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

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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
13:56 CEST+02:00
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.
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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.

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