I know, how can someone that looks 25 have founded a company 24 years ago? Well, what can I say, I’m wise beyond my years. Starting a Newcomer’s relocation and immigration (renamed Nimmersion) back in 1995 was a lucky stroke and I had clients before I had even thought to start a relocation company. All it took was to write a book for companies with expats in Sweden and after the second edition of “The Newcomer’s Practical Handbook to Sweden” I was deemed an expert. The Global Mobility industry was in its infancy in Sweden, just like in many countries around Europe. The American expats were driving the demand for professional relocation services instead of asking the receptionist of HR to take time off on weekends to do the magic.
SWEDEN THE COUNTRY THAT LOVES DIY CHANGES TUNE SLOWLY
The land of IKEA that celebrates self-serve couldn’t get people from other countries as enthusiastic for a “do it yourself” approach with their relocations. Luckily, at the same time a global Swedish company, made a study on the employees that they sent out in the world to see how they were doing. It turned out – not well. Their key staffers spent 80% of their time the first year figuring out where to live and how on earth to open a bank account. When this was revealed I was immediately engaged, as the founder of Newcomer’s, to take care of all their incoming expats. I was flattered and wondered how on earth I would be able to do that given that I had only written a book about it, I hadn’t actually done it for real. The rest is, as we say, history.
As time went by, even Swedes started to see the value of outsourcing services. Today I probably wouldn’t have the same conversation with a frustrated expat that I did back in 2005. He asked if he could come to my office to talk. He didn’t understand why his colleagues meddled in everything. He said that his Swedish colleagues were “jack of all trades and master of none” and that most certainly was true after the big land reform in the 1800s. The good news is that slowly deep niche knowledge is getting some traction here. He just didn’t know whom to turn to with detailed technical questions since they were busy handling the meeting agendas, putting together travel expenses reports and running out to get coffee for the office machine.
SAME SAME ABOUT HOUSING
Just like today, there was a housing shortage second to none in the world which was so difficult that no layman can handle it without going crazy. I’m a testament to how hard it is since I moved 6 times in 18 months when I returned to Sweden in 1991, so I could really empathize with the newcomers and we could also jointly be appalled by the high taxes and the ridiculous VAT. The housing quality was much lower than today and the Americans were shocked not only about how small it was, but also regarding the overall standard.
“Where is the en suite bathroom?” They would ask..
“We are still looking for it.” My answer in 2019..
The home improvement shows inspired many to upgrade their homes and now high-quality housing is possible to find. If only, you have the right budget, realistic expectations, have a company sign a corporate lease and come at the right time of year, so there are many boxes to check off still. Yet in a perfect world with smart planning it works.
The lawmakers have attempted to open up the regulations in order to make it easier to sublet, although the apartment building boards can still say no to subletting. This winter a landlord was denied renting out their apartment while they were working abroad and to add insult to injury they were forced to sell the property with tax implications to boot since they live outside Sweden. Let’s just say there’s still room for improvement.
Sweden has been one of the few markets without a property price bust and the cost of buying and consequently renting has gone up exponentially on a yearly basis while salaries have been left far behind. This has not been helpful when bringing people to Stockholm. Many platforms and companies have opened over the years with the aim to solve the housing crisis, but the lack of properties won’t change that even when aided by digitalization. Still, today politicians try to regulate themselves out of a housing crisis rather than getting construction prices down and building efficiency up. Few lessons have been learned from an extended housing crisis that started already 1905.
A housing shortage is also alluring to scammers, many people are tricked into sending deposits to accounts and landlords that don’t exist. While there’s plenty of news in the papers, hopeful newbies in Sweden along with Swedes fall prey to these dishonest people daily.
So one of the great advantages of working with relocation specialists is that we have a strong “BS radar” and can protect our clients. Our trade is very loyal to one another and we have for many years had joint training to understand the law better, have watertight leases and a procedure that has a minimum standard as a benchmark. Forming an organization (SHRF) in 2002, where I together with another founder, worked with lobbying and actually manage to overturn a law. Carina Ljungstedt, back then at BostadDirekt was instrumental in that work and we got support from the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce. Without that law amendment none of the relocation or letting agents would be in existence today. Our commitment to quality is validated by the fact that we have a trade organization that provides all members with special insurance and there’s a code of conduct. We also have great Christmas lunches and are supportive of one another.
ORIGIN DESTINATIONS HAVE CHANGED
I am proud to be an ambassador for Sweden helping people get a smooth arrival and be successful at their jobs.
The first years the Americans were a big group that came to Sweden along with the Dutch, Brits, French, and the Germans apart from our Scandinavian neighbors. The professions at that time were often marketing and finance along with top management. The incoming specialists today are younger and tend to be in the tech industry ,and well-educated software engineers often come from India, China, and Eastern Europe and Russia.
WHAT SERVICES ARE ORDERED?
Few companies today will try to sort things out on their own, it’s simply too hard and too time consuming taking away time and resources from staff with other more important tasks to do.
There was a clear shift when Sweden entered the EU in 1995, then we all became Europeans. That also implied that the borderless practicalities ceased and we were just one big happy family and fellow Europeans could take care of themselves. Just like the human brain hasn’t changed in 12 000 years, people were the same before and after the EU membership and help was still needed. Practical things were still outsourced, while cultural training specialists were having a harder time to stay in existence, it wasn’t needed between Europeans, it’s back now though.
Moving became less of a big deal and the cross border moves increased as younger people were given the chance to join rotational programs and get work and life experience in other countries. Up until the Brexit vote we certainly took it for granted.
Since moving became more common, a lot of companies noticed that the associated cost can’t be ignored. Programs provided to expats were getting slimmer and slimmer. Sourcing furnished accommodation was getting more common. Also, shorter assignments increased which encouraged commuter lifestyles so home finding was getting increasingly difficult. A lot of the employment contracts transitioned from being Expat contracts to local hires which is also a reason that each person is considered localized and should pick up more associated costs him or herself. In some companies a two year contract is considered a permanent move with all that it entails for the employee.
Moving household goods is less common not least due to environmental concerns.
FROM PAPER TO DIGITAL
I had an email from day one, but it wasn’t unusual to get paper letters in envelopes with stamps! The faxes came in and lots of phone calls. Having a global job meant long days and evenings to not lose time when working with Californians.
Sourcing information was difficult from other corners of the world and our clients trusted us to have the latest information at our fingertips. We did and since the art of sourcing that information was much more manual, more care was considered by the authorities since whatever was published was done so on paper and mistakes were expensive. Written material tends to be more accurate as few things were released without a fact check preceding it. We spent far less time than we do today helping clients interpret sloppy writing and explaining the underlying purpose of laws, etc. We also weren’t second-guessed based on other information that has dubious sources. In short our clients today feel that they are doing half the job, while our time explaining and validation often scammy sites for properties, etc. has increased. Everyone is spending more time to achieve the same result.
Back in the 90s and early 2000s our database with properties was paper copies and sometimes even post-it notes from landlords that had called us. It was not replaceable when one of our consultants put the entire “database” in the back seat of her car and it all flew out when she was driving on the highway. A similar loss can only happen today if there is a major computer crash.
Back in the 90s the process was more manual, easier to understand, and had more steps than today, but yet it was faster. It was a clear demand that companies should recruit within Sweden firstly and EU secondly to be allowed to bring in foreign expertise, but it wasn’t a showstopper. Today we have a new word in the dictionary called “kompetensutvisning” that means that highly skilled workers are denied staying in the country, where they work and contribute a great deal to taxes, they can still be evicted due to small mistakes as not taking enough vacation days, or the employer hasn’t signed up for insurances in time, or have missed one that is part of the standard package for companies as per the collective agreement with the unions.
This creates stress not only to the individuals that face an uncertain outcome for the renewal work permit applications but also for companies that have found these important experts in faraway lands and have a break in operations at best. Some companies have due to this opted to move parts of or the entire business to other countries. Swedish politicians lack of initiative to rectify this has damaged Sweden’s reputation as a great destination.
Relocation and immigration experts are working under difficult circumstances to offset that.
SWEDEN FOR FAMILIES
Back in 1995, there were much fewer international schools and placement was hard to get. Queues were long and many families had to postpone their moves until they were certain that the children have schools to attend. These days with more options and not least schools that don’t charge tuition so the decision to move can often be taken earlier in the year. The German school especially, but also the French school have long lines but they do prioritize their own nationals so usually it works out.
Sweden has always been child-friendly, and children and youths experience a greater sense of freedom since they can play outside and take buses and public transport, at least during daytime, without any safety concerns. The work-life balance is also important to Swedes and a real perk for people from pretty much any other country.
WHAT IS IN IT FOR GLOBAL MOBILITY PROFESSIONALS
So overall Sweden is a good place to live and our job has been a pleasure to be able to market and present such a wonderful place to be. The industry developed and people movement have constantly risen all the years I have worked in this business and for active people the profession is really exciting. Global Mobility never sleeps, our inboxes are full when we wake up.
In the Global Mobility Industry we are working towards the same goal as our clients. We don’t change the world, yet we change the world for many individuals and companies.
At the end of the day it’s nice to make someone’s life better today than it was yesterday. To remember all the stories and people we get to meet every year, month and week. The trailing spouse that got a job in 6 days, the family that after the assignment ended stayed in Sweden and the employee started a reverse commute from the office in Germany to spend weekends in Stockholm with the family, the hospital visits, the births, the worries, the celebrations. The guy that walked to work across the iced lake to his office, the family that adopted the cat that had lived in the house they rented.. a so called outdoors cat that was very pleased to finally move inside.
That is what makes us tick and what is the reward at the end. The relocation industry can be very tough, but the personal interaction is well worth it.