I started writing this post several months ago, shortly after we arrived in Sweden. Partly because I didn’t want to forget how we felt and also because hearing about our experience may be useful for others. Reading move stories was reassuring and I learnt that fear is a natural part of the process, no matter how excited you are about the journey ahead.
The year of adventure
We returned to the UK with the realisation that we were better suited to the Nordic way of life. And after that, the UK was where I lived but not somewhere I felt like I belonged. It’s an odd feeling and one I can’t really put into words, but if you found this post because you are thinking about moving away from the country you were born in, I think you’ll understand.
Moving abroad was always a someday dream. Maybe when we’re old, maybe when this happens, maybe when that happens. But twists and turns over the last year and a half helped us realise we can’t bank on growing old and saving that time for adventures. Brexit was the final kick up the bum we needed to do it sooner rather than later — it’s not the sole reason we moved but it definitely impacted the timing by several years.
So that was it, we were bloody doing it! We spent the next few months yo-yoing between excitement and fear. Mostly fear at first if I’m honest. Are we mad? Will we be able to learn the language? What if we can’t find somewhere to live? What will people think when we tell them? Will we be able to integrate in Sweden?
We spent weeks talking through big and little worries that popped into our heads, trying to find ways to tackle each one. I think this is a really important part of the process. Don’t ignore thoughts that cause anxiety because you will have to address them sooner or later. Having time to mull things over should help you feel more mentally prepared in the long run, even if you don’t have all the answers straight away.
Finding a place to live in two weeks
We visited Sweden for two weeks at the beginning of the year to find somewhere to live and start admin like speaking to Skatteverket and banks etc. Our rental options were limited without personnummers but we found a couple of agencies that could help (listed below). After finding an apartment, we crammed in an Ikea trip to suss out what we wanted to buy in a few weeks time. Can you tell we were excited?
Those two weeks were pretty intense because they were make or break for the timeline we had in mind. We didn’t know it at the time but this gave us one week of post move wiggle room before the pandemic hit. We were so lucky to get here!
Once back in the UK, we worked towards our move date like a pair of trojans. Finally committing to it and working towards a date felt good but working through ~80% of our move to-dos in just four weeks was gruelling.
Packing and downsizing
I occasionally found Scott staring into mid air with a glazed look on his face. It turns out he was making sense of what he called “the world’s largest jigsaw” — the correct order in which to do all the things.
Packing and downsizing is something I wanted to share a few tips on. Start sorting early because it’ll take longer than expected — even if you think you don’t own much. This method/order worked well for us:
- Low level crap. Walk around your house and pick out the low level crap you know you won’t take. This is random stuff that ends up shoved in cupboards, stuff you’ve never used, stuff that you thought you’d get around to fixing one day but is still broken 2 years later.
- Best stuff. Start putting your best stuff in a pile but don’t pack it yet in case you change your mind. This is anything you truly love. For me it was cameras, books, collectables, sentimental items etc.
- Donate and Sell. Go through the rest of your belongings and make piles of things to sell online, carboot, donate, freecycle, give to people you know etc.
- Food. Sort through your kitchen cupboards and make a food bank box for items you know you won’t get around to eating. Then chomp through and plan weird meals around what is left. Batch cooking for the freezer helped us eat decent meals for longer — they serveved us well when we didn’t have the time or energy to cook, and in the gap between our belongings being packed up and us actually moving.
- Back to your best stuff. Gradually you’ll just be left with just the good stuff that can be packed into the remaining boxes…
- And a pile of shitnacks that you have been avoiding and have absolutely no idea what to do with! Keys that don’t fit anything, screws that probably should be holding something together but aren’t, cables that connect to things you no longer own but could still be useful, random bits of plastic, biros… the list goes on. Destination… bin or recycle.
Our final week in the UK
The final week was brutal. Our belongings had been collected by the removals company. We ate the last home cooked freezer meals on plastic plates with wooden cutlery — and lived off takeaway once the microwave sold. We were sleeping under one sleeping bag on a blow up bed, had two suitcases each and no car. I was also still working full time from the living room floor.
A low point was opening a tin of tuna with a screwdriver because the tin opener was on its way to Sweden. Scott said not to worry but I was determined we wouldn’t be beaten by a tin of tuna. It was the smallest obstacle we needed to overcome at that point.
The last day in our house meant working in an empty living room while we waited for a friend to pick us up. This is Scott “relaxing” without furniture. We had coats on because sitting on the floor of a totally empty house in Winter is quite cold!
A massive thank you to SoPhil for giving us an actual bed to sleep in on the last night, feeding us fish and chips, pouring big glasses of wine and taking us to the airport. It felt like a stay at the Ritz.
Arriving in Sweden
Finally touching down at Arlanda was the best feeling in the world. We stayed in a hotel the night before we picked up the apartment keys — giving ourselves time to decompress and as a buffer in the event of a delayed flight.
Opening the door to our hotel room was hilarious. We paid about £20 extra for a slightly bigger room because we had four suitcases between us… it turned out to be much larger than we expected. Separate dining room, fireplace and a four-poster bed!!!
We were so exhausted, we went to bed at 8:30pm.
The fun began again the next day when we moved into a totally empty apartment. We bought a new blow up bed and unpacked our faithful sleeping bag from the UK. Some of our friends had sent us away with a food hamper — which was the first food in our cupboards on the day we got the keys. Then we were straight back on the life admin, this time on the Sweden side.
Luck was on our side again because the removals company were sending an extra lorry to Sweden, meaning we only had to wait a week (rather than 3-4) for our belongings to arrive. And more importantly, until we could sleep on a real mattress again.
I’ll be forever grateful for the people who cheered us on, encouraged us to be brave and happy, offered help, rehomed Rodney the avocado plant, and sent us away with cards and treats for the journey.
For anyone thinking about moving abroad who does not have support from those around them, I hope this post can be the encouragement you need. Carve out the life you want, have an adventure and don’t let anyone make you feel bad for wanting to be happy. Life is too short.
Twenty years from now, you’ll be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails.
Questions to ask yourself
A few things we talked about before making the final decision to move abroad:
- Really question why you are moving abroad. Are you bored and looking for adventure or do you want to build a life in a country more suited to your values?
- What type of life do you want to lead?
- What do you dislike about the country? And how will this impact your every day life?
- What is the worst outcome and how will you deal with that?
- Try to spend a length of time in that country and live like you normally would. For example, don’t go out for dinner every night, visit a supermarket, have a day where you do somthing for free. Do you still enjoy being there?
- Have you started learning the language?
- What will you miss about where you live now?
- Are there any worries or obstacles you are avoiding thinking about?
Handy resources/need to know
- Skatteverket (tax office) for personnummers and ID cards.
- You can open a bank account without a personnummer.
- You can rent without a personnummer (see Qasa, Samtrygg).
- Swedish Transport Agency for exchanging your driving license.
- 1177 for heath information.
- thelocal.se for Swedish news in English.
- sverigesradio.se for Swedish news in English.
- Schepens removals were fantastic.
- Register for organ donation (took me ages to find).
- Duolingo, @BeginnerSwedish and learningswedish.se for learning the language.
- Spare toilet rolls make excellent packing materials!
If you have any questions or feel like you need a bit or moral support, feel free to leave a comment below. I’d love to hear about where you are hoping to move to 🙂