In 2010 nearly 40 percent of Swedes said they paid for their most recent purchase in cash.
By 2018 that proportion had drastically decreased to 13 percent, according to the Swedish Central Bank.
When The Local asked our readers what payment method they prefer, an overwhelming majority said card. But many also highlighted the unique problems international residents face in the cashless society.
Gabriel Pavico, who moved to Sweden from the Philippines for university, said that although he thought being able to pay by card so regularly had made his life easier, he had encountered two specific problems.
“The most annoying things would be when card systems crash or when we have friends coming over and their international cards aren't accepted in a store. It's just a big inconvenience,” he said. “Getting a bank account was also a headache.”
David from the United States expounded on that issue by explaining the ripple effect of a cashless society.
“Many brick-and-mortar businesses refuse cash. This trickles down to individuals not accepting cash because it can't be spent anywhere. Then, settling small debts or splitting bills becomes cumbersome,” he said.
This café is entirely cash free, which has become a trend in Sweden recently. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT
Swish, a mobile payment system, has become widely accepted across Sweden with more than six million users. In fact, some establishments have begun only accepting Swish as a form of payment, and it's popular with smaller businesses or stands at markets. Although Swish can be linked to bank accounts with 12 of Sweden's largest banks, it's not possible to connect it to a foreign account.
Bob, a United Kingdom resident but frequent visitor to Sweden, said this system is difficult for non-residents.
“As a visitor I can't pay at places that only accept Swish because I don't have Swish. And without a Swedish bank account I can't get Swish. And without a Swedish residence, I can't get a bank account,” he explained.
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Readers found some benefits to this change taking place in Swedish society, however.
Carys Egan-Wyer, a UK native in her tenth year in Sweden, said that going cash-free is eco-friendly as well as a tool to save her time and effort.
“I think it's generally a good thing for the environment, I don't have to go to the cash machine any more, and I don't have to pick up my husband's loose change from all over the house every day,” she said.
An ATM dispensing Swedish krona. Photo: Martina Holmberg/TT
Tom, a Malmö resident, said that he isn't as worried about thieves anymore.
“The fact I don't have to carry cash makes me feel a little safer and it stops me from wandering around looking for cash machines,” he said.
And, for those international residents who have been able to acquire a bank account and enable Swish on their phone, the transition has been smooth.
“It is great that I don't need to carry around my wallet,” said Jana Larsson, originally from Slovakia. “Swish is an amazing service in case I forget my card or to send money to colleagues. It makes my life easier.”
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A few readers even said that they only carry around coins to be used for public toilets, which usually accept coins, although many have begun to accept payment by card or even Swish as well.
“I have ten kronor in my backpack in case I need to use the restroom and that's it,” Rodney from San Francisco said.
Karen, who has lived in the Västra Götaland region for one year, found that there are both pros and cons to the cash-free trend.
“It's great to see street vendors and market traders embracing mobile payments in a way you don't see in the United Kingdom, but I do worry for the exclusion of the elderly,” she said.
Someone using Swish to pay for a haircut. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT
Some readers suggested changes to the system which would allow for a better transition.
“Businesses over a certain threshold of sales, like 10,000 kronor per day, should be obligated to accept cash,” David said.
Howard Drobner, who is a frequent business traveller to Sweden, also proposed a tweak.
“Some small vendors, like at flea markets and craft shows, only take Swish which I do not have and can not get due to the fact that I do not have a Swedish bank account or national number. I would therefore really like to have a Swish setup for frequent travellers to Sweden,” he said.
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