THE GENERAL attitude in Sweden is that paying taxes is a good thing. Skatt, the Swedish word for tax, also means “treasure”, and Swedes certainly value what they get for their money. Everyone sees the civic responsibility and benefit of paying high taxes and most would pay even higher taxes if it meant they got more benefits. Tax rates are fair and everything seems to just work the way it’s supposed to. Swedes joke about the amount of bureaucracy they endure in assorted offices here, but the reason behind it is to keep things running smoothly. Here is why I’m happy to see my taxes go to Scandinavia’s least warlike nation.
Healthcare in Sweden is not free. In Sweden, one pays a nominal fee to see a primary care doctor — around 200kr, or $20US — and a total of 400kr for an emergency room visit. Waiting times for pre-planned care, such as a knee-replacement surgery ordered by a specialist, cannot exceed 90 days. If there is no way to perform the required procedure in that time frame, the patient may go elsewhere, and their municipal government will pay for it, including travel costs. Individual contribution to healthcare is capped at 1100kr a year. Any further treatment needed for the rest of the 12-month period is free. One does not need to be a citizen to use the Swedish healthcare system, just a legal resident with an identification number. One can use the centralized healthcare website to check test results, book appointments, change doctor’s offices, or get checked for chlamydia. If one needs a prescription, the information is associated with his or her ID number…the patient can go into any pharmacy and the information will be available.
Free medical, dental, and optical care up to age 21
Anybody under the age of 21 receives totally free medical, dental, and optical services. Children’s regular checkup and vaccination schedules are maintained by the government. When it’s time for a booster or a teeth cleaning, one gets a notice in the mail that one has an appointment (Swedish clinics, nurses, and doctors don’t ask what times a patient is available. They just tell them when to go in). A Swede’s kid needs glasses? Free. Someone needs braces and headgear? Free. Need birth control at the age of 16? Free, though they might make the patient watch this video, “Snoppan och snippan”.
You don’t need to file taxes.
I like to pay taxes in Sweden in part because I don’t have to file them myself. Unless one has exemptions or other unusual circumstances, Sweden does the filer’s taxes for them, and then sends a request by SMS to tell them if the forms are correct. After the filer responds, their refund is automatically deposited into their bank account. I wouldn’t know where to find an accountant if I needed one.
Our taxes support municipally-maintained bicycle paths.
Bicycles are Sweden’s favorite mode of transportation. They are cheap, fast, better for the environment and fun to ride while chattering away on hands-free headsets. A bicyclist can nip pretty much anywhere in Malmö in fifteen minutes, thanks to the extensive network of bike lanes and paths. The bike lanes are smoothly paved, separated from cars by a strip of curb, and often get shoveled before the sidewalk on the four or five days per winter we have snow. The only major downside is the tourists who constantly mistake them for extra-wide walking paths, and meander in front of everyone’s daily commute.
This one is huge, and much in the news. Sweden’s 480 days of parental leave per child are some of the best benefits in the world. The time can be split between both parents and can be taken at any point until the child is 8 years old, which can result in some extra-long vacations (since a parent can take a week of parental leave onto some of the 5 weeks of mandated vacation time per year). Nobody would breathe a word of reproach for a parent on leave. Perhaps a parent chooses to stay home with their child for a year and go back to work but then decided he or she wasn’t quite ready and wanted to take some more time — no problem. In an effort to improve gender equality, Sweden has also offered incentives specifically for fathers. 90 of the days are exclusively reserved for the dad, and if he doesn’t take them, the days are lost.
Lack of access to daycare throughout the world is one of the biggest impediments to parents re-entering the workforce — usually women since they are the ones most likely to give up their careers to stay home with the child. In Sweden, my taxes pay for daycare subsidies. Monthly fees are based on income, so people with low or no income are completely subsidized, while those with higher incomes pay up to 1400kr a month (about $140 USD). This amount is often covered by the barnbidrag, the monthly child allowance a Swedish parent receives from the government. Daycare is regulated; teachers have specialized training and Master’s degrees and kids get lots of play and outdoor time. The dagis my daughter is going to has a section for kids 3-5, where they take them out on a touring bus four days a week, driving around the region, going to national parks, museums, landmarks and other sites.
Five weeks of paid vacation a year
Swedes are entitled to 25 paid days of vacation per year unless they work for a powerful union, in which case, they might get more. If a Swede has a contract that specifies they do not get paid for overtime, they will get 30 days. After their first 20 vacation days, they can save the remaining ones for up to 5 years.
Paid days off when your kid is sick
When a Swedish employee gets sick or injured, they have a certain number of sick days they can take from their employer. When their kid gets sick, the government pays them to stay home until they can go back to school. This is called VAB (Vård av barn), or “care for children”, and leads to February being nick-named “VABruary”, as everyone stays home with winter colds for half the month.
If a Swedish worker put in at least 20 hours per week for twelve months, then lost his/her job, they will receive A-kassa, 80% of your former salary for up to 200 days, and then 70% of it for the next 100 days. They must be actively seeking work to get these benefits, and they don’t have to be a Swedish citizen — any resident with a personnummer is eligible. There is also an “introduction benefit” for those newly arrived in Sweden, especially low-income (like refugees) — the amount of the benefit is based on individual circumstances and can include a housing benefit as well.
Free Swedish classes
Svenska för invandrare (SFI) are the federally-sponsored and provided Swedish language classes available to anybody who moves to Sweden. Once a person has their ID number, they register for the classes and will be assigned to one based on their schedule and availability — daytime classes run every day for 3 hours a day, while evening classes are 2 times a week. A student can also do an intensive course of 6 weeks at 5 hours a day. If the student stops their SFI classes, they can come back to them later (for free). Swedes vary wildly in how enthusiastic they are about the success of SFI, but the consensus seems to be that it depends a lot on the teacher. If a student doesn’t like his or her class, they can apply to have it switched — although this might give them a wait.