The international residents making Stockholm a better place to live

The human spirit is often at its strongest and most resourceful when confronted with adversity. In the face of challenges such as the coronavirus pandemic, innovative and entrepreneurial pioneers often devise solutions and services that make life just that little bit better for everyone.

The international residents making Stockholm a better place to live
Filip Lundin, left, founder of Sopköket

Part of what makes Stockholm such a thriving and influential international startup hub is the support that the City of Stockholm offers to entrepreneurs who have ideas that can have a positive impact on its citizens, ideas that will improve their lives. 

Take the Stockholm Innovation Scholarship, for example. Every year, the City of Stockholm asks a panel of experts to sift through hundreds of applications to select the top innovations in five categories: Simplify Everyday Life, Creative Industries, Life Science and Health, Travel and Tourism, and Social Impact and Sustainability. The winner of each category receives 100,000 kronor.

This year’s winners included Laundrop, a mobile laundry service (Simplify Everyday Life), Wahzaa, a royalty-free samples provider for musicians (Creative Industries), and Tobias Tree (Life Science and Health), a communication tool for doctors, researchers and specialists.

A masterclass in sustainability

The Social Impact and Sustainability scholarship winner, Sopköket, is a startup that salvages leftover ingredients from grocery stores to prepare a variety of global dishes. Sopköket’s gradual growth from being a mobile food truck in 2015 to being a viable restaurant and frozen food business, exemplifies the importance of the City of Stockholm’s support to entrepreneurs who want to make people’s lives better.

“We have had a lot of support from Stockholm municipality,” says Filip Lundin, Sopköket’s founder and CEO. “Our growth has been organic, but we have survived thanks to grants from public bodies and prize money from the city.”

Find out why Stockholm, with the most unicorns per capita outside of Silicon Valley, is a great city for entrepreneurs

Lundin’s company is remarkable in that it not only offers a masterclass in sustainability and circular economy but also adheres to an inclusive and generous recruitment policy – many of Sopköket’s staff were previously long-term unemployed.

“We like to create jobs for people that are from difficult backgrounds or marginalised groups,” says Lundin. “That’s one of our three main objectives. There’s also the rescued ingredients – we have as a goal to have at least 50 percent rescued food per meal, and so far we’ve rescued 35 tons of food. And then we also give food to people in need. We have given away 27,000 meals since 2015.”

And from this spring, Sopköket will be not only selling food in its Södermalm restaurant, but also in frozen food sections in supermarkets and from its own e-shop.

Lundin says Sopköket was inspired by his Indian heritage. “My dad is half Indian so I have a huge family in India. We have always cooked at home in Stockholm – we never ate ready-made meals. I’ve also had a strong entrepreneurial mindset since I was a kid and an interest in sustainability issues – with Sopköket, I get to combine these two!”

Learn more about entrepreneurship in Sweden’s capital and key tips from those who have done it 

Stephanie Mazzotta, creator of Hidden Gems

An innovation with heart

Stephanie Mazzotta’s prize-winning start-up, Hidden Gems, the winner of the Travel and Tourism category, also focuses on making life a little better by helping people find relatively unknown and less-crowded tourist attractions in the Stockholm region.

“It’s a data-driven web platform that allows users to set up filters,” says Stephanie, an Italian-Australian who’s lived in Stockholm since 2018 and worked in tech for 20 years. “We call it an intelligent exploration guide for something new to see or do without having to endure crowds. It enables people to find off-the-beaten-track places and activities in the Stockholm area without having to spend hours searching online.”

Hidden Gems, which will launch in the Spring, aims to highlight lesser known attractions and areas of interest away from the centre of Stockholm but if there are times when the more famous city centre attractions are quieter, it will also alert the user.

“People are still cautious about going out, so many places in Stockholm that have usually been busy are still totally quiet. So we wanted to provide a guide for people to assess how crowded or how quiet a place would be.”

But, as with Sopköket, this innovation has heart. Stephanie also wants her innovation to provide the vulnerable and people with disabilities with more opportunities to get out.

“Mobility inequality has really been exacerbated by the pandemic. The main obstacles for those with restricted mobility are crowding on public transport and whether or not amenities at the end destination are available to them. Will there be a ramp and suitable bathroom facilities? We want to give people with disabilities the option to travel to places they’ve not been able to before – and also new options that they never knew existed.”

Stockholm is ‘way ahead’

As with Filip, Stephanie says she owes a debt of gratitude to Stockholm. “Stockholm is way ahead of many other cities, especially in terms of encouraging international women and providing a really supportive ecosystem in which for women to work.”

But Stephanie also underlines the importance of civic support for innovations that aim to help people. “Grants from public bodies are really important for the early stages of social innovations, to give them time to show results and come up with new revenue streams.”

Interested in starting your own venture in Stockholm or moving your business here?  Check out these guides to set up a business and learn what locals have to say about life in Stockholm.

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READER QUESTION: How can I move to Sweden as a self-employed person?

Are you self-employed and thinking about moving to Sweden? Not sure what to do, or what rules apply to you? Here's our guide.

READER QUESTION: How can I move to Sweden as a self-employed person?

The process for moving to Sweden as a self-employed person varies depending on where you come from. Your citizenship will determine whether you apply to the Tax Agency or the Migration Agency, as well as whether you need to apply for a permit (uppehållstillstånd) or whether you have the right of residence under EU law.

Here’s a rundown of the rules for each different group.

Nordic citizens (Denmark, Norway, Finland and Iceland)

As a Nordic citizen, you don’t need a residence permit (uppehållstillstånd) or right of residence (uppehållsrätt) to live in Sweden. All you need to do is go to the Tax Agency upon arrival in Sweden and register yourself and any family members as resident in Sweden.

You may need to prove that you are planning on living in Sweden for at least a year in order to be registered in the population register and given a personnummer.

EU/EEA citizens

As an EU/EEA citizen, you have the right to work, study or live in Sweden without a residence permit (uppehållstillstånd), and that this includes starting and running your own company.

You do, however, still need to meet certain criteria in order to fulfil the requirements for right of residence under EU rules (uppehållsrätt).

There are different options for fulfilling the right of residence requirement as a self-employed EU/EEA citizen, and both require registering at the Tax Agency rather than the Migration Agency.

The first is as a self-employed person, which means you’ll have to prove that you have a business which either is currently running in Sweden, or is in the planning stages.

You’ll need to provide documents to back this up, which could include things like proof that you have F-tax (the tax status for self-employed people and freelancers), a marketing plan, a registration certificate for your company, and a copy of the lease for any premises you will be using.

You may also need to prove that you have previous experience and skills relevant to your company or the work you’re planning on doing in Sweden, receipts and invoices for any material you’ve purchased, as well as accounting documents showing how much VAT you have paid or are expecting to pay.

You’ll need to take these to the Tax Agency along with your passport and any documents proving your relationship to any family members you’ll be registering at the same time, such as your marriage certificate or registered partnership certificate for your spouse or partner, and a birth certificate for any children.

The second route is as someone “providing or performing services“, which is the route you should use if you’re self-employed abroad but will be providing a service to a recipient in Sweden, such as as a consultant or freelancer, for a limited time.

Under this route, you’ll need to take your passport and any family documents along to the Tax Agency, as well as a certificate describing the service you’ll be providing in Sweden, where you will be working or carrying out the service, and how long for. This needs to be signed by whoever you’ll be carrying out the service for in Sweden.

Note that you can only be registered in the Swedish population register and given a personal number if you can prove that you’ll be in Sweden for more than a year, but you still need to register your stay in Sweden as an EU citizen if you’re planning on being in Sweden for more than three months.

Non-EU or ‘third country’ citizens

If you’re a non-EU/EEA citizen and you want to be self-employed in Sweden you need to apply for a residence permit at the Migration Agency before you come to Sweden, with a few exceptions.

“You can ‘swap’ from studying to work permit and self-employed under certain conditions. And you can swap between work permit to self-employed and self-employed to work permit,” Robert Haecks, press spokesperson at the Migration Agency, told The Local.

So if you’re already in Sweden as an employee or student you don’t need to leave Sweden to apply for a permit to become self-employed.

For students, your permit to be in Sweden as a student must still be valid, and you must have completed at least 30 credits of your studies or a whole term as a research student.

If you’re planning on working in Sweden for less than three months, you do not need a residence permit, but you may need to apply for a visa depending on your citizenship.

Non-EU citizen working in Sweden longer than three months

If you’re planning on working in Sweden for longer than three months, you’ll need to apply for a “residence permit for people who have their own business”, as there is no specific residence permit for self-employed non-EU citizens.

There are quite a few conditions that need to be met in order for the Migration Agency to be satisfied that you can really run a business in Sweden.

First off, you need a valid passport, and it’s a good idea to make sure this has at least a few years of validity left as you can’t get a permit for longer than your passport is valid.

Applicants will need to prove that they have experience in the industry and previous experience of running their own business, as well as relevant knowledge of Swedish or English (if most of their suppliers or customers will be Swedish, the Migration Agency will expect applicants to speak good Swedish).

You’ll need to prove you run the company and have responsibility for it, provide a budget with plausible supporting documentation and show that you have customer contacts or a network which you can use in your business via contracts or similar.

You will also need to provide a slew of financial and legal documents, such as a registration certificate for your company in Sweden, copies of contracts with customers, suppliers and premises, your two most recent financial statements if your company has already been in operation, and a balance sheet for the current financial year up until the month you apply. See a full list of the required documents here.

Finally, you’ll need to prove that you have enough money to provide for yourself and any family members who will be joining you. The Migration Agency states that this corresponds to “the equivalent of SEK 200,000 for you, SEK 100,000 for your accompanying wife/husband and SEK 50,000 for each accompanying child for a permit period of two years”. So, an applicant moving to Sweden with their spouse and two children will need at least 400,000 kronor in savings in order to qualify.

You will also have to pay a fee of 2,000 kronor in most cases.

The Migration Agency will then carry out an analysis of your plans for a business and decide whether it is good enough to grant you a residence permit.

If you get a permit to stay for six months or longer then your spouse and children may also live in Sweden. They can apply for a residence permit at the same time as you, or afterwards.

If you have a permit to be in Sweden as a self-employed person, your family members moving with you also have the right to work (as long as they are aged 16 or older). However you still must show that you can support them.

If you get a residence permit for Sweden as self-employed you will only be allowed to work in your own business.

Talent visa for non-EU citizens

There is another option for highly-qualified applicants who want to move to Sweden to research setting up a new business, which you may also qualify for if you’re interested in moving to Sweden as a self-employed person.

This is the “talent visa”, more specifically referred to as a “resi­dence permit for highly quali­fied persons to look for work or start a busi­ness”.

This permit allows non-EU citizens with a higher-level degree to apply for a visa of between three to nine months, which they can then use to stay in Sweden while they look for work or research setting up a new business.  

You can read more on how to apply for the talent visa here.

By Loukas Christodoulou and Becky Waterton