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WORKING IN SWEDEN

How to maximise your Swedish pension – even if you’re not planning to stay

In the excitement of getting stuck into life in a new country and tackling all the challenges that presents, it's easy for pensions to slip down the list of things to keep track of. But don't let it fall off the radar, follow The Local's guide to manage your Swedish pension.

How to maximise your Swedish pension – even if you're not planning to stay
If you're working in Sweden, you're probably entitled to a pension. Here's what you need to know. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

The Swedish pension is part of the country’s social insurance system, and it can seem like a confusing beast at times. The good news is that if you’re living and working here, you’ll almost certainly be earning towards a pension, and you’ll be able to get that money even if you move elsewhere before retirement.

Exactly how much money goes into your pension pot depends on many factors, including your salary, length of time working in Sweden, your company’s policy, and your own personal decisions (especially if you’re self-employed).

Those who spend only a few years working in Sweden will earn a much smaller pension than people who work here for their whole lives, but that money could still come in useful once you retire, so it’s important to know what you’ll be entitled to.

The easiest way to understand how the Swedish pension works is breaking it down into three parts. There are three different sources for the Swedish pension: the state, your employer, and yourself.

First, there’s the state/general pension (allmän pension), which comes from money paid in tax, and makes up the biggest part of most people’s total pensions. It falls under the remit of the Pensionsmyndigheten or the Swedish Pensions Agency, a government authority dedicated to, you guessed it, pensions.

Absolutely everyone who has worked and paid tax in Sweden is entitled to this pension, and it’s split into two parts: an income pension and a premium pension.

The income pension (inkomstpension) makes up the bulk of this. Each year, 16 percent of your income is paid into this pension. In this context, ‘income’ includes wages as well as all other taxable benefits such as paid sickness or parental leave, and unemployment benefits.

It’s the employer who pays this, as part of the fees associated with employment, so you won’t see it deducted from your salary and there’s nothing that you as an employee need to do. The higher your salary, the higher the income pension will be, although once you reach the upper limit on pensionable income, your state pension won’t increase any further. This limit is regularly adjusted but is set at 47,717 kronor per month for the income year 2022 ($5,094 in February 2022) and was 45,833 kronor per month for the income year 2021.

On top of the income pension, a further 2.5 percent of your income goes into investment funds (the premium pension or premiepension). Again, this is paid by the employer, but if you want to, you can choose which funds your money goes into. If you do not make a choice, your money will be invested in AP7 Såfa, the Seventh AP Fund (National Generation Management Option) which is the default option.

If you do want to move your funds, this can be done as often as you want, for free, by logging into the Swedish Pensions Agency’s website using BankID. You can have up to five funds at the same time, and there is a list of all the available funds on the website, which also offers advice on factors to bear in mind when selecting which ones to put your money in.

However, bear in mind that the premium pension is only equivalent to 2.5 percent of your income, so if you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s more beneficial to focus on maximising your occupational and private pensions than the premium.

Those who live on a low income or no income while in Sweden may also be entitled to a so-called guarantee pension (garantipension) once you retire, which ensures you get a basic minimum pension regardless of your salary status while working. 

This is the one component of the pension which you may not have access to if you later move abroad; you will only keep it if you move to an EU/EEA country, Switzerland, or in certain cases Canada, and you’ve lived in Sweden for at least three years before the age of 65.

It is also calculated on the assumption that you lived in Sweden for at least 40 years (though there are special rules for those who arrived in the country as refugees), so if you live in Sweden for less than that, you’ll receive a smaller proportion.

The guarantee pension can be collected from the age of 65, but that age is set to rise over the next few years (this also applies to the age from which you can collect other kinds of pension).

Overall then, the amount you receive as state pension is impossible to calculate in advance, and will depend on: your salary, which other benefits you receive, how long you work in Sweden, and when you start drawing your pension.

For context, the average general pension of people living in Sweden was 14,400 kronor before taxes per month in 2022, and made up around three quarters of the average person’s entire pension, but if you spend a large part of your working life in a country other than Sweden, that amount will be smaller.

After the state pension, the second potential component of the Swedish pension comes from your employer and is known as the occupational pension (tjänstepension). This will typically make up between 20 and 30 percent of your Swedish pension, but for high earners may be considerably more.

Most employees (90 percent, according to figures from the Swedish government) are entitled to some form of occupational pension, but exactly what this includes varies from workplace to workplace. Make sure to speak to someone from your workplace or trade union, if applicable, to ensure you understand what you’re getting. Be aware also that some companies have a lower age limit at which they start paying occupational pensions, or may pay different amounts for employees of different ages. 

In many workplaces, pension arrangements are decided based on agreements between unions and employers known as “collective agreements” (kollektivavtal). There are four main occupational agreements in Sweden, so find out which, if any, your workplace belongs to. 

If you have a collective agreement, the usual situation is that 4.5 percent of your salary up to a monthly ceiling will be paid into your occupational pension. In some cases, the employee has the option to choose which funds their pension is invested in, so you may be able to move your funds around, as with the premium pension.

In some sectors, there are no collective agreements, and in that case it’s up to the employee to negotiate an occupational pension with their employer – which they are not obliged to offer. 

If you’re self-employed in Sweden, or don’t have an occupational pension, you may choose to make individual contributions to compensate. As a rough guide, it’s a good idea to save around 4-5 percent of your monthly salary. And if you run your own business, you can make your own contributions towards an occupational pension, called owner’s contributions.

The third source of pension money is a private pension (privat pension), which you can set up if you want to put some of your own money towards retirement. There are various ways to do this: a private pension fund through a bank; a capital insurance fund (kapitalförsäkring); or by investing in stocks, property, or other assets. If you’re not planning to stay in Sweden long-term, it may well make sense to keep these savings in another country, if possible.

Look out for this orange envelope in your mail box. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

So, how do you keep track of these different funds? In Sweden this is actually really easy.

Each spring, you’ll receive a bright orange envelope from the Swedish Pensions Agency, which provides a breakdown of how much you’ve saved for your state pension so far, as well as a forecast of how much you’ll be able to withdraw when you retire, based on current data. Plenty of Swedes dread or ignore the arrival of the envelope, but it’s useful to familiarise yourself with the information. You can also check the status of your state pension at any time by logging onto the “Mina Sidor” (My pages) section of the Swedish Pensions Agency’s website.

Be aware though that this is only a rough estimate, and the further from retirement you are, the less accurate it is, since the factors that determine pension amounts change regularly. It’s also calculated on the assumption that you’ll live and work in Sweden for at least 40 years, meaning the estimates are generally much higher than the real amount many expats will receive.

If you want to review all three parts of your pension – state, occupational, and private – you can check this online at Minpension.se, a website run by the Swedish government and pension companies. This is also helpful if you’re unsure whether your previous employers in Sweden had occupational pensions. Be aware that a small proportion of pensions won’t be visible through the website, but according to the site, 90 percent of people should be able to see their full pension.

Knowing that the money’s there is all well and good, but many international residents will wonder what they need to do now to ensure they actually get it when the time comes.

You can choose to start taking your Swedish pension at any time after the age of 62, and this is set to rise further over the next few years. You can draw 25, 50, 75, or 100 percent of your pension each month, so if you choose to continue working but reduce your hours, for example, you might opt to take out a smaller amount.

Those who retire outside Sweden, or leave the country long before retirement, are still entitled to any pension earned while working in Sweden (apart from the guarantee pension, as mentioned above). You do not have to have Swedish citizenship in order to claim it, but you do have to actively apply for the pension. This is because it’s up to you when you start receiving it.

When you leave Sweden, contact the Swedish Pensions Agency to inform them of your new address so that you will continue to receive statements and notifications. Make sure to keep them updated each time you change address.

If you retire in the EU/EEA, or another country with which Sweden has a pension agreement, you just need to apply to the pension authority in your country of residence in order to start drawing your Swedish pension. If you live in a different country, you should contact the Swedish Pensions Agency for advice on accessing your pension, which is done by filling out a form (look for the form called Ansök om allmän pension – om du är bosatt utanför Sverige).

The agency recommends beginning the application process at least three months before you plan to take the pension, and ideally six months beforehand if you live abroad. It’s possible to have the pension paid into either a Swedish bank account or an account outside Sweden.

Once you start withdrawing the Swedish pension abroad, you may also be sent a life certificate (levnadsintyg) each year. These are sent to pensioners in countries from which Sweden’s Pensions Agency and Social Insurance Agency don’t receive information automatically, to confirm that the recipient is still alive.

Life certificates are sent out to those receiving Swedish pensions each summer, and can also be downloaded from the Pensions Agency’s website. They must then be approved by an authority such as local police, social insurance, or Swedish embassy, and returned to the Pensions Agency by post or e-mail.

In summary, here’s your checklist to make sure you’re on track for a healthy Swedish pension:

  • Get online to check how much you’ve accumulated so far
  • Speak to your employer about your occupational pension, and find out if there are any decisions you can make relating to it
  • If you’re self-employed or don’t have an occupational pension, consider setting up private savings to compensate
  • Decide if you want to change the funds your premium pension and (if applicable) occupational pension are invested in
  • Think about whether you want to set up additional private pension savings
  • Keep the Swedish Pensions Agency informed about your address if you leave the country
  • Get in touch with the Swedish Pensions Agency (or, in the EU/EEA, your local pensions authority) six months before you hope to draw the pension

Member comments

  1. Very good article… hopefully you will publish more guides of this sort… for example how to manage housing contracts (it might be there already… but it would be good if there is a page menu focused specifically on guides and FAQs)

  2. Great information!!
    My husband and where always wandering what could we do about pension.
    This article explains a lot.
    Thank you!

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For members

WORK PERMITS

How foreigners can get on the fast track for a work permit in Sweden

It can now take about six months to get a work permit in Sweden, and a year for an extension. Here's how you can get on the fast track.

How foreigners can get on the fast track for a work permit in Sweden

How long does it normally take to get a permit to work in Sweden? 

According to the calculator on the Migration Agency’s website, 75 percent of first work permit applications are completed within three months, and 75 percent of work permit extensions are completed within 14 months. 

These numbers, though, are only for people in non-risk industries. If you are applying for a job in the cleaning, building, hotel and restaurant, or car repair industries — all of which are seen as high risk by the agency — applications can take much longer to be approved. 

For these industries, the calculator suggests a long 12-month wait for a first application and a 17-month wait for an extension. 

This is because of the higher number of unscrupulous employers in these industries who do not pay foreign workers their promised salaries, or do not fulfil other requirements in their work permit applications, such as offering adequate insurance and other benefits. 

So how do you get on the fast track for a permit? 

There are two ways to get your permit more rapidly: the so-called “certified process” and the EU’s Blue Card scheme for highly skilled employees. 

What is the certified process?

The certified process was brought in back in 2011 by the Moderate-led Alliance government to help reduce the then 12-month wait for work permits.

Under the process, bigger, more reputable Swedish companies and trusted intermediaries handling other applications for clients, such as the major international accounting firms, can become so-called “certified operators”, putting the work permit applications they handle for employees on a fast track, with much quicker processing times. 

The certified operator or the certified intermediary is then responsible for making sure applications are ‘ready for decision’, meaning the agency does not need to spend as much time on them. 
You can find answers to the most common questions about the certified process on the Migration Agency’s website

How much quicker can a decision be under the certified process? 
Under the agreement between certified employers and the Migration Agency, it should take just two weeks to process a fresh work permit application, and four weeks to get an extension. 
Unfortunately, the agency is currently taking much longer: between one and three months for a fresh application, and around five to six months for an extension. 
This is still roughly half the time it takes for an employee seeking a permit outside the certified process. 
The Migration Agency told the Dagens Nyheter newspaper in a recent article that in September the average decision had taken 105 days, while over the year as a whole, applications for certified companies had taken 46 days, and those for non-certified companies 120 days. 

How can someone planning to move to Sweden for work take advantage of the certified process? 
Unfortunately, it is very much up to your employer. If you are planning to move to Sweden for work, you should make sure to ask prospective employers if they are certified, or sub-certified through an intermediary firm, and take that into account when deciding which company to take a job with. 
Smaller IT companies are often not certified, as they tend to start off by recruiting from within Sweden or the European Union. 
If you have begun a work permit application with a company that is not certified or sub-certified, then you cannot get onto the fast track even if your employer gets certified while you are waiting for a decision. 
The certified process can also not be used to get a work permit for an employee of a multinational company who is moving to the Swedish office from an office in another country. 
If my employer is certified, what do I need to do?
You will need to sign a document giving power of attorney to the person at your new company who is handling the application, both on behalf of yourself and of any family members you want to bring to Sweden.  
You should also double check the expiry date on your passport and on those of your dependents, and if necessary applying for a new passport before applying, as you can only receive a work permit for the length of time for which you have a valid passport. 

Which companies are certified? 
Initially, only around 20 companies were certified, in recent years the Migration Agency has opened up the scheme to make it easier for companies to get certified, meaning there are now about 100 companies directly certified, and many more sub-certified. 
To get certified, a company needs to have handled at least ten work permit applications for foreign employees over the past 18 months (there are exceptions for startups), and also to have a record of meeting the demands for work and residency permits.  
The company also needs to have a recurring need to hire from outside the EU, with at least ten applications expected a year. 
The Migration Agency is reluctant to certify or sub-certify companies working in industries where it judges there is a high risk of non-compliance with the terms of work permits, such as the building industry, the hotel and restaurant industry, the retail industry, and agriculture and forestry. 
Most of the bigger Swedish firms that rely on foreign expertise, for example Ericsson, are certified. 
The biggest intermediaries through whom companies can become sub-certified are the big four accounting firms, Ernst & Young, Deloitte, KPMG, and Vialto (a spin-off from PwC), and the specialist relocation firms Human Entrance, and Alpha Relocation. Bråthe estimates that these six together control around 60 percent of the market. Other players include K2 Corporate Mobility, Key Relocation, Nordic Relocation, and some of the big corporate law firms operating in Sweden, such as Ving and Bird & Bird. 

What is the EU Blue Card, how can I get one, and how can it help speed up the work permit process? 
Sweden’s relatively liberal system for work permits, together with the certification system, has meant that in recent years there has been scant demand for the EU Blue Card. 
The idea for the Blue Card originally sprung from the Brussels think-tank Bruegel, and was written into EU law in August 2012. The idea was to mimic the US system of granting workers a card giving full employment rights and expedited permanent residency. Unlike with the US Green Card, applicants must earn a salary that is at least 1.5 times as high as the average in the country where they are applying.
Germany is by far the largest granter of EU blue cards, divvying out nearly 90 percent of the coveted cards, followed by France (3.6 percent), Poland (3.2 percent) and Luxembourg (3 percent).

How can I qualify for a Blue Card?

The card is granted to anyone who has an accredited university degree (you need 180 university credits or högskolepoäng in Sweden’s system), and you need to be offered a job paying at least one and a half times the average Swedish salary (about 55,000 kronor a month).

How long does a blue card take to get after application in Sweden? 

According to the Migration Agency, a Blue Card application is always handled within 90 days, with the card then sent to the embassy or consulate named in the application.

In Sweden ,it is only really worth applying for a Blue Card if you are applying to work at a company that is not certified and are facing a long processing time.

EU Blue Cards are issued for a minimum of one year and a maximum of two years. 

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