Emigration: Dutch find paradise in Sweden
18 February 2011
Every day, 305 Dutch citizens leave the Netherlands to live abroad. Sweden, which offers tranquility and a life that is close to nature, is one of their favourite destinations.
Ellen Mulderij, who is originally from the province of Friesland, emigrated to Sweden in 2007. “In the Netherlands, everyone is always in a hurry. When I went back there recently, I kept thinking: ‘Do you ever take the time to live a little?’,” she explains when we met at her home in Hjulsjö, a Swedish village that is largely depopulated. Her Dutch husband, Rudy, works in forestry, while her three children attend a local school. The magnificent wooded region where she has decided to raise her family is extraordinarily quiet. Most of the natives have left to seek work elsewhere.
Approximately 8,300 Dutch emigrants – and that is not counting those who are on a temporary stay – live in Sweden. And this figure is increasing from year to year: over the last decade, a thousand of them have settled in their new Scandinavian homeland.
“The number of Dutch moving to Sweden rose steeply in the wake of 9/11,” points out Rob Floris, of the Kalmar job centre. “And the problems that surrounded Pim Fortuyn [a populist politician who was assinated in 2002] also played a role. Then there was Theo van Gogh [the televison presenter and film maker assassinated in 2004], and now Geert Wilders [another Islamaphobic populist politician]. Every time Wilders makes the headlines, I get requests from Dutch people who want to emigrate.”
Floris, who works for the European job mobility portal EURES, believes that many of the Dutch immigrants are attracted by Sweden’s reputation for political stability, which has continued to prevail in spite of the 2003 assassination of government minister Anna Lindh. “I tell them, they’ll have to get rid of their rosetinted glasses,” says Floris. That said, Sweden, which is 11 times the larger than the Netherlands, has a population of barely 9.2 million [as opposed to 16 million in the Netherlands] of which three million live in Stockholm and the surrounding region. “There is hardly any stress. Outside of Stockholm, traffic jams are virtually unknown, the crime rate is lower than it is in the Netherlands, and people respect each other,” says Floris.
The Dutch are mainly attracted by tranquility, space and nature. In interviews with Dutch immigrants in Sweden, virtually everyone mentions these three criteria. Sweden also has the advantage of being a lot cheaper than the Netherlands: “For 100,000 euros, you can have a detached house with a hectare of land,” points out Floris. Monthly charges, household and car insurance and fuel costs are all lower. And there is no need for health insurance, Swedish taxpayers are all automatically insured by the state.
Even more importantly, as the Secretary-General of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) recently pointed, “the Swedish economy is strong like Pippi Longstocking.” The country has escaped the effects of the financial crisis and there are hundreds of vacant jobs in sectors like information technology, communications, and health care.
“The Dutch come to live with their families, they learn the language quickly, they have an excellent work ethic, and they are also talented in business. It is as if they have the mentality of the Dutch East India Company in their genes,” remarks Floris.
Ellen Mulderij is one example of this enterprising spirit. With her organic grocery, which also doubles as a café, she has brought a bit of life back to the village of Hjulsjö, which has seen its population decline to just 50 people. However, Mulderij’s house remains in need of urgent renovation. “Nothing works, it was really in a terrible state.” However, she is rising to the challenge. “Getting by is not easy,” says Mulderij, who received an EU grant to set up her shop, and also benefits from subsidies for her sheep rearing business.
Most of the Dutch choose to live in the counties of Värmland and Dalarna [in southern Sweden], magnificent hilly and wooded regions that they usually discover in the course of holiday visits. “However, there aren’t that many jobs in rural Sweden,” warns Floris. “A lot of people want to open guesthouses, but the proceeds from a business that only runs for eight weeks of the year are not enough to live on.”
According to Rob Floris, would-be immigrants should carefully weigh up their options. “Before taking the plunge, they should visit Sweden during other seasons and not just in summer. There is no guarantee that they will still like the country when they find out that nightfall is at 3pm in winter, and that they may have to shovel a metre of snow in the dark. If that seems unbearable, then Sweden is not for them.”