Why bright minds from across the world are choosing to live in Stockholm

If the world is your oyster, where do you choose to go and why? Today, many talented people decide by looking firstly for a city that fits their lifestyle – and then for the right job opportunities.

Why bright minds from across the world are choosing to live in Stockholm
Photo: Anna Hugosson/

When it comes to achieving this balance, Stockholm offers a rare combination: it’s a global tech and start-up hub, a leader in sustainability, and big enough to make an international impact while remaining highly livable.

The Local spoke with two talented international residents – one with a family and one single – about why they’ve chosen to make the Swedish capital their long-term home.

Thinking of making a move? Check out Invest Stockholm's Talent Guide and Entrepreneur's Guide

‘It’s small enough to get to know key players’ 

Martin Hennig is a senior digital transformation consultant for Stockholm-based NoA Connect. He lives with his wife and two children in Vaxholm – the picturesque, self-proclaimed capital of the Stockholm archipelago, from which the city centre is under an hour away by boat.

But he and his family could so easily be living a very different life. German-born Hennig previously lived in Dublin, briefly in London, and in Connecticut in the US, which he and his American wife Laureen left behind for Stockholm three years ago. 

“We chose Stockholm despite knowing we’d earn less money here,” he says. “We did not know the language – we’re still learning. We have no family ties to Sweden. And my wife had never set foot on Swedish soil before moving here.” 

Even by the standards of today’s mobile skilled workers, it would seem a brave move to have made. “We have no regrets and we’re happy with our decision,” he continues. “Our work-life balance was rather miserable, so while my wife's family in the US did not love the idea of us moving, they supported our decision in the end.

“Stockholm is a really interesting spot with lots of entrepreneurs, innovation and internationally significant companies in fintech, gaming and so on. It’s also small enough to get to know key players in a short matter of time.”

Photo: Martin Hennig and his wife Laureen in Vaxholm

‘We literally googled “best places to raise families”’

So, how did this all come about? Hennig’s only previous experience of Stockholm was on a brief Erasmus exchange programme in 2004. “I thought the city was gorgeous and felt very safe,” he says. When he and his wife began to imagine a different life, these positive memories came flooding back – after a little technological prompt.

“We literally googled ‘best places to raise families’ and Sweden was in the top results,” says Hennig. “I remembered how nice Stockholm is. We started looking for work via LinkedIn and realised that many jobs in our field don’t require you to speak Swedish.”

His wife, a business analyst, soon had an attractive offer. They decided to go for it and had just 12 weeks to sort out the move, with Hennig finding his job later that year. The couple are convinced Google put them on the right track – for family and much more.

Their first child was born in 2015 in the US – where there's no national statutory parental leave and the little you do get varies across states. Hennig says his wife was only entitled to six weeks of ‘short-term disability’ benefits, while as a father he got no parental leave.

Their second child was born after their move to Stockholm. “Needless to say that experience was completely different,” says Hennig – not least in terms of the generous parental leave and low childcare costs. “Our priority was a family-friendly society, a safe place that’s liberal, progressive, social. We love our community and we like our work and career outlook too. Home is a bit of a difficult concept for me – but this feels like home.”

Want to work in a global tech hub that values quality of life? Find out more about Stockholm

‘I was aware of the great energy in digital innovation’

Growing up as a digital native in the US, Erik Cativo knew from his mid-teens that Stockholm was a centre for cutting-edge technology. The invention of bluetooth at Ericsson’s Stockholm offices and early adoption of peer-to-peer file sharing both earned his attention. “I knew there was great energy in digital innovation in Stockholm,” he says.

Fast-forward to today and Cativo works at Ericsson in Stockholm himself as a senior UX designer. In September, he took a 28 percent pay cut to leave Washington DC for his new home. 

“I believe in the Nordic model,” says Cativo. “Salaries in US tech are high – but it comes at a price. To get the qualifications I needed, I took on US$40,000 in debt at four percent interest.” He could be paying off the cost for decades, he says.

So, what about the innovation that first made him aware of Stockholm? “I pay my rent digitally with Bank ID, I make payments with Swish – it really is a digitally advanced society,” he says. 

Photo: Erik Cativo in Stockholm

Cativo is an example of the highly talented people that a recent report on talent from Invest Stockholm says “call the shots” on who they work with and where. In a “hyper-connected” world, location still matters; the report cites evidence that “two thirds of highly talented individuals choose the city before they choose the company or the job”.

‘I found it easier to get by with English in Stockholm’

Cativo visited Barcelona, Berlin and Paris in 2017 while studying in Scotland. But after he returned to the US, it was Stockholm that stood out as the place he most wanted to return to.

“There was something about Stockholm that felt very interesting to me,” he says. When he decided to look for new job opportunities, he ignored headhunters in the US and the appeal of Berlin to focus purely on Sweden.

“I found it easier to get by with English in Stockholm,” he says. “The level of English proficiency in Berlin didn’t seem to be as high as here.”

He visited several Swedish cities and soon realised that Stockholm was the natural fit for his talent. His appreciation of his new home extends far beyond its tech scene, however.

“Stockholm is incredibly beautiful,” he says. “They do a great job of balancing modern design with older architectural styles. I’m also in awe of how quick and easy it is to get around – by foot, by bus or on the tunnelbana (subway). I can get across the entire city in 20 minutes.”

Cativo was also attracted by the potential for a relatively quick path to citizenship, which you can apply after five years in Sweden. “I believe that long-term I’ll have a better life here,” he says. “For myself and my future children.”

Looking for new opportunities and a better quality of life? Click here to find out more about moving to Stockholm – and follow these links for Stockholm's Talent Guide and Entrepreneur's Guide.

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EXPLAINED: How does the au pair program work in Austria?

Every year, thousands of young people connect to families from different countries to work as more than live-in 'nannies' for the au pair program. So how does it work in Austria?

EXPLAINED: How does the au pair program work in Austria?

Typically, an au pair is a young person that helps taking care of the host family’s children while getting to know a different culture. Typically, they will receive accommodation and an allowance in return. 

The main idea is similar for most countries, but they have their specificities. In Austria, for example, citizens that don’t need a visitor visa can come to the country and apply for a residence permit here. 

“This made it so much easier for me to apply. In other countries, I would have to go through the entire process at home; it would be more bureaucratic”, says Rebeca Neves, a 25-year-old Brazilian au pair who arrived in Graz in October 2021.

She is staying with an Austrian family and takes care of their three kids: an eight-month old baby, a five-year old boy, and a two-year old girl. 

By Austrian regulations, au pairs need to be between 18 and 28 years old. However, don’t need to be from a European Union country, meaning that Americans, British, and, in the case of Rebeca, Brazilian citizens can also apply and stay in Austria for up to 12 months. 

EXPLAINED: How to apply for a residency permit in Austria

They are not professional caregivers or cleaners and are entitled to at least €475.86 per month, as per 2021 values (more than that, and they have to pay for social insurance) and free boarding and lodging. 

How can I find an Au Pair or become one?

The “matching” between a family in Austria and an au pair happens online through an au pair agency. 

The candidate and the family post their ads with what they are looking for. Then, the entire matching and selection process takes place online. 

READ ALSO: Reader question: Can Britons living in EU spend more than 90 days in another Schengen country?

Once family and candidate decide that they are a perfect match, the host family must submit a formal notification of employment to the Austrian Employment office (AMS), including a contract of work, the AuPair Mustervertrag.

The contract is concluded between the host family and the au pair. It determines in writing the most important conditions of work. This includes specific working hours, leisure time, leave, tasks, salary, accommodation, language course, and insurance. 

Since one of the reasons au pairs choose this type of program is to learn and better the local language, in Austria, they need to show proof of A1 or A2 certificate (depending on the Austrian region) and attend a German-language course. In addition, host families must pay at least half the school fees.

“I take the course, and it’s so good to now be able to chat with the 5-year old host kid. He always wanted to talk to me, but I couldn’t hold a conversation in German at first. I had to learn quickly, and he is very patient; he is my personal dictionary”, says Rebeca. 

snow in austria

Rebeca, like many of her au pair friends, saw snow for the first time in Austria (Photo: Rebeca Neves)

For EU/EEA citizens, there is no need to go through AMS. Still, after four months of stay in Austria, they need to register with Austrian authorities showing proof of insurance and the au pair contract.

For non-EU citizens, the au pairs need to take out their health insurance valid in Austria, sign the au pair contract, and receive the AMS notification confirmation. 

After that, they must apply for a residence permit with the Austrian representation authority (depending on the country of citizenship, that will be done in Austria or through an Austrian embassy) and collect the permit after arriving in Austria. 

READ MORE: Nine things you need to know when relocating to Vienna

Austrian particularities

Austria is particular in some things but general in others. For example, they make it clear that the au pair must have a separate room in the household of the host family free of charge, and they must be able to lock their room from the outside and the inside. 

At the same time, au pairs are expected to “help with light household chores”, which is not common in other countries. The government doesn’t specify which type of household chores, though it reiterates that the au pair “is not a professional caregiver or cleaner”.

Anmeldebescheinigung: How to get Austria’s crucial residence document

As in other programs, accident insurance is declared and paid for by the host family. Many au pairs are attracted by the high pay (especially those coming from countries with lower-value currencies) and fewer hours as in other countries.

For Rebeca, though, the main appeal was the Austrian culture and its beautiful places. With one in particular.

“I remember seeing a picture of the Austrian National Library years ago and falling in love with the place. So when I heard about the program, I chose to come here and see it, to live here and have this experience with Austrian culture”, she says. 

Useful links and contacts

Arbeitsmarktservice (AMS) – Public Employment Service 

Austrian Chamber of Labour 

phone: +43 1 50165 1201

email: [email protected] (labour law)

email: [email protected] (social security)

Austrian Trade Union Federation (ÖGB) – Trade Union vida 

phone: +43 1 534 44 79

email: [email protected]

Unternehmensservice Portal