‘Moving wasn’t a choice, Sweden called to me’

Caught in an identity limbo and surrounded by often apathetic "love refugees", The Local's resident Swedophile Solveig Rundquist wonders if she's the only expat who moved to Sweden for the culture alone.

Love refugees. International couples. Labour migrants. PhD students.

Oh, and me.

Born and raised in a conservative, uber-religious small American town, I replanted my south-western roots in cold Swedish soil when I was 20 years old.

I left my parents, my sisters, my hometown, my friends, and an obvious culture drought.

It was never a choice. Sweden called to me.

But when I told people in the US that I was moving to Sweden, they always seemed a bit perplexed. “Oh, really? Why is that?”

I would gush about the language, the culture, the food, the jovial songs, the way the sunlight hits the water in the Stockholm archipelago, mention my heritage… and then I would add that I was dating a Swede.

Only then did understanding dawn in their faces. “Ah, I see,” they would respond knowingly.

No. No, you don't see.

What I saw, time after time, were social stereotypes, blind patriotism, dusty norms, and gender roles. I saw that supposed epiphany in people's faces so many times, it's a wonder there is still hair on my head. I wanted to rip out every strand in frustration.

Why did everyone insist that my feelings for a man had to outweigh my feelings for a foreign country?

Surely no one would leave their homeland of their own free will, they seemed to say. “You're crazy, but it's fine, because you're in love.”

Here in Sweden, I found my conversations with other expats were not much different. I threw myself eagerly into Swedish culture, but of course getting to know the often-reserved inhabitants was a bit of a challenge. So I associated with plenty of other foreigners and fellow Americans as well – but I frequently found that I couldn't relate to them.

Everyone I met who appeared to be in my situation didn't share my feelings at all. The vast majority had moved for love, and a handful had moved for job opportunities. And they quite openly expressed their apathy for their new country.

“Sweden is where I live, but it will never be home.”

Words that were said on a stage at an American club event which were echoed and applauded with unanimous empathy from the audience.

Part of me still can't even fathom it. How can you live in such an incredible society and not appreciate it? How can you not long to embrace it?

A musical language where it sounds like people are singing all the time – and where they frequently are actually singing, about summer and sunshine.

A subtle, humble pride of the culture and the nation's accomplishments, while maintaining a curiosity and openness to the world and new ideas.

A collective altruism where people take for granted that the greater good is indeed just that – beneficial for everyone.

The fact is that, even though they may not wear it on their thermal long sleeves, Swedes are filled with joie de vivre – which during the summer months generally means plenty of strawberries and cream.

They know how to live, and they love it.

I have learned, of course, that Sweden is not a perfect country. Like any other nation, it has its demons. Globalism has presented certain challenges, and racism still rears its gruesome head from time to time, momentarily tarnishing the glow. Government policies stumble, pick themselves up, brush off the dust, and try again.

And of course the winters are tough – I needed an alarm clock with a sun-simulator to get me through the first one. But the summers are worth it. Sweden, in general, is worth it.

I guess you could say that I did move for love. I had two relationships, one with a Swede and one with Sweden. The first one ended.

My love for Sweden never did.

Follow Solveig on Twitter.

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How will Sweden’s ban on unregistered pre-paid phone sims affect foreigners?

From this month, people in Sweden will no longer be able to activate a pre-paid mobile phone sim without registering their identities. How will this affect foreigners living in the country?

How will Sweden's ban on unregistered pre-paid phone sims affect foreigners?

What’s changing? 

From August 1st, people in Sweden will no longer be able to activate a pre-paid sim without proving their identities and registering the number with their name. Existing pre-paid sims will continue to work until February 23rd.  

Why is this change being brought in? 

Sweden’s police argue that banning unregistered pre-paid sim cards will make it easier to fight organised crime, as criminals will find it more difficult to use unregistered sims for so-called ‘burner’ phones that they use for a short period and then discard, making them harder for police to tap and trace. 

“Unregistered pre-paid sims for mobile telephones are often used by criminals to make the police’s work more difficult,” Sweden’s justice minister, Morgan Johansson, said when the law was proposed in February. “Now we are bringing an end to that and as a result giving police better tools to fight crime.” 

Shortly before the law came into force, Fredrik Joelsson, an officer with the Swedish police’s anti-fraud section, told state broadcaster SVT that the change would “make it easier for the police and for other crime-fighting agencies”.  

What will people need to provide to register a new pre-paid sim? 

People who have a personal number and access to Sweden’s BankID online identity service can register online. (Here are links to registration for Comviq, Halebop, and Hallon)

To register a pre-paid sim online, Halebop requires you to provide your personal number, the mobile number of the pre-paid sim, and the sim card number. Comviq has a simple service on its website, which means you can receive an sms code rather than fill in the sim card number. 

Can I register without BankID? 

Yes. If you don’t have a personal number or BankID, you may still be able register your pre-paid card in person, either at a mobile phone provider’s shop, or at a retailer such as Pressbyrån or 7-Eleven. 

According to Comviq, all you need is to take your phone and valid Swedish or foreign ID to a retailer selling Comviq cards, such as Pressbyrån, 7-Eleven, or even your local  independent corner shop. They will then be able to register you.  

To register a Halebop sim, you need to visit a Telia mobile phone shop, but, according to their website, they require that those applying fulfil one or more of the following criteria: 

  • Holding a social security number (for example a coordination number (samordningsnummer) or personal number (personnummer)
  • Holding a residence permit 
  • Holding a certificate of study abroad in Sweden 
  • Holding a certificate for work in Sweden
  • Owning a property in Sweden 

Can I register without a Swedish address, Swedish documentation, or a Swedish identity number of any kind? 

Yes, so long as you can prove your identity, it should be possible to use foreign documents. 

Halebop says it will also register people at Telia stores who are: 

  • Tourists with a valid passport
  • Refugees with a valid passport

Comviq says that all its retailers will require is a valid foreign ID. 

What happens if I already have a pre-paid sim and don’t bother to register it? 

According to Comviq’s website, people with older pre-paid sims need to register by February 1st, 2023 “in order to avoid the risk that their number is deleted”. This suggests that you might be able to continue to use your card after February 1st, but that it could be cancelled at any point after that.  

Will the new rules bar new arrivals in Sweden from getting a pre-paid sim? 

It doesn’t look like they will.

According to Sally Stenberg, head of legal affairs with the The Swedish Post and Telecom Authority (PTS), the new law itself is unclear about what sort of identity documents will be sufficient. In the preparatory work leading up to the law, however, it is quite clear, she says, that the government does not want to block anyone, including foreign tourists, from being able to get a pre-paid sim. 

“The government has been pretty explicit that this isn’t intended to shut anyone out from having a pre-paid sim card,” she said. “The law says that if you don’t have a personal number you can use another identity number, and in the preparatory documents, they say that can be a passport number or your date of birth.” 

There was even a suggestion in some preparatory work that if someone has no documents at all, foreign or Swedish, they may be able to get a pre-paid sim if they can get a relative or close friend can vouch for them and provider their own documents. 

Can people register sim cards for their children? 

Yes. Pre-paid sim cards used by children should be registered using the identity documents one of their parents or another adult responsible for looking after them. 

Is there a limit to how many sims a person can have?

No. Under the law, there is no limit to the number of pre-paid sims a person can register, but if a sim is used by someone who isn’t the person it is registered to or a member of their family on more than a few occasions, the mobile phone operator is supposed to shut it down.  According to Stenberg, the law gives no suggestion on how mobile phone operators should determine this. 

What happens to the information people provide when registering a sim? 

Unless you ask for your identity to be kept secret, you name will be coupled to the mobile number of the pre-paid sim in Sweden’s online telephone directories, and Your personal number, name, address, photos of your ID documents, and other information collected will be kept by the mobile phone operator (and passed over to them by retailers).

If police require information on the identity of the person behind a certain number, or the numbers used by certain individuals, the mobile phone operators can then pass that information on. 

“Tele2 is, as all other operators in Sweden, legally obliged, under certain circumstances, to disclose stored customer data to government agencies, normally the police authority or the security police authority,” Fredrik Hallstan, press officer for Comviq’s owner Tele2, told The Local. “The data stored in accordance with the new registration provisions will fall under this obligation as well.” 

How did mobile phone operators view the new law? 

They have been critical, with Tele2 in particular complaining that the law is “not proportional”, and “not sufficiently motivated”. 

“When comparing the foreseen upsides with the foreseen downsides of the proposal, Tele2 found – like the government has done in previous analyses of a registration obligation – that such an obligation would not be proportional,” Hallstan said.

What will happen over the next few months? 

Stenberg said that PTS aimed to develop “more detailed rules regarding the identification of users” within a few months, based on how they see the new law working in practice. 

“We have the possibility to monitor the operators and collect information on how they are applying the law, and if consumers have complaints, we will collect them as well and monitor the reactions of consumers,” she said.