Best Place For Living: The US vs Sweden

Are you considering moving to the United States or Sweden? Which of the two is the best place to live? There are many reasons to consider one or the other, including excellent work and living opportunities and more. 

The US offers many more job opportunities and is better suited for those looking for a long-term career and a faster-paced lifestyle. While Sweden offers many employment and career opportunities as well, it’s better suited for those looking for a much less competitive and relaxed pace. 

Admittedly, both countries are excellent choices for those looking to work, study, travel, or reside for the long-term. Below we go over some of the most distinctive characteristics of both great nations. 

Also read: How to move to Sweden without a job.

Living in the US vs Sweden

The United States is unarguably a stronger global power than Sweden in terms of finances and military might. But it also dominates in many areas of culture and politics. 

There are considerably more job opportunities in the U.S. with a broader range of jobs compared to Sweden. Cities in the U.S. are also significantly larger than their Swedish counterparts in general. 

The U.S. also has the edge in terms of volume and diversity of consumer products and services. However, Sweden has more and better technological infrastructures. 

Lifestyle 

Most Americans tend to place a high premium on ambition and success. This isn’t the case in Sweden, where the needs of the collective are valued above all else. Most traditional Swedes are governed by the Jantelagen The Law of Jante ‒ which essentially discourages individuals from “standing out” or thinking they are “special.” 

This principle translates to the Swedish business environment, which is much less hierarchal than in the United States. While many American executives tend to distance themselves from their subordinates, Swedish managers are more likely to interact with their employees outside office hours. 

People 

The Swedish are generally more laidback and passive-aggressive than Americans, who tend to be more individualistic, competitive, and straightforward. While many Americans value independence and self-sufficiency, Swedes are generally more focused on the needs of the collective. 

Americans also tend to be more materialistic than their Swedish counterparts, many of whom value tradition and historical pride. And while many Americans often find their work and personal lives intertwined, Swedes strive for a more equitable work-life balance. 

Quality of life 

Swedes enjoy a slightly better quality of life than Americans in many respects. They tend to live a bit longer, with an average life expectancy of 82 years versus 80 years in the United States.

Swedish males were expected to live to 80 in 2020, and women to 84 years. In contrast, American males were expected to live to 78 years and females to 82 years. 

Americans are 75.7% more likely to be obese than Swedes. In 2016, only 20.6% of Swedish adults were classified as obese compared to 36.2% in the United States.

Death during childbirth is 4.8 times more likely in the U.S. than in Sweden. In 2017, it was estimated that 4 out of 100,000 Swedish women died during labor or while giving birth. In the U.S., 19 out of 100,000 women died under similar circumstances during the same year.

Infant deaths are 2.0 times more likely to occur in the U.S. In 2020, it was estimated that 5.3 children died before reaching the age of one. In Sweden, the estimate was 2.6 children.

Here’s a comparison of the quality of life in both countries as ranked by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD):

Quality of life aspectUnited StatesSweden
Housing 8.66.9
Income 8.55.0
Jobs 8.88.3
Community 7.87.8
Education 7.48.3
Environment 8.29.8
Civic engagement 7.06.9
Health 8.68.6
Life satisfaction 7.28.1
Safety 7.58.6
Work-life balance5.28.1
General satisfaction with life 7.537.65
Source: OECD.com

Swedish citizens generally enjoy a better quality of life than their American counterparts. This is especially true among working class Swedes. However, Americans in higher-income brackets typically enjoy more luxurious lifestyles than high-income Swedes.

Cost of living 

The top tax rate in the U.S. is 30.6% lower than in Sweden. In 2016, this was pegged at 39.6%. In Sweden, the top tax rate during the same year was 57.1%. 

Education in the U.S. is 35.1% cheaper than in Sweden, with 5.0% of the total GDP spent on education in 2014. In 2016, education accounted for 7.7% of Sweden’s total GDP.

U.S. residents typically pay 12.2% more when dining out than their Swedish counterparts. Here’s a comparison of the typical meal expenditures in both countries:  

United StatesSweden
Basic meal with a drink (budget restaurant)$15.20kr109.94 ($10.47)
Combo meal (fast food restaurant)$8.21kr86.92 ($8.28)
Soda (0.33 liter bottle)$2.01kr19.26 ($1.83)
Water (0.33 liter bottle)$1.60kr17.69 ($1.68)

Groceries in the United States cost about 40.7% more than in Sweden. Here are some typical prices in both countries: 

United StatesSweden
Bread (one loaf)$2.85kr23.55 ($2.24)
Local cheese (500 grams)$5.66kr46.95 ($4.47)
Milk (1 liter)$0.89kr12.35 ($1.18)
Eggs (1 dozen)$2.72kr30.55 ($2.91)
Chicken breast (1 kg)$10.33kr93.03 ($8.86)
Apples (1 kg)$4.68kr27.57 ($2.63)
Bananas (1 kg)$1.67kr22.91 ($2.18)
Oranges (1 kg)$4.18kr25.49 ($2.43)
Tomatoes (1 kg)$4.38kr34.27 ($3.26)
Potatoes (1 kg)$2.78kr12.87 ($1.23)
Onions (1 kg)$2.72kr12.95 ($1.23)

Transportation in the U.S. costs 17.3% less than in Sweden. Here’s a look at the typical transportation costs in both countries:  

United StatesSweden
Gasoline (1 liter)$1.20kr20.95 ($2.00)
Monthly public transit pass$64.19kr779.76 ($74.27)
Volkswagen Golf 1.4 (brand-new)$24,050.13kr241,808.17 ($23,032.45)
Taxi (8 km)$16.53kr217.56 ($20.72)

Expect to pay 2.0 times more for housing in the U.S. than in Sweden. Here are some typical housing and related costs: 

United StatesSweden
1-bedroom apartment (downtown)$1,446.14kr7,870.45 ($749.67)
1-bedroom apartment (outside the city)$1,166.13kr6,321.84 ($602.16)
Utilities (electric, gas, water, heating)$132.57kr688.30 ($65.56)
Internet connection (cable/DSL, 50 mbps)$68.65kr318.30 ($30.32)

Childcare in the U.S. will cost you about 7.9 times more than in Sweden. Here are some of the expenses associated with childcare: 

United StatesSweden
Private preschool (monthly)$980.97kr1,463.38 ($139.39)
Middle school (two semesters)$14,983.58kr18,079.73 ($1,722.11)

For entertainment and sports, expect to pay 4.7% more in the United States than in Sweden. Here’s a sampling of typical entertainment costs: 

United StatesSweden
Domestic/local beer$5.14kr70.66 ($6.73)
Cappuccino (mid-range coffee shop) $4.34kr38.65 ($3.68)
Cigarettes (1 pack)$8.25kr68.18 ($6.49)
Gym membership (monthly)$40.54kr388.90 ($37.04)
Movie ticket$11.80kr133.92 ($12.76)

Clothes in the U.S. are about 17.2% cheaper than in Sweden. Check this table for typical clothing prices: 

United StatesSweden
Regular jeans$44.10kr864.92 ($82.38)
Regular dress$36.31kr369.01 ($35.15)
Running shoes$77.71kr874.87 ($83.33)
Leather shoes$98.75kr1,274.47 ($121.39)
Source: mylifeelsewhere.com

Learn more about cost of living in Sweden in our guide for families.

Visas and residence permits

Residents of most foreign countries need a visa to visit the United States, either for business or leisure. This doesn’t apply to residents of the 39 countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program.

The appropriate type of visa depends on the purpose of visiting the country. The most common types of visas are: 

  • Immigrant visa – for those applying for permanent residency 
  • Visitor visa – for business or tourism 
  • Fiancé visa – for those planning to marry a U.S. citizen and live in the country 
  • Student visa – for those who plan to study in the U.S. 
  • Business or professional visa – specifically for Canadian and Mexican citizens 
  • Transit visa – for those traveling through the U.S. on the way to another country

Those wishing to live in the U.S. permanently may apply for an immigrant visa. When approved, they will receive a Green Card signifying permanent resident status.

Immigrant Visas may be granted to those with family members that are U.S. citizens or permanent United States residents and those with job offers from U.S. employers. 

Citizens of countries outside the EU need a visitor’s permit or a visa, depending on how long they are staying in the country. A visa is required for visits of less than 90 days. More extended visits require a visitor’s residence permit.

Those with residence permits issued by a Schengen country don’t need a visa to stay in Sweden for less than 90 days.

A work permit is required for those who wish to work in Sweden. Applicants should have an employment contract from a legitimate Swedish employer. 

A work permit isn’t necessary for the following

  • Those with permanent residence permits
  • Those with residence permits to study in a college or university
  • Those with a special residence permit for research work 
  • Those seeking asylum 
  • Those with an AT-UND work permit exemption 
  • Citizens of EU countries  

Furthermore, you can move to Sweden without a job, even from the US.

Jobs

In Sweden, there is a 34.3% higher chance of being unemployed than in America. In 2017, it was estimated that as many as 6.7% of working age residents were unemployed. In contrast, only 4.4% were unemployed in the U.S. during the same year.

Here are some of the most common jobs in the United States

  • Cashier. Duties include processing purchase transactions made by customers in a retail store. 
  • Food preparation worker. These jobs typically involve cleaning kitchens in restaurants. They may also prepare meal ingredients. 
  • Stocking clerk. Also known as “stock associates,” these workers unpack and check merchandise and manage inventory records. 
  • Laborer. This job involves performing physical tasks in construction sites. Other roles include cleaning and clearing materials and debris.
  • Janitor. These professionals clean areas they are assigned to. They may also dispose of garbage and perform minor repairs and maintenance. 
  • Construction workers. There is always a high demand for construction workers in the United States. Common tasks include transporting and working with materials and equipment and operating construction machinery. 
  • Bookkeeper. These professionals are primarily responsible for recording the expenses and income of a company and sending out invoices. 
  • Server. Servers mainly receive food and drink orders from restaurant patrons. They also typically clean dining areas after customers leave the restaurant.
  • Medical assistant. These professionals schedule patient appointments and assist them when they arrive for treatment or consultation. They may also perform other duties as directed by physicians. 
  • Bartender. These workers serve drinks to bar patrons and sometimes create new concoctions. They may also manage inventories and interact with customers.

Read this article about the most common jobs in California to learn more.

English speakers can generally find work easily in Sweden. English is commonly spoken everywhere, so language barriers aren’t nearly as much of an issue as in other European countries. 

There are also many opportunities for career advancement in the country. Plus, there are generous holiday perks and other bonuses. 

Swedish businesses are always in need of skilled workers. Jobs are especially abundant in the following sectors: 

  • Management/consulting/finance. There are many jobs in these particular sectors all over the country, but especially in the financial center, Stockholm. Home to the largest stock in the region, the city is also the site of many multinational bank headquarters. 
  • Clean technology. Sweden is one of the world leaders of clean and green technologies. Those with the requisite knowledge and experience can find many positions in these sectors. 
  • Automotive industry. Sweden also leads the way in automotive technology, being the home of Volvo and Scania. The headquarters of automobile company Saab is also located in the country. 
  • Information technology. Another area in which Sweden excels is the IT industry. Among the leading companies in the country are Sony Ericsson and Skype.
  • Tourism. Sweden is actually one of the foremost tourist destinations in Europe. Tourism is one of the fastest-growing sectors in the country. 
  • Education. Many opportunities for teaching and working in the educational sector can be found in Sweden. However, prospective applicants will need to fulfill the minimum requirements and meet the approval of the country’s education authorities. 
  • Healthcare. There are many job opportunities in the nursing and dental care professions for licensed and qualified applicants. Requirements are quite stringent, as these are regulated industries. 

Read this article to learn which jobs are currently in-demand in Sweden.

Salaries

Americans earn about 16.8% more than Swedes on average. (Source: Mylifeelsewhere.com)

In 2019, the median household income in the country was estimated at about $68,703. The average annual real wage for the same year was $65,836. 

Americans earned a median hourly wage of $19.33 in 2019. The country’s top 1% earners comprised 20% of the annual income in the United States. Women in the workforce earned a median annual salary of $47,299 versus $57,456 for men. 

Here are some of the typical salaries in the United States: 

JobAverage annual salary
Cashier$29,297
Food preparation worker$31,542
Stocking associate$36,501
Laborer$39,539
Janitor$39,584
Construction worker$38,823
Bookkeeper$42,746
Server$45,091 ($100 in tips daily)
Medical assistant$46,462
Bartender$48,092 ($150 in tips daily)
Administrative assistant$49,457
Marketing specialist$49,478
Police officer$55,334
Electrician$56,953
Mechanic$57,110
Retail sales associate$58,406
Source: indeed.com

Swedes earn an average of $3,380 (35,000 SEK) every month or $40,570 (420,000 SEK) annually before tax. Management and business, healthcare, and medical industries have the highest average annual salaries.

Here are median annual salaries for specific jobs in Stockholm, Sweden: 

JobMedian salary
C LEVEL EXECUTIVE$72,949
DATA SCIENTIST$65,954
DENTIST$63,681
SYSTEMS ADMINISTRATOR$63,477
ACCOUNTANT$61,129
BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT$60,399
MARKETING MANAGER$60,344
PHYSICIAN$59,123
SOFTWARE ENGINEER$57,464
QA ENGINEER$57,324
IT MANAGER$55,600
PROJECT MANAGER$55,487
INTERIOR DESIGNER$54,821
ARCHITECT$54,269
FINANCE MANAGER$52,488
PRODUCT MANAGER$51,657
HUMAN RESOURCES MANAGER$51,440
WEB DESIGNER$50,669
CHEMICAL ENGINEER$50,288
FINANCIAL ANALYST$49,363
FASHION DESIGNER$49,277
WEB DEVELOPER$48,847
MECHANICAL ENGINEER$48,799
OFFICE MANAGER$48,554
COPYWRITER$48,528
SALES MANAGER$47,701
DATA ANALYST$47,535
UX DESIGNER$47,456
OPERATIONS MANAGER$46,946
BUSINESS ANALYST$46,913
MOBILE DEVELOPER$46,759
RESEARCH SCIENTIST$46,198
GRAPHIC DESIGNER$45,858
ATTORNEY$45,180
ELECTRICAL ENGINEER$43,678
CIVIL ENGINEER$43,384
LECTURER$41,904
HARDWARE ENGINEER$40,952
ACCOUNT MANAGER$40,268
PHARMACIST$39,901
CUSTOMER SUPPORT$39,106
INDUSTRIAL DESIGNER$38,909
POSTDOCTORAL RESEARCHER$37,901
TEACHER$37,759
CONTENT MARKETING$34,348
NURSE$32,460
EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT$32,053
CHEF$30,899
ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT$28,371
CASHIER$25,072
RECEPTIONIST$23,469
WAITER$18,837
Source: teleport.org

Read more about salaries in Sweden in the dedicated article.

Healthcare

The United States healthcare system spends over $8,000 per person annually. In contrast, the Swedish healthcare system spends less than half that amount. 

Despite the lower expenditure, Swedes tend to have better health outcomes than their American counterparts. Infant mortality rates are less than 50% in the U.S., for example, and death rates among males aged 15 to 60 are half as much as well. 

The Swedish healthcare system is also generally more efficient than the U.S. model. There are fewer hospitals, but most are larger than those in the United States. 

The two countries also differ considerably with regard to physicians’ financial incentives. In the U.S., doctors charge a fee per service, while Swedish doctors are mostly salaried employees.

Perhaps the most significant difference is that health insurance providers in the U.S. are profit-generating entities. In Sweden, most are managed by government agencies as nonprofit organizations.

Consequently, they are less likely to withhold care to those without the ability to pay for medical services.

Best cities to live

Here are some of the best cities to live in the United States: 

  1. New York City. One of the world’s renowned centers of business, education, arts, entertainment, food, and culture. 
  2. Los Angeles. Boasts of a rich and varied culture, and arguably the cinematic hub of the world. 
  3. San Francisco. A global center of education and industry, with many scenic destinations. 
  4. Chicago. Rich historical heritage and many iconic sights and locations. 
  5. Washington, D.C. Offers plenty of museums and galleries, as well as being the nation’s capital. 

Here are some of the best cities to live in Sweden: 

  1. Solna. Quiet and peaceful with many opportunities for big city living as well. 
  2. Stockholm. The Swedish capital with a rich and diverse history steeped in tradition. 
  3. Malmö. Offers the ideal blend of city life and laidback country living. 
  4. Uppsala. Excellent education opportunities and some of the most impressive historical sights in the country. 
  5. Gothenburg. Stunning natural landscapes and the site of the renowned Gothenburg University. 

Anna

Anna is an experienced expat and writer. She has been living abroad for over 6 years.

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