Sweden is generally considered a highly favorable investment destination. Sweden offers an extremely competitive, open economy with access to new products, technologies, skills, and innovations. Sweden also has a well-educated labor force, outstanding communication infrastructure, and a stable political environment, which makes it a choice destination for U.S. and foreign companies. Low levels of corporate tax, the absence of withholding tax on dividends, and a favorable holding company regime are additional incentives for doing business in Sweden.
Sweden’s attractiveness as an investment destination is tempered by a few structural, business challenges. These include high personal and VAT taxes. In addition, the high cost of labor, rigid labor legislation and regulations, a persistent housing shortage, and the general high cost of living in Sweden can present challenges to attracting, hiring, and maintaining talent for new firms entering Sweden. Historically, the telecommunications, information technology, healthcare, energy, and public transport sectors have attracted the most foreign investment. However, manufacturing, wholesale, and retail trade have also recently attracted increased foreign funds.
Overall, investment conditions remain largely favorable. Sweden ranked tenth on the World Bank 2020 Doing Business Report. In the World Economic Forum’s 2019 Competitiveness Report Sweden was ranked eight out of 138 countries in overall competitiveness and productivity. The report highlighted Sweden’s strengths: human capital (health, education level, and skills of the population), macroeconomic stability, and technical and physical infrastructure. Bloomberg’s 2020 Innovation Index ranked Sweden fifth among the most innovative nations on earth; a pattern that is reinforced by Sweden being ranked first on the European Commission’s 2019 European Innovation Scorecard and second on the WIPO/INSEAD 2019 Global Innovation Index. Also in 2019, Transparency International ranked Sweden as one of the most corruption-free countries in the world – fourth out of 180. Sweden is perceived as a creative place with interesting research and technology. It is well equipped to embrace the Fourth Industrial Revolution with a superior IT infrastructure and is seen as a frontrunner in adopting new technologies and setting new consumer trends. U.S. and other exporters can take advantage of a test market full of demanding, highly sophisticated customers.
|TI Corruption Perceptions Index||2019||4 of 180||http://www.transparency.org/
|World Bank’s Doing Business Report||2020||10 of 190||http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings|
|Global Innovation Index||2019||2 of 129||https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
|U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions)||2018||$50,902||http://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/|
|World Bank GNI per capita||2018||$54,490||http://data.worldbank.org/
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment
There are no laws or practices that discriminate or are alleged to discriminate against foreign investors, including and especially U.S. investors, by prohibiting, limiting or conditioning foreign investment in a sector of the economy (either at the pre-establishment (market access) or post-establishment phase of investment). Until the mid-1980s, Sweden’s approach to direct investment from abroad was quite restrictive and governed by a complex system of laws and regulations. Sweden’s entry into the European Union (EU) in 1995 largely eliminated all restrictions. Restrictions to investment remain in the defense and other sensitive sectors, as addressed in the next section “Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment.”
The Swedish Government recognizes the need to further improve the business climate for entrepreneurs, education, and the flow of research from lab to market. Swedish authorities have implemented a number of reforms to improve the business regulatory environment and to attract more foreign investment. In addition, Sweden is taking steps to create a domestic investment screening mechanism to ensure a secure investment environment, as well as to secure national ICT networks, including 5G. An initial step came on January 1, 2020, when Sweden enacted new regulations giving Swedish armed forces and security services authority to deny or revoke operating licenses to mobile radio providers that threaten national security.
Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
There are very few restrictions on where and how foreign enterprises can invest, and there are no equity caps, mandatory joint-venture requirements, or other measures designed to limit foreign ownership or market access. However, Sweden does maintain some limitations in a select number of situations:
- Accountancy: Investment in the accountancy sector by non-EU-residents cannot exceed 25 percent.
- Legal services: Investment in a corporation or partnership carrying out the activities of an “advokat,” a lawyer, cannot be done by non-EU residents.
- Air transport: Foreign enterprises may be restricted from access to international air routes unless bilateral intergovernmental agreements provide otherwise.
- Air transport: Cabotage is reserved to national airlines.
- Maritime transport: Cabotage is reserved to vessels flying the national flag.
- Defense: Restrictions apply to foreign ownership of companies involved in the defense industry and other sensitive areas.
- On January 1, 2020, Sweden enacted new regulations giving Swedish armed forces and security services authority to deny or revoke operating licenses to mobile radio providers that threaten national security.
Swedish company law provides various ways a business can be organized. The main difference between these forms is whether the founder must own capital and to what extent the founder is personally liable for the company’s debt. The Swedish Act (1992:160) on Foreign Branches applies to foreign companies operating through a branch and also to people residing abroad who run a business in Sweden. A branch must have a president who resides within the European Economic Area (EEA). All business enterprises in Sweden (including branches) are required to register at the Swedish Companies Registration Office, Bolagsverket. An invention or trademark must be registered in Sweden in order to obtain legal protection. A bank from a non-EEA country needs special permission from the Financial Supervision Authority (Finansinspektionen) to establish a branch in Sweden.
Sweden does not maintain an investment screening and approval mechanism for inbound foreign investment. However, Sweden is taking steps to create a domestic investment screening mechanism, based on the EU investment screening framework, to ensure a secure investment environment. Suggested regulations would not likely be in place until 2021 at the earliest. Sweden is also working to secure national ICT networks, including 5G. An initial step was taken on January 1, 2020, when Sweden enacted new regulations giving Swedish armed forces and security services authority to deny or revoke operating licenses to mobile radio providers that threaten national security. U.S. investors are treated equally relative to other foreign investors in terms of ownership and scrutiny of investments.
Other Investment Policy Reviews
Sweden has in the past three years not undergone an investment policy review by the World Trade Organization (WTO), or the United Nations Committee on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), or the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
Business Sweden’s Swedish Trade and Invest Council is the investment promotion agency tasked with facilitating business. The services of the agency are available to all investors.
All forms of business enterprise, except for sole traders, have to be registered with the Swedish Companies Registration Office, Bolagsverket, before starting operations. Sole traders may apply for registration in order to be given exclusive rights to the name in the county where they will be operating. Online applications to register an enterprise can be made at http://www.bolagsverket.se/en and is open to foreign companies. The process of registering an enterprise can take a few days or up to a few weeks, depending on the complexity and form of the business enterprise. All business enterprises, including sole traders, need also to be registered with the Swedish Tax Agency, Skatteverket, before starting operations. Relevant information and guides can be found at http://www.skatteverket.se . Depending on the nature of business, companies may need to register with the Environmental Protection Agency, Naturvårdsverket, or, if real estate is involved, the county authorities. Non EU/EEA citizens need a residence permit, obtained from the Swedish Board of Migration, Migrationsverket, in order to start up and/or run a business. At http://www.verksamt.se , a collaboration of several Swedish government agencies where relevant guides and services pertaining to registering, starting, running, expanding and/or closing a business can be found. Sweden defines a micro enterprise as one with less than 10 employees, a small enterprise with less than 50 employees, and a medium enterprise with less than 250 employees.
The Government of Sweden has commissioned the Swedish Exports Credit Guarantee Board (EKN) to promote Swedish exports and the internationalization of Swedish companies. EKN insures exporting companies and banks against non-payment in export transactions, thereby reducing risk and encouraging expanding operations. As part of its export strategy presented in 2015, the Swedish Government has also launched Team Sweden to promote Swedish exports and investment. Team Sweden is tasked with making export market entry clear and simple for Swedish companies and consists of a common network for all public initiatives to support exports and internationalization.
The Government does not generally restrict domestic investors from investing abroad. The only exceptions are related to matters of national security and national defense; the Inspectorate of Strategic Products (ISP) is tasked with control and compliance regarding the sale and exports of defense equipment and dual-use products. ISP is also the National Authority for the Chemical Weapons Convention and handles cases concerning targeted sanctions.
4. Industrial Policies
The Swedish government offers certain incentives to set up a business in targeted depressed areas. Loans are available on favorable terms from the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth (Tillväxtverket) and from regional development funds. A range of regional support programs, including location and employment grants, low rent industrial parks, and economic free zones are available. Regional development support is concentrated in the lightly populated northern two-thirds of the country. In addition, EU grant and subsidy programs are generally available only for nationals and companies registered in the EU, usually on a national treatment basis. For more information, see Chapter 7 “Trade and Project Financing” in Country Commercial Guide for Sweden. The Swedish government does not have a practice of issuing guarantees or jointly financing direct investment projects.
Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation
Sweden has foreign trade zones with bonded warehouses in the ports of Stockholm, Gothenburg, Malmö, and Jönköping. Goods may be stored indefinitely in these zones without customs clearance, but they may not be consumed or sold on a retail basis. Permission may be granted to use these goods as materials for industrial operations within a free trade zone. The same tax and labor laws apply to foreign trade zones as to other workplaces in Sweden.
Performance and Data Localization Requirements
As an EU Member State, Sweden adheres to the EU’s General Data Protection Directive (GDPR) (95/46/EC) which spells out strict rules concerning the processing of personal data. Businesses must tell consumers that they are collecting data, what they intend to use it for, and to whom it will be disclosed. Data subjects must be given the opportunity to object to the processing of their personal details and to opt-out of having them used for direct marketing purposes. This opt-out should be available at the time of collection and at any point thereafter. While the EU institutions are considering new legislation, the 1995 Directive remains in force.
The EU-U.S. Privacy Shield Frameworks were designed by the U.S. Department of Commerce and the European Commission to provide companies on both sides of the Atlantic with a mechanism to comply with data protection requirements when transferring personal data from the European Union to the United States in support of transatlantic commerce. On July 12, 2016, the European Commission deemed the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield Framework adequate to enable data transfers under EU law. For further information and guidance on the Privacy Shield Framework, please see: https://www.commerce.gov/privacyshield .
The Swedish Data Protection Authority, Datainspektionen, works to prevent encroachment upon privacy through information and by issuing directives and codes of statutes. Datainspektionen also handles complaints and carries out inspections. By examining government bills, the DPA ensures that new laws and ordinances protect personal data in an adequate manner. Further guidance and information is available in English on their website at www.datainspektionen.se .
There are no measurements that prevent or unduly impede companies from freely transmitting customer or other business-related data outside Sweden’s territory. Sweden imposes no performance requirements on presumptive foreign investors.
In general, there is no government policy that requires the hiring of nationals. There is no excessively onerous visa, residence, work permit, or similar requirements inhibiting mobility of foreign investors and their employees. Sweden does not follow “forced localization,” the policy in which foreign investors must use domestic content in goods or technology and there are no requirements for foreign IT providers to turn over source code and/or provide access to encryption.
Various municipal-level agencies and business associations have targeted U.S. cloud service providers in Sweden. These entities have claimed that any information processed by a U.S. cloud provider is subject to U.S. government scrutiny through the CLOUD Act, limiting customers’ privacy. This perception has severely hurt U.S. cloud service providers’ sales in Sweden and given local cloud service firms an advantage in the market. In addition, this perception has spurred a two-year, government investigation into the development of a Swedish government cloud.
U.S. cloud service providers in Sweden have been unfairly targeted by various government entities at the municipal level, creating an un-level playing field, which has effectively blocked their ability to sell cloud services in Sweden. These entities claim any information stored by U.S. cloud providers is open to U.S. government scrutiny under the CLOUD Act. In one case, U.S. companies were specifically excluded from a local government tender because of this perceived threat from the CLOUD Act.
A Swedish, two-year investigation into the development of a Swedish government cloud is underway, effectively halting U.S. cloud service sales as customers await the investigation’s outcome and giving Swedish cloud providers, including SAAB’s new cloud service, an upper hand. However, due to COVID-19, the government’s investigation has been delayed.
5. Protection of Property Rights
Swedish law generally provides for adequate protection of real property. Mortgages and liens exist, and the recording system is reliable. Almost all land has clear title and unoccupied property ownership cannot revert to other owners. Financial mechanisms are available in Sweden for securitization of properties for lending purposes and have been in use since the early 1990s. Nordic banks account for the vast majority of secured lending transactions. The Swedish Financial Supervisory Authority, Finansinpektionen, can provide further information regarding the regulations involved with securitization of properties at https://www.fi.se/en/ .
Intellectual Property Rights
Swedish law generally provides adequate protection for all property rights, including intellectual property rights (IPR). As a member of the European Union and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), Sweden adheres to a series of multilateral conventions on IPR. Sweden has a Specialist Court for IPR-related cases, the so-called Patent and Market Court, which has operated since September 2016.
Patents: Protection in all areas of technology may be obtained for 20 years. Sweden is party to the Patent Cooperation Treaty and the European Patent Convention; both entered into force in 1978.
Copyrights: Sweden is a signatory to various multilateral conventions on the protection of copyrights, including the Berne Convention, the Rome Convention, and the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). Swedish copyright law protects computer programs and databases. More recently, Sweden gained notoriety as a safe haven for Internet piracy due to rapid connection speeds, a lag in implementing EU Directives, and weak enforcement efforts. In 2009, however, Sweden implemented the EU IPR Enforcement Directive (IPRED) 2004/48/EC and increased its enforcement against Internet piracy. The last few years have seen the conviction of operators behind the Pirate Bay.org, a notorious BitTorrent tracker for illegal file sharing, and an increase in legal file sharing. Legislative measures combined with additional enforcement resources and the emergence of successful legal alternatives all contributed to a substantial increase in legal music and film distribution since 2010.
Trademarks: Sweden protects trademarks under a specific trademark act (1960:644) and is a signatory to the Madrid Protocol.
Trade secrets: The Act on Trade Secrets (2018:558), which implements EU Directive 2016/943, entered into force in July 2018 and repealed the Act on the Protection of Trade Secrets (1990:409). It contains provisions on damages, fines, and punishment for unauthorized acquisition, use, and disclosure of trade secrets and so is aimed to strengthen companies’ competitiveness and improve the conditions for innovation and entrepreneurship.
Designs: Sweden is party to the Paris Convention and the Locarno Agreement. Designs are protected by the Swedish Design Protection Act and the Council Regulation on Registered and Unregistered Designs. Protection under the Act lasts for renewable terms of one to five years with a maximum protection of 25 years.
Sweden is not included in USTR’s Special 301 Report or the Notorious Markets List. For additional information about national laws and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at http://www.wipo.int/directory/en .
6. Financial Sector
Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment
Credit is allocated on market terms and is made available to foreign investors in a non-discriminatory fashion. The private sector has access to a variety of credit instruments. Legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are transparent and consistent with international norms. NASDAQ-OMX is a modern, open, and active forum for domestic and foreign portfolio investment. It is Sweden’s official stock exchange and operates under specific legislation. Furthermore, the Swedish government is neutral toward portfolio investment and Sweden has a fully capable regulatory system that encourages and facilitates portfolio investments.
Money and Banking System
Several foreign banks, including Citibank, have established branch offices in Sweden, and several niche banks have started to compete in the retail bank market. The three largest Swedish banks are Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken (SEB), Svenska Handelsbanken, and Swedbank. Nordea is the largest foreign bank and largest bank in Sweden, while Danske Bank is the second largest foreign bank and the fifth largest bank in Sweden. A deposit insurance system was introduced in 1996, whereby individuals received protection of up to SEK 250,000 (USD 38,285) of their deposits in case of bank insolvency. On December 31, 2010, the maximum compensation was raised to the SEK equivalent of 100,000 euro.
The banks’ activities are supervised by the Swedish Financial Supervisory Authority, Finansinspektionen, http://www.fi.se , to ensure that standards are met. Swedish banks’ financial statements meet international standards and are audited by internationally recognized auditors only. The Swedish Bankers’ Association, http://www.bankforeningen.se , represents banks and financial institutions in Sweden. The association works closely with regulators and policy makers in Sweden and Europe. Sweden is not part of the Eurozone; however, Swedish commercial banks offer euro-denominated accounts and payment services.
On July 1, 2014, Sweden signed the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) agreement with the U.S. Financial institutions in Sweden are now obligated to submit information in accordance with FATCA to the Swedish Tax Agency. In February 2015, the Swedish Parliament decided on new laws and regulations needed to implement FATCA. The Parliamentary decision means the government’s proposals in Bill 2014/15:41 were adopted, including for example, the introductions of: a new law on the identification of reportable accounts with respect to the agreement;
- a new law on the identification of reportable accounts with respect to the agreement;
- changes to tax procedure act;
- new legislation on the exchange of information with respect to the agreement; and
- consequential amendments to the Income Tax Act and other laws.
The provisions entered into force on April 1, 2015. For full text of Bill 2014/15:41, please see http://www.regeringen.se/contentassets/bd8cf7f897364944b35f5f30c099bc0c/genomforande-av-avtal-mellan-sveriges-regering-och-amerikas-forenta-staters-regering-for-att-forbattra-internationell-efterlevnad-av-skatteregler-och-for-att-genomfora-fatca-prop.-20141541 .
Foreign banks or branches offering financial services must have an authorization from the Swedish Financial Supervisory Authority, Finansinpektionen, to conduct operations. As part of the authorization application process, FI reviews the firm’s capital situation, business plan, owners, and management. Parts of the firm’s daily operations may also require authorization from FI. The applicable regulatory code can be found at http://www.fi.se/en/our-registers/search-fffs/2009/20093/ .
There are no reported losses of correspondent banking relationships in the past three years and there are no current correspondent banking relationships that are in jeopardy. Foreigners have the right to open an account in a bank in Sweden provided he/she can identify him/herself and the bank conducts an identity check. The bank cannot require the person to have a Swedish personal identity number or an address in Sweden.
Foreign Exchange and Remittances
Sweden adheres to a floating exchange rate regime and the national currency rate fluctuates.
Sweden does not impose any restrictions on remittances of profits, proceeds from the liquidation of an investment, or royalty and license fee payments. A subsidiary or branch may transfer fees to a parent company outside of Sweden for management services, research expenditures, etc. Funds associated with any form of investment can be freely converted into any world currency. In general, yields on invested funds, such as dividends and interest receipts, may be freely transferred. A foreign-owned firm may also raise foreign currency loans both from its parent corporation and credit institutions abroad. There are no recent changes or plans to change investment remittance policies. There are no time limitations on remittances.
Sovereign Wealth Funds
There is no sovereign wealth fund in Sweden.
7. State-Owned Enterprises
The Swedish state is Sweden’s largest corporate owner and employer. Forty-six companies are entirely or partially state-owned, of which two are listed on the Stockholm stock exchange, and have government representatives on their boards. Approximately 135,000 people are employed by these companies, including associated companies. Sectors, which feature State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs), include energy/power generation, forestry, mining, finance, telecom, postal services, gambling, and retail liquor sales. These companies operate under the same laws as private companies, although the government appoints board members, reflecting government ownership. Like private companies, SOEs have appointed boards of directors, and the government is constitutionally prevented from direct involvement in the company’s operations. Like private companies, SOE’s publish their annual reports, which are subject to independent audit. Private enterprises compete with public enterprises under the same terms and conditions with respect to access to markets, credit, and other business operations. Moreover, Sweden is party to the General Procurement Agreement (GPA) within the framework of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Swedish SOEs adhere to the OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance for SOEs.
Further information regarding the Swedish SOEs can be found here: http://www.regeringen.se/regeringens-politik/bolag-med-statligt-agande/ .
The Swedish center-left Government, voted into office in September 2014 and remained in power after the 2018 elections, has the mandate to divest or liquidate its holdings in Bilprovningen (Swedish Motor-Vehicle Inspection Company), Bostadsgaranti, Lernia, Orio (formerly Saab Automobile Parts), SAS, and Svensk Exportkredit (SEK). Although there are no indications that the current Government will use its mandate, it nonetheless decided in 2016 to let Vattenfall divest its German lignite operations to the Czech energy group EPH and their funding partners PPF Investments. The sale was made to adapt Vattenfall’s portfolio and to complete the transition to a carbon neutral operation. If the Government of Sweden decides to divest or liquidate holdings, then a public bidding process is implemented.
12. U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and Other Investment Insurance Programs
The U.S. International Development Finance Corporation, DFC, does not operate in Sweden.