The Personal Number is your identification number in Sweden. It is similar to our German social security number and consists of the year, month and day you were born plus 4 additional numbers, showing the gender, place of birth and a control number. Due to this system, everybody has a unique number, a unique identity. Without this number you practically don´t exist in the Swedish system. The problem with the personal number is: You will only receive one if you stay at least for one year in Sweden. Exchange students and students of the one-year Master are not eligible for a personal number.
I really thought I don´t need this number but after years without it I literally gave up and ordered one. Without a personal number you do not even get a loyalty card from your favorite shop or supermarket, so no discounts for you. It is quite embarrassing to state that you don´t have a personal number and people often look at you in sympathy as if you were coming from another part of the world.
If you want to order online, no way without a personal number. Or opening a bank account: a long and painful story. I went to Swedbank, a local bank, two years ago to open an account. The first information was: You don´t have a personal number, well then you cannot open a bank account here. Even though I could prove I have a job and quite some savings, it was just not possible. After some desperate days of waiting and trying different banks an employee called me and told me there was the possibility to open a basic account for a year. But at the bank, there was the next problem: The bank did not accept my German identity card, although it is an official document. They just stated it was not sufficient enough to identify me. Gosh, I felt like a criminal. Well it got solved after another visit at the bank with my travel passport. Weird since this is a document you only need if you travel outside Europe, but anyways I was really happy to be able to open the account. The bank opened some “fake” account for me with a fake personal number, nevertheless it was just the basic services. The technophile Swedes use a service called “swish”, a way to transfer money by sending it to the mobile phone number of the recipient, really easy and convenient and everybody uses it, but you probably already guessed it: you need a personal number to use it. Without it you are doomed to be the one to pay your friends back in cash and Swedes are really not used to carry cash with them, everything is paid by well swish or credit card.
And there are so many more occasions coming up, booking a course without personal number is really a hassle, you cannot borrow books in the local library, getting a contract for your mobile phone? No way, for you there is only the possibility to get a pre-paid card.
So if you are coming to Sweden and you are staying longer as a year, for example in a two-year Master or a three-year Bachelor program I can only recommend to register for a personal number as fast as you can.
Actually it is really easy, you just need to visit your local Skatteverket, an authority commissioned to issue the personal number and bring your letter of admission to the university, your passport, in case you are not an EU-citizen your residence permit, your health insurance card, hand it in and wait for some weeks until you finally get your personal number.