And Then, I Didn’t Move to Stockholm…

Colorful buildings in Gamla Stan, Stockholm, SwedenRemember how I’ve been talking about moving to Sweden since the beginning of the year? Remember when I moved to Stockholm last month? Even though it was only going to be for a few months, I was very excited to relocate to Sweden. I mean, it’s beautiful, it’s clean, the people are nice (and beautiful), the quality of life is great, and did I mention the people here are beautiful? Plus, I was looking forward to learning Swedish, having my own kitchen, and joining a gym.

Well, as you can probably guess from the title of this blog post, I’m not moving to Stockholm anymore.

What happened?

I became the latest victim of Sweden’s crappy housing system. In Sweden, they don’t build apartments to meet demand, so there are always more people who want a place than places exist. This is especially true in Stockholm, since most people want to live here. For Swedes, if you want to rent a place, you have to get on a list. There’s also a minimum number of points you need, which determines your place on the list. Or the type of place you can get.

I’m not really sure.

It’s all very confusing. I have no idea how Swedes “get” points. I just know that miracles are usually involved. One of my friends had her sister rent an apartment for her because her sister had “points.” One of the girls who works at my hostel just put herself and her fiancé on this list. They’ll be first in line to get the next available place 15 years from now. It’s so bad, people will put their newborns on the list so they can have an apartment by the time they become adults.

Why is it this way? No idea. Even the Swedes complain about it, and they seem to be at a loss to explain the system to me. “It’s just the way it is,” they say. The right-leaning, more market-based party doesn’t want to change the laws any time soon either. Add the fact that Stockholm doesn’t build new places to meet demand, and you have a recipe for a city with no housing. Sure, this keeps the city old and historic, but it’s a pain the ass. I don’t understand why they don’t throw up some high rises on the outskirts of town where people might not notice so much.

This housing crunch leads to a huge secondary market where the owner rents their place out to others at a much higher price. Sometimes the renter then turns around and rents it to someone else for even more money!

So that’s the first problem I’m facing.

The second is that I’m only here until November and most apartments want a longer commitment than that. (Or they only want a month, and I have no desire to be on the constant hunt for a new apartment every month.) Third, I’m not Swedish, and I think that hurts too, though I can’t prove it.

Over the last month, I’ve found a few places, but they were either too short term, too expensive, or the owners fell through.

One of the reasons I wanted to move to Stockholm is because I want to settle down, have some roots, a routine, go to the gym, and do all that other “normal” stuff people do. But after a month here, I find myself in stasis. I’m not moving forward, and without a firm place to live, I don’t want to put money into a gym or Swedish classes.

And with time wasting away, I decided that it’s better to just move on. It’s disappointing, but I can’t sit around forever. Some of my Swedish friends spend months looking for an apartment before they find one. I don’t have that luxury. While it would have been nice to be here, I take comfort in the fact that I tried. I didn’t take the easy road and stay in New York. I took a chance. When you break out of your comfort zone, that’s always a success—no matter what the outcome.

I have no regrets.

On September 2nd, I’m flying to Portugal for a few weeks before going to Spain. I have two conferences in September – one in Portugal, another in Spain. After that, I’ll head to southern France and then Copenhagen. I have a flight booked to the United States on October 10th. I haven’t decided if I’ll be on it or if I’ll change the dates, but for now, I’m going to do a little traveling.

I’m looking forward to putting down some roots, but it looks like that’s just going to have to wait a bit longer. On the flip side, it looks like I’m heading home sooner than expected.

And I’m really OK with that.

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  1. To tell you the truth, I’m happy to hear this. I was really surprised when I read that you wanted to live in Sweden in the first place.

    Obviously I only know you through your blog, but you seem naturally drawn to hotter, more tropical places. It sounded like you loved the heat and sun in Croatia, and you keep mentioning that Thailand is one of your favorite countries in the world.

    Even if you didn’t want to put roots down in a truly tropical, beach-y country, it seemed like you’d be happier with Portugal, Northern Spain, Southern France, Northern New Zealand, Central America, or some other place like these.

    Sounds like your travel plans might just be what you need though, since it always distills your thoughts and helps one focus. Good luck with whatever you decide!

    • NomadicMatt

      Yeah, I hate the cold. Summer in Stockholm is great. I only planned to be here until November anyways. I was out of here when winter came!

  2. Colleen

    Sweden’s loss is our (your readers’) gain. Yippeeee! I honestly thought your time in Sweden was going to be a little bit boring, but now I’m super excited to hear you’ll be in Portugal and Spain, two places I’m VERY interested in. The Portuguese are the warmest and most wonderfully friendly, generous-hearted people. I think you’re going to love your time there.

  3. What a shame! I had difficulty in finding a place when I first moved to Oslo, but thankfully I had some friends who let me stay with them until I found somewhere. It only took me a month, though! No points system as far as I’m aware here, but there is huge demand vs supply. You just have to be lucky… and fast :)

  4. André Vieira

    Nice to know you’re coming to my native country (Portugal). I hope you’ll enjoy the experience in Porto (although I really don’t like that city). Good luck for your future plans.

  5. Can’t say I’m actually surprised, though I’m sorry you didn’t find anything. Sweden’s system is ludicrous, and it’s not exactly unheard of for people renting out second-hand tenancies to ask for several tens of thousands of Kronor under the table. Of course, that’s not legal, so it’s a complete cr*pshoot with no recourse for the person paying.

    We did actually build a lot of high rises on the outskirts of towns back after the war. They turned into rough dumping grounds for poorer people, and quickly deteriorated. Think NYC tenements but without crack or (many) guns!

  6. Europe makes it really tough for Americans in a lot of ways. Understandable considering the hoops many foreigners have to go through to live abroad in the US, but still…makes me wish we lived in a more borderless world….

  7. Ah well, maybe it wasn’t meant to be… On the plus side, us bloggers will see you at the summer conferences in Portugal and Spain this year! :)

  8. Hi,

    My sister stayed there for few years with husband working there. Coming back this september.

    I wonder when the world lets everybody just migrate anywhere anytime as long as they can afford it. I love to stay in New Zealand but no points either.

    Hoping one day i get there.


  9. So it seems we’ll have more “Nomadic Matt” for a while, huh?

    Well it goes to show that everything couldn’t be perfect in Scandinavia. On the other hand, it is a bit disappointing to try hard to get something and not being able to. At least, as you say, you did gain the experience of trying and no one can take that away from you.

    I also wish we had less borders to deal with in this world. I’m of the personal opinion that countries and borders are only good to complicate everything – when we travel, we don’t just “visit countries”. We get to know different cultures. And anything than hinders us from doing so is yet another issue that makes travel harder than it should be.

  10. Ian Luke

    You still get an A for effort, Matt! I thouroughly enjoyed reading your journey through Sweden. By all means, you had to try man! After visiting Sweden via the “cruise ship” experience, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. You’re absolutely right in regard to the beauty of the Swedish people. In my opinion, Sweden easily boasts the most beautiful women in the world. My second choice would be Russian women, but what Westener can penetrate that culture?lol
    As for the housing, it sounds as though Sweden is attempting to protect the integrity of their culture in the same fashion as Japan, Israel and a host of other countries. In other words, foreigners come second. After seeing the naivety of multi-kult in America when juxtaposed to the homogenous strength of China, one wonders if this “in-group” policy is superior to multi-kult negation of cultural traits within host communities?
    But in the end, please know that your posts both inspire and lift my spirits. Great things await you! Kudos!

  11. That’s too bad that Sweden didn’t work out for ya. I sounds like you have a busy schedule set up until October 10 at least!

    Did you have any other places on your shortlist of where else you’d consider moving prior to setting your sites on Sweden?

  12. Shaz

    Ah, this is an excellent lesson to learn – “travelling” to a place (even for a period of several months) is utterly and completely different to relocating as an expatriate!! A great blog item for a “reality check”.

    Please don’t take this the wrong way – but I have to admit I’m a bit surprised that you didn’t put more research and/or preparation into the mechanics of the move before you went, but then again sometimes sheer hope and bloody-mindedness has a way of cutting through difficulties and inconveniences. :-)

    Eg, as an expatriate single woman living in the Middle East, moving there 9 years ago confused everyone that I don’t have a husband to formally approve my every move (driving licence, bank account), which is a side of course that no traveller would ever appreciate….. In Dubai you normally used to (up to 2008) have to pay a whole year of rent in advance – for an apartment more expensive than London!! You’d be amazed how many people would just rock up with their families and a few thousand in the bank, to find that housing was impossible to afford or find, even if they’d secured a job.

    So, well done for trying and the honesty in coming to a decision point. Hope it all goes well in Portugal!

  13. =(((

    Huh? I know this thing exists but you can always find an apartment in Stockholm. The thing is that classes in Sweden also starts in August and so a lot of the foreign students probably snapped up most of the apartments already.

    I lived in Sweden for 6 months before. Took me 2 weeks to find a place ;D

    • Ian Luke

      You should further elaborate on your method for obtaining an apartment.LOL
      Writing generalities such as:
      1. You can always find an apartment in Stockholm.
      2.I lived in Sweden 6 months and found an apartment in two weeks.
      ………..makes your statement a tad illegitimate.

      • Marie

        Ian, I think Yabis was merely sharing his experience in his own words.

        @ Nomadic Matt – finding apartments in Stockholm is notoriously difficult but not impossible; affordable rents are hard to come by I concede. The closer you are to the centre, the higher the price but if you wanted to share, it is cheaper.

        You could have tried the outskirts of Stockholm as they are cheaper – uppsala, solna and any of the ‘koping’ places as they are easily accessible via trains (less than an hour) and places to rent there are easier to find. A good site is for alot of stuff and they have apartments to rent advertised there too.

        Goteborg is a cracking place to live too, not too far from Stockholm (3hrs) or Oslo (3 hrs) and there are some pretty nice places in the south which has great connectivity to Copenhagen (another great city accessible from Malmo in less than 20 mins, from Stockholm and Goteborg in 4 hours).

        Enjoy your travels and if you fancy a return to Sweden, it is foreigner friendly.

        Although the housing is a pain, put it this way….Stockholm would lose its charms if it were to put up those ghastly tower block buildings and thank God for the system that is in place to protect it. The outskirts are just as important and part of the landscape and they would stick out like an eye sore!!! Even Swedes wanting to live in cities make concessions – we commute. It is the way it is. The train/bus system has good services.

        I love the fact that they are preserving the city. Housing blocks are so unsightly, I hope they never put them up!

        Wishing you all the best in your travels and in settling your roots wherever they may be and good luck to you should you wish to give Sweden another try.
        We like our rules and sadly this is not always appreciated but the constancy of having rules is good. We all go through the process, whatever it may be for and foreigners are no exception.

        One tip: be polite with the beauracrats; fist thumping, haranguing or showing frustration at the process will probably make them less inclined to be very helpful and may put you at the bottom of the pile (if you get a really surly one!) – a bit like the British in that sense! Hahahhaha.

        The first year can be hard; the language can be a trial, but once you get into the rhythm of Swedish life and culture, you will really love it.

        They are an interesting bunch; what I knew of them before I moved was not what they are like; once you live there and immerse yourself around Swedish culture and Swedish people who let you into see their way of living (easier said than done) do you really get to see that side. It is quite a conservative society which is at odds with what people’s perceptions are of them.

        A happy foreigner in Sweden :)

        • Ian Luke

          You assume, he was sharing his experiences in his own words. To claim your subjective opinion is now objective truth is well, ridiculous.

        • NomadicMatt

 was one of the first sites I used. I’m well aware of it. Since I was only here for a short time, I didn’t want to live in places like Solna. I found a ton of places out there but that’s not where I wanted to be.

      • I only saw all this reply now. Well, Matt was discussing in this post the legal, formal Swedish system which will make it truly impossible for a foreigner to get an apartment unless one has money and plans to buy one. What he missed to point out is that there is the black market which is basically private people renting out their apartments. And some of them can be open for 6 months or less. Heck, I have Swedish friends who move apartments 4x a year because the housing situation there is ridiculous.

        So yes, it is easy to find an apartment this way. And it is easier to find an apartment if you share with other people. And it even makes it easier if you are looking outside the city center (Stockholm is not a big city, everything is close specially with the great transpo system). And even more easier if you know people. I have the impression that Matt has Swedish friends so it was weird that he couldn’t find a place after 2 months.

        I really don’t know Matt’s specs. Maybe he wanted his own big, flat in the dead center of Stockholm. And of course that’s hard to come by specially if you have a time constraint.


      • I ended up renting a lovely two-storey flat of a friend who went to Asia while I was in Sweden. Perfect timing. It was 22 minutes away from the center. One ride away by train. It has two rooms upstairs, living room and kitchen downstairs where I threw many dinner parties in the winter haha.

  14. Ken Bloomer

    Whenever supply does not keep pace with demand, it’s because government has interfered with the workings of a free market. Right wing governments don’t do this, this is a result of socialism in action (left wing hates market economics.) I’m surprised you didn’t know about this before you went there. I learned that the average wait in Sweden for rental housing is 35 years, due to government interference in the market. Took me less than 30 seconds to find that.

    • Kent

      Ken, your information is completely incorrect. There is almost no wait at all in the most of Sweden. Cities with universities are normally where its most difficult to find accomodation. The wait for larger exclusive flats in the most central areas of Stockholm can be in the region of 30 years, but if you can settle for commuting 15-30 minutes from the town center you can most likely find a flat within 1-3 years. When I moved back from the UK to Stockholm about 5 years ago. it took me about 6 months to get offered a flat.

      What isn’t mentioned is that the majority of people in Stockholm buy their flats. The Swedish system with apartments limits people to not rent their apartment to others for more than a year. Therefore you have very few private persons owning several flats, which reduces the financial exposure on the credit market, thus reducing the risk of housing prices sinking as they have done in ie. Spain, UK & US. The backside with this is that there is little private equity going into building more accomodation in Stockholm… Also there is a limited interest for the major building companies to increase the pace of building new flats, since the buyers are willing to pay more for the flats with a limited demand.

    • NomadicMatt

      I was well aware of the points system before I went. While I don’t get into political debates here, I’m pretty the vast majorities of Swedes enjoy their social democracy. You can marry helpful social policy and market forces.

  15. Matt,

    Another one of those moments I guess that you put down to experience and move on…literally, in this case!
    Best of luck with whatever you do next, I’m sure it won’t be too long before you find that temporary base you can call ‘home’ for a while.

    Happy travels

  16. Well, if you want adventure, I start walking from Porto on October 9th to Santiago de Compostela then onto the end of the world (Finisterre) and Muxia…pilgrimage is a great way to clear your head and reboot, so to speak. You are welcome to join me for any or all of it…

    Sorry to hear your plans for Sweden fell through…sounds like you are making the best of it though!

  17. Very best of luck with everything. Life’s twists and turns always manage to stuff up plans but bring surprises in the end. Something will work out!

  18. Barbara

    I love your flexibility and the attitude that you can plan… and then change plans based on new information and circumstances. It’s really very admirable!

  19. Tyska

    Why dont You settle down in Poland?
    I have an apartment in Gdansk (just the other side of the sea from Stockholm), and as I am traveling around Asia, am renting it to other fellow travelers :) It will be free since the end of September. :)
    Drop me a word if u’r interested, good luck and sending the supportive thoughts from Malaysia! :))

  20. Robert

    The shortage of apartments in Stockholm (and other larger and mid-sized Swedish cities) is due to rent control. People who own apartment buildings are not free to set prices freely. Instead prices are set (indirectly) by politicians at a lower level which leaves no incentive to build new apartment complexes.

    Instad there are waiting lists for rental apartments. You sign up and earn the points you’re speaking of. Basically points are tied to the time you’ve waited for an apartment.

    The 15 years gets you speak of… gets you an apartment in the Stockholm suburbs.

  21. Hey Matt. When you’re tired of catching the last of summer in Spain and Portugal you could always come down south to Cape Town to enjoy the beginning of summer here. Finding an apartment in the city can be a challenge but after looking at the rentals in Sweden you’re going to love what we pay here. You can get a nice furnished place for $1000 a month easy and a lot less if you look around. Reasonable unfurnished apartments start at around $600. Also, having the beautiful mountains to look at, the awesome coastline and some of the worlds best wine all within 45 minutes drive doesn’t hurt.

  22. Matt,

    I really like the honesty here about your situation and a realistic evaluation of your own expectations and hopes. I think it’s the “flexibility” that someone spoke of in a comment above that you possess and yes Life is about “changes” and without them one is static and lifeless. I really admire and find inspiration in people with your character. Good luck!

  23. Joshua

    nice bit of information about housing in Stockholm, even I hadnt found a place on the first day I arrived – straight form the owner, I would of started panicing having read this. Pity you not still around though, as it is a 4 bedroom house, and currently there is still one room spare!! :)

  24. What a bizzarre system. Maybe you have to imbed yourself into the Swedish mafia in order to get points and a place to live…? Berlin has lots of housing available, but I know that’s not quite the same!

  25. Malcolm

    Maybe you should move to Portugal!! its way cheaper and portuguese is much prettier than Swedish………..and its warmer!

  26. Anita

    If you really like the Scandinavian way of living + the people, I would go for Norway. There’s no “point system” here and it’s not that hard to get a place. However, it costs quite a bit, especially if you want to live in Oslo (the capaital). In Norway you can experience every aspect of nature and this within only a few hours. If you do decide to try Norway – give me a call – maybe I can be of some help !

  27. I am so sorry to hear that your plans didn’t work out, but I know something amazing will come out of this and you’ll enjoy your travels in Europe instead.

    We moved to Sweden earlier this year, and it hasn’t been easy, that’s for sure. Don’t take me wrong – we LOVE living here, and are so excited and happy to be here, and have been staycationing the past 5 weeks – and for a travel writer it’s been very weird to actually stay home and not travel anywhere for solid 5 weeks…

    But we faced the same problems trying to find a place to live (even more difficult when you are a family of 5), and we were even able to offer one year’s rent in cash ahead of the time when renting, and yet it didn’t help (we contacted several people who were selling their houses and offered to rent it for 3 years, paying the first year’s rent in cash – no luck). Luckily we were able to find a nice house via a relocation company, not quite what we where looking for, but it was the only option we had – and we lived in a hotel with 3 kids for two months before even moving into this one.

    The visa part was easy – my husband’s company took care of it, and I’m Nordic citizen so it was easy for me. But getting the social security number took for a long time and getting a cell phone contract took months also. Hassle, yes. Worth it? Yes.

    Enjoy the rest of your stay in Sweden, come and visit us in Linköping before you leave – we even have a Viking festival this weekend 😉

  28. S Sarkar

    Hi Matt,
    Travelling throughout the world does not mean only concentrating on moving around with the Caucasians. Spend 3-4 months travelling around India. You will have good and bad experiences but you will know how one sixth of humanity lives, comprising of thrice as many linguistic groups of Europe and four times as many cultural groups.
    As for your dislike of Vietnam- isn’t it expected of the Vietnamese to make their point over the people who had devastated their land for no apparent reason?
    Your blogs and tips make nice reading and I have already used many of the advices during my trips.
    Come to Kodagu and enjoy the rains alongside the friendly elephants and deer.

  29. I’m not totally surprised to learn of the difficulty of finding an apartment in Sweden, though it sounds a lot like Russia in the bad old days. The northern European countries can be tough for outsiders, it seems, unless you qualify as a refugee
    (and even then….) Good luck finding another place to bunk for a while. I can recommend Montreal, although the climate is worse than Stockholm in winter.

  30. My attempt to move to Sweden ended up with me couchsurfing and staying with friends for months. Couldn’t get the visa, find a job, or a place to live of my own. Still a great a great country though! Looking forward to going back!

  31. Well done for trying anyway! I can understand why they do it (the council housing in the UK works in a similar way, if you are a single mother you go to the top of the list, single bloke goes right to the bottom). It’s still a pain for our ever expanding in population world though.

    Welcome back to being nomadic, I don’t think I’d class the time you did spend in Stockholm as settled though 😉

  32. Aw man…sorry it didn’t work out Matt. On the positive side, it sounds like you’ll still end up saving more money in the long run…especially with the whole sublet of a sublet thing. That just really opens up a lot of opportunities for abuse!

    In any case, safe travels to you…and hope we cross paths again…if not soon then maybe at #WDS2013 !!!

  33. Let’s chat about this. I’ve got some advice that worked/I learned the hard way in Copenhagen. Granted CPH isn’t the same as Stockholm, but most of the issues and systems are similar.

  34. Turner

    Hey Matt, I came across your blog when I was doing some research on Sweden when I got an opportunity for a work transfer. I was thinking you did some research already (giving your skills at doing travel research) before you would make the move. Before I came though, I did research on the rental situation here and that is what I found out also. Luckily for me, through some networking from colleagues at work, I was able to get 2nd hand rental. I might also be only staying in Stockholm till probably December then head back home… If you’d like, we could meet up one of these weekends in Stockholm for drinks. otherwise, goodluck with your travellings.

  35. Sean

    Hi Matt,

    Interesting article. I heard as well that finding housing in Stockholm is very difficult. But what about other cities in Sweden, like Malmo or Gothenburg? Is housing a little easier to find there?

  36. Zz

    You appear to give an impression of having “traveled” the world. Sadly you don’t sound informed. This type of information is readily available online and it has been an issue in STHLM for at least the last 15 years (progressively been getting worse). By the way, this issue has nothing to do with the “right” or “left” government, it’s a consequence of the 1 million program (60’s and 70’s) and the 1991 collapse of the Swedish housing market as well as reduced subsidies to build apartments. Educated yourself before you “move” to a new location. I have no sympathy for naive US tourists.

    • NomadicMatt

      As previously said, I knew this going in. I’ve been coming to Sweden for years and am well aware how hard it is….but I wanted to try anyways. I was simply explaining the housing situation to people who might not know it.

      Please read more before you decide to write a condescending comment.

  37. Laurence

    Hmm.. Looks like my get rich quick domain squatting plan for. is going to be on hold for a while…

  38. PKL

    Hong Kong is the opposite — as long as you have cash to pay the first-month’s rent and a two-month security deposit, you can rent an apartment in a day.

    I was never asked what I did for a living, there was no credit check, nothing. You’re assumed to have the ability to pay and, if you don’t, the landlord can quickly kick you out.

  39. Sue Anne

    i’m currently living and working in Sweden and you are right, the housing situation is a mess. There are frequently students who arrive here with their luggage in tow with no place to stay. Instead of dealing with that, i bought my own apartment here in Sweden. That was surprisingly easy! There are lots and lots of apartments for sale (snapped up equally quickly), very reasonable prices and in good condition. I could pick from a wide selection :-) Dealing with the banks and tax authorities on this was a breeze. And when i need to move elsewhere, i will just sell my apartment here :-)

  40. Starkey

    I used to read your blog religiously, back when I was a backpacker and I identified with so much of what you wrote.

    Now, after spending the past 2 months unsuccessfully find an acceptable abode in Stockholm I come across this blog post….and once again, I identified with so much of what you wrote.

  41. Whoa… I did not know this about housing here. I’m planning on moving to Stockholm for 6 months next Spring. I guess I’d better check into the housing issue right now :/

  42. Milla

    Hej hej!! I’ve been in Uppsala since the end of May (2014) with my husband and I can say that finding a home here is hard as in Stockholm, even if it’s a smaller city.
    We found a 2nd Hand in a student house block, the contract ends at the end of August, we should stay here for work until the end of December, visited many apartments so far, answered hundreds of rent offers in, and probably we’re heading to an aparthotel or hotel or hostel, because it’s pretty impossible to find anything else (read: cheaper).
    Luckily we have camping sleeping beds, lots of forests available, just in case…

    PS: I hope the situation is better in not-university cities…
    I think next time I need a home I’ll avoid like plague university areas/cities, because every time prices are too high and house conditions are at zoo-cage-level.

  43. Thanks for the post.

    My tactic is going to arrive in Europe a couple of months before my visa for Sweden starts (so I’ll be forward starting it). It will only be a one year visa available to Australians under 30 as part of a country reciprocal agreement so I am really short on time. I’ll be using the two months to do the Swedish fika and finish my university coursework :)

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