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What is the one smartphone app you can’t avoid in Sweden?

In Sweden, it's only a matter of time before you'll be asked about Swish, the payment app that's used by millions of people in this increasingly cashfree society. But what is Swish, how do you start using it and why are Swedish police not too happy about it?

What is the one smartphone app you can't avoid in Sweden?
Cashless transfers have become the norm in Sweden. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

The Swedish public is increasingly shunning cash, and with the lowest cash circulation rate in the world – 1.2 percent of GDP – they overwhelmingly prefer to use card or digital payment options. 

The largest payment platform in Sweden is Swish, a phone-to-bank payment service which boasts over 7.5 million users. That's not bad in a country that only recently reached 10 million in population.

Swish is an app for mobile phones that uses phone numbers as identification for receiving and making payments. It connects your phone number to your bank account – any number is fine but you need a Swedish bank account, which keeps a lot of newcomers locked out from the system. Unlike many similar apps in other countries, such as Venmo, it clears the transactions in real-time, and is supported by most Swedish banks.


In November 2019 alone, people in Sweden 'swished' almost 22 billion kronor in 48 million different transactions.

The app has quite a few features meant to make payments between people less of a hassle. An in-app calculator for easily splitting bills, an option to save people you regularly share payments with as favourites, and an option for quickly scanning QR-codes with the 215,000 companies that currently accept Swish.

Swish is in fact becoming so popular in Sweden that a new Swedish – and Swenglish – verb has been introduced: Jag swishar dig or “I'll swish you” is a common phrase when splitting bills.

Check the guide further down in the article for help on what you need to do to set up your own Swish account!

Cash, card or Swish? Cashless is becoming the new norm in Swedish stores. Photo: Isabell Höjman/TT

How safe is it?

It is safe to use, even in the event of a lost or stolen phone, but there have been scams involving Swish and you may need to beware of odd requests or unknown payments.

Different banks have different identification systems, codes or even touch-ID, but since you need a Mobile Bank ID in order to use Swish it is not a risk lending your phone to other people, as long as you are not too frivolous with your personal codes.

After concerns had been raised over “Swish-stalking”, stalkers making small payments in order to send messages to people, the app introduced the possibility to block incoming payments from specific phone numbers.

To the Swedish public, ease-of-use and quick inter-personal money transfers seem to be the main appeals of these kinds of services, but for international residents the hassle of setting up bank accounts can be quite a headache.

But though Swish may be safe to use, and popular, it isn't without criticism in Sweden.

Lack of oversight

Swish has recently come under flak from Swedish police as well as Financial Markets Minister Per Bolund of the Green Party, who are concerned about these services being an easy way for criminals to move money around due to companies not having to report criminal activity.

Financial Markets Minister Per Bolund has raised concerns about Swish and similar services. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

According to revelations brought forth by Swedish public broadcaster SVT, Swish has been operating without a permit from the Swedish Financial Supervisory Authority (Finansinspektionen, or FI).

The CEO of Swish, Anna-Lena Wretman, told SVT that since the transactions are technically done through the regular banking system, and the banks are responsible for their regulatory obligations, it is only the banks and not Swish that should be required to have such a permit.

Swedish police have been critical about the cash transfer system and asked the justice ministry in May 2019 to tighten regulations. Their main concern is that Swish is vulnerable to being used for illegal money laundering and that there is a lack of regulatory oversight to be able to tackle criminals using Swish.

The Swedish Financial Supervisory Authority has initiated discussions with the company behind the app, Getswish AB, in order to investigate whether regulation is needed.

Criticisms aside – the public has spoken

Swish, and similar cashless systems, have rapidly overtaken cash purchases. In 2010, almost 40 percent of Swedes reported using cash in their last purchase. In 2018 that number had dropped to only about 13 percent, according to statistics from the Swedish Central Bank.

So how do you get on the same monetary playing field as your Swedish colleagues?

How to set up your own Swish account

Step 1 – Bank account

Swish is a collaboration between most Swedish banks and the Swish company. You'll need to set it up via your Swedish bank account, and this can be done online. 

Step 2 – Mobile Bank ID

A Swedish social security number (personnummer) is crucial for getting BankID, an app that allows access to your Swedish banking and can also be used for secure identification at, for example, government agencies and authorities. Even a Swedish coordination number, or samordningsnummer is not enough to be eligible for BankID, so sadly if you do not have a personnummer it's not an option for you.

BankID is a software that is downloaded to your computer, tablet or phone through your bank. Each bank has their own guide so you will have to follow the instructions from your bank in order to get started.

Foreign residents without a Swedish social security number won't be able to use Swish. Photo: Isabell Höjman/TT

For a Swish account, a Mobile BankID is needed. This means that your tablet or phone functions as the bank security token generator.

For BankID you can also use a physical card reader, but it's the mobile version you need for Swish.

Step 3 – Activate Swish on your bank account

An easily overlooked step. Before activating Swish on your phone or tablet you need to do it on your internet bank as well, it is also there you choose which bank account will be the target for transactions.

Step 4 – Download Swish and connect your phone number

When you have managed to create a Mobile BankID, and activated Swish on your bank, the rest is pretty easy. Download both the Mobile BankID and Swish apps to your phone. Start Swish and follow the instructions on screen.

And that's it. Congratulations, for better or worse you have just moved a step further towards Swedish integration.

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For members


Cost of living: How expensive is Sweden compared to a year ago?

Those living in Sweden have no doubt noticed that things have become a lot more expensive over the past year – but just how much more expensive is life in Sweden than a year ago?

Cost of living: How expensive is Sweden compared to a year ago?

How much does fuel cost?

This depends on what kind of fuel you use – a litre of ethanol for example costs around half that of HVO100, a renewable alternative to diesel. All the prices listed below were the average price on August 10th, 2023.

For those using petrol, specifically Bensin 95 (unleaded petrol), the price per litre on August 10th was 20.89 kronor, compared to 19.33 kronor per litre a year ago.

The price of ethanol, also sold under the name E85, has remained relatively stable over the past year, standing at 15.10 kronor per litre on August 10th, compared with 15.87 kronor per litre in August 2022.

Diesel prices are a bit higher at 24.36 kronor per litre in August 2023, up from 22.91 last year.

Finally, the price of HVO100 is around 30.67 kronor per litre this month, up from 28.87 in 2022.

What about energy prices?

Energy prices are in general lower in summer than winter, especially given the wet and dreary summer Sweden has had, which has been good news for wind and hydropower.

The most recent figures available are from July 2023, and prices vary depending on which energy price zone you live in. All prices here are rörliga or variable monthly rates – not hourly rates – and they don’t include VAT, so the actual amount on your energy bill will be higher.

We’ve used prices from Vattenfall, one of Sweden’s largest energy producers.

Energy zone 1 – the cheapest energy zone – is in the far north of Sweden, and it includes Norrbotten county and part of Västerbotten county.

Prices in zone 1 last month were around 47.93 öre per kilowatt hour, higher than the 31.61 öre per kWh consumers in energy zone 1 paid last year.

Energy zone 2 is slightly further south, and it includes Jämtland county, Västernorrland county, and parts of Gävleborg and Västerbotten counties.

Prices here were similar at 47.95 öre per kWh in July compared to 31.64 öre per kWh in 2022.

Energy zone 3 covers central Sweden, encompassing Stockholm and Gothenburg, as well as Stockholm county, Södermanland county, Uppsala county, Värmland county, Västmanland county, Örebro county, Östergötland county, Dalarna county, and parts of Halland, Kalmar, Jönköping, Västra Götaland, and Gävleborg counties.

Here, prices were extremely high at this time last year – a whopping 100.89 öre per kWh in July 2022 – although the figures for this year are much lower at 48.66 öre per kWh.

Energy zone 4 – the most expensive zone – includes Malmö, Skåne, Blekinge, Kronoberg, and parts of Kalmar, Halland, Jönköping and Västra Götaland counties.

In July year, users in this zone were paying an eye-watering 137.58 öre per kWh, with this year’s figures a much more reasonable 52.78 öre per kWh.

There’s also some good news for Swedish households this autumn as prices are not expected to be anywhere near the levels seen last year, mainly due to water reservoirs (crucial for hydropower) being well-filled by the recent rain, and also due to well-stocked gas reservoirs in the rest of Europe cutting the continent’s reliance on Russian gas.

Of course, this may change, especially if the war in Ukraine worsens, but for now at least, it seems like Sweden is in for a cheaper winter on the energy front this year than in 2022.

How are property prices faring?

Over the past three months, the average price of an apartment in a housing cooperative – a bostadsrätt – was 43,608 kronor per square metre, according to Svensk Mäklarstatistik, an organisation that keeps data on the real estate market.

The average sales price of apartments across the country over the same period was 2,787,000 kronor, with prices highest in Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö, and lower elsewhere.

When it comes to the price of detached homes or villor over the past three months, sales prices have been lower, at 30,100 kronor per square metre, although the average sales price was higher, at 3,714,000 kronor.

Compared to last year, apartment prices are down 2.4 percent from 43,092 kronor per square metre and an average sales price of 2,767,000 kronor. The decrease is even larger for detached houses, which have gone down 10.2 percent in value in the past 12 months from a price per square metre of 29,547 kronor and an average sales price of 3,689,000 kronor.

Of course, that doesn’t say much about how much housing costs have increased for the average person in Sweden.

The Financial Supervisory Authority’s most recent report on housing costs for mortgage holders in Sweden is from March 2023, and it indicates that households in Sweden spend on average 12 percent of their income on interest rate payments, which is 2 percent higher than in 2022, and also the highest figure measured by the authority since records began in 2012.

The key interest rate has increased by 0.75 percentage points since March 2023, so this number is now likely higher.

This does not take into account the cost of paying off a loan – amortering – with government regulations stipulating that households must repay between 0 and 3 percent of the total value of the loan per year, depending on how large their loan is in comparison to their yearly income, and how large their cash deposit was in relation to their mortgage.

In terms of rental properties, the Swedish Tenants’ Association which is responsible for negotiating first-hand rentals, has agreed rent hikes of around 4 percent, on average, compared with last year.

For people in second-hand rentals, landlords are able to set prices at a level which covers their own mortgage costs – so it is likely that prices have gone up in line with increased interest rates for property owners.

How much have food prices gone up?

It’s difficult to say in kronor how much food prices have increased, as your food shop depends so much on the exact products you usually buy.

Instead, we can look at the general percentage increase of a number of items across all the largest chains, which is exactly what food price comparison site Matpriskollen has done.

According to the site’s statistics, food prices went up by 0.2 percent month-on-month in July. Price hikes were recorded on 20 percent of the 43,000 items measured, while 9 percent of products decreased in price. The majority of products – 71 percent – stayed the same price in July.

On a yearly basis, food prices have increased by 9.5 percent. Looking back to January 2022, when prices first started going up, the price of food has gone up by a whopping 21.6 percent.

So, how much more expensive is it to live in Sweden than it was a year ago?

The best way to look at this is by using the figures for inflation, collected by Statistics Sweden. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) is the standard measure for inflation in Sweden, which measures the average change in prices paid by consumers over a set period of time.

Figures for July or August have not yet been released, but the most recent CPI figures in June indicate that Sweden became 9.3 percent more expensive between June 2022 and June 2023.

CPIF inflation – the consumer price index with a fixed interest rate – is slightly lower, with an increase of 6.4 percent between June 2022 and June 2023.