I was overjoyed when I got my personnummer two weeks ago.
I thought it would make everything go more smoothly when it came to navigating the bureaucracy of being a new immigrant in a foreign country. So when I went into a bank branch yesterday to try and open an account, I proudly stated, “yes, I have a personnummer”.
“Do you have an ID card?”
Until yesterday I didn’t even know that Sweden had ID cards. At first I assumed – a bit like your National Insurance number in the UK – that the personnummer was the important thing and the card was immaterial. As it turns out, nope.
In a peculiar twist, bank branches can open an account for a foreign resident who doesn’t have a personnummer using their foreign passport for ID – but if you do have a personnummer, you also need an ID card.
This sounded wrong and at first I wondered whether a mistake had been made, but by the time I had visited three different bank branches I was forced to accept it.
By my third stop I was feeling very frustrated and spoke to the woman on the counter at some length. She made it pretty clear that if I had lied and said I didn’t have a personnummer, she would have helped me, but since she knew I had a personnummer she couldn’t. The reasoning, apparently, is that I would have to set up a new account with my personnummer later, and since an ID card only takes two weeks to arrive, it’s seen as a waste.
She asked whether there was “any particular reason” I needed a bank account quickly. Again, perhaps a well-placed lie could have helped me here (I’m a terrible liar so I try to avoid it where possible). The truth is it’s not desperately urgent, and I should be able to get by for another few weeks without one. But it doesn’t sit well with me.
It doesn’t feel good to imagine being offered a job and having to say “oh, I don’t have a bank account yet so you can’t pay me”. There are services and products (like the gym membership I so desperately crave) that I can’t access without a Swedish bank account. I can’t get any friggin’ cash out of the cash machine without horrendous international charges. Sweden might be on the way to going fully cashless, but I’m not.
I was surprised how upset it made me to be repeatedly rejected.
Perhaps because I thought my days of struggling against the tide of bureaucracy were over; perhaps because a bank account seems like such a fundamental and necessary thing that being denied one felt like a real blow.
Either way, I’m resigned to waiting until my ID card (which, incidentally, it costs almost £40 to apply for, which seems thoroughly undemocratic and just generally not cricket) comes through before I get to join the world of Swedish personal banking.
Next week: the perils of finding home insurance! (…just kidding.)