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Is life in Sweden impossible without a personal number?

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Is life in Sweden impossible without a personal number?
If you're an EU citizen you have the right to study Swedish for Immigrants without a Personal ID number. Photo: Pontus Lundahl/TT
07:49 CET+01:00
Most people in Sweden have one, but for those who don't, just how difficult is life in the country without a personal identity number (personnummer)?

Many internationals will have to go through that experience when they first arrive in the country. To test some of the areas where not having a personal number could be an issue, The Local made hours of calls in which we pretended to be a newcomer to Sweden without one, and asked to sign up for services.

Read our full investigation here. From big cities like Stockholm and Gothenburg, to smaller ones like Karlstad and Östersund, we quizzed everyone from banks to gyms, broadband providers to mobile telephone companies.

In some cases the results were a positive surprise. While there is a perception among internationals that opening a bank account for example is difficult without a personal number, we found providers to be willing:

"Visit a branch and bring your passport, it should be possible."

Some did point out however that the process may be longer for citizens of non-EU countries while compliance checks are carried out. In general, one of the key points to emerge from our test was that EU citizenship proved to be an asset when trying to get around problems with not having a personal number. Non-EU citizens will likely have a harder time.

The Local also made requests to sign up for Swedish For Immigrants (SFI) classes, a vital step in getting established in Sweden, and one of the main areas where it is often thought a personal number is required, despite EU citizens having the right to access the courses regardless.

Encouragingly, all of the SFI schools we contacted across a range of different cities were aware that EU citizens in Sweden can still study the courses without a personal number. Knowledge of the rules varies from place to place however, and coincidentally, one reader in northern Sweden got in touch this week to say they had been rejected the chance to study due to their personal number status, despite being an EU citizen.

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That's something the SOLVIT centre at Sweden's National Board of Trade is well aware of. As the Swedish government agency tasked with helping individuals and business to deal with problems related to EU freedom of movement, they are regularly sent complaints about the issue.

“We work with solving these kind of problems in the European Single Market, and we've been hearing about these matters in the last five to six years," Lena Nordquist, who handles questions over barriers to free movement at the agency, told The Local.

"In our view if you have some of these problems then you don't have real free movement for persons, you quite simply can't exercise all of your right to free movement and we want that to be tackled."

The Swedish government and European Commission are also aware of the problems, she noted, while Sweden's tax agency Skatteverket has been asked to revise its routines in the area.

Something that stood out from The Local's investigation was that across all of the areas we probed, answers tended to vary from one company or individual to another, emphasizing the importance of testing the range of options available, and also that it's worth asking for a second opinion if given a negative answer.

In some areas however there was simply no way around the reality that not having a personal number would be a problem: signing up for subscription services like mobile telephones for example was virtually impossible.

We were able to investigate this issue thanks to our new membership scheme. Join us! Become a Member of The Local for more in-depth content and chances to network. 

Click here to read the full results of The Local's study into life without a personal number in Sweden.

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