After months of struggle with multiple Swedish banks, let me share some of the ridiculousness we've had to deal with before we at long last succeeded at opening an account a week ago.
We had read a lot of discussions on thelocal.se about opening a bank account in Sweden as a foreigner. The consensus appeared to be that you're pretty much at the mercy of the clerk you encounter – whether they're willing to even consider opening an account for you, and if so, what stuff you need, and how long it will take. Our experience pretty much confirms this.
Attempt 1: Handelsbanken
Our first visit was in Handelsbanken at Kungsportsavenyn, sometime in October 2014. Ivana had just received her personnummer, I had a samordningsnummer, and we also brought my employment contract. The lady we talked to gave each of us a form asking for some basic info (name, address, nationality, ...), and a lot of ridiculous questions (what amount of money will be stored in the account; how many domestic / EU / international transactions we'll make per month, and in what amount; what's the purpose of the account, etc. – when we asked what would happen if the reality differed from these estimates — we're no oracles, after all —, they told us it doesn't matter that much, but we still had to answer).
After we filled out these forms (which, by the way, contained a lovely footnote saying that they would be archived for 100 years), we were told that we'd need to bring some additional documents – Ivana's letter of admission, and a personbevis for each of us (a letter from Skatteverket that lists your name, address, and personnummer) – never mind that we had already brought letters from Skatteverket that contained exactly the same information, they just didn't have the word “personbevis” written on top, or the fact that I only had a samordningsnummer, which is a weaker, temporary version of a personnummer, because my application for a personnummer was rejected before even being entered into their system.
À propos personbevis, it's worth noting that the bank can simply ask Skatteverket for the information found on a personbevis. In fact, it is something they regularly do – if you change residence, you have to announce it to Skatteverket, and your bank will automatically get the new address without you ever contacting them about it. But no, you absolutely need to have a personbevis listing the exact same information to open that account.
Anyway, after we left, I was stunned by the entire experience. We wanted to open an account so we could give the bank our money, not take any loans or anything, and they basically told us that yeah, sure, just tell us a bunch of stuff you don't know and bring us a bunch of documents we don't need, only then will we consider talking to you.
We weren't really in the mood to repeat the experience, so we decided to wait until I at least got a permanent personnummer – that alone raises your odds of success significantly. (It's not a hard requirement, only if you don't have one, your chances are depressingly low.) And besides, we had survived for months with only our Slovak accounts, we could last a bit longer.
Attempt 2: Handelsbanken again
Fast-forward to January, after I landed a position at Opera and got a personnummer. One day I did a little experiment. I went to the same branch at Kungsportsavenyn and asked what exactly I'd need to bring in order to open an account. The lady I was talking to asked for a set of documents which, mysteriously, differed from the one I remembered from our visit in October.
Never mind, I tried to go directly to another branch, at Brunnsparken. I asked the same question, and the answer I got was that I'd need either a Swedish ID card, or an entirely different set of documents. (Sadly, I don't recall either of those two sets – I only know that from each of us they wanted at least three documents.)
After I politely explained to the gentleman that he was bullshitting me, because I had just arrived from a different branch, where I got an entirely different answer to the same question, he admitted I was actually right, only I couldn't really open an account there at all, but I had to go to the branch closest to my address of residence.
Diversion: Swedish ID
As far as I know, in Slovakia, you get an ID if you are a Slovak citizen over 15 years, and you have to apply for it at the district PD of your residence. In Sweden, there are actually a number of different types of government-approved ID – if you are a citizen, you can get one from the police, but if you're not a citizen, only a resident, you can get one from Skatteverket, and in the past, you could get one from a bank, or from Telia as well. (The difference seems to be that you can use the one from the police instead of a passport while traveling within the EU, whereas the other ones are only recognized in Sweden.)
It's kind of funny that some years ago, you got your ID from your bank, and now, a lot of banks will make you jump through a ridiculous number of hoops if you don't already have one.
Anyway, as it turns out, we're both in a bit of a dead zone, when it comes to Skatteverket-issued IDs. If you're a citizen of a non-EU country, you have to register at Migrationsverket before moving to Sweden, and then, when you apply for an ID at Skatteverket, they just check your information at Migrationsverket and you're good to go.
However, since we're citizens of a EU country, this procedure does not apply to us – free movement within the EU and everything, meaning we don't register at Migrationsverket at all. Still, Skatteverket needs to verify you're who you claim to be, if you want to get an ID from them. And there are plenty of other ways to do that.
For example, if you have a family member who already has a government-approved ID, they can just vouch for you. Easy-peasy. Too bad neither of us does.
Worry not, if you have worked at a company with a Swedish office for at least a year, they can vouch for you. Well, yeah, I only started in January.
No family and no long-term employment in Sweden? Don't panic. According to the Skatteverket website,
[...] a so-called valid EU passport issued on or after 1 September 2006 will be accepted as document proving your identity.
Well, I do have a valid Slovak passport. Unfortunately, it was issued in April 2006, and it doesn't contain the biometric data Skatteverket seems to require. (Also, just by the way, Slovakia began issuing biometric passports in 2008, not in 2006.)
So yeah, there are a few options for EU citizens. Sadly, none of them apply to us.
In the end, I made a trip to Stockholm to the Slovak Embassy, where I applied for a new Slovak passport, just so I can then bring that passport to Skatteverket and apply for a Swedish ID. Wonderful, isn't it? But that doesn't really solve our problem, because it takes up to six weeks for the Slovak police to actually issue the new passport and then send it to Stockholm, and then I can only apply for the ID, which, again takes some time.
In any case, back to the banking Oddysey.
Attempt 3: Swedbank
At one point, I tried to ask at the Heden branch of Swedbank where I was told that it was absolutely out of the question that I'd get an account there without presenting a Swedish ID, and that I shouldn't really bother asking them again before I got one, thank you very much. After all, it's not like getting that ID is a big deal, amirite?
This attitude was confirmed by our HR coordinator at the office, who tried to call the Swedbank customer service and got the same response – that I had to get an ID first and then I could consider opening an account at Swedbank.
The funny thing is that at least one colleague does have a Swedbank account, even a mortgage, and yet he does not have a Swedish ID. Bullshit much? Although, he did admit to running into trouble at one point when a clerk helpfully decided to lock his account during a routine visit to the bank, because of his lack of Swedish ID. Luckily, the situation was resolved quickly by talking to a supervisor.
Still, that attitude presented by Swedbank employees was very efficient in convincing me that they are really not worth my time.
Attempt 4: Handelsbanken one last time
I guess it's worth explaining why we were so persistent at Handelsbanken. In short, they appear to be the only major bank here offering a basic account including a payment card without monthly fees. Also, they do have relatively good reviews, and seem to have a reputation for a good customer service. (So not our experience...) Finally, at no point did they tell us that it wasn't possible (unlike certain other banks), they just kept making the entire process inadequately complicated.
We decided to follow the advice I got at the Brunnsparken branch and went to the branch in Frölunda Torg (I think this was sometime in February, before we moved from Frölunda to Kortedala).
We were directed to a gentleman who handed us forms similar to those we had filled out in October on Avenyn, but not exactly the same. We gave him our ID, an employment contract, a letter from the university, and we were told that we'd still need to bring those personbevises. Also, apparently, opening an account at Handelsbanken is a very administratively difficult operation, so they'd have to call us back and schedule a meeting where we could discuss the actual account. Also, just so we had an idea of how complicated it was, it might take them up to a month to call us back to set up that meeting, you have to understand, they do get a lot of new applicants and they are so badly understaffed... Poor guys at Handelsbanken.
It'd be almost funny – I remember how long it took to open my account in Slovakia. I went to a kiosk (not even a full branch office), said I wanted an account, the clerk took my ID (he would've happily accepted my passport instead), printed out a contract, and it took all of five minutes before I was walking away with an account. (That time includes me reading the contract; I had already read the lengthy general terms and conditions before.) And as I'm told, this is the way opening an account works in Sweden as well... as long as you're Swedish.
So a month passed by, and... nothing. Thus, we went there again and asked what was the hold-up. Obviously, the person at the reception desk didn't know anything, but she told us she'd forward our inquiry to the team handling new customer requests and we'd absolutely get that call within a week. Some ten days later I did actually receive the call, but by that time I was so annoyed that I wasn't really interested in doing any business with Handelsbanken anymore. Enough is enough.
I mean, seriously. What if I wanted to make a transfer? Would I have to wait a month for an appointment? How about withdrawing money from a cash machine?
Attempt 5: Forex Bank
While we were waiting for the callback form Handelsbanken, we noticed that Forex Bank was also offering an account without monthly fees, so we decided to check that out as well.
It all seemed nice, the person at the counter was very helpful, only, as it turns out, Forex Bank doesn't offer SEPA transfers to their clients. If you want to make a transfer to a foreign bank account, even if it's within the SEPA zone, you have to do it through Western Union, which charges north of 10% of the transferred amount in fees. Like... Really? Even banks in the US don't charge such outrageous fees for the most expensive express wire transfers.
This was a deal-breaker for us, because we need to be able to transfer our money to Slovakia from time to time, for example, to pay our Slovak phone bills, which are paid by direct debit from our Slovak accounts.
Attempt 6: ICA Banken
After we got fed up with Handelsbanken, next up was ICA Banken. This is a bank that is actually closely related to a Swedish chain of grocery stores and supermarkets, ICA. They are a virtual, online- and phone-only bank, even though you can make basic deposits and withdrawals at ICA stores. They appear to be kind of similar to mBank, where we have our Slovak accounts. Apparently, they are a relatively new player on the market, so they are trying to attract customers with competitive offers.
I tried to call their customer service to see if there was any problem opening an account without a Swedish ID, and they told me that not at all, and that the only complication would be retrieving the payment card from the post, because they'd send it as a registered parcel, and the post would ask for an ID, but that they'd just send us some kind of document we could show at the post pick-up point instead of an ID. (As we found out later, the post actually accepts foreign IDs without any problem, so this would most likely be a non-issue anyway.)
So we went for it. I was slightly worried, because we applied about a day before we moved to our current address, but on the phone, I was told that this shouldn't be a problem, that they'd just send everything to the new address. They'd simply send us a contract to sign, which we'd have to send back, and a few days later, we'd receive our payment cards. All in all, it shouldn't take more than two weeks.
Well, of course they sent the contracts to our old address, where we weren't living anymore. When I called them a week later, I was told that they probably accidentally overwrote our new address with the old one registered at Skatteverket (it takes Skatteverket some time to process address change notices), but I was told they fixed the address in their system and that they'd send us the documents again.
After another week went by, I called again and I was told that there was no trace of us in their system at all. Well, thanks, we'll be moving on, then. I certainly wouldn't want my account to just disappear without a trace all of a sudden.
Attempt 7: Nordea
Initially, we ruled out Nordea, because their website doesn't really communicate well the fact that they offer discounts on banking fees to young people and students (or maybe it does, but not in a way we could understand with our limited Swedish). Also, their rating on Bankbetyg.se isn't really at the higher end of the spectrum.
On the other hand, when I was in Stockholm applying for a new passport, I was told by the lady handling consular affairs that she hadn't experienced anything like that at Nordea, despite not having a Swedish ID. We thought there was no harm in trying, and besides, at this point any offer, even with a few dozen kronor in monthly fees, would beat not having an account at all.
There was a bit of a hiccup when we entered the branch on Västra Hamngatan, pretty much just across the street from our office. As it turns out, that's not a “regular” branch, they only handle clients with pre-arranged appointments there, presumably for stuff like mortgages and whatnot.
They did, however, direct us to the branch in Nordstan, so that's where we went. Unfortunately, it was almost 4:00 PM, and there was a long queue inside, so we didn't even bother.
We returned the next day shortly before noon, waited some 15 minutes in a queue and finally got to a clerk. We showed them our Slovak IDs, employment contract, letter from the university, personbevises – the standard package. Actually, the personbevises were ones we got before changing address, only we hadn't realized this until after we got our queue ticket. Luckily for us, it didn't seem to matter at all, we just told them our new address and that was it.
The only minor complication was when they realized Ivana's ID doesn't state her nationality – somehow, old Slovak IDs lack this field. Nevertheless, they said they'd accept it.
Well, long story short, within 45 minutes of entering the bank, we walked out with a bundle of paperwork all taken care of. Compared to the piles of bovine feces and excuses we had to sort through with the other banks without getting anywhere, this was an entirely different experience.
So yeah, bravo, Nordea, and thank you for treating us like customers.