Swedish income insurance: how does it work and do you need it?

You may have arrived in Sweden with a fair idea of its strong social support systems. But what do you know about its a-kassas?

Swedish income insurance: how does it work and do you need it?
Photos: Anna Wright, Akademikernas a-kassa/Getty Images

A-kassas (short for arbetslöshetskassa) are unemployment funds that pay income-related insurance benefits. It’s a topic well worth taking the time to understand amid the coronavirus pandemic – especially with more generous temporary rules currently in place (more on this below).

We invited readers of The Local to send in questions for Anna Wright, of Akademikernas a-kassa, Sweden’s biggest income insurance provider for university graduates. Here, she explains the key things you need to know and responds to questions you sent us on Facebook and via email. 

Find out more about securing your income by joining Akademikernas a-kassa

Q: What’s the difference between an a-kassa and a union (fackförening or just ‘fack’ in Swedish)? Can you join an a-kassa even if you’re not a member of a union?

Anna Wright: It’s not a requirement to be a member of both a union and unemployment insurance fund (a-kassa), but we always recommend you join both. Here’s the difference:

  • You can get money from an a-kassa if you become unemployed.

  • From a union, you can get negotiating help, salary statistics, advice on employment law, a review of your CV or LinkedIn profile and more.

If you’re a member of both, you can also get income insurance that covers up to 80 percent of your entire salary if you lose your job. The benefit from the income insurance is paid by the trade union – but it’s always based on our decision on unemployment benefit (which we pay). 

Q: Is it mandatory to be a member of a union and an a-kassa to be able to get 80% of your salary in case of unemployment?

AW: It depends on how much you earn. In 2020, you can receive up to 80 percent of 33,000 Swedish kronor from the unemployment insurance fund. We always recommend that you join a union for the reasons above.

Q: What do I need to know about the temporary rules on unemployment benefit introduced in 2020 due to coronavirus?

AW: A number of temporary changes were agreed by the Swedish Government and supporting parties earlier this year in response to the economic impact of the pandemic. The key changes are: 

  • Increased maximum benefit: the highest benefit level is 80 percent of your income up to 33,000 kronor per month and the maximum benefit per day is now 1,200 kronor before tax for the first 100 days of unemployment.

  • No waiting period: unemployment benefit will be paid out from the first day of unemployment, rather than after a six-day waiting period.

  • Shortened membership requirement: you could qualify for up to 80 percent of your salary after being a member for just three months from March to December 2020 (compared with 12 months if you applied before April 13th 2020)

These rules are due to expire after January 3rd 2021. A potential extension to the higher compensation levels beyond this date is being discussed. But the rest will go back to ‘normal’ with the qualifying period reintroduced, meaning you will then need to have been a member for 12 months to receive compensation based on your salary. You can find full details here

Q: I’m self-employed. Why join an akassa?

AW: Many university graduates choose to go their own way and start a business. But there’s always a risk that your company will not be profitable. If you then end up needing to claim unemployment insurance, what you receive will be based on your higher earnings – whether that was as an employee or as an entrepreneur. This applies so long as you become unemployed within 24 months of finishing as an employee – otherwise, we will base the benefits on the period in which you had your own business.In Sweden, it’s actually almost 50 years since the self-employed were given the right to join an a-kassa! 

Secure your income now by joining Akademikernas a-kassa

Q: Can I become a member although I’m not working and I’m new to Sweden?

AW: You can join an a-kassa as soon as you start to work and pay tax in Sweden.

Photo: Getty Images

Q: Why is Akademikernas a-kassa’s fee changing to 140 kronor per month in October?

AW: The fee was adjusted to reflect the higher costs associated with offering a more generous daily allowance. This allowance was increased from 910 kronor to 1,200 kronor in March to mitigate the economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic for individuals and society. Benefits from a-kassas are financed by membership fees and employer contributions. And when 75 percent of our unemployed members get higher daily allowances, we need to contribute more to the government cost. 

We’ve had an exceptional year, with 40 percent more applications for benefits. We’ve also had around 50,000 new members join us and we’ve still been able to maintain our processing times for applications to join. 

Q: I live in Sweden and pay Swedish income tax but commute to London, where I start and end my flights as cabin crew for an airline. I’ll be furloughed in October and I’m wondering if I’m eligible to pay into an a-kassa?

AW: First of all, do you have a Swedish work permit – that is, are you able to work for a Swedish employer? Second, is your employer paying Swedish social security costs (arbetsgivaravgifter)? If the answer to both these questions is ‘yes’ you should be able to join a Swedish a-kassa and get unemployment benefits if your employment ends, provided you fulfil the normal requirements.

Q: Finally, one Facebook comment encouraged people to save money themselves instead of joining an a-kassa, which the reader claimed may not pay out when needed. Another reader quickly disagreed! So, what does the expert say? 

AW: We’re sorry you feel that way about the a-kassa system in Sweden. All the a-kassas have the same rules and if you fulfill the requirements you will get your benefits. If you become unemployed you can get up to 26,400 kronor before tax per month – and you’d have to save your membership fees for quite some time to get that amount of money.

Whether you’re employed or an entrepreneur, find out more about protecting your income by joining Akademikernas a-kassa as a university graduate 


For members


FACT CHECK: Can you get a residency permit if you buy property in Sweden?

There have been several reports of foreigners who bought Swedish property after they were falsely made to believe that it would speed up their process towards a Swedish residency permit. But what do the rules actually say?

FACT CHECK: Can you get a residency permit if you buy property in Sweden?

I’ve never been told buying property in Sweden will give me a residence permit. Is this really a thing?

The short answer is a firm no, but despite this there has been a series of incidents of non-EU foreigners who were allegedly tricked into buying property in Sweden before moving, believing that owning property would make them eligible for a Swedish residence permit.

What’s the story? 

These incidents most recently grabbed headlines in June 2024, when public broadcaster SVT reported that a number of properties in Sweden had been sold to buyers in the Middle East well over market price, after the buyers were led to believe it would help them gain residence permits. The properties are all linked to businessman Kadry El Naggar, who runs the company Sweden for Investment.

As far back as 2013, SVT reported that another company owned by El Naggar, Swedish Connections, at the time told buyers in Egypt that buying property in Sweden would help speed up the process of getting a residence permit or even Swedish citizenship.

El Naggar has never been convicted of any crimes, but he has been sued by two previous buyers. In one of the cases, the purchase was cancelled, and the other buyer won their court case. He denied to SVT that his company offers its services under false pretence.

“I buy old houses and sell them on. I don’t sell permanent residency permits. That’s clear if you look at our sites,” he told SVT.

A note on his website reads “we do not issue visas or guarantee any residence permits as these are determined individually by the Swedish Migration Board”. But SVT reports that in several social media posts, El Naggar falsely claims that all foreigners need to get a Swedish residency permit is a bank statement showing a balance of at least 20,000 dollars (210,660 kronor), as well as a company and property.

How many properties have they sold?

According to SVT, there are 50 properties up and down the country linked to El Naggar, his wife or their company, with 32 of those in Norrland. Thirty-six properties currently have one or more foreign owners, with a total of 53 owners registered as living outside of Sweden.

The broadcaster also linked 37 different Sweden-registered companies to these owners, who are registered as living in a number of different countries, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Palestine.

Many of the properties are in relatively bad condition, sold via executive auction through the Swedish Enforcement Authority (Kronofogden).

One pharmacist from Egypt told SVT he had paid 188,000 kronor for a home in the village of Undrom outside Sollefteå in northern Sweden, with the dream of giving his children a better life, after Facebook adverts promised that he could get residency through buying a property.

He hasn’t even been able to visit his house in Undrom due to the cost of travelling to Sweden from Saudi Arabia, where he lives. 

He told SVT he had been warned by someone else who had been in a similar situation just before he was due to make the final payment on the home, and he then demanded to cancel the purchase, but the company refused. He has now hired lawyers in Egypt and Sweden.

“We’ve seen that this method has been ongoing for a while,” Migration Agency official Anette Bäcklund told SVT.

“And all of those people who have applied for a residence permit from us have had their applications denied. You need to follow certain rules to qualify for a residence permit, and that hasn’t been the case in these cases.”

How do I move to Sweden as an entrepreneur or investor?

It is possible to get a temporary residence permit as a self-employed person in Sweden, and permit holders who can support themselves and their families are eligible for permanent residency after just two years, but this requires more than just having a high enough bank balance, registering a company in Sweden and owning a property.

According to the Migration Agency, self-employed people must meet the following requirements in order to be granted a two-year residence permit:

  • hold a valid passport
  • show you have good experience of your industry and previous experience of running your own company
  • show you have relevant knowledge of Swedish or English. For example, if you have contact with a number of suppliers or customers in Sweden, you need to be able to speak Swedish to a very high level
  • prove that you are in charge of running the company and that you have decisive influence for it
  • prove that you have enough money to support yourself and any family accompanying you (200,000 kronor for you, 100,000 kronor for an accompanying partner or spouse and 50,000 kronor for each accompanying child)
  • show a credible foundation for your budget
  • show that you have built a network of customers or other business network
  • pay a fee in most cases (equal to the fee for a work permit)

The Migration Agency will then assess your business plans to determine whether or not you should be granted a permit. There is no requirement for applicants to own a property in Sweden.

If you are granted a two-year permit and want to apply for permanent residency once it runs out, there are further requirements. You will need to prove that you are still running the company, are complying with good accounting practices and have all the necessary permits for the business, among other things, at the time you renew your permit. 

Permanent residency applicants need to prove that they and their family have been living in “reasonable” housing conditions, but there is no stipulation that they must own this home.