I moved from Sweden (Europe) to India. Why?

After living in Sweden for over two years as an expat, I moved back to my home country India. Here's why!
25 Jun 2024
cover Photo by Mahesh Hejjaji Prasanna

After living and working in Stockholm, Sweden for two and a half years, I decided to move back to my hometown Bengaluru, India. Unless you have been quite nomadic, be it for work or personal reasons, moving life is not very easy both logistically and emotionally. I went through a lot of deliberation before I decided to pull the plug. Here's everything about it!


Before I answer the "WHY", I would like to share some background about what I did and the good and not-so-good aspects of living in Sweden.

About me

Since childhood, I called Bengaluru my home and after graduating I worked as a tech consultant at McKinsey. I used to travel quite a bit in Asia and always wanted to explore different countries. When the pandemic hit, travel was completely off the table and working from home for over a year made me want to just get out. Also, few of my friends worked with a startup in Sweden and were keen to see if I was also interested. Since I loved working with them and that it would cater to my travel itch while helping me grow in my career, I decided to give the interviews and 3 months down the line I landed in Arlanda, dressed in a PPE gown (travel during COVID was not so glamorous 🤷‍♂️) to start my life in a new part of the world. This was my first time:

  • living alone, away from family
  • traveling outside of Asia
  • doing everything from groceries to cooking to laundry 😂

The good

Beautiful city, great infrastructure, things mostly work

Stockholm is beautiful, and so are almost all the cities I visited in Europe (I have only visited 10 countries so my view is definitely biased). Nature is just a stone's throw away and the central parts of the city are very nicely laid out and maintained. Since Stockholm is spread across a bunch of islands, the water all around made it even more scenic!

The infrastructure is great, with well laid out footpaths, bicycle lanes and public transport that reaches almost every nook and cranny of the city. The public transport is very extensive, where you have commuter trains, trams, metro, ferries and busses, sometimes making it faster than a car to reach your destination and almost making it not necessary to own a private vehicle.

Traveling between countries is always a breeze. You can usually travel by trains between any of the Schengen and few more open border countries and all the major cities and towns have cheap flights and even better, there's usually no visa/passport checks! There are also lot of cruises (aka booze cruises 🍾) that travel between many of the countries which needs to be experienced at least once.

Sweden is also very centrally organized in terms of access to public resources. Everything in day to day life is digital, from your metro tickets to signing a legal document! Everyone who is a legal resident fulfilling some criteria gets a personal number and based off of this you get an ID card from a Govt. agency like the tax agency. This works everywhere as ID proof and helps you get a bank account. You also get a digital ID called BankID from your bank which can be used for logging into sites, signing documents online etc. If I have to sum it up, if you have BankID then everything just works 😌

Food is a very controversial topic and for a good reason, everyone's preferences are different! Since immigration to Europe is big, there's no dearth of different kinds of cuisines. Also, vegan culture is widespread in the Nordics, making it easy to get food if you are vegetarian/vegan, though might not be the case always in rest of Europe.

Lot of good career opportunities (in Tech)

Stockholm is a very interesting place to be at if you are in the tech sector. It's tech scene is very vibrant, from AI startups to Media giants to FinTechs, you have it all. The pay is quite good with respect to European standards and most companies operate in English. There's also a lot of companies in the energy and biotechnology sectors, giving you plenty of career opportunities to explore.

The unions are quite strong in Sweden and the work policies are very employee focused. You get generous vacation days of at least 25 every year on top of (kinda unlimited) sick leaves. The parental leaves are also very generous and is provided by the government so it is available for everyone. You have lot of Fikas in the office and working hours are usually very strictly followed with weekends being a big no-no for work. Taxes are quite steep but a major part of it goes towards your pension fund, which is paid out after 63 years of age, no matter where you live (assuming you know how to claim it if you have left Sweden 😅).

Companies are usually very accepting of career breaks and career changes. In fact I have seen so many folks switch roles in the same company quite easily. The number of startups coming up has seen a decline and layoffs have seen a steep increase in the past few months but almost everyone I know have managed to find new opportunities quite quickly in Tech.

Overall, a good life

Life was pretty straightforward IMO. If you had a good paying job, you can rent a place close to the main parts of the city or buy your own apartment. Work permit rules are quite friendly and give good amount of time to find a new job if you lose your current one. The path to permanent residency and even citizenship is quite short and simple in Sweden and the passport is among the top 5 so its definitely something to look forward to!

Sweden, being a welfare State, looks after a lot of things. As a registered resident, you get access to (almost free) public healthcare, libraries and Swedish classes and your dependents on your work permit get them too along with some more benefits like free courses in certain universities etc. Your kids get education in public schools and you also get a stipend from the Govt. for every kid that's below a certain age. There's also social insurance from the State if you can't work for an extended period due to medical reasons. If you hold a PR or Citizenship then its even better with guaranteed social security, free access to schools and a lot more. You of course have guaranteed pension if you have worked in Sweden and qualify certain conditions. (This is just what I know, not legal talk 😬)

Also, it's a lot of parks and nature reserves within the city and the air is always clean and crisp. The tap water is good to drink and the amenities for sports and recreation is top notch! You get wellness benefits from your employer to redeem towards gym, sports etc. and in general the people are fitness focused so you get a lot of motivation to be active and healthy.

Overall, you get a pretty good life if you have a good job/lot of money and live in Sweden.

The not so good

Where can I find the sun?

I used to think it is all fine if there are some gloomy days and weather won't affect me since I mostly stay inside but boy did I learn the hard way that my mood is hugely impacted by the weather! Coming from Bengaluru where its usually between 25C to 35C and sunny all year around, the almost 8 months long winter with extremely short daylight and freezing temperatures pulled me down hard. During peak winter, you wake up at 7 and it feels like 2 in the night, go to office when the sun is still not out, catch a glimpse of daylight when you go out to get lunch and by the time you leave office it feels like midnight again. It was the mental down you feel due to lack of sunlight and gloomy days that affected me the most than the physical aspect of managing the cold as I had no problems going on a hike even in -15C temperatures and moderate snowstorms 😅

Since I am generally low on vitamin-D, the daily supplements weren't enough to keep me upbeat and I couldn't do any winter sports owing to my back injury which further added to the low mood. Also, a lot of the daily activities became cumbersome with snow and ice everywhere, public transport was erratic and biking became a nightmare, all in all it was not a pleasant time to be out and about at least in the peak months of winter.

Healthcare is not the same

I unfortunately did not have private health insurance to be able to afford private healthcare and wasn't used to the way public healthcare works in Sweden. The local clinics are closed on weekends, including most of the pharmacies. Only the emergency in hospitals/bigger centers are open and they treat patients on the severity level of the issue. The first time I needed healthcare was when I felt like I would faint and my heart was pounding, I visited the nearest emergency to my workplace and though they did the triage in a few minutes of arriving at the hospital, it took me 7 hours to meet a doctor and get a diagnosis with an ECG. Thankfully it was apparently a panic attack and not a heart attack 😬.

It did not end with that, I caught a flu with fever staying at 102F for 3 days and I was advised to take paracetamol and rest for few more days before contacting them, when I called the healthcare. Since I lived alone, it was a struggle to take care of myself and deal with the stress of not knowing what I had. There were many instances like this, once I had a blister and was given a super heavy dose of antibiotics (3g/day for 10 days 🙈) which made me so weak and almost faint while trying to work.

Finally, a few months before I left Sweden, my back injury flared up and I was in India during that time where I got an MRI immediately and my specialist told me the treatment options within a few days. Since I couldn't stay back, I went back to Sweden and raised a case with the healthcare. It took a week to get initial GP appointment, where I was advised medication for 4 weeks. It did not work well so I had a followup consultation where I was referred to get an MRI, the appointment for which took a few weeks and when the results were finally reviewed and I was referred to a specialist it was 3 months into my injury. The specialist appointment took another 3 months, making the wait time almost 6 months after my injury. But, by then I was almost alright thanks to a physical therapist I met via a friend. He helped me reduce my pain and recover to a great extent while I was still waiting for my specialist consultation.

The huge saving grace through all of this was that healthcare was mostly free. Also, many of the doctors I met were very professional and nice, and that made me feel at ease and my close friends gave great support during the tough times. Bottom line, coming from a city in India where it is quick to get specialist consultations and even major surgeries done in few weeks through private healthcare that I can afford with job income, the public healthcare system in Sweden was quite difficult for me to get used to.

I missed my Bengaluru life quite a bit

Don't get me wrong, I loved the access to nature, clean air and great quality of life I had in Sweden but I just missed quite a few things from my hometown and since I always wanted to come back to India, I think it pushed me a tiny bit more to take that decision earlier than I anticipated.

I missed my family and close relatives a lot. I have definitely made a lot of friends (for life) in Sweden but I craved to be with my family in India a bit too much. I missed the support and care I used to get when I was going through tough times, both mentally and physically. I also missed the accessibility to affordable services I had in my hometown. Apparently, the life of isolation and doing everything myself is not something I enjoy all the time 🤷‍♂️

The social interactions is another area where I felt a bit out of place. Partying was the common theme for socializing but I prefer a dinner with deep conversations over a party so I missed out on a lot of opportunities to meet new people and maybe make some friends. Also, sports was another major opportunity to meet like minded people but I wasn't physically that fit or active so I struggled here as well. Finally, I wasn't a student so I did not have the opportunity to meet lot of folks in general. I could have tried a lot more in this aspect and I am by no means the super social kind but the broader atmosphere did not suit me well. If I had moved with my family or had the intentions of starting a family there, I might have fared a lot better.

Why did I move?

In short, I moved back to my hometown owing to the following reasons:

  • Wanted to be back with family
  • Healthcare was a bigger problem for me than I anticipated
  • Couldn't create the kind of social setting I had hoped for
  • Traveling solo within Europe became repetitive and not very interesting after a while

If you have come this far, I suspect that you are thinking of moving to a different place. I hope it becomes a great experience!

If there is anything I can help you with in terms of moving to and living in Sweden, please ping me on Instagram and I will try to reply as soon as possible.

If you feel like buying me a coffee, here you go - Buy Mahesh a Coffee!