Imagine my surprise when I got to Sweden, eager to take those ever-important first steps into integrating.
First off, learning Swedish. I was so excited about Swedish for Immigrants (SFI), and even better, lessons were for free… but guess what? I needed a personnummer to sign up.
I went to Ikea, happily eyeing the discount boards, but staff members told me at the till that the special deals only applied to members. Ok, so how do I become a member? You guessed it, I needed a personnummer.
At my neighbour’s home, the dining table was always piled high with 20- and 30-percent discount coupons for H&M and Kappahl. Where, I asked as a fashionista, were my vouchers? She replied “Oh… it’s because you don’t have a personnummer”.
Taking out books in the library? Nope. Getting a driving licence? Nope. Being any kind of human recognizable to Swedish bureaucracy? Nope.
My mathematics skills were always poor but this ten-digit number seemed to have ground my life to a standstill. My Indian friends who’d lived here for a long time talked about the personnummer like it was magic, the key to every possible necessity.
First off, I had no clue what it was. The internet told me that the Swedish tax agency assigns you a “personnummer” or personal number, made up of your date of birth and four extra numbers. You get it pretty much at birth. Or you apply for one, which I then had to do.
I felt admiration for a system that provides such smooth facilities to all citizens and residents, whether it was health care, schools, banks, universities or insurance. But I also acutely felt that I was on the outside of this system.
So, my endless wait began. Well, it felt endless. Without a job, I even started wondering if I should move back home to India. I felt bored and stuck – I couldn't even go to the library – but six months later, there it was (the delay, in my case, was that the application was tied into my visa extension paperwork).
I then had a series of things to do. So, if you are waiting for your personnummer, here are some tips about what to do right after you receive it.
– First and most importantly, get your Swedish ID Card by registering with Sweden's Tax Agency (Skatteverket)
– If you wish to master the Swedish language (for free!) then register with SFI (Swedish for Immigrants)
– Get insured by applying at the Social Security Agency (Försäkringskassan)
– Avail your employment and unemployment benefits by registering with the National Jobs Agency (Arbetsförmedlingen)
– Open a bank account
– If you are a shopping freak like I am, apply for free membership cards and get all kinds of discounts. And, remember almost all stores in Sweden have membership clubs
– If you are a keen reader, then your access to Biblioteket (the public library) becomes free. You can even take out e-books online
– You can apply for a driving licence, but trust me it is not that easy to get one
– Apply for the first-hand contracts of rental apartments by registering with Bostadskön. But you might be in a queue for ages (literally ages) after this.
– Almost-free health care. You don’t have to worry about the doctor’s fee much after you have your personnummer
I feel that my life in Sweden properly began after I got this number. Where before I stared with envy at the huge piles of discount vouchers on my neighbour’s dining table… we now shop together, coupons at the ready.