Resources to help a self-employed US digital nomad immigrate to Sweden?
April 1, 2018 4:53 PM   Subscribe

I'm a US citizen who works remotely for US clients (and, occasionally, Swedish clients) as a self-employed freelance writer. I want to move to Sweden, but immigration law hasn't caught up with digital nomads. Can you help me figure out how to do this?

I'm 50 and single with no kids, living in Portland, OR. I'm in love with Sweden, and I want to move to rural Dalsland to settle near a Pagan religious group I'm affiliated with. I've been wanting to leave the US permanently for many years. Now that I have a location-independent source of income, it's become a more realistic possibility.

I'm fairly well-positioned to pull it off culturally. In addition to the religious connection, I have close friends in various areas of Sweden who are willing to help me however they can. My ancestry is half Swedish, and I'm (slowly but surely) learning to speak Swedish.

To manage it legally, though, I need some help. I've looked closely at Migrationsverket, and it sounds like the most likely route would be to figure out how to arrange my situation to qualify for a work permit as a self-employed person. While I was in Dalsland I also received a tentative job offer to work at a Swedish B&B doing cleaning and administrative work, and I seriously considered it. However, I don't think the potential employer has looked into how complicated it would be to hire an American for the job. Plus, I love being self-employed, and I'd prefer to stick to writing.

And therein lies the difficulty: Swedish immigration law has not caught up with "digital nomads."

Since nearly all of my income comes from US sources, I don't qualify for immigration to Sweden in the self-employed category as things stand right now. Assuming I could eventually meet all the rest of the Migrationsverket requirements (it's quite a list!) it sounds like I'd still need to build up a full Swedish clientele in order to qualify for work and residency permits as a self-employed person. But even then, it's not clear whether this would work for someone with location-independent income.

One resource I found is Live and Work in Sweden, but the book is only available in print (not digitally), and I'm hesitating to buy it because I checked the shipping cost - sending a copy to the US would be insanely expensive, and I hate to spend that much when I'm not even sure it would answer my questions.

Do you have any experience or advice to offer? Can you recommend specific legal resources in the US or Sweden? What else should I be considering? Feel free to MeMail me with suggestions. Thanks!
posted by velvet winter to Law & Government (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Does your ancestry qualify you to apply for Swedish citizenship?
posted by bq at 5:40 PM on April 1, 2018

Response by poster: bq: I'm pretty sure my Swedish ancestry wouldn't make any difference in terms of legal immigration status, let alone citizenship. But if I'm wrong about that, I hope someone will correct me. My maternal great-great-grandparents left Sweden to immigrate to the US around 1862, and although my grandparents did speak fluent Swedish, they were born in the US, as were my mother and I. My paternal ancestry is German.
posted by velvet winter at 5:55 PM on April 1, 2018

Without a steady and well established income stream from employment I would suggest you explore your capability to assure/prove to them , and yourself, you have sufficient income and assets to live for the desired period of your residency without being a burden to the State. I live in Ireland (a US Citizen) much of the year and they have quite explicit requirements for residency if you do not have a work permit or are a Non-EU citizen. Roughly $50,000 in annual income independent of $100,000 in other assets and proof of health coverage until you qualify for health insurance. This is for persons retiring but if you do not having a steady and established income it puts you in a somewhat vulnerable position from their perspective. I have no idea what Sweden might expect--but immigrating to Europe is not as easy as one might wish. BTW--I took a quick look at the Swedish immigration requirements and while they are lengthy they are no more rigorous than those in Ireland or the UK. Wishing you well on your hopes for relocation.
posted by rmhsinc at 6:51 PM on April 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This is a great question for the Swedish embassy in DC, which services Oregon (as opposed to the NYC embassy, which does not). 202.467.2600 is their main line, which is open 8:20am to 5:00pm EST.

They'd be able to at minimum put you in touch with the right department in Sweden, and might have a ton of resources for you. Embassies have varying degrees of immigration resources, they might even point you over to the NYC embassy as it might be staffed with more information on immigration.
posted by furnace.heart at 7:07 PM on April 1, 2018 [3 favorites]

I have no specific experience, but wouldn't your writing be produced in Sweden? So you have a chance at saying this clause should apply:
show that the business' services or goods are sold and/or produced in Sweden

posted by dttocs at 11:39 PM on April 1, 2018

You can apply for residency to be self employed. If your residency is for self employment you may not work for anyone else (be an employee). If you want to instead get residency through being an employee the job must be advertised openly for a number of weeks in certain specific channels etc. Your residency is then tied to that company for two years I think and then after that not tied to the company but tied to the job title.

The requirements to apply for self employment based residency are various business related things (business plan, clients, clients also in Sweden, experience as self employed, etc) and then 25000 USD to cover your costs the first two years. I wouldn’t be very surprised if you were required to have private health insurance of some type also. It’s an eight page application but very straightforward, you should/must organize your residency before leaving the US.
posted by Iteki at 1:30 AM on April 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

The Local has a pretty decent visa forum with lots of posts about wait times and other info.

To help manage expectations check out the wait times. A successful application takes 12-15 months as reported by the migration agency. Sweden has experienced a huge immigration influx recently and the migrant agency has been overwhelmed, although things are improving.

From what I can gather your best bet is to find a Swedish company to give you a work permit. Also, it might be worth looking into your German ancestry for a possible visa. Once you are in the EU it is much easier to move to Sweden than from the US.
posted by Hazy Star at 2:21 AM on April 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the suggestions! Encouragement is much appreciated, by the way, if you can give it genuinely. I'm handling all this planning completely on my own, and the motivation to do it stems from my belief that it's actually possible. I worry that it isn't, though - that I won't be able to do it because of my age, my income, my occupation, or whatever.

rmhsinc - I won't be retiring anytime soon; I definitely plan to work for many more years. My freelance income is pretty steady, but it's nowhere near $50K. My understanding for the self-employment work permit in Sweden is - as Iteki mentions - that I'll need to prove approximately USD 25K in savings plus a year of private health coverage if I go the self-employment route. I'm not in a position to do that right now, but I've been making decisions with that goal in mind. I don't have a specific time frame for this move, other than hoping I can pull it off before I'm 55.

It's clear to me that immigrating to Europe is nowhere near easy. (I've been reading Overseas Exile and other such blogs for years.) However, it does sound like I've got a better chance with Sweden than I would with most other European countries. I handled all the logistics for a US-to-Canada move when I was younger and married, so at least I'm familiar with immigration requirements from that perspective.

furnace.heart - Thanks, that's helpful. I didn't know the Swedish embassy handled detailed immigration questions like this. I will contact them for sure. According to this page, though, there's a Swedish consulate in Seattle that serves Washington state and Oregon - perhaps I should try there first?

dttocs - That's a hopeful thought, but it's unclear to me how to interpret that clause about my business writing being "produced in Sweden." It doesn't seem like it would apply that way, because I'll be applying from within the US, so my writing won't be produced in Sweden until I'm physically there. It does seem like I'd need to prove I have a Swedish clientele, in any case.

Iteki - I definitely plan to organize everything before leaving the US. I'm prepared to satisfy most of the requirements (business plan, accounting records, self-employment experience, etc.), but it'll take me more time to work on finding more Swedish clients and building up savings.

I looked into the requirements for Swedish employers if they wanted to hire me, so I knew the employer would need to advertise the job properly first, pay me at least SEK 13000, etc. I also knew I'd need to apply for a new work permit if I ever switched occupations. That's one reason I decided I need to stick with writing, rather than pursue the tentative job offer I received to work at the B&B.

Hazy Star - I used to be a regular reader of The Local and I've searched their forums before, but I need to catch up. Thanks for that. I'm fine with the wait times, and it will probably take me a year or more to handle logistics for the move on this end anyway (I'll have to sell almost all of my possessions). I'm not in any hurry. If I do apply for jobs in Sweden instead of pursuing the self-employment route, it'll definitely be writing jobs.

Regarding my German ancestry...I think all my German ancestors back to great-great-grandparents were born in the US, so that route seems unlikely. But I'll see what else I can find out.
posted by velvet winter at 11:53 AM on April 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

I would strongly recommend against trying to come as employee. You are talking about moving to an area of the country where there are a limited amount of employment opportunities (their unemployment has sunk, but partially due to a number of programs that you are not eligible for and some employment forms that are not valid for residence permit. The most hassle I see people having with migration (asylum seekers excepted) is absolutely with regard to employment based residency. I would say work on establishing more clients through your contacts in Dalarna and start saving for your nest egg is the best bet. The migra says that your application goes faster if you have all your stuff in the one application, but if you’re only waiting to append the 200TKR mark maybe that’s ok?
posted by Iteki at 11:33 PM on April 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Got any paternal Italian lineage? As long as it's a strictly male lineage and they died after March of 1861, you're in.
posted by aniola at 1:15 PM on April 3, 2018

Response by poster: Iteki - for what it's worth, I didn't mean to imply that I intend to apply for local jobs in the Dalsland area if I don't go the self-employment route. I mean that if I could get a writing job (with a business located anywhere in Sweden) that permitted it, I would live in Dalsland and work remotely, much as I'm doing right now from the US. But I'd do it as an employee instead of a self-employed freelancer.

Things are going well with my Swedish contacts so far; I've asked them to help get the word out to fellow Swedes that I'm available for work, and they are happy to do so. I've got a few irons in the fire now, so we'll see what happens from here.

aniola - I don't think I have any paternal Italian heritage whatsoever, but if I can ever get my hands on family records that would tell me for sure, it would obviously be worth my time to check! Thanks for that.
posted by velvet winter at 9:24 PM on April 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I wanted to post a brief update regarding my quest to move to Sweden.

First, regarding the tentative offer to hire me for house cleaning/clerical work:

Through MeMail correspondence, I've been informed that even if the employer were willing to jump through all the necessary immigration hoops to hire an American, it would still be a no-go, because the application is very unlikely to be approved by the immigration authorities. (Presumably because a Swede could easily be hired for a job like that.) According to my sources, it's...

"...very very hard, nearly impossible, to gain residency in any country in the EU without being employed there in a highly technical or skilled profession."

OK, well, I didn't really want the cleaning/clerical job anyway, and knowing that it wouldn't even have been worth the effort for reasons beyond my control makes it even easier to let go of that as an option. So that possibility is now crossed off my list for good.

Second, regarding the self-employment route:

Even if I find more Swedish clients, I've run into a wall that won't budge, for reasons too complicated to explain here. (MeMail me if you're curious.) It's possible that the wall might budge one day, but if so, it probably won't happen for several years. So that, too, is crossed off my list as an option, at least for the near term.

However, there's hope for me yet!

While nothing is definite yet, it's looking like I might be hired on to work at a Swedish publisher as a writer and proofreader. I'm acquainted with the owners - I've worked with one of them as a long-term client - and they're now talking about the possibility of bringing me on full time. They haven't yet made me a formal offer, but if they do, I'm practically a shoo-in for the job because of my previous experience working with them and my specialized body of knowledge in one of the niche domains they work with.

I would love to work for this publisher. I've already enjoyed working with them as a freelancer. The job has my name written all over it. It would be even better than self-employment. It is, in fact, pretty much my dream job.

Interesting that I should be informed of this interest so recently after posting to AskMe about the situation. I'm quite sure the business in question knows nothing of my participation here, so the offer is unrelated.

In any case, it looks like my only hope for immigration to Sweden is to be hired by a Swedish employer for a professional writing I'm keeping my fingers crossed that this will work out.

Thanks again, everyone. If you have more to say, feel free to stay in touch via MeMail. If my luck holds out, perhaps you'll see me at MeFi meetups in Sweden one day.
posted by velvet winter at 2:34 PM on May 6, 2018

Response by poster: Time for another update. This is largely for the the folks who MeMailed me about this situation, as I told them I'd keep them informed.

First, I didn't get the job with the Swedish publisher, although it was no fault of my own. They're interested and they love my work, but they're a relatively small business and it sounds like they simply don't have the revenues to make it work at this time. However, I'm still working with them happily as a freelancer, so possibilities may arise at a later date.

Second, my dear friends in rural Dalsland are moving to rural Västergötland, near Borås. So even if I'd been offered the cleaning and clerical job in Dalsland, it would not have worked out well in the end. I definitely still want to move near them, but now I'm investigating Västergötland.

Third, I have a new professional contact in Lidköping; we worked together on a freelance project this summer. It went so well that we've already agreed to work together again when the next project opportunity arises. So there's another possibility.

And lastly, the location-independent labor pool is growing fast enough that some places are taking notice and developing programs to court these workers, so that gives me at least some reason for hope. I'm following the developments with Estonia's digital nomad visa program with great interest. Even in the U.S., some cities are starting to court remote workers by offering financial incentives to move there.

Maybe Sweden will follow suit one day...?

Of course I realize that even if Sweden did go that route it would be a long shot for a variety of reasons - not the least of which are potential age discrimination and health insurance issues - but "taking my job with me" and moving to Sweden would sure be tempting. Most of my friends live in Sweden, so I know I'd have several options for temporary places to stay, at least.

I'll post another update if any more news arises before this thread closes.

As always, feel free to MeMail me with further comments/suggestions/questions.
posted by velvet winter at 3:03 PM on November 23, 2018 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Since this thread is now almost a year old and will soon close, here's my final news update.

After much research, I've wised up. I scrapped the speculative "digital nomad" idea entirely. It's now clear to me that even if Sweden were to offer a digital nomad visa - and there's no indication that they're even considering it - it wouldn't work for me for a number of reasons, the most salient of which is my need for affordable health insurance. Not a trivial matter, especially at my age.

I've also concluded that I'll never be able to qualify for immigration via the self-employment category as a freelance writer because I'm stuck in a U.S.-induced poverty trap. I cannot legally save enough money to meet Swedish immigration standards for the self-employment category.

The student and family categories won't work for me either, for various reasons.

Which leaves me with only one viable option for immigration, as Hazy Star mentioned: a job offer from a Swedish employer who will apply for a work permit on my behalf. None of my Swedish clients are in a position to hire me on full-time, but I'm still working happily with all of them, and they're willing to put in a good word for me with Migrationsverket or otherwise vouch for my skills if necessary.

So I've got a new plan, and I'm excited about it. Digging through my posting history here, I realized how much I miss my tax-accounting-and-finance nerd self, and it stirred up something long-dormant in me. I spent a couple of enjoyable months submerged in a deep rabbit hole of fintech research...and I'm now seeking a job as a technical writer or copywriter for a fintech company in Sweden.

I'm concentrating my efforts on Västergötland in the hopes of living within reasonable travel distance of my friends, but I'm open to anywhere in Sweden as long as I can get around without a car and stand a decent chance of actually finding a place to live.

Meanwhile, my career as a freelancer is thriving. I'm fielding offers of collaboration from influential artists whose work I've loved for decades, and I've just accepted an offer to write a book chapter for an especially exciting project.

I continue to study the Swedish language every day, and I'm enjoying that process too.

Wish me luck! And thanks again for all the suggestions and MeMails.
posted by velvet winter at 2:56 PM on March 26, 2019

Best of luck! And just a reminder, your contacts don’t have to offer you fulltime work, just work that amounts to 13000 per month pre tax when paying at a branch-normal rate. Depending on what work you are doing that could be as little as a 25% employment, ie its a lot of cleaning but very little fintech work. Consider also if any of your clients could imagine renting you out as a consultant, for example to one of your other clients. So company B is regularly giving you work for a value of 5000kr, company A hires you for 13000 at a 50% employment rate and they bill for the time you are working in company B. Remember that whatever they pay you it’s gonna cost them abou 2.5 times that in real money to be your employer. Also remember that when you find a position to apply for, the position *must* have been advertised in Sweden and in the EU/EES for a minimum of ten days. The rules are super clear and they aren’t kidding about them.
posted by Iteki at 6:18 AM on March 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks, Iteki! I will definitely consider your suggestion of being hired on by one client and "rented" to others. And yes, I'm well aware of the requirement for the job to be advertised in Sweden and the EU/EES for at least ten days. I plan to follow all the rules to the letter, exactly as they're written. I would never undertake a venture like this any other way.
posted by velvet winter at 12:51 PM on March 31, 2019

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