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Banking & Paying in Sweden

If you’ve recently been accepted to a master’s programme at KTH as an international student, this post is for you!

Before moving abroad, it’s very important to know how your banking and payment methods will function in an international setting. As you research, you’ll likely come across new words like “personnummer”, “Swish”, and “BankID”. It was new to me (and a little confusing at first!) when I got accepted. So, here is an overview of some key elements for banking, paying, and managing your money in a Swedish context. 

Heads up: Sweden is very cashless!

Did you know? Sweden is on its way to being a cashless society (read more). Around Stockholm, you’ll find there are some cafes, shops, and restaurants where you cannot pay with cash at all. There are ATMs available (typically in main shopping centres) and I have used one once myself. But in general, relying on ATMs to withdraw cash as a main source of payment is not common (or convenient). 

Common ways to pay in Sweden

  • By card: Credit and debit cards are the norm here, so be sure to research any fees associated with using your card to pay in another currency. 
  • Contactless: There’s a relatively new word in Swedish, “blippa” which is the verb for “holding a payment card or device against a contactless reader”. You’ll see most people paying this way, with a phone or RFID chip card. 
  • Swish: An app which can be used for instant payments, using a recipient’s phone number or QR code affiliated with Swish. It’s mainly used for sending/receiving money between individuals, but is also increasingly available at shops and restaurants as a payment method. But there’s a catch – to get Swish, you need a personnummer and Swedish bank account, as well as the secure electronic identification method called “BankID” that comes with it. 

Swedish Banking

To apply for a Swedish bank account, you need a personnummer and a Swedish ID card (which you can get only after your personnummer). You’ll want to do your research before choosing a bank – compare your needs and spending patterns relative to the services and fees of each bank. There are several main banks and online banks in Sweden. Check out this article for more in-detail advice.

Note: If your studies last only one or two semesters, this information is less relevant. Banking requires a Swedish personal identity number (personnummer). To apply for one requires a 12+ month residence permit or being an EU-citizen admitted to studies for 13+ months.

Alternative Online “Global” Banking Apps

If opening a Swedish bank account isn’t right for you, there are still alternative banking options geared towards people with an international lifestyle.

For example, you may find yourself needing to settle up on a dinner check with friends or an internet bill with your roommates. There’s a good chance they’ll be from another country, with finances in another currency and system. Banking apps like Revolut, N26, and Wise are a common solution for these kinds of transfers. Although each is unique, these apps generally let you: Open a free account, “upload” money from a credit card or bank account, do currency conversions, and send money between app users. Again, be sure to do your research to understand specific features and fees. 

Concluding Advice

Before you move: I’d recommend starting by researching your current credit/debit card and finding out how you can contact your current bank (in case of challenges) while in Sweden. As a non-EU student, I found this to be especially important. 

After you move: If you are eligible to get a personnummer, start the process early! Schedule an appointment with the Swedish Tax Agency, Skatterverket, as soon as possible.

Figuring out how you will pay is as important as how much you will spend living in Sweden. For an understanding of cost of living in Stockholm, check out Declan’s recent blog post.

// Claire