Paying For The Loo In Sweden

Like the majority of Europe you need to pay when using the bathroom, which I feel is a little rough. However with this being the case, I have come across three bathroom scenarios that everyone will experience at one time or another in Sweden.

1. Plan before you leave home

Planning is essential for many things in Sweden, most of this is in relation to the changing weather conditions, although it also applies to using the bathroom. With running the risk of busting to use the loo in public and not having a cent to pay for it, you will find yourself using the bathroom at least twice before stepping out door. Regardless of feeling the urge, it almost becomes automatic. Once you have experienced the situation of scouring the streets with a full bladder trying to find the closest bathroom only to find that you can't get in because you need a five SEK coin, thirty seconds away from peeing yourself, you learn to go before leaving anyones home!

2. If i'm paying, I want to get my money's worth!

If you pay for something you want to get value for money. I'm happy to pay a dollar to use a bathroom that is clean and well maintained. You usually find these in the larger department stores in Sweden such as NK and Ahlens. This also applies when you're in a cafe or restaurant, if you pay for coffee or food you're entitled to use the bathrooms. Just a piece of advice, some places in Sweden print the bathroom code on the receipt so hold onto it just in case. Regardless of whether I feel the urge, I will always use the bathroom in a cafe or restaurant before exiting, just like the other nine million Swedes.

3. Pay? Screw that! I'm going to beat the system!

The third and final option is to rely of winging it and hope for the best. There is satisfaction in getting things for free and a clean bathroom at no cost is I must say, satisfying in many ways. Your best bet would be pubs, no one is really monitoring who is going into the toilet, although it does depend on the pub. Crowed bars are usually the best, avoid quite places off the main streets. I have walked into a few bars in which I have been immediately approached by bar staff asking if I would like a drink or a meal, too ashamed to admit I only came in here to use the toilet and bugger off, I painfully purchase a drink. That toilet break just cost me ten dollars.

The other option is to go to Burger King or McDonald's, they usually have one or two bathrooms that will be occupied on arrival, this you can use to your advantage. Once the person comes out grab the door before it closes and presto free toilet right? Well it again depends, as whoever designed these bathroom did think ahead. You can get yourself into the situation where halfway through whatever you're doing the lights will automatically shut off. Awkward! Worst of all, without paying, the doors don't lock. Combine both and you have a total fucking disaster. Picture yourself on the toilet in the pitch black dark only to have the door flung open by a bunch of teenagers. All I was thinking was I should have paid the damn dollar!

Personally I am against the need to pay for a natural bodily function. It's on the same level as paying for tap water in a restaurant! There is a fourth scenario which I didn't touch on, that being the pee in public approach. When all else fails many Swedes will  drop their dacks and let it out. I was sitting in the park the other day and saw four girls make their way to the edge of the park and each took a squat. They did happen to choose a very appropriate time just as I was starting lunch, lucky my chosen drink was not apple juice.

A Visit To Migrationsverket

Before departing Australia for Sweden I applied for a permanent residency visa or "sambo visa" as it is called here. This visa is based off my relationship with Jennie, allowing me to live and work in Sweden with no restrictions.

Once I received notice that my sambo visa was granted I was advised by the Swedish embassy in Australia that I will need to have my finger prints and photograph taken at my local Migrationsverket in Sweden in order to obtain a residency card. Without this residency card you can do very little, its your ticket to gaining everything else that you need to survive in Sweden, so naturally it was the first off my list.

Prior to my visit to Migrationsverket, the Swedish embassy in Australia notified me that I should book my appointment online. I took it upon myself to do the right thing and booked my appointment for a few days after arriving in Sweden. 9:35am on the first Monday seemed perfect so I went ahead a locked in that slot.

The day of the meeting

Jennie and I arrive at Migrationsverket in Gothenburg in good time. I wanted to make sure that we arrived early just in case it was hard to find where the office was located. We had no trouble finding the building and arrived with plenty of time to spare. We made our way into the waiting area and I was advised that I should take a seat and wait until my name was called. The reception area was separate to where all the service counters were located, you had to walk down the corridor once your name was called and approach your designated counter. The place really reminded me of a hospital, it was very stale and cold, with a few security guards lurking around.

You're a little late?

We take our seat in the reception area around 9:20am, I was a little confused because in Sweden it is common to pull a ticket when you are waiting to be served. We wait for a few minutes and hear a faint mumble over the intercom, I look at Jennie and ask her if that was someones name? It was the most faint announcement, however we see a lady stand up and walk down the corridor to the service counters. We both decide to get up and sit closer to the speakers so that we can actually hear my name once announced. We can hear a little easier now yet still nothing that resembles my name. I look at the clock and it is now 9:45, I am starting to get a little worried so we decide to talk to the lady behind the reception counter. I explain the situation, that I have booked an appointment at 9:35am before getting cut off to hear "its now 9:45am, you're a little late?". I see the rage appear in Jennie's eyes followed by "no we have been here for 20 minutes and his name has not been called!" The lady replies "oh well you will have to approach someone at the service counters to see if they can help you". Damn, I just had a bad feeling by this point, we were totally prepared for this appointment and it was quickly falling apart.

Mr Helpful 

We walk down the corridor to find a service counter, the only one that's free is occupied by a Swedish guy who looked so bored in his job the next customer request would drive him to get up and stick his head in the nearest oven. He saw us standing there waiting for him to acknowledge that we needed help, however he had this look on his face as if to say "shit, please don't talk to me!". Jennie beats me to the counter and starts to speak with him in Swedish, I can tell that things are not going well as a faint red tinge is appearing on her face. I see him pick up a piece of paper and mutter something to Jennie, "we have missed our appointment!" Jennie replies. Mr helpful behind the counter could not give two shits, he only tells us to pull a ticket and wait for assistance. Wait for assistance, I thought his job required being that assistance?

We walk back out to the reception area and pull a ticket, it was so robotic, like there was not a single person working there that could think outside the square. I look down at our ticket number and then look up at the screen displaying which number is next. Our ticket is number 41, the number on the screen is number 10!

The 4 hour wait

I have to say that I am feeling pretty defeated by this point! We take a seat and continue to wait. The length of the wait starts to come into perspective as not a single number was called for over 15 minutes. Jennie calculated that at this rate it would take us over 4 hours to be served, which it total rubbish as we clearly made an appointment and it was their stuff up!

It's around 11:30am and we have been waiting in the office for over 2 hours, all of a sudden the receptionist calls out that she will be closing over lunch, never mind the 30 people that are already in the line to see her! She shuts the metal roller door and leaves for lunch! The 30 or so people in the line have no choice but to take a seat and wait for her to come back. A horrible thought crossed my mind, if she is going for lunch surely the others at the service counters will be hanging around to serve people? Nope, we were not that lucky, everyone went to lunch, and I mean everyone! 60 people sitting in this office to be served and not a single staff member was around.

By this point the few security guards who were in the building started to take questions from people, it was actually quite impressive, this must be a common occurrence. They were showing people which forms they needed to fill in and were taking the time to hear what people had to say.

30 minutes pass and we start to hear the shuffling of the receptionists roller door start to open. All of
a sudden masses of people start to run over to the counter to get back in line. Its first in best dressed at this point! One lady lucked out and tried to push in the line, all the people in the line start to tell her off and the receptionist starts to join in telling her to get to the end of the line. Finally the lady gets the point and walks to the back of the line.

Outwit, Outplay, Outlast!

1:00pm and were are moving closer to our number, I am feeling a little more optimistic by this point as it really is a battle of patience. Loads of people before us have actually given up and left, however we have managed to stand strong, outwit, outplay, outlast! Every number that is called is the luck of the draw, both Jennie and I look around to see if anyone is actually moving to the service counter, nope, that's another person that has given up. I look down at my ticket and the ink has actually started to wear off the number, thats an indication of how long I have been holding this stupid thing for! 

Finally they call number 41! I pretty much spring up out of my seat and run to our designated counter. Regardless of what they say I was not leaving without having my photograph and finger prints taken. The girl at the counter was actually very nice, I told her exactly what I needed and it took her a total of 3 minutes to take my picture and finger prints. I kept thinking about Mr Helpful, all he had to do was spare 3 minutes to help us, but that was much too difficult.

1 week and I will receive my identity card, I must say that it felt pretty good knowing that we did stand strong. I was tempted many times to get up and leave, however I knew that the same thing would probably happen again. It was very satisfied leaving Migrationsverket, as you can see below. Lets just hope I never have to experience this place again. 

How to move to Sweden

Over the last year I have been planning to relocate to Sweden from Australia. With our departure date quickly approaching it is quite a strange feeling knowing that everything you have planned for over the last year is actually about to happen.

You are left with a mixture of excitement and nerves, one minute you are totally positive about the experience and the next you are crawling under your bed covers wondering what the hell you have gotten yourself into! I keep reminding myself that the largest hurdle is over, gaining my Swedish Sambo Visa, however I know that there is still a way to go before my life in Sweden is stress free.

I'm the type of person that needs to have a plan, I hate going into a situation unprepared, which is why, over this last year I have been trying to gain an understand of exactly what I need to do in order to settle into Swedish society.

From doing my own research and also talking to my friends and partners family in Sweden, I have put together my fool proof plan once I arrive in Sweden, please note that this list is only for the short term and does not include more longterm tasks like finding an apartment or gaining employment, so here it goes!

#1. Gaining my Swedish Residency Permit

First things first, my Swedish Residency Permit, it took me around 8 months to get this baby approved so this is high priority for me. Before I can get it, I need to have my fingerprints and photo taken, by booking an appointment at Migrationsverket. In true efficient Swedish style each booking slot is approximately 5 minutes in duration, which I assume leaves no room for general chit chat. 

Without your Swedish Residency Permit you can pretty much do jack all, so this is a good option to start with. I'm pretty sure they don't give this to you on the spot, as creating your permit would take much longer than 5 minutes, which would screw with the estimated booking time duration and become inefficient for Swedish standards. Jokes aside, they mail this out to your registered Swedish address so be on the lookout.   

#2. Swedish Personal Number

Yes there is no escape, once I follow through with this option the Swedish Government has got me. Say goodbye to personal privacy, every aliment, missed credit card payment and doctors appointment, regardless of how embarrassing it may be is clocked to my Personal Number. Again without a Swedish Personal Number you don't even have a chance of obtaining a library card so this is a must for any Expat. Your Personal Number can be obtained from the Swedish Tax Department (Skatteverket).

#3. Register for Swedish Social Services

Once you have obtained your Swedish Personal Number it is a good idea to register with Försäkringskassan. This will allow you to be covered for basic healthcare, dental care, parental benefits, unemployment benefits etc. It is a myth that all healthcare in Sweden is free, however there is a maximum that you will pay for doctors appointments per year which is 1,100 SEK. You will find a cap on most medical expenses per year including prescription medications and dental care.

#4. Obtain a Swedish Resident Identification Card

After you have received your Swedish Personal Number you can obtain a Swedish resident ID card. This card will be your primary form of identification while you are in Sweden. You will need your identification card to do most things in Sweden, from opening a bank account to gaining a mobile phone contract. 

To obtain your Swedish ID card you will need to visit the Swedish Tax Department and must prove the following:

  • You have paid the application fee before you visit the office.
  • Be able to prove your ID by producing identification documents.
  • Be registered as living in Sweden.
  • Be at least 13 years of age.
  • Have your parent/guardian´s approval if you are less than 18 years of age.

When obtaining your Swedish ID card for the first time you will need someone who already has their Swedish ID card, and who is registered to live in Sweden to accompany you to the tax department to verify your identity.  

#5. Open a Bank Account

Once you have received your personal number and ID card you can open up a Swedish bank account. Sweden has four main banks, Swedebank, Nordea, SEB and Handelsbanken. 

#6. Learn to Speak Swedish

This is one task that I have been rather lacklustre about completing. However there is no time like the present to start learning another language. While you are living in Sweden there is a number of resources at your disposal to help you take command of the Swedish language. The most common program is called SFI (Swedish For Immigrants).

To register for this program you will need to contact your local municipality. There are 4 different levels A,B,C and D. Each course usually spans over 1.5 - 3 hours per day, several days a week for around 3-4 months. If you have the time these courses can be great to get yourself up-to-speed with the language quickly.

So there you go! This list will be my priority for first few months while I am in Sweden. If you have any other suggestions feel free to drop me a comment.

Swedish Sambo Visa

After finally obtaining a Swedish Sambo Visa I thought that I would share the process for others out there who are planning to make the voyage to live in Sweden.

When it comes to any visa process things can seem quite painful. I find that waiting is the hardest part, you gather what you think is needed, bundle it together and hope for the best right? After months of not hearing anything you start to get concerned that your future plans will not come about and instantly project your mind to the worst case scenario! I know this all too well.

I cannot stress it enough that you need to plan! Any type of relocation takes time, regardless of moving to another city or country. I would recommend leaving yourself 12 months to get everything you need in order. I understand that people can be short on time, however the Swedish Migration Department does state that processing time can take up to 11 months.

What you need to provide for a Swedish Sambo Visa

  • Current passport and copies of all identity pages for you are your partner.
  • Evidence that you and your partner have been living together at the same address. Provide utility bills, joint bank account statements, rental agreements.
  • Personbevis (Civic Registration Certificate). I was confused with this one however if you are Australian you can get them from the department of Births Deaths and Marriages. Your partner will also have to provide one from Sweden.
  • If you are married or registered partners you should include copies of these certificates.
  • Several photos of you and your partner in daily life.
  • Complete the online application form at Migrationsverket. Once you have completed this and it has been submitted your partner will also need to compete a number of questions that will be emailed to them. Make sure you submit this online as it will speed up the application process.
  • Pay the 1500 SEK or $250 (AUD) application fee.
  • Once you have submitted your application you will be given a control number which you can use to check on the processing of your visa. 

What are the next stages of a Swedish Sambo Visa?

Okay so you and your partner have filled in all the application forms, sent off all your documentation, so what happens next? I know you don't want to hear it but the answer is wait! The department gives you an estimation of 11 months processing time for a Swedish Sambo Visa. In my case I did not hear anything for around 5 months. Then one day I received an email from the department informing me that I had to arrange an interview with my closest Swedish Consulate.

They may also notify you that you need to provide addition paperwork, In my case I had forgotten to submit my Civic Registration Certificate and personal photos. Gather together what you need and attached the documents to the link they provide in their email.

Swedish Sambo Visa interview

Don't stress, as soon as people mention interview alarm bells immediately start ringing. Locate your closest Swedish Consulate and arrange a time to take your interview. You will need to bring all the original paperwork that you submitted including you and your partners passports.

My interview was very informal and relaxed. I was given a list of questions that I had to fill in while the lady at the consulate took photocopies of all my documentation. These questions were very similar to the ones that you fill in on your online application, so don't freak out. The interview cost $20 and I was in there for around 1 hour. 

The consulate cannot give you any guarantee of when you will receive a decision on your visa so you again will have to play the waiting game.

When can I expect a decision on my Sambo Visa? 

This varies from case to case. I was lucky as I received a decision 2 weeks after I took the interview. I was very surprised about this as I thought that I would be waiting much longer. I have read that it has taken some people several months or several weeks, I think it really does depend on the workload of the department at the time. Once you have taken the interview just hold tight, this is your last step before a decision is made.

You will receive an email notifying you that a decision has been made, however they will not notify you the decision in the email. If you're in Sweden your visa decision will be mailed out to you. If you're outside of Sweden you will have to call your Swedish embassy and receive the outcome via phone.

This in itself is very stressful, the Swedish Embassy in Australia is only open for phone calls during certain days, which means I had to wait several days to hear about my decision. Once I did get to talk to someone I was holding me breath as they looked up my file. The lady at the embassy actually sounded quite happy to inform me that I had obtained permanent residency, which was nice.

Note: When you receive the email from the department informing you that a decision has been made scroll to the bottom of the email for the English translation! I only saw the Swedish versions at first and rushed over to my partner for her to translate. It was a day later that I realised they actually do provide you with an English version!

Once you have been granted a Swedish Sambo Visa

Once your Sambo Visa has been granted you will need to get your photo and fingerprints taken at either your Swedish Embassy or when you arrive in Sweden at your local Migrationsverket. You will receive an identity card which is mandatory if you are living in Sweden.

Note: If you don't need a visa to enter Sweden the department recommends that you obtain your identity card once you have relocated to Sweden. Book your appointment in the first few weeks that you arrive in Sweden.

So thats it! If you have any questions or concerns please feel free to leave me a comment and I will do my best to answer your queries. Good Luck!