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Things you can (and cannot) do without a Swedish personal number

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Things you can (and cannot) do without a Swedish personal number
It's still possible to open a bank account in Sweden without a personal number? Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT
07:49 CET+01:00
If there's such a thing as a key to Sweden, it may just be the personal number (personnummer). Used for everything from joining loyalty schemes to bank accounts, the common wisdom is that it's virtually impossible to get by in the Scandinavian country without the sacred 10-digit code.

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But is that really true? Would a newcomer to the country without one be left stranded?

The Local put the theory to the test in six different areas. We made hours of calls in which we pretended to be a newcomer to Sweden without a personal number, and asked to sign up for services. Here's what we found:

Opening a bank account

Opening a bank account is never a fun task but it's important, and not having a personal number can limit your options.

To find out how easy or difficult it would be to get set up without one, we first tried calling a branch of Nordea in Gothenburg. Greeted by an automated service in Swedish, we were offered to "press five for English", which sounded great until it then asked us to enter our personal number to progress any further.

Assuming that most people without a personal number are new to the country and therefore don't speak Swedish, that's a frustrating roadblock before the process of trying to open an account even really begins.

Next, we tried a branch of Danske Bank in Västerås, a smaller city where we thought things may be more difficult without a personal number. That turned out not to be the case.

"There are two options to become a customer. One is when you have a personal number and a Swedish ID, where you create an electronic ID and fill details in on the website," a helpful staff member explained.

"The other is if you don't have that, but still have an address to send documents to. You can still apply on the website, but it's a more complicated form for receiving and sending documents."

The bank stressed that it's important to have a valid form of ID like a passport, and admitted that there will be a few more forms detailing tax history and other information to be filled in, but it's still possible to open an account.

Perhaps unsurprisingly given it's where most internationals end up, the bank in capital city Stockholm had a straightforward answer.

"You have to visit a branch and bring your passport, and it should be possible for you to open an account," a Swedbank staff member said, adding that it should also be possible to get a card sent out soon after.

Finally, we tried a branch of SEB in Umeå, northern Sweden. With a population of just over 83,000 it's pretty small, but with one of Sweden's best-established universities based there, it sees a good share of international students passing through. Would that affect how easy it is to get set up with a bank?

The good news is it's possible to open an account there without a personal number, but the staff member did point out that if you're ever planning to get one in the future, then a new account has to be opened from scratch.

"You'd have to open an account twice, change the number, change the card and change everything over once you got the personal number. So it's much easier if you have a Swedish personal number already and have everything fixed directly," he explained.

"Without a number it could take a month to set up. Depending on where you're from, we may have to send your details to our compliance people to check it up. If you have a Swedish personal number it's much easier, and we prefer if you have that."

In summary, opening a bank account is still possible in Sweden without the fabled personal number, but it may come at the cost of convenience compared to how the process would go with one.

READ ALSO: Five top tips if you don't have a Swedish personal number


Swedish ATMs. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Signing up for a gym

Swedes like to keep fit, and if you want to do that without freezing during the winter, signing up for a gym is probably a good idea. Membership schemes can be tricky if you don't have a personal number (more on that later), but would that be the case when it comes to accessing a treadmill or two?

First, Friskis och Svettis in Karlstad, a small city on lake Vänern. No personal number? No problem:

"The first time you come to the gym you can try it for free and see if you like it. Then, if you want to sign up, just bring your passport or ID."

Next, a branch of Fitness 24/7 in central Gothenburg. There, it's also possible to sign up without a personal number, but there's a catch.

"You can do it, but you can only choose between paying for six months or one year. You can't pay monthly. It's a bit more expensive then," an employee explained.

While you can still sign up, without a personal number you have to pay for either six months or a year in advance, and aren't allowed to have a monthly direct debit.

The situation was similar at an Östersund branch of Gym 24 we spoke to:

"It depends on if you want to pay per month, for six months or a year. For half a year or a year it's no problem. Just bring ID and a card to pay the fee."

People without a personal number will still be able to keep fit in Sweden then, but it may cost more up front.

READERS: Share YOUR experience of the Swedish personal number


Signing up for a gym should be possible, but it may cost more. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

Obtaining a mobile telephone

Getting a Swedish mobile phone is likely to be on your list of essentials after moving to the country, and our efforts showed that can be a challenge without a personal number.

First, we tried Telenor in Sundsvall, and they said there's only one option for those in that category.

"You can't have a contract or order a phone from us that way if you don't have a personal number. You can buy a phone in store – but you can't pay for it through a subscription," the staff member explained.

So paying for your device monthly isn't an option, nor is paying for the actual service that way. A handset can nonetheless be bought by paying for it all up front, but what about connecting to the network in the first place?

The only option for that is to use a pre-paid SIM card (where you add the amount of credit you want to use for calls in advance), and even then, there's a catch:

"You can get the pre-paid card for free in store, but you can't order it from the website because we need your personal number to do that from there."

With Telia, it's the same. "If you don't have a personal number you can get a pre-paid card. You can't get a contract in your name, but pre-paid is fine, and you can get it in store."

One solution that may work for some however came from an inventive member of staff at Tele2 in Malmö:

"If you have a relative who is from Sweden who has a personal number, they can stand on the subscription."

"What you could do is get the subscription in your wife's name for example, then when you get a personal number, transfer it to your name. That's one option," he added.

So while it's technically not possible to get a cell phone through a subscription payment model without a personal number, there may be a workaround... if you have a helpful relative.


We couldn't find an operator willing to give a subscription cell phone to someone without a personal number. Photo: Tomas Oneborg/SvD/TT 

Swedish for Immigrants (SFI)

Signing up for state-funded Swedish for Immigrants (SFI) classes tends to be one of the first things internationals want to do when they move. Anyone who has the right to reside in Sweden (for example EU citizens) is entitled to sign up with or without a personal number, according to the law. However, even many official SFI websites state a personal number is always required, so we decided to put it to the test.

We first contacted the department responsible for SFI at the City of Stockholm. They told us that to study the language courses in the capital you must have a Swedish personal number "unless you come from a country that is a member of the EU".

If you're from the EU and don't have a personal number, you can still study SFI there, provided you meet the same criteria that apply to those who do have one of the numbers (including being registered as living in Stockholm municipality, and not already having a level of Swedish better than the standard taught in the classes).

That's international hub Stockholm, but would schools in smaller Swedish towns also be aware that EU citizens without a personal number are supposed to be able to study SFI? A member of staff at a school in eastern city Gävle noted that "usually you do need a Swedish personal number, but it is also possible as well if you are a citizen from an EU country".

Just to be safe, we also asked a Komvux adult education school at the other end of the country in southern city Malmö, and got the same answer:

"You have the right to study SFI if you have a personal number and are living in Malmö municipality. EU citizens with the right of residence also have the right to study SFI. So yes, if you're an EU citizen you can apply for SFI."

Finally, we also checked the situation in Skellefteå, northern Sweden, where a reader got in touch to say he had been informed by the head of a school there that it was not possible to register for SFI despite him being an EU citizen and even having a temporary personal number.

The department responsible for SFI in Skellefteå municipality assured us however that is not the case, saying that as an EU citizen, we could start in a matter of weeks if the correct form was sent to them:

"Yes, you can study SFI in Skellefteå (as an EU citizen) without a personal number. Fill in the application and send it back to us, then you can start in about three weeks."

A personal number isn't necessary to sign up for an SFI course and start learning Swedish then, provided you're an EU citizen. But it's always worth double-checking.

Have you ever been denied SFI because you didn't have a personal number? Let us know.


A Swedish For Immigrants class. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Joining store loyalty schemes

A common place to be asked for a personal number in Swedish daily life is while paying at a store – if you happen to be signed up to their loyalty scheme and want to earn points, that's how they pull up your membership info.

And it turns out such schemes were among the most difficult to access without a personal number. Apoteksgruppen pharmacies won't allow you to become a member without one, for example.

"It's all registered through your personal number. That's why you give it at the checkout, it's all connected to that," a customer services representative explained on the phone.

With ICA, one of Sweden's biggest supermarket chains, it's the same story:

"You have to have a personal number. You can sign up for the loyalty schemes in Denmark, Norway or Finland without one though."

An exception was department store Åhléns. While the form to sign up and become a member on their website asks for a personal number, we were told it's still possible without one:

"You don't necessarily have to have one. But if you want to create a membership without one you have to e-mail us at customer services so we can set it up for you."


Chalking up loyalty points could be difficult without a personal number. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Setting up broadband

If you're reading this, you have access to the internet, but perhaps not from a broadband connection in your apartment. And getting connected to the internet through that method could be difficult in Sweden without a personal number.

First, we asked Bredbandsbolaget if they'd do it:

"No, sorry. We can only let you sign up for a contract if you have a Swedish personal number. If you don't we can't create one."

Then, we tried Com Hem:

"No. You have to have a personal number first. There's no alternative."

Finally, we asked Halebop, who again said no, but at least had one semi-solution.

"You have to have a Swedish personal number for a subscription from Halebop – unfortunately there's no alternative in that case," a staff member explained.

"But an option is a prepaid card, which you can buy in store. It's a card you charge in advanced, that can be used in a mobile router to access a data connection".


Personal numbers were required for the wired broadband subscriptions we asked about. Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT

Thank you for reading. Don't forget to check out our five top tips if you don't have a personal number. We were able to invest resources into investigating this issue because of our new membership scheme. If you found the article useful, please tell your friends to sign up.

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