Free time and associations

Last updated: 11 11 2021

Image Boken om Sverige
This material is from the book About Sweden.

Free time is what we call the time when you are off work and school. There is a strong tradition in Sweden of being involved in associations and many people are members of one or more of these in their free time. By joining associations you can get to know other people with the same interests and get more contacts in Swedish society. For people who have recently arrived in the country, membership of an association can be a way to meet new friends and quickly learn Swedish. In an association you can also work with important social issues.

There is freedom of association in Sweden. This is an important aspect of the democratic society. Freedom of association means that everyone has the right to start an association. A group of people who have a common interest or a shared background can start an association.

There are many different associations, e.g. sports clubs, cultural and music societies and religious associations. Working as part of an association is often voluntary and there is no wage.

Starting an association

The first thing to do when setting up an association is to appoint or elect a board. The board members then write a proposal for rules that will apply to the association. These rules are called the charter. Associations are often registered with the Swedish Tax Agency and have an organisation registration number. Associations also usually have a bank account or a PlusGiro number.

Contact with different associations

If you want to join an association, start an association or apply for money for your association, you can contact your municipality. The may be a recreation department, for example, in the municipality that helps associations.

Immigrant associations

An immigrant association is an association working to help immigrants from the same part of the world find each other in the new country. Immigrant associations can be useful in helping recent immigrants to understand Swedish society.

Cultural associations

A cultural association can be an association the members of which are interested in a certain type of dance, theatre or music. This can also be an association that gathers together people with the same ethnic or cultural background.


Charities attempt to develop and change society.

Charities are also sometimes called voluntary organisations or non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Many of the charities in Sweden work in many places in the country. Some can also be found in other countries.

Here are some of the charities in Sweden:

The Red Cross is an international organisation that can be found throughout the entire world, sometimes it is called the Red Crescent. The Red Cross can help you to look for a relative if you have lost contact with them as a result of war, conflict or a catastrophe.

The Red Cross also has activities in various municipalities that are adapted to the local circumstances. These can involve help with homework, as well as activities for those who have recently arrived in Sweden. The Swedish Red Cross also has treatment centres for victims of war and torture in several municipalities.

Save the Children is an international organisation that works for children's rights in Sweden and other countries.

KFUM is part of the international organisation YWCA/YMCA. It often has activities for young people who have recently arrived in Sweden. Young people get together with a leader and go to the cinema, try out a sport or go to the theatre, for example.

IM is an international organisation that also works in Sweden. IM's work in Sweden involves integration and participation in society.

Photo: Johnér

Political associations

If you are interested in politics, you can join a political party or other political organisation. There are groups for both adults and young people in the majority of political parties.

Other associations

There are many other associations that may be of interest to you. These include nature and animal associations, environmental associations and religious associations. There are also pensioners' associations that work to further the interests of older people.

Popular movements – a tradition in Sweden

A popular movement is a large group of people working together for something, for example temperance or the environment. There have been popular movements in Sweden for a very long time. A popular movement is often an organisation that can be found in various places throughout the country. Popular movements were very important in the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. This is when many popular movements were fighting for human rights and for a more democratic society.

The temperance movement, the Free Church movement and the labour movement were major popular movements. The temperance movement was the first. This worked to get people to drink less alcohol. The Free Church movement is a Christian popular movement. Previously this fought for the such causes as everyone's right to vote. Many popular movements worked so that everyone could study and get an education. Many popular movements now work with political issues. There are also popular movements that now function as public authorities, for example unemployment insurance funds. The tradition of working together to bring about change lives on in Swedish society. This is also how many associations function today.

Adult education

Adult education means that adults obtain a general education. All education in educational associations and folk high schools is called adult education. Adult education in Sweden began to emerge over 100 years ago and remains a strong movement. Thanks to adult education, citizens learn things that allow them to be active participants in the work to ensure there is a democratic society.

Educational associations

An educational association is an organisation that offers study programmes for adults. There are several educational associations that arrange study circles, cultural programmes and other courses and study programmes for adults. A study circle is a group the members of which study something together. This might be, for example, art, music, language or culture. ABF, Medborgarskolan, Folkuniversitetet and SV are some educational associations. Every year, educational associations in Sweden have about 300,000 study circles. They have over two million participants.

Refugee guides and similar services

Many municipalities and voluntary organisations are involved in helping recently arrived refugees and immigrants get into contact with Swedish people. The idea is for immigrants and Swedish people to meet in their free time in order to get to know one another and exchange experiences. This can be through activities such as bowling, watching sports events, or visiting museums and other interesting places. Contact your municipality to find out what is available.

Photo: Johnér

Free time for children and young people

Recreation centres

Municipalities usually have recreation centres for young people between the ages of 12 and 16. There may also be recreation centres for young people older than 16. At recreation centres, young people watch films together or meet friends, for example. Sometimes the recreation centre arranges courses for young people to learn how to dance, act or photograph. Contact your municipality to find out what is available, or check the municipality's website.

Initiatives for young people

Besides recreation centres, many municipalities have specific initiatives for young people. These may be youth centres or venues where young people can meet and have an opportunity to start up various projects or groups. Contact your municipality to find out what is available, or check the municipality's website.

Photo: Johnér

Sports clubs

Sports clubs are important for many children and young people in Sweden. In a sports club they can play different sports such as football, riding or swimming. Research shows that young people who do sports are generally healthier than those who do not do any sport.