However, up until now I was not a “real person” in Sweden, and now I AM! Today I received my “Personnummer” from “Skatteverket,” the Tax Agency in Sweden. It’s the equivalent to a social security number in the U.S.. Without having my personnummer I had permission to live here as a resident, but nothing else. Now I am able to get my Swedish I.D. card, take SFI classes, start working, get healthcare, use the library, and open a bank account.
The personnummer is most similar to a social security number but they are very different.
It is perfectly legal and common to find out someones personnummer from the tax office (in person or over the phone), as it is a freedom of information and having someones personnummer does not hold the same risk of identity theft. To use your membership discounts at stores the cashier will ask you to recite your personnummer (aloud) since everything is linked directly to that instead of the hassle of having a card for every store. This would be a ludicrous request in the U.S.A, where the SSN is sensitive and private and only used for identification.
While both numbers function as a national registry they have different uses. A Social Security number is a 9-digit number that is used for income tax purposes tied to each person/SSN account. It is handled more privately and carefully than the 10-digit Swedish Personnummer:
“The SSN is frequently used by those involved in identity theft, since it is interconnected with so many other forms of identification, and because people asking for it treat it as an authenticator. The SSN is generally required by financial institutions to set up bank accounts, credit cards, and obtain loans, partially because it is assumed that no one except the person to whom it was issued will know it.”
The algorithm for the U.S. Social Security number is not as widely understood and known as the Swedish algorithm for personnummers. The most I knew growing up was that the first three digits had something to do with location. And it does, its a zip code system but it only corresponds to a mailing address and does not show the familiar zip code that people relate with when they send a letter. This is unlike the Swedish Personnummer where the first four digits is perfectly recognizable as date of birth (yyyymmdd-####).
The remaining six digits in the Social Security Number are generally randomized within a random group. Opposed to the remaining four digits of the personnummer being clear and public: one of the numbers are an odd or even number determined by the gender of the cardholder, one number is a public algorithm, and the two other numbers are determined by place of birth. The U.S. Social Security number never changes, and never gets reused whereas a Swedish personnummer will be changed if the cardholder decided to have a gender reassignment (Changing the odd or even number that represents male or female to the new proper gender number).
Enough with the facts- what does this mean for you? I’m glad you asked! I am so so excited to have my personnummer! I have been twiddling my thumbs and now I can finally sign up for Swedish For Immigrants. Not knowing the language has been really daunting and now I can overcome that. I can also start looking for work, even if it is typically difficult to find work without knowing Swedish, it’s worth the effort and I will feel better knowing I am trying. Also, I can get hurt or sick! Isn’t that GREAT!? No, really. Now that I am “in the system” I can access Swedish healthcare and I don’t have to worry about being in serious trouble if anything happens while I am here, and that is a big sigh of relief.
For now though, we celebrate with great food and sweet dessert! This is called a systerkaka or a Butterkaka (Sister cake/Butter cake) It is essentially cinnamon rolls cooked together to form a cake, with almond paste, egg custard, and icing or sugar.