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STUDYING IN SWEDEN

Who can study for free in Sweden?

Whether you want to do a full degree, a shorter academic or vocational course, or learn the Swedish language, there are lots of tuition-free programmes available to different groups in Sweden.

Who can study for free in Sweden?
Swedish university courses are free for many foreigners, including non-EU residents in some cases. Photo: Bertil Ericson/Scanpix

University

Studying at a Swedish university is free for most people living in Sweden, whether or not you are a citizen. That includes degrees at BA or MA level, and it is sometimes possible to take single courses, equivalent to a small number of university credits, where teaching might be carried out in person or remotely. You will need to meet the requirements for the specific course, which may include high school or previous university education, and language skills in Swedish or English. 

All Swedish and EU citizens, as well as Brits with post-Brexit residence permits, have their tuition fees waived, though you may need to submit a copy of your passport and, if applicable, your post-Brexit residency permit when applying.

If you are a non-EU student coming to Sweden on a student permit, then you need to pay international tuition fees. There are usually a range of scholarship opportunities available, and applications usually open shortly after the general university admissions close.

But if you are living in Sweden on a different type of permit, for example as the partner of a Swedish resident or a work permit holder, or on a work permit yourself, then your university tuition is also free. You will need to provide proof of your residence in Sweden.

This includes any British citizens who moved to Sweden after 2021: if you are moving specifically for studies, you’ll need to apply for a student permit and pay international tuition fees, but if you are moving on a different permit, you can apply to university for free. Brits already resident in Sweden before the transition period will need to show proof of this, either a copy of your post-Brexit residence card or a copy of the letter from the Migration Agency that shows you are eligible for one.

Swedish for Immigrants (SFI)

Many foreigners in Sweden are eligible for state-funded Swedish-language courses for immigrants, called SFI.

SFI is available for people aged over 16, and there is no requirement of previous education or language skills, but you will be placed into a different ‘track’ or course based on your previous educational background. To be eligible, you need to lack a basic knowledge of Swedish, and people who speak Danish or Norwegian are not usually eligible.

SFI is available for people with a Swedish personnummer, as well as EU/EEA citizens even without a personnummer, which unfortunately means that some new arrivals including asylum seekers, undocumented residents, and people on some temporary permits are not eligible for the state-funded classes.

Bear in mind that staff at education centres or municipalities are not always aware of the rules around eligibility, and The Local readers have reported being refused SFI despite being eligible, for example as EU citizens lacking a personnummer.

Adult education (Folkhögskolor)

Folkhögskolor, literally “folk high schools” are adult education institutes that typically do not offer academic degrees or graded courses. There are folkhögskolor all over Sweden teaching a range of different courses, some of which can prepare you for a career in Sweden, and some of which are equivalent to a Swedish gymnasie education, providing you with the qualifications needed to apply for university in Sweden.

Unlike other adult education courses like SFI and those offered by Komvux, you don’t need to be resident in Sweden in order to attend a folkhögskola, meaning they are also open to people without a Swedish personnummer.

However, the vast majority of folkhögskolor only teach in Swedish, so you will therefore need to be able to document knowledge of Swedish to attend them. In addition to this, you must fulfil the application requirements for the individual course, as well as Migration Agency requirements for studying in Sweden, if you don’t already have a permit to live in Sweden. 

On the plus side, however, there are no tuition fees for folkhögskolor, although certain costs do still apply. For example, many folkhögskolor are boarding schools, meaning you may have to pay for food and accommodation provided by the school.

If you are over the age of 20, you may be able to apply for Swedish student finance (CSN) to cover these costs.

You can find a list of folkhögskola courses here.

Member comments

  1. As it stands, as far as I know, the only free-standing Swedish language course accessible to non EU residents (i.e. those requiring a student residence permit to study/live in Sweden) is at Lund University. Several universities offer short courses or part time courses intended to bring the student up to A1 or A2 level while they study for their actual degree, but none of them are meant to make the learner even close to fluent.

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STUDYING IN SWEDEN

Seven things you need to know before coming to Sweden to study

You’ve been accepted to university in Sweden, accepted your spot, and applied for your residence permit. Now it's time to prepare for your move. Maybe you’re wondering what life in Sweden will be like? Here are some tips based on my first year living in Lund, where I'm currently studying.

Seven things you need to know before coming to Sweden to study

Buying new is so passé

Need a winter jacket? Bedroom furniture? Maybe a new baking sheet for whipping up something from Sweden’s never-ending list of seasonal pastries? Whatever you do, don’t buy it first-hand. Sweden is teeming with second-hand stores, selling everything from wine glasses and patio furniture to boardgames. On my walk into Lund’s city centre, I pass a second-hand shop which frequently has bras hanging in the window – undergarments is where I draw the line, but to each their own.

Some shops are well-curated; others appear to be a dumping ground for anything and everything cleared out of junk drawers and closets after a long cleaning hiatus. But the search for the perfect formal dress for a sittning (one of Lund’s popular formal dinners) or a ball is half the fun – so grab a friend, and get browsing!

Want a drink at home on a Sunday? Plan ahead

Sweden’s Systembolaget shops have the monopoly on alcohol sales in the country – you won’t find anything over 3.5 percent anywhere else. And these shops aren’t open 24 hours. They close early on Saturdays, and don’t open at all on Sunday. If you fancy something other than a warm beer from your local supermarket on a Saturday night, plan ahead and pay a visit to your local Systembolaget. If you’re in a student-filled area, you’ll find plenty of your peers doing the same, walking out with cases of beer, boxes of wine, and whatever liquor they can afford. Be warned: drinking in Sweden is not cheap! Downing a pint at home instead of at a bar will save you a few kronor.

Failing a class…isn’t as bad as it sounds

So you’ve failed a class. Now what? Well, not much. You can take the exam again and again until you pass, so long as the material on which the test is based is not changed. If that happens, you may have some new topics to learn. In my media and communication studies MSc programme at Lund University, professors provide three deadlines for submitting the essays that we must write in place of exams. If I don’t submit my paper by the first deadline, I know I’ll have two more penalty-free opportunities to get it done. And if I receive a failing grade, that grade will not go on my academic record – instead, my record will not be updated until I submit a passing paper. While I’ve yet to take advantage of this system, knowing that missing a submission or failing a class is not a disaster is a welcome change from the strict, deadline-driven American environment in which I completed my bachelor’s degree.

Getting a bank account is a long process

Don’t bring cash with you. You’ll never spend it. I’ve still got some cash sitting in a drawer, because I keep forgetting which ATM near me will let me deposit cash into my account – my bank branch is cashless, and won’t help me there. Make sure to let your bank at home know you’ll be using your card in Sweden.

I moved to Sweden at the end of September. I didn’t open my bank account until mid-January. Opening an account entails a lengthy journey through Swedish bureaucracy, beginning with an application for a personal number, or personnummer. You can apply for a personal number at your local Skatteverket, or tax agency, office, provided that you can document you will be in Sweden for more than one year. I’m lucky enough to attend one of the universities piloting a two-year student resident permit, so proving the length of my stay was easy. While I got my personal number within 10 days, the process can take up to 18 weeks.

So you’ve got a personal number. The next step is to get an ID card, also from Skatteverket. There are three offices that issue ID cards: in Malmö, Gothenburg, and Stockholm. And appointments book up fast. I waited six weeks for mine. I got my ID card quickly, within two weeks – a friend waited months for hers to be issued.

Finally, with what I thought was sufficient documentation in hand, I walked into a Nordea bank to open my account. I was sent home account-less that day though, with the bank requesting statements from my Pakistani accounts. Armed with even more paperwork a few days later, I finally completed my application for a bank account. About a week later, my account was open. And finally, I had BankID – the magical Swedish eID that opens all sorts of doors, including, finally, digital access to my Covid-19 vaccination records. Swedish bureaucracy is a multi-layered beast, each layer tightly entwined with the others, and it took me months to unlock all the layers, starting with my personal number and ending with my digital ID.

Stock up on candles

The winters are dark. And long. And depending on where in Sweden you are, either delightfully snowy, or constantly slushy. In Skåne, there’s slush. So when you get home and peel off your jacket and scarf and hats, and it’s 3 pm and dark and dreary, you light a candle. Or two, or three. Preferably scented. Candles have gotten me through dark Scandinavian winters before when I lived in Copenhagen, and they continue to do the trick. I brought a favourite coffee-scented offering from a small Pakistani company with me, that I’m still rationing. If you don’t have a favourite to bring with you, you can browse through the selections at IKEA and Lagerhaus. Some friends of mine opt for fairy lights to brighten up their apartments, but I prefer the warm glow of a candle’s flame. Perhaps I just like fire.

Don’t worry if your Swedish is stuck at a basic “hej”

Almost everyone can communicate in basic English. That said, learning the local language is never a bad thing. After all, if your hope is to stay on in Sweden, you might soon need to prove a basic level of Swedish proficiency before getting permanent residence.

But ditch the Duolingo – or at least, don’t rely on it exclusively. One of the benefits unlocked by a personal number is the opportunity to enroll in SFI, or Swedish for Immigrant, language classes, offered by your municipality free of charge. You can choose to study in person or online, morning or evening. Do it! It’s a great way of understanding the language – wait until you hear about all the different ways in which adjectives can end – and as a bonus, you can also expand your social circle with the other students in your class.

Holidays and traditions are a serious business

If you’re currently waiting for your student visa, you may have already experienced how tough it is to get hold of office workers in July. Annual leave is taken seriously here, with workers taking several weeks off during the summers. No checking email, no answering work calls – pure vacation mode.

This commitment to time off for enjoyment also applies to holidays throughout the year. On Valborg, on April 30, I saw my largest Swedish crowds: about 50,000 people crammed into Lund’s city park, well on their way to total inebriation by 11am. The celebration, to welcome the coming spring, brings Swedes out of their homes after the winter, with massive bonfires burning bright in the evenings. Midsommar, the summer solstice, is also celebrated hard, with families and groups of friends bringing picnics into parks around maypoles, where they sing about small frogs and dance around, gripping onto their partners’ earlobes.

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