A while back, I announced on Twitter that I was moving to Sweden. After a potential spanner in the works resolved itself, the plan is back in full force and I've started taking Swedish lessons so I can figure out what the hell is going on when I arrive.
When I was young, I had the great privilege of traveling around Europe a lot - my father was a freelance journalist and had a lot of work around the continent. That and the fact that my mother was born and raised in France and can speak French as fluently as I can English means that being around people who don't speak my language is almost normal, much less daunting.
I've always wanted to spend a significant amount of time abroad, be it traveling for a year or actually living somewhere. Going from Uni straight into a full-time Indie developer means I've skipped that opportunity since I need to be stable enough to actually get some work done. The thought has been at the back of my mind for a long long time, cataloguing the places I've visited and whether I'd like to live there. France is too full of French people, and I've spent so much time there it's practically a second home anyway. California, especially San Francisco, is beautiful. Australia is too hot. Sicily is too empty. Venice is too smelly. Germany is awesome. Etc etc etc.
One day, my girlfriend and I were watching The Daily Show. They ran a satirical piece about how Obama would make the country just like the the awful, Socialist Sweden - interviewing people and officials in the country about the government funded system they run.
A few days later… "Of course!" I thought, "Sweden!" That'd be a great place to live! Their way of living is sufficiently different to that of the UK to be interesting without having to travel halfway around the world. Their view on land, for example, is wonderful - the right of public access (Allemansrätten) means you're allowed to freely visit and camp on most non-private land as long as you don't damage it.
Convincing the Other Half
I was immediately smitten with the idea. However, my girlfriend is less international than I - her family all live within a few miles of each other. In March 2009, I floated the idea with her. At first she was excited and enthusiastic, but that quickly diminished when she realised she'd be so far away from her family. I stopped talking about it for a few weeks, and thankfully she eventually came around to the idea again on her own.
A Test Run
Fishing in Sweden (View on Flickr)
Since my only memory of Sweden is a tour of the Scania truck factory and fishing (seen to the right — although I remember that fish being huge and my shorts being AWESOME) and my girlfriend had never been, we decided to go to Sweden for a test run to see if we'd actually like the place. In September 2009, we rented an apartment in the centre of Stockholm for a week, doing normal 'local' things - food shopping, figuring out the public transport system and house-hunting. With each day, the idea of living around the Stockholm area became more and more appealing and, perhaps more importantly, feasible. Stockholm is a beautiful city, and is becoming one of my favourite cities in the world - hopefully living there won't ruin it for me!
When we returned, we had a camera full of photos of different suburbs of Stockholm from our days driving around looking at places we'd like to live. We'd decided to keep this from our respective families until we were certain we were going, so the very small number of typical touristy photos was interesting to explain away - we eventually settled on telling them that we went there to relax and do nothing rather than do all the touristy things.
Making the Move
When we returned, we were both sure we wanted to go and would enjoy living there, and it's now time to actually figure out the practicalities of getting out there, such as learning the language, finding a place to live, getting our stuff out there and finding a job.
We're tackling the language first, and have already started weekly Swedish lessons. The idea is to get a basic understanding of the language, then throw ourselves in at the deep end to fill our vocabulary.
Lake Uttran (View on Flickr)
Finding a place to live is going to be tricky. Stockholm's rental market has nowhere near enough supply to match demand, so places that aren't taken up by the multiple-year long waiting list don't typically stay on the market for more than a week or two. Therefore, we can't realistically start looking until a couple of months before we go - something that's making me incredibly uncomfortable. How can we move countries without planning way in advance? Unfortunately, this is something we're going to have to bank on working out for us.
Thankfully, since Sweden and the UK are both in the EEC, we can just jump in the car, drive over there, find a house and a job and get on with living there. No Visas, work permits, etc. After six months, we will have to prove we can afford to live there without mooching off the state, but there's nothing to get in the way of us moving out whenever we want - meaning that if we find a place early or late, it's not a huge deal.
One thing the fast market makes difficult is viewing. We need to find a place to live, and the state of the market makes it hard to find a bunch of places that seem suitable then fly out there and look at all of them in a day or two, so we may have to rent a place sight unseen. I can't decide if that's exciting or terrifying.
Getting a job will be the hardest thing to do, I think, because of the language barrier. Since I'm an indie developer, I can just take my work stuff with me and carry on as if nothing has happened. Since my girlfriend is my company's customer support, accountancy and general boring-stuff departments, she's guaranteed income as well. However, what's the point in going to live in a foreign country if all I'm going to do I sit in a room doing the same thing I do at home? I can do what I do at home for free by not doing anything. Instead, I plan to get a part-time or weekend job at a local café, bar or similar and my girlfriend is planning something similar. Hell, I'd work for free if it allows me a few hours a week taking in local culture and a bit of total immersion in the Swedish language. ?
Our pseudo-deadline is rapidly approaching — it's now around nine weeks away. Exciting times lie ahead!