a sandy beach with a bathing spot and space for you to put your boat.

Andåsen lies a half an hour drive from Härjedalen-Sveg airport which has direct connections to Stockholm’s Arlanda airport. Why not spend a few days in the Swedish capital before heading out into nature for the summer?

Sandy beaches on Seskarö in northern Sweden. Photo: Simon Eliasson/TT

Seskarö, Haparanda

This one-story three bedroom house on the market for 850,000 kronor (€76,615) is suitable as a summer house or permanent residence. The house lies on the island of Seskarö, 24 kilometres southwest of Haparanda in northern Sweden.

Just a stone’s throw from the beach, this summer house provides easy access to swimming and fishing spots, as well as a number of restaurants on the island.

Although it comes into its element in the summer – there’s a garden with enough space for growing vegetables – this house also has a cosy open fireplace and a sauna to keep you warm during the winter.

Seskarö is around an hour and a half by car from Luleå, which has direct flights to Stockholm.

Hultsfred, Småland

This four-bedroom house in the small town of Hultsfred in Småland could be yours for 795,000 kronor (€71,357). Hultsfred is a popular town during the summer with nearby lakes providing great opportunities for swimming and walking, with Knästorp nature reserve on your doorstep.

The house, located in central Hultsfred, has recently been renovated with a modern kitchen and two bathrooms perfect for a large family. It’s not classified as a summer house, which means you’d be able to live here all year round if you wanted.

It takes around two hours to reach Hultsfred via train from Linköping, which has direct flights to all major Swedish airports, as well as Toulouse and Amsterdam.

Småland is known for its lakes and forests. Photo: August Dellert/

Yxenhaga, Småland

These red cottages situated in the summer house resort of Yxenhaga in Småland are surrounded by nature, with forests and lakes within walking distance. The cottages are now on sale, with a mix of one bedroom, two bedroom and studio cottages on offer. Prices range from 725,000 kronor (€65,160) for a one bedroom cottage to 1,050,000 kronor (€94,370) if you want to buy a one-bed and studio cottage together.

Despite their location on a summer resort, these cottages are classed as all-year residencies, meaning you can stay in them whenever you like – even full time, if you wanted.

These cottages are very family friendly with playgrounds on the resort site, and there are many activities on offer in the surrounding area, such as canoeing, fishing, swimming, ball games and even a sauna with a view of the water.

Jönköping is the closest town, with the bus from nearby Kinnebro – a fifteen minute cycle ride away – taking around 40 minutes.

The closest major international airport is in Gothenburg, which can be reached in two hours by car or three and a half hours by public transport.

Vittsjö, Skåne

This charming two-bedroom torp cottage, priced at 795,000 kronor (€71,357) and built in 1915, is situated 6.5 kilometres outside the Scanian town of Vittsjö with a view over forests, fields and meadows. It takes around 10 minutes to walk down to Öresjön lake for a swim.

The Skåneleden bike route runs through Vittsjö, making this a great option for cycle enthusiasts. Photo: Apelöga/

Despite its location out in the countryside, it takes under two hours to get to Vittsjö from Copenhagen Airport via train through Hässleholm, making this a great choice for a summer house if you live in the rest of Europe and would like to be able to get here in under a day.

Slite, Gotland

This little summer house in Slite on the island of Gotland has one room and a kitchenette, as well as a little veranda with a view of the sea. It’s on the market for 950,000 kronor (€85,450), and can be rented out to earn some money when you’re not using it.

Just a stone’s throw away from Gotland’s only archipelago, this is the perfect summer house if you like spending time on the water, with daily boat tours available to book during summer.

There are a number of activities on offer within walking distance, such as a tennis court, sports hall, ice skating rink, mountaine bike routes and walking trails. You can also rent kayaks and bikes in the resort.

The association also offers a floating sauna which can be rented for 50 kronor.

There is a direct bus from Slite to Visby, which takes one hour, and direct flights from Visby airport to Stockholm, Gothenburg, Malmö and Norrköping airports.

Fårösund, Gotland

A timeshare in this tip-top summer house in Northern Gotland, where you would be able to stay for five weeks a year, is currently on the market for 450,000 kronor (€40,495).

This house has three bedrooms, one bathroom and a guest toilet, as well as a smaller building for guests. It also has ample outside space with two gardens, a sheltered inner courtyard and a patio with sea views.

Fårö island off the coast of northern Gotland. Photo: Simon Paulin/

The house is by Kronhaga beach in Fårösund, a small town with restaurants, shops, cafes and other amenities. Suitable for relaxation or active holidays, there are walking trails, tennis and padel courts nearby, as well as Fårö island – the home of late Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman – which can be reached by an eight-minute ferry ride.

Fårösund is an hour and a half away from Visby by direct bus, or just under an hour by car.