The Local’s readers: How Sweden’s ‘cashless society’ affects international residents

Fewer and fewer Swedes use cash in their daily lives, but for international residents struggling to set up a bank account or platforms such as Swish, the cashless society can be a headache. The Local asked our readers what they think.

The Local's readers: How Sweden's 'cashless society' affects international residents
Sweden is a pioneer with the idea of a cash-free society. Photo: Christine Olsson/TT

In 2010 nearly 40 percent of Swedes said they paid for their most recent purchase in cash.

By 2018 that proportion had drastically decreased to 13 percent, according to the Swedish Central Bank.

When The Local asked our readers what payment method they prefer, an overwhelming majority said card. But many also highlighted the unique problems international residents face in the cashless society.

Gabriel Pavico, who moved to Sweden from the Philippines for university, said that although he thought being able to pay by card so regularly had made his life easier, he had encountered two specific problems.

“The most annoying things would be when card systems crash or when we have friends coming over and their international cards aren't accepted in a store. It's just a big inconvenience,” he said. “Getting a bank account was also a headache.”

David from the United States expounded on that issue by explaining the ripple effect of a cashless society.

“Many brick-and-mortar businesses refuse cash. This trickles down to individuals not accepting cash because it can't be spent anywhere. Then, settling small debts or splitting bills becomes cumbersome,” he said.

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Sweden's move towards cashless

This café is entirely cash free, which has become a trend in Sweden recently. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

Swish, a mobile payment system, has become widely accepted across Sweden with more than six million users. In fact, some establishments have begun only accepting Swish as a form of payment, and it's popular with smaller businesses or stands at markets. Although Swish can be linked to bank accounts with 12 of Sweden's largest banks, it's not possible to connect it to a foreign account.

Bob, a United Kingdom resident but frequent visitor to Sweden, said this system is difficult for non-residents.

“As a visitor I can't pay at places that only accept Swish because I don't have Swish. And without a Swedish bank account I can't get Swish. And without a Swedish residence, I can't get a bank account,” he explained.


Readers found some benefits to this change taking place in Swedish society, however.

Carys Egan-Wyer, a UK native in her tenth year in Sweden, said that going cash-free is eco-friendly as well as a tool to save her time and effort.

“I think it's generally a good thing for the environment, I don't have to go to the cash machine any more, and I don't have to pick up my husband's loose change from all over the house every day,” she said.

An ATM dispensing Swedish krona. Photo: Martina Holmberg/TT

Tom, a Malmö resident, said that he isn't as worried about thieves anymore.

“The fact I don't have to carry cash makes me feel a little safer and it stops me from wandering around looking for cash machines,” he said. 

And, for those international residents who have been able to acquire a bank account and enable Swish on their phone, the transition has been smooth.

“It is great that I don't need to carry around my wallet,” said Jana Larsson, originally from Slovakia. “Swish is an amazing service in case I forget my card or to send money to colleagues. It makes my life easier.”


A few readers even said that they only carry around coins to be used for public toilets, which usually accept coins, although many have begun to accept payment by card or even Swish as well.

“I have ten kronor in my backpack in case I need to use the restroom and that's it,” Rodney from San Francisco said.

Karen, who has lived in the Västra Götaland region for one year, found that there are both pros and cons to the cash-free trend.

“It's great to see street vendors and market traders embracing mobile payments in a way you don't see in the United Kingdom, but I do worry for the exclusion of the elderly,” she said.

Someone using Swish to pay for a haircut. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Some readers suggested changes to the system which would allow for a better transition.

“Businesses over a certain threshold of sales, like 10,000 kronor per day, should be obligated to accept cash,” David said.

Howard Drobner, who is a frequent business traveller to Sweden, also proposed a tweak.

“Some small vendors, like at flea markets and craft shows, only take Swish which I do not have and can not get due to the fact that I do not have a Swedish bank account or national number. I would therefore really like to have a Swish setup for frequent travellers to Sweden,” he said.

What do you think? Sign up or log in as a Member of The Local to comment below.

Member comments

  1. My wife and I have been living in Lund for about 10 months. We have a bank account and Swish. However, we liked our U.S. Capital One credit cards due to the reward package. Problem was, every time we used the credit card we would have to show ID and sign the receipt. But here’s the trick (and this would work for visitors as well). We discovered Samsung Pay. It works on Android devices as well as Apple. You register your card into the phone, create an authentication token, create a signature and away you go. Tap and go. Even some of the retailers are impressed. It truly was a life changer. No wallet, no cash, just your phone.

  2. I am a somewhat frequent visitor to Sweden from the U.S., having lived in Stockholm many years ago. I return to visit Swedish friends. I recently was there this past April and found the cashless store purchases awkward and stupid. Having to use my credit card just to purchase a bottle of water or a last minute vykort at the ABBA museum seemed crazy. I can also tell you that the backlash against the cashless system is beginning in the U.S. because of the negatives associated with it. Let me explain.

    Philadelphia, the entire city in Pennsylvania, recently passed an ordinance to forbid all retail stores going cashless. Same for, I believe, Seattle, WA. Other towns and cities in the U.S. are considering ordinances forbidding cashless stores.The cashless system has become a social class issue in the U.S., since some people are not qualified to obtain credit cards (poor people, homeless people, students without jobs disqualifying them for credit cards, pensioners with low incomes not qualifying, etc.), or so have become powerless to make purchases. Amazon tried to go cashless in its Whole Food supermarket, but had to abandon that policy when low income people, without credit cards, could no longer make food purchases at the store.

    Also, by going cashless, we are creating a new generation of young people who do not easily understand the value of money and instead will get in the habit of buying everything with a plastic credit card. This generation will soon get deeply in debt. Using real paper cash in one’s wallet or purse teaches one what one can afford to buy. One has more control over one’s money and budget using cash and not using a plastic credit card.

    There are increasing incidents of power disruption in the U.S. and credit card and auto billing services, or auto-banking systems go off line and stop working. Just yesterday, in my town in CT, Bank of America had to close its branch downtown because its system crashed with a glitch and they even closed the brick and mortar branch in the afternoon for hours until it was fixed. I think we Americans are beginning to overdose on speed and becoming lazy when we want everything speedier and quicker while for me it is no big deal to carry some cash, using my credit cards for only large purchases, like an airline ticket or a hotel bill. I laughed when I saw the picture of Benny Andersson in Sweden months ago who was eagerly pushing this cashless movement because he did not want to be bothered carrying the millions of kronor in his pocket and he was in a hurry not wanting to take time paying in cash. I do not have millions of dollars or millions of kroner, so I do not identify with Benny’s problem.

    My personal opinion: I am against the cashless. I want control over my money and knowing how much I am immediately spending. I do not feel a risk carrying money and fearing being robbed. If I am robbed, I will just replace the money in my wallet with more money,plus having to replace the stolen credit cards, driving license, etc. It think it is a bogus argument to say one does not have to worry being robbed when one does not have cash. Also, I am at the stage when I feel myself more and more tethered to my smart phone and now feel the pressure to also use to make cashless purchases in stores. What happens one day if I drop my phone, it gets broken or if it is stolen and I can’t that day make any purchases, while at the same time I’ve left my wallet at home?

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