Even before I had started my new job in Sweden, HR strongly urged me to go to the Swedish tax office, Skatteverket, on my first working day. So right after I had my picture taken for the company ID, I was on my way to their nearby offices.
It soon became clear what the fuss was all about: my personal Swedish ID number or personnummer. Moving as an EU citizen, I had not given the formalities of immigrating to Sweden much thought. Free movement of labour, and all that. In reality, as many will have experienced, life without a personnummer is not as straightforward as the European flag in my passport suggests.
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I guess technically I had the same rights as everyone else but at every corner of the internet and behind every counter I turned up at, there was someone asking me for that dreaded number. And when I could not provide it, nothing really worked. Need a doctor’s appointment? Personnummer. Need a mobile phone plan? Personnummer. Need a proper bank account? Anyway, you get the idea.
Although Skatteverket felt it knew me well enough to withhold taxes from my salary from day one, it took them six weeks to send me the hotly anticipated number which turned out to be my birthdate plus four digits added. What on earth had taken them so long to produce that? Not to mention the six months my husband had to wait which seems to be the normal waiting time at the moment.
A similar waiting time applies for Swedes returning from having lived abroad and who want to re-register with the folkbokföring, the population registration arm of Skatteverket. I appreciate that I’m a guest in Sweden and chose to move here. My quest for the personnummer will end up as a funny “when we moved to Sweden” anecdote (#stockholm #discoversweden #swexpat). But if I were a Swede returning home from a stint abroad in the middle of a pandemic and I had to wait several months for the government to be registered again so I can more easily book a doctor’s appointment, I would likely be using some different hashtags.
Apart from just handing all your personal information over to the internet, the biggest side effect of having a personnummer was a benefit. It gives you the golden ticket to life in Sweden: the mobile bankID. I don’t think people in Sweden appreciate enough the miracle of having an app on your phone that gives you universal access to all governmental and any other imaginable service and allows you to identify yourself electronically.
Swedes will never know the maddening frustration of having to keep track of a multitude of always expiring passwords and control questions and having a drawer full of tokens giving you access to different bank accounts but that are always out of battery when you need them.
Whenever I’m picking up a package at the post office PostNord and I identify myself in the queue using the bankID and facial recognition on my phone, I truly feel like the future has arrived.
I guess the future is something worth waiting for.
Alexander de Nerée moved to Stockholm with his husband in October 2020. He is Dutch, but moved from Zürich, Switzerland, after having lived in Hong Kong for 10 years. Signing up to move to a country they had never been to, in the middle of a global pandemic, was definitely a first for the couple. One of many more to come. Alexander writes for The Local about his “firsts” in Sweden.