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MY SWEDISH CAREER

My Swedish Career: How an ultimate frisbee league is creating community in Sweden

After moving to Sweden from the UK hoping to find a better work-life balance, Erin Brownbill initially struggled to meet people and strike up friendships in her new country. However, she found a community through a sport she loved – ultimate frisbee.

My Swedish Career: How an ultimate frisbee league is creating community in Sweden
Erin Brownbill during a game of ultimate frisbee. Photo: Illia Shypunov Ultimate Photography

Many who move to Sweden experience an initial reservedness or difficulty to make friends, with the country often named in surveys as one of the worst places to make new friends. For Erin, her ultimate frisbee league was a way to connect with other people after her move.

“I think it’s difficult moving countries anyway, but it does feel sometimes in Sweden that you have to really put yourself out there and make the first move, so joining this club meant that we met tens of people and quickly got invited to a drink after a training session,” she tells The Local.

Erin moved to Sweden with her partner two years ago looking for a change from their busy London lifestyle, being attracted by the Swedish work-life balance.

“It feels very quiet compared to London which has loads and loads of people all the time so there is a sense of peace which is good. That being said, there are less things to do potentially than the busy London life,” she says.

Having played ultimate frisbee throughout university, even representing Great Britain at a junior level, Erin looked up an ultimate frisbee league in Stockholm when she arrived. 

“Coming here I always had it in the back of my mind, I hope there is a frisbee team! And there was,” she says about how she originally found her club, the Stockholm Ultimate Frisbee Club, where she plays for the women’s team Valkyria.

The team organises several training sessions per week in their youth, women’s, opens and mixed divisions.

“It’s a sport that you wouldn’t necessarily know about but once you’re in it it is a massive world of clubs and teams.”

Photo: Illia Shypunov Ultimate Photography

What is ultimate frisbee?

Ultimate frisbee is a non-contact sport that Erin describes as a mixture of American football and basketball. 

Something that sets it apart from some other sports is its strong culture, which is what initially drew her to trying it out.

“It has a really good ethos to it where it is self refereed. It is quite unique actually,” Erin explained.

According to Ultimate Frisbee HQ, what is known as The Spirit of the Game is a code of conduct which runs deep in every player – treat others how you would want to be treated. There is therefore no referee needed on the pitch.

Although there are youth and women-only teams in the club, there are also mixed teams, something that is quite unusual for many sports leagues.

“I think the mixed thing is really good. Now I have my partner here as well: we can go to those practices together and train together,” Erin said.

Photo: Illia Shypunov Ultimate Photography

Getting through Covid

The Covid pandemic meant that most team activities needed to be put on hold during 2020. This was also the case for Erin’s Stockholm ultimate frisbee club who stopped indoor training.

“Official training sessions stopped, but the community was still there so a few of us went on socially distanced walks, we met up in smaller groups,” she says.

During the summer with better weather, some training was able to be taken up again outside, and the Beach National Championships still went ahead. However, a large portion of the team was made up of international students, most of whom had returned home, which has affected the team numbers greatly.

“From a woman’s perspective I think it’s really sad as well,” Erin says, noting how her team Valkyria is short on members.

With vaccinations under way in Sweden, Erin is hopeful membership numbers will begin to rise again.

“It appeals to someone who wants to be fit and healthy but also wants to play a team sport and team sports offer a lot, it’s fun to play together, you really get to know your teammates, we help each other.”

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WORKING IN SWEDEN

How good is Sweden for digital nomads?

High taxes, a high cost of living and a tricky accounting system make Sweden less ideal for 'digital nomads' than a tropical getaway like Bali, but there are some definite perks to making Sweden your next digital home. Here’s our list of the pros and cons.

How good is Sweden for digital nomads?

In the wake of the Covid pandemic, working remotely has become the new normal, but the concept of flexible, remote working is really nothing new. Long before the pandemic, legions of freelancers and remote workers had cottoned on to the fact that all they really needed to carry out their jobs was an internet connection and a laptop – and that travelling the world wasn’t something that needed to be reserved for holidays.

More and more countries in Europe are now trying to woo these ‘digital nomads’. Estonia and Spain both have special ‘nomad visas’, and Italy voted one into law last March (although it has yet to be implemented, and may end up being shelved). 

So how does Sweden stack up? 

PROS

The new ‘talent visa’

As of last June, Sweden has made it easier for non-EU citizens with an advanced level degree to move to the country for up to nine months while they look for work or start their own business. It’s not exactly a ‘nomad visa’, but it does make make getting a visa relatively painless if you are sufficiently highly educated, especially if you work as a freelancer and can set up your own company in Sweden. 

To qualify for the “resi­dence permit for highly quali­fied persons to look for work or start a busi­ness”, you need to have an advanced degree, and prove that you have enough funds or income to support yourself during the period for which you are applying for a permit and have money to cover the cost of your journey home. You also need comprehensive health insurance valid for healthcare in Sweden. 

READ ALSO: How do you apply for Sweden’s new talent visa? 

Obviously, if you’re lucky enough to have citizenship in another EU country, you’ll automatically have the right to live and work in Sweden without applying for any sort of residence permit first. 

Many other nations like Australia, Canada, Japan – and now the UK after Brexit – have agreements with the EU that allow their citizens to spend up to 90 days in the Schengen Area without needing a visa. However, this visa waiver programme does not apply to those planning on undertaking paid work in the Schengen Area, so you will still need a work permit to work in Sweden, even if you’re not planning on staying longer than 90 days.

You will also have to register with the Swedish Tax Agency if you’re an EU citizen planning to stay for longer than three months.

Fast internet

Sweden has one of the fastest internet speeds in the world (although if you’re looking to move to a Scandinavian country, Norway and Denmark rank higher) and internet is relatively cheap, costing an average of less than €30 a month. Around 90 percent of the population enjoy a stable internet connection and you can find 4G in most of the country. A shack in the Swedish woods is often more likely to have a blazing fast fibre optic internet connection than a toilet with running water.

Everyone speaks English

When you’re setting up an internet service provider, chances are you’ll be able to talk to them in English. Sweden ranks second on the list of countries with the most non-native English speakers in the world. The working language is English for many locals, and Swedish children start learning English at a young age. You won’t have trouble ordering an oat milk latte with extra foam or finding your way around.

Lots of co-working spaces

There are 175 co-working spaces across the country, with many companies opting to rent office space collectively since the pandemic. In Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö it is easy to find shared office space, either through freelance collectives, or through more corporate providers.

Here’s The Local’s list of ten co-working spaces in Stockholm.

Thriving tech scene 

Stockholm is second only to Silicon Valley in terms of the number of so-called unicorns (startup companies valued at more than $1bn) per capita, while Stockholm and Malmö are also among the leading cities it the world for game development. 

The KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm draws in young tech talent from all over the world and has a well-established incubator programme to encourage students and alumni to start spin-off tech companies. 

Malmö, Stockholm, and Gothenburg also have a well-established informal tech scene, where web developers, programmers, and other tech professionals can share new ideas. You can find a lot of them on the Meetup app. 

CONS

It’s quite expensive

With one of the highest rates of income tax and a high tax rate on goods and services, stuff in Sweden just costs more. This is balanced by a relatively high average income, but if you’re getting paid a salary by a non-Swedish company, it might not stretch as far in kronor.

As a freelancer, once you’re making good profit, you could be paying nearly 50 percent in total taxes to operate a business. You also don’t get all the same benefits as employed people in Sweden do, such as 25 days holiday, sick leave, and the right to get paid leave to look after a sick child, and you may also be paying for private health insurance on top of that. In this respect, you’re paying for a system which you can’t use.

Having said this, with the krona now historically weak against the euro, dollar and pound, Sweden is cheaper than it has been for decades, so if you’re a true nomad and have been planning on checking out Sweden for a while, this is not a bad time to do it.

READ ALSO: 

A complex accounting system

Invoicing in Sweden can be tricky, even though the information provided by the Tax Agency is available in English as well as Swedish. 

If you’re employed full-time by a company abroad, you will have to show the Swedish Tax Agency a copy of your contract upon arrival, including some mention of the fact that you’ll be working in Sweden.

If this doesn’t apply to you, you’ll need to either register to pay F-skatt as a self-employed person (which usually means you need at least two ‘clients’, so you can’t just register as self-employed and continue working for the same company you did before,) or set up your own company (read our guide here).

Swedish freelancers tend to keep meticulous records of each tiny item they purchase and have a detailed knowledge of every possible tax rebate they can claim, all in the hope of bringing their effective tax rate closer to that of someone employed on a salary. 

It might make sense to use an umbrella company like Cool Company or Frilans Finans which puts you in the position of an employee in return for a fee, so that you don’t have to deal with the tax system yourself.

You won’t meet anyone

While working from anywhere is relatively easy in Sweden, it does significantly reduce your chances of meeting people and forging relationships. Swedes are a reserved bunch and they tend not to speak to people outside their friendship group (unless quite drunk). Finding a full-time job in the digital sector might be your best bet for settling in and finding community.

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