How to adjust to life as a Swede living in the U.S.

TransferWise content team
3 minute read

Last year, more Swedes left their country than any time in the last 160 years.

A grand total of 51,237 people left the country last year, according to official statistics. In general, the U.S. is the most popular country they chose to call home: there are about 150,000 Swedes living Stateside.

Swedes and Americans share many some cultural similarities, from a love of nature to being suckers for sweets.

Yet the U.S. can also feel very different, from the lack of bikes to “How are you?” being used as a greeting rather than question. Here’s a few tips for Swedes looking to adapt to life in the good ‘ol USA.

Go take a bike


In the U.S., many people still see biking as a fun children’s activity, or put their bikes on their cars to get somewhere “bike-friendly”, rather than using their bikes simply to get from point A to B.

Yet not all hope is lost in this car country: many larger cities are expanding their bike lanes and biking culture.

While you may not be used to wearing a clunky helmet, be sure to don one in the States. Drivers aren't as accustomed to share the lanes with their two-wheeled friends.

Coffee culture


In Sweden, the number three coffee-consuming country in the world, it’s common to take part in the tradition of fika, in which friends or families get together over a sweet or coffee.

While it may seem like Americans would chug more coffee, they don’t even make it to the top 15 consumers of coffee per capita. And when they do drink it, it’s often rushing to work on-the-go or at their desks rather than in a cozy cafe, Swedish style.

How are you? Just kidding.


You may be surprised upon how, when arriving in the U.S., even the woman at the grocery counter asks, “How are you doing today?”

Expect to receive awkward silence when you tell her things are just OK. They are just accustomed to hearing “Good. How are you?” -- the standard response to this standard greeting.

Not-so-sweet deal


In Sweden, there are pick-and-mix candies in every supermarket, usually with at least 200 varieties.

This number tops 500 at select candy stores.

Yet in the U.S., as Johannes, a Swedish expat in New York, observes,

“You only find that at select stores like See’s, and it cost a lot by comparison to Sweden.”

A cold awakening


Swedish expats on the West Coast will, as expected, find many beautiful beaches.

But many will be surprised to discover that the water within them is actually colder than Swedish ones along the Baltic Sea in the summer.

Beaches lining the Pacific Ocean receive their cold currents from Alaska, so surfers should be prepared to don a wetsuit.

Get Your Food in the Door


In the land of cheap food and choices, eating in restaurants or getting take-away items is commonplace.

The culture is a far cry from Sweden, as Tim, a Swedish expat in North Carolina, noticed:

“We only eat out if there is a special occasion such as somebody’s birthday or graduation from university.”

Just don’t make the classic U.S. expat rookie mistake, and forget that 15-20 percent tip on your the meal.

A timely lesson


You may arrive at a meeting that begins at 9 a.m. at 8:45 a.m.

Yet the actual meeting, and not your convivial colleagues’ small talk that builds up to it, may not actually start until 9:30.

Your colleagues may also stay longer in the office -- not necessarily to work all the time, but also to socialize or test out that new ping pong table in the ‘Rec Room’.

Opening a bank account


The U.S. is strict about many aspects of life for foreigners, but generally opening a basic bank account is not one of them.

Many banks will allow you to open an account, even remotely, without a social security number, or just with a U.S. tax ID number.

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