Most of the time, travelers in foreign countries rely on public transportation to get around. It's so much easier to simply learn the train or subway schedules and where the stations are than to figure out how to get from here to there while you're driving in a foreign country, especially if you don't know the language. But having your own car provides freedom and is especially helpful if you plan to leave the metropolitan areas and venture out into the countryside, where public transportation like trains is not frequent or doesn't exist at all.
If you are taking a trip to beautiful Scandinavia and want to see the mountains, forests, lakes, and islands of Sweden by car, you are in luck. Swedish roads are well maintained, and the country is said to have some of the best highways and secondary roads in Europe.
You won't have many traffic jams outside of the big cities—though once in awhile you might cross paths with a moose or an elk. If you are thinking about renting a car, learn the rules of the road before you go with these practical tips for drivers in Sweden.
United States citizens traveling in Sweden who want to rent a car have it easy when it comes to driver's license rules: All U.S. driver's licenses are valid in Sweden as long as the driver is at least 18 years old and the license is still valid at home. If you are staying in Sweden for more than a year, you must get a Swedish driver's license.
To drive legally in Sweden, you will need your current driver's license, passport, the car's insurance certificate, and proof of registration. You should have these documents with you at all times when you are driving, plus a warning triangle to put on the road in case of an emergency.
Rules of the Road
Countries in Scandinavia have very similar laws and regulations to those in the U.S., but some differences stand out. The Going Abroad app has information about important laws in each country like traffic lights, seat belt rules, and distracted driving.
- Driving on the right: You drive on the right side in Sweden and can pass slower vehicles on the left as long as you do this in a safe manner.
- Distances: In Sweden, distances are expressed in kilometers; 1 kilometer equals 0.6 miles. Any car you rent in Sweden will have speed and distances expressed in kilometers.
- Speed signs: They are round and yellow with a red outline. The speed limit for city areas is 50 kilometers/per hour (31 miles/per hour). On open country roads, it is 90 kilometers/per hour (55 miles/per hour), and on highways, it is 110 kph (68 miles/per hour).
- Seat belts: The driver and any passengers in the front and back seats must use seat belts at all times when in motion.
- Car seats: Children under three years of age or under four feet, 5 inches (1.25 meters) tall must ride in an appropriately-fitted car seat.
- Headlights: Regardless of whether it is sunny or not, headlights must be on, and other drivers may flash their headlights to let you know you need to put your headlights on. Cars sold in Sweden always have the lights turned on automatically; car renters won't have to be concerned with this.
- Drinking and driving: Sweden is extremely strict when it comes to drunk driving. Police can require a breathalyzer test without reason, and if it's over 0.02 percent, you will get a high fine and/or a jail sentence.
- Cyclists: Maintain consciousness that cyclists and bike lanes are frequent sights in Scandinavia. Cyclists have the right of way when traveling in designated bike lanes.
- Tolls: Drivers typically won't have to pay tolls for roads in Sweden; however Swedish cars and those registered in other countries will have to pay tolls any time of day on the bridges across Sundsvallsfjärden and Motalaviken.
- In case of emergency: You can reach the police, local fire department, and ambulance by calling 112 nationwide in Sweden. Remain at the scene of the accident until you have given the emergency response team all the information they ask for. If your car stalls on a road where the speed limit is over 50 kilometers/hour, you must put out a warning triangle—place the warning triangle 50-100 meters behind the car.
Should I Rent a Car?
Public transportation is usually a better option than the local, expensive taxis in Sweden. Some visitors like to take advantage of the big network of trains, coaches, and buses, but renting a car in Sweden is an easy option if you'd like more door to door service.
Drivers must be at least 20 years old to rent a car and must have had a driver's license for two years. The car rental agency usually allows you to drive can anywhere in Western Europe. They will ask to see your passport and foreign driver's license, at the very least. Insurance varies by the rental car company.
Swedish Road Signs and Helpful Phrases
Road signs use standard international symbols and sometimes include Swedish phrases. It is helpful to familiarize yourself with those phrases before arriving in Sweden.
Some key phrases to make your driving experience smoother include:
- Entrance: Infart
- Exit: Utfart
- Highway exit: Avfart
- Highway entrance: Påfart
- Speed: Fart
- Reduce speed: Sänk farten
- Speed bumps: Farthinder
- Mind the speed limits: Tänk på hastigheten
- Road construction area: Vägarbetsområde
- End of wild animal fence: Viltstängsel upphör
- Unpaved road: Grusväg
- Private road: Enskild väg / Privat väg
- No thoroughfare: Ej genomfart
- Road closed: Vägen avstängd
- Closed: Stängd / Stängt
If you are in Sweden in the winter, you'll need to be ready for freezing cold temperatures as well as snow and ice storms. All cars, both Swedish and from other countries, are required from early December until the end of March to have either studded tires or un-studded winter friction tires. Studded tires may be used during other months if the local police consider the roads to be in winter conditions. Ensure your car has windshield wiper fluid with anti-freeze. You may also want to journey down the road with a reflective vest, starting cables, an ice scraper, a shovel, a torch, a tow-rope, and a bag of sand, which aids the tires in gripping.
Hopefully, this won't be the case, but it would be ideal to be prepared for getting stuck in the snow. You'll want to at least have a blanket and some warm clothes in the car for such situations, plus some high-energy snacks. Learn some important winter driving tips and additional useful items to have with you on those snowy days.
Animals on the Roads
Animals of diverse sizes may be seen on Swedish roads at any time and even in the more urban areas, as fences don't always work. Badgers and foxes are often hit by cars and will do little damage to vehicles. But if you hit a wild boar, deer, or a moose at high speed—a moose weighs around 700 kilograms, which translates to about 1,543 pounds—there may be a major impact to everyone in the car and the car itself. Sometimes the chance of people in the car surviving the wreck is not high.
To avoid this risk, be extra attentive at sunrise and sunset, and at bridges across streams and lakes where animals look for water to drink. Also pay more attention than usual during springtime (when moose give birth), moose hunting season in autumn, and where forests meet the road in Sweden. If you hit an animal accidentally, while that in itself is not a crime, according to the law you must report it by calling the Emergency Number 112 and claiming viltolycka (wild animal accident).