personnumer= personal ID number (bureaucracy in its finest form)
As a Swedish friend noted "I don't know how you can function in Sweden with out a personnummer."
What is it you ask? The official Swedish personal identification number.
Indeed, it's not easy.
And so we have begun a profound quest for 6+4 magic digits that open up the Swedish universe of electronic commerce, phone use, train tickets, email accounts, and grocery store bonus cards. The first 6 numbers relate to your birthday (YYMMDD). The last four numbers are generated by the government and interestingly enough indicate if you are male or female. Though there are only four, these numbers are not easy to acquire. It is not easy even when you arrive in country with a valid passport, a residence permit, and the support of both in-country (Fulbright Sweden, Stockholm University) and international (U.S. State Department) institutions.
Why write about this piece of bureaucracy? For one, it's really interesting to us how important this number is to daily functioning-- everything we touch in living here seems to want this number. Two, it creates a system of those with the number, and those without it. As a tourist, you wouldn't notice it. As residents, we surely do. Three, figuring this out has taken a lot of time and mental energy. We didn't want you to think we spent all our time at the amusement park! Finally, for those interested, it contains a bit of a guide on navigating the system.
The short version is we have no idea how refugees or even international students arriving without this institutional support function in Sweden... the Swedes speak great English, so language isn't a barrier for us, but it is for others. In talking with his colleagues, Chris has found that the refugee population has developed a set of work around systems. No doubt!
Seriously no need to read on if you don't want the nitty gritty. Chris is also going to write a companion piece to this one as this number is actually central to why he's in Sweden - the Swedish registry data is unlike any other in the world.
Here's the much longer version if you want to suffer through the details.
We have discovered you need this magic personnummer for the following:
- School enrollment (the international school the kids are in was willing to let them enroll with the promise we'd get the number; public schools won't let you join the waiting list without it)
- Setting up a bank account and getting any sort of local credit or debit card
- Setting up a telephone service that allows you to call outside of Sweden
- Mailing a package (at least easily)
- Taking Swedish language classes for immigrants
- Getting an email for Stockholm University
- Registering your subway card
- Registering to become a member of the national railroad system to make it easier to get train tickets (say, between Stockholm and Uppsala)
- Getting a bonus card at the grocery store
- Buying a pass at the local museums
- [And more, we're sure]
Fast forward a week. Chris managed to print what we needed off at his office at Stockholm University. I took the subway to the far part of town- dropped off the paperwork. A week later, we received an email from an inspector- needed to deal with the dates on the sponsorship letter from Stockholm U. or our paperwork would be canceled. Fixed it.
On Friday, Sept. 18, 2019: success- who would think that getting paperwork from the tax agency would be exciting? 4 pages, 4 personnummers. Okay, now maybe we're in business.
Purely by happenstance, our test case was getting a membership card for the local science museum. Yep- we were registered in the system already! Efficient is one word. Scary perhaps another.
Back to the bank. Nope. Don't actually have the ID card with our personnummers on them- how do they know it is actually us? Can't upgrade my account to be a "real account" or a even a joint account. Can't get a bank account for Chris without this ID card (for which we need another appointment- see step #2). I set up the appointment -- for October. 21st. All four of us have to go back to the tax agency.
A further note on money and banks:
I mentioned before that many, many places are now cash only. Absent a chip credit card, you can't buy a cup of coffee. Our US cards work, but only if we show an id and sign the receipt (practice tip: if you travel to Sweden, bring a chip credit card). The bank account through the Swedish Fulbright Commission has been really helpful because many payments are made direct from bank to someone else's account through a special number. We can pay rent! We can pay for horse riding lessons!
However, to get it functioning, I've been to the bank to 1) get an account number and pick up the little doohicky to generate numbers and authenticate the account; 2) figure out which online function (out of three) I should be using; 3) figure out if I should have received a bank card (we had to put our names on the post box before they would deliver) and re-order another one when it became clear that the first card hadn't been delivered; 4) figure out how to activate the card and re-order a pin number (also never delivered) and see if we can upgrade our account. I feel like I'm missing a trip or two in there- but it's been at least 4 trips to the bank, usually with kids in tow. Our most recent trip to the bank prompted this post, which has been a long time in coming.
Another big sigh. With any luck, I'll be able to use my new "maestro" card to buy a cup of tea soon. Chris will have to wait until Oct. (at least).
So where does that leave us? Enough identification to start to function, but without the official id card that allows us to truly function just yet. With any luck, having the actual personnummer will allow Chris to get a Stockholm U. email; the email necessary to really work with the data he came here to work with. I don't even remember the rest of the ten tips for moving to Sweden, but maybe should have a look again- I think we have some of them figured out (find an apartment, start to learn Swedish).
Everyone we've talked to assures us that the system works brilliantly with the personnummer-- and again, they can't imagine what it's like not to have it.
I think we know.