personnumer= personal ID number (bureaucracy in its finest form)

personnummer= personal ID number

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:

  • Healthcare
  • 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]
For Fulbright Scholars, the normal term is 6 months-- and you need to be in Sweden for at least 12 months to be eligible for this magic number. We're here due to both the Fulbright and a year long sabbatical for Chris, so Stockholm U. was willing to write a sponsor letter for us. 

Enter into our full scale exploration of Swedish bureaucracy. Before we came, we studied (at length) the very helpful website: top ten tips for moving to Sweden. 

The Swedish Migration Agency logotype

#1 Get a residence permit, or renew it, at the Migration Agency  

Got it. Applying for a residence permit needed to be done from home. We studied the website, printed off the forms for migration. I filled them out, then realized that they should be in Chris' name given his year sponsorship. Sometime around March, we accomplished filling them out again, then realized that we could enter everything electronically. Third times a charm. We scanned and submitted our passport info, marriage certificate, kids' birth certificates. Submitted it all April 2nd. I also filled out a power of attorney form that gave the Swedish Fulbright Commission permission to check our immigration status for us. Weeks passed. Nothing. Chris called the Swedish Embassy in the US (open for phone calls from 12-1 PM on Mondays and Thursdays only) to check. Yes, they'd received our info but couldn't tell us anything. We checked with the Fulbright Commission in early May- they checked and confirmed that our information had been received. 

Finally, we receive an email on May 14th. It says "Ditt ärende har nu avgjorts." (your case has been settled). Thanks. Meaning what? We contact the Fulbright staff, who checked and assured us our immigration had actually been approved. We are supposed to get a follow up letter from the Swedish embassy but never did. We buy our plane tickets to Sweden, arriving Aug. 15th and set up our first appointment for our residency permits on August 16th in Uppsala. 

After packing and scrambling to get out of State College, we arrived at the State College airport early only for them to ask for our immigration visa paperwork (which we don't have yet-- we have to go to Sweden to get it). After about 30 minutes-- us showing us the emailed version of "your case has been settled" and a lot of phone calls--  they let us through. 

Aug. 16th- train to Uppsala, taxi to the Migrationsverket- which handles all manner of immigration, visas. We enter the confirmation numbers emailed to us, take another number to line up, get called early for our appointment and are finished by 2:02 PM (for a 2 PM appointment) after they take our pictures, finger prints, etc. We are impressed by the efficiency and ease of this. They promise us an id card in the mail in a couple of weeks, so we have it mailed to our new address. 

Cool. We've got this. We set up our next appointment, step 2. In the meantime, the Fulbright Commission has helped us set up a Swedish bank account (for just me) through a special agreement with an internet bank that is willing (just barely) to deal with people who don't have a Swedish personnummer. I'll come back to the bank again in a bit. In the meantime, the tax agency. 


Step #2 Register with the Tax Agency and obtain a personal identification number. 
This involves a different agency in a different location. We can't get an appointment for all of us until Sept. 6th, but we reserve the date and time (but have to take the kids out of school to get there- worst excuse for skipping school ever= I have to go to the tax agency). Spend some part of a week figuring out what we might have to pay for a fee before we get there, visiting the SEB bank to get the account set up, then figuring out how to access it, printing off the payment confirmation. Gather up all our passports, residency cards, etc. Pull the kids from school early. Bike, subway, walk, figure out where the agency is, enter our confirmation number for the appointment, get another number to line up. Wait (along with maybe about 200 hundred other people) for maybe 30 minutes. Get called for our appointment. Explain to the fellow what we need to do-- he looks at us, our "id" cards (residency permits), and then marches us off to another lady, explaining to her apparently how wrong we were to think we had this. 

She kindly, gently explains that actually, we need to have submitted an entirely different application form for the tax id, and did we have that? Upon very quickly realizing that of course we didn't, she led us to a set of computers where we could fill out the application forms. 45 minutes later, we accomplished the forms, including efforts to figure out how to write ä or ö (which matter for our Swedish address). She then asked if we had our original documents with us: marriage certificate, birth certificates, etc. Nope. Didn't matter that we had already provided this info to a different Swedish agency. But the good news is that we had scans of these documents-- the lady agreed to we could drop off printed copies along with a copy of the cover page.

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.