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BANKING

Essential guide: How to set up your first bank account in Sweden

If you're expecting to be in Sweden long-term, you're going to want to set up a bank account, but as in many countries, this can be problematic if you've only just arrived. Here are the key things you need to know.

Essential guide: How to set up your first bank account in Sweden
Make sure you know your rights before you open a bank account in Sweden. File photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT
This article was written for Members of The Local. Read more Membership Exclusives here.

Choosing a bank

There are four major banks in Sweden: Handelsbanken, Nordea, SEB, and Swedbank, as well as many smaller banks, including Bank Norwegian, Ica Bank, Forex Bank and many others.

It's up to you which one you choose, so it's worth looking into the account fees offered by the different banks (for example, some offer different packages for students or young people) as well as the services offered (branch availability in your area, financial planning advice, credit cards, business accounts, and so on). Factors which might be particularly important to international customers are whether the bank includes travel insurance, and withdrawal fees abroad.

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Visiting a branch

Going into a branch of your chosen bank in person is usually the simplest way to get an account set up. Even in cities, Swedish banks often have limited opening hours, between 10am and 3pm or 4pm, and will be busier during lunchtime, so if possible it's usually best to go at a different time.

Check the bank's website to find out which documents you need to take with you, and it's not a bad idea to take all the relevant documents you have, just in case.

At a minimum, that includes proof of your identity (a personbevis from the Swedish Tax Agency, or a passport from your country of origin), proof of employment (arbetsgivarintyg) or proof of studies (such as an admissions letter), proof of residence (if you're an EU citizen, your national passport counts, but non-EU citizens will need a residence permit) and proof of your address in Sweden (such as a rental contract — it's OK if this is only temporary). 

At the bank, you will be asked why you need an account (to pay rent, pay bills, receive your salary etc). The bank does have the right to deny you an account, but must have a valid reason. This could be if they cannot confirm your identity, or if they believe you have inadequate reasons for opening a Swedish bank account.

Most banks will have staff who are fluent in English, but if you cannot communicate comfortably in either Swedish or English, you could check if your municipality can help you find an interpreter.

Do I need a personnummer?

This is a trickier question to answer than you might think. The ten-digit identity code is crucial to participation in many parts of Swedish society, but it's only available to some categories of expat (for example, job-seekers can usually get temporary residency but no personnummer) and even if you're eligible, it can take several weeks before you're issued with it.

It is possible to get a bank account without a personnummer, but you still need to prove you have right of residence in Sweden and that you are employed or a student. EU citizens have right of residence automatically and Swedish banks are legally obliged to offer EU residents a basic payment account, but non-EU citizens will need to show their residence permit, coordination number or LMA card (for asylum seekers).


Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Many internationals report having problems opening a bank account without a personnummer, so you might need to contact the bank's head office directly before going into a branch to ensure you get the correct information. Under Swedish law (lag (1995:1571) om insättningsgaranti 11§b), most Swedish banks are obligated to let you open a bank account unless the reasons outlined above apply. If you encounter problems, it could be worth asking to speak to a senior member of staff and politely outline your rights.

Without a personnummer, you can still only get a limited service at most banks. This might mean you won't get access to online banking, for example, so you may need to go into bank branches to carry out money transfers. If that's the case, remember to bring your passport each time, and once you get a personnummer and Swedish ID card, return to the branch to upgrade your account.

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What fees should I expect?

You should check with the individual bank which fees you'll be subject to as a customer, either by looking online or by asking in branch for someone to assist you.

Most Swedish banks don't charge an ATM withdrawal fee within Sweden, but it is common to be charged either a monthly or annual fee for access to online banking, while rates and fees for international money transfers and cash withdrawals overseas vary.


Having online banking and instant payment apps is very useful at Sweden's flea markets. Photo: Faramarz Gosheh/imagebank.sweden.se

BankID

Once you have a personnummer, this service is a huge advantage in Sweden.

BankID is an online identification system that allows you to log in securely to banking and other services using your phone. This means you can check your banking app, use payment transfer app Swish (more on that later), and confirm your identity with your doctor, library, ticketing companies, or in many other situations allowing you to 'sign' documents online.

The easiest way to get BankID is to go into your local bank branch once your account is linked to your personnummer, and ask for help with setting up the mobile app.

Swish

Swish is well worth having if you're in Sweden long-term. It's an app similar to Venmo in the US which allows you to instantly transfer money to someone using their phone number or a QR code alone. The advantages over bank transfers are that it's quicker (you just scan their QR code or type in their phone number) and it's simpler when dealing with small amounts in an increasingly cash-free country.

You'll use it when splitting bills with friends, at flea markets (loppis) and food trucks, and it's an alternative method of payment in many shops.

In order to have Swish, you'll need to have set up online banking and BankID (meaning you'll need a personnummer), and then download the Swish app and link it to your account. Swish offers step-by-step instructions in English on its website.

Member comments

  1. Even after you got the personnummer this time banks start to ask “id card”, they say without an id card (the one that you obtain from Skatteverket, not your passport) it will be a limited account and it will take up to 3 weeks to open your bank account (This is for non-EU, I don’t know if that applies for EU citizens) They say that it takes that long because they have to verify your passport with authorities. I’ve been told that by Handelsbanken and SEB, didn’t try the others.

    And these days the earliest booking date for ID card application (Malmo) is around ~2 weeks. Of course, it takes another 2 weeks until you get the Id card.

    So in total, (3-6 weeks for Personnumer) + (2 weeks until id card application) + (2 weeks until receiving id card) = 7 – 10 weeks until you can open a proper bank account after you arrive to Sweden 🙂

    Maybe you can shorten that time by applying without a personnumer and book a ID-card application time before you receive your personnumer (Just checked now and the earliest possible time is 20 days later)

    But I didn’t know all of these before I’ve arrived. I haven’t tried opening a bank account without a personnummer either (I thought it wouldn’t be possible if you think that they don’t allow you to register a gym without it)

  2. Had the same issue a bank-bank. As a EU citizen with the long term job contract and personnumber I thought opening bank account should be straightforward. It turns out all banks require ID card which makes it much more complicated. It had been almost 2 months since my arrival before I will get my first debit card. (thankfully I had enough savings from my bank in previous country otherwise I dont know how I would survive)

    Was really annoyed that my HR didn’t informed me about it and said I only need personnumber (it might be recent change).

    Also consider that you might need at least a week to receive your debit card, and make sure your name is on the door as delivery wont be completed otherwise and you will need to apply for the new card and wait another week (happened to me).

    I was kinda disappointed that all the bank stuff took so much time, given that in Sweden cash is becoming useless so you cant depend on your euros. Why don’t they have a easier option for bank account for new arrivals even with small transaction limits?

    In general I would say I am quite disappointed with the administration here, both the government one and the one in the banks and corporate HR. My stereotypes about hi-tech, transparent and efficient Nordic society are kinda ruined.

  3. As a retired person living part time in Sweden (3 month there 3 months away) it is impossible to get a personnummer or a bank account or to use Swish. the only way around it for me was to use Transferwise and get a debit card from them that way at least i have a pin for the card and dont have to show ID every time I use my credit card from my non EU country. If anyone knows a better way for retirees let me know!

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For members

PROPERTY

Buyer’s market: a step-by-step guide to bidding on an apartment in Sweden

It's now a buyer's market for property in Sweden, with one fifth of sales taking place below the offer price in the first two weeks of June. In Sweden the apartment-buying process often moves fast and has fewer additional fees than in many countries. We've outlined the steps you need to take and the pitfalls to look out for in this guide for potential buyers.

Buyer's market: a step-by-step guide to bidding on an apartment in Sweden
How to get your dream Swedish apartment in six steps. Photo: Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Buying a property abroad can be daunting, but in Sweden the apartment-buying process often moves fast and has fewer additional fees than in many countries, meaning it can be an appealing option compared to the precarious rental market. Here are some things to know before you step in and buy. 

1. Decide if buying is right for you and set your budget

Historically, buying property has been a good investment in Sweden but with interest rates on the rise and property prices falling in recent months, this may not be the case over the next few years. 

Whether or not you should buy depends on a range of factors including how long you expect to stay in Sweden, whether or not you have access to a stable first-hand rental contract, your budget, and of course your personal preference.

New arrivals may find it harder to buy; although there are no rules stopping non-residents from buying, it can be hard to get a mortgage without a history of income in Sweden. We’ve outlined the pros and cons in detail in the following article:

If you decide buying is the route for you, you’ll want to begin researching properties available in your preferred area to decide on your budget and which features are must-haves. 

2. Get a loan promise

Once you know how much the properties you are interested in cost and how much you think you can afford, it’s time to talk to the bank. 

A loan promise (lånelöfte) isn’t a necessity when you attend viewings, but because the market tends to move fast it is generally a good idea to speak to your bank before you start the process. Make sure to shop around and speak to different banks, as some may offer better deals, although you don’t have to take out a mortgage with the one that gives you a loan promise.

When you buy a house in Sweden, you’ll usually need to pay a minimum of 15 percent of the total price as a deposit (kontantinsats), so the remaining amount will be covered by the mortgage. You’ll pay back a certain amount each month over a fixed length of time, often 25 or 50 years. If your deposit is less than 15 percent, then your mortgage will be split into two different loans, including one that covers the cost up to 15 percent of the total price which will typically have a higher interest rate and a shorter term. 

Find out more about how the system works and how to choose your mortgage wisely in this article:

3. Go to viewings

Now the fun part begins as you can start your search in earnest. Most apartments in Sweden are advertised on property site Hemnet, but you can also speak directly to estate agents. Researching as early as possible will help you get a feel for typical prices per square metre, and what type of place and location you can afford.

On Hemnet you can refine your search to show properties which have been on the market a long time, which may help identify sellers who can be persuaded to sell below the list price.  

Once you have found a few places that pique your interest, it’s time to start going to viewings. Usually these take place on Sunday afternoons and Monday or Tuesday evenings, with two initial viewings per apartment, but this may vary. Viewings are often just 30 minutes long and as a buyer, you cannot later claim compensation for any flaws in the property that you could reasonably be expected to have identified at the viewing, so use the time wisely. You should be on the lookout for things like damp, mould or pests, but also whether the layout suits your lifestyle and whether any renovations are needed. The more viewings you go to, the more you will get a feel for exactly what you want from your Swedish home.

A tip: it’s sometimes possible to skip the bidding process (see step 7) if you can arrange a pre-viewing and put in the right offer before anyone else is given a chance to see the apartment. You can do this either by contacting estate agents directly and sharing your requirements (many agents will advertise apartments before they go on the market described as kommande försäljningar or “upcoming sales”), or by acting fast and asking for an early showing as soon as an apartment you like is published on Hemnet (usually Fridays).

People viewing an apartment in Sweden. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

4. Analyse the association’s finances

Doing your homework on the housing association (bostadsrättsföreningen) and its finances and making sure they are in good shape is at least as important as a careful viewing of the actual apartment, possibly even more so. You can find most of the information you need in its annual reports (årsredovisningar), which will usually be available online as well as in paper copies at the viewings.

Key things to look for include the level of debts the association has; any planned renovations and how much money has been set aside to pay for them; income sources; and how vulnerable the association would be to future changes in the interest rate. These figures can seem intimidating, especially in a second language, but we have explained how to make these calculations in the article below:

5. Start bidding

When you know you want to bid on an apartment, let the estate agent know, and they will tell you when you can put in an offer. 

You might get lucky and be the only bidder, but in the larger cities it’s more common that there will be a bidding war, carried out over text. Once the first bid is made, everyone who’s expressed interest is notified of each following bid via a group text message, and they can raise the price by responding to the text with their own offer.

Bids aren’t legally binding, so you have a small window of time to change your mind or look into anything that’s worrying you without any liability, but once you’ve won a bidding war, it will usually only be a day or two before you need to sign contracts.

In Sweden, bidding is usually done by text message. Photo: Tomas Oneborg/SvD/TT

6. Write the contract

Once all bidders but one have dropped out, the winner is invited to sign contracts, and this often takes place the very same day. 

This is when you commit to buying the apartment, signing a transfer of ownership agreement (överlåtelseavtal) and agreeing to pay the agreed amount, usually beginning with a ten percent deposit (handpenning) within one week. Until this agreement is signed, it’s possible for someone else to outbid you by putting in a new offer, and it’s also possible for you to back out or even change your own offer. Once these agreements are signed, however, you cannot back out and would be liable to pay compensation if you do (typically this would cover the cost of putting the property back on the market, plus any difference in price between what you agree to pay and what the property eventually sells for). 

The överlåtelseavtal will be conditional on your acceptance into the bostadsrättsföreningen. Once that happens, you (and your bank, assuming you have a mortgage) pay the rest of the money for the purchase and take over ownership of the apartment on the move-in date (tillträdesdag) agreed with the seller.

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