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Reader’s story: How I adapted to Sweden’s cashless society

Learn Swedish. Get a personnummer. Go cashless. Moving to a new country means going through a series of 'firsts'. The Local's reader Alexander de Nerée writes about some of the challenges, quirks and adventures he has faced since moving to Sweden.

a hand rejecting Swedish banknotes
Once you go cashless, can you ever go back, asks a The Local reader in this column. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

I’ve lived in Sweden for almost a year now. I did my daily groceries, took taxis, went on public transport, ordered take away and even bought an apartment. Despite all these transactions, I can honestly say I would not know what a krona looks like for the simple reason that I’ve never seen one. Well, as a paper napkin once, but that wasn’t legal tender.

Before moving, I had heard about Sweden going cashless and Stockholm being the pilot city for that experiment. But I was sceptical. It sounded like something governments say to make themselves seem more modern and digital. It is also something banks like to say to justify closing branch offices.

Maybe my scepticism stemmed from having lived in Hong Kong which is incredibly cash focused and where many transactions were still settled by cheque as if it were the 80s. This was not improved by living in Switzerland where I worked at a bank. The bank was always propagating to its clients to do all their banking online and not bother with cash. The Swiss senior bankers, and the Swiss themselves in general, would walk around with hundreds of Francs in cash in their wallets; just in case they felt the urge to buy a second-hand car at short notice, I presumed.

The adjustment to full cashless feels a little like when they banned smoking from restaurants and bars: at first you think it will be weird. After about two weeks of going to smokeless restaurants, you wondered what maniac allowed people to smoke inside while you were having dinner in the first place.

The same goes for cash when you think about it. Your employer puts the money in your bank account. You queue at an ATM to get it out and then when you go to buy groceries, you give it to a supermarket who then bring it back to their bank in an armoured truck, who put it in the supermarket’s bank account. Why not take the money from your bank account and put it in the supermarket’s bank account directly and cut out the circus in the middle?

After 11 months of no cash, I’m completely adjusted and excited. I happily bleep and Swish and don’t miss the pot of coins on my desk in the slightest. It also seems that Swedish society has adapted well. Except at Systembolaget, where someone occasionally pays with cash, nearly everyone from young to old pays with their phone or card without blinking.

This made me wonder why Sweden seems so far ahead of other countries in this regard. One thing a colleague mentioned was a clever safety angle used to push the cashless society. An abundance of cash everywhere is a risk for those handling it. It’s the same reason most countries justified the smoking ban: health and safety of staff working in restaurants and bars.

In addition, I suspect that Swedes enjoy the modernity of abandoning the pot of coins on their desks to lead the way to the cashless future ahead of the rest of the world.

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.

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ENERGY

EXPLAINED: When should I turn on my heating in Sweden this year?

Energy costs in Sweden are set to reach sky-high levels this winter, which will leave many people wondering when they should start heating their homes. Here's what you need to bear in mind.

EXPLAINED: When should I turn on my heating in Sweden this year?

What’s happening?

As a result of supply stoppages for cheap Russian gas affecting energy prices on the European market – particularly in Germany – energy prices in Sweden have been at record levels for months, especially in the two energy price zones in the south of the country.

With winter looming and no sign of things getting cheaper anytime soon, private individuals are starting to cut down on energy usage as much as they can to slash their bills this season.

Does it make a difference what type of accommodation I live in?

The right time to start heating your home depends on several factors including your own personal preference, the weather, whether you live in rented accommodation or own your own property, and on the age and features of the property you live in.

How does the heating system work in Swedish homes?

More than half of all houses and commercial properties in Sweden use district heating or fjärrvärme, with this number rising to around 90 percent for apartment buildings.

This system distributes hot water from heating plants to houses and apartments through underground water pipes, meaning that heating sources are centralised, rather than individual houses or apartments having their own heating source.

In smaller towns and in houses, district heating is less common, and it’s these households who can benefit the most from waiting longer to turn on their heating.

Do I control my heating?

It depends. If you live in a rented apartment or a bostadsrättsforening (co-operative housing association) with district heating, your landlord or the board of your housing foundation will usually decide for you when to turn your heating on.

Unlike other countries, Sweden has no official legal heating season, with heating in bostadsrättsföreningar usually switched on automatically following periods of cold weather, no matter which date they occur on.

This will usually be designed to provide an indoor temperature of around 21 degrees – you can turn your radiators down if you feel this is too warm, but you won’t usually be able to turn them up if you want the temperature to be warmer.

The Public Health Agency recommends temperatures of between 20 and 24 degrees indoors, with temperatures lower than 18 degrees in apartments posing a health risk.

Temperatures lower than 14 are not recommended as they can cause condensation and mould growth on walls and furnishings, which, again, are a health risk, and can cause permanent damage to properties.

Can I save money by waiting to turn my heating on?

Again, it depends. If you’re renting and you pay varmhyra – rent with heating included – then you won’t save money directly, but heating your home wisely could make it less likely for your landlord to raise your rent to cover increased heating costs.

If you pay kallhyra – rent without heating included, then waiting to turn on the heating will save money on your electricity bill.

Similarly, in some housing associations, electricity and heating costs are included in your monthly fee, meaning you pay your share of the heating costs for the entire building ever month. In this case, your energy costs are more affected by how much energy everyone else in your housing association uses than your individual usage.

On the other hand, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care about how warm your heating is – if you have your heating on full-blast for the whole winter, your costs will increase as well as the costs of all of your neighbours, and if the entire association’s energy costs increase substantially, the board may decide to raise the monthly fee or avgift for everyone in the building to cover this.

If you pay an individual energy bill based on your own household’s usage, and not on an average of the whole building, it could pay to wait before you switch on your heating.

How else can I save money on heating costs?

Turning your heating down a couple of degrees can make a big difference to your heating costs, but you can also save money on heating and make your property feel warmer by making it more energy effective.

There are a few easy ways to do this, according to the Swedish Energy Agency.

Firstly, make sure your house is well insulated, not just your doors and windows, but also in the loft: a large amount of a building’s heat escapes through the roof. This also applies to the boundaries between well-insulated and poorly-insulated areas.

If you have a cellar or conservatory, for example, which is not heated and not insulated, make sure the door between this room and the rest of the house is well-insulated with no gaps around the doorframe where heat can escape into the colder room. 

In a similar vein, locate any drafts and do what you can to block them, either with draft excluders or by replacing worn-out draft excluder strips on old doors and windows.

You can also benefit from thinking about how you furnish your home – furniture placed in front of radiators mean it is harder for warm air to circulate, and you can keep your house warmer at night by closing your curtains or blinds to keep eat from escaping through your windows.

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