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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


What to do if you can’t meet Tuesday’s Swedish tax declaration deadline

The deadline to submit your income tax declaration in Sweden falls on Tuesday May 2nd. Here's what to do if you haven't managed to get it together in time.

What to do if you can't meet Tuesday's Swedish tax declaration deadline

When exactly is the Swedish tax deadline and what help can I have to meet it? 

The deadline falls on the stroke of midnight on Tuesday May 2nd, so you still have a few hours to get your declaration together.

Sweden may have relatively high taxes, but the Swedish Tax Agency seeks to make paying them as easy as possible.

If you have any questions, it is well worth ringing the helpline on 0771-567 567.

Unlike the helplines of the tax offices in most other countries, the helpline is well-staffed with informed people who go out of their way to help you. 

The agency also has a good quide in English on how to file your return. 

What happens if you miss the deadline? 

If you fail to submit your declaration by midnight, you are at risk of having to pay a fee of 1,250 kronor, but this won’t necessarily happen. There is an element of discretion, and if you filed your return at 0.15am on May 3rd, you may well be let off. 

In any case, before the charge is taken out of your tax account or skattekonto, you will first receive a note informing you of possible impending late charge, which you can then appeal. 

So if you fell ill on May 2nd, or the internet broke down at your apartment at 11.55pm, you can inform them when you receive this note and you may be able to avoid a fine.  

If in a further three months (August 2nd), you still haven’t submitted your tax declaration, you risk a second 1,250 kronor fine. Finally, after five months (October 2nd), you risk a third fine of 1,250 kronor. 

How to get an extension if you are self-employed 

You can extend the deadline until May 16th by logging into your page on the Tax Agency’s website or calling them on 0771 567 567 (or +46 8 564 851 60 from outside Sweden).

To find the extension form, go to the Mina Sidor page on your Tax Agency account, press the Skatter och Deklarationer link near the bottom, and then press the Anstånd med inkomstdeklarationen link and filling in the form. 

Jan Janowski, a declaration coordinator at the agency, said that the agency prefers for people to do this than to knowingly submit an incomplete or inaccurate declaration. 

“We want people to live their declaration in as complete a form as possible, but if you are still waiting for some supporting documents we would like people to apply for an extension.” 

If you have an accountant, they can apply for all of their clients’ income declarations to be delayed until June 15th in a measure called byråanstånd, intended to help them with the last minute rush to declare.

This, however, has to be done for all of their clients and isn’t something they can do for you just because you are late. 

Is it better to file an incomplete declaration than a late one? 

If you feel unable to file your declaration even on May 16th, what’s holding you back is likely to be something like declaring capital gains tax on share or property sales, or confusion over calculating one of Sweden’s many tax deductions, such as the ROT or RUT deductions for cleaning or home maintenance. 

If you are employed, the most important element of your tax declaration – your income from your job – will already be filled in on the paper or online form.

Declaring your main income from employment is just a question of checking that the details Skatteverket already has are correct and submitting a declaration either using Skatteverket’s app, or by sending a text message including your personal identity number and signature code to 71144 from within Sweden, or by calling 020 567 100 and following the instructions. 

If you are still wading through spreadsheets of share sales, but have no issues with the Tax Agency’s record of your income from employment, you can make the declaration but inform the agency that you may have other capital gains or other income to declare later on. 

If you do this, it’s good to be as transparent as possible with the agency about what information you are waiting for when you make your declaration.

To do this, find the andra information, or “other information” section in the declaration, and write down, in either English or Swedish, what information you are waiting for. 

You could write, for instance: “I sold an apartment in Florida in 2022 but have yet to receive details of the proceeds and am waiting for my accountants in the US to calculate the capital gains.” 

If you do this, you are much less likely to be fined if the Tax Agency later discovers any undeclared gains. 

How long do you have to make changes to your tax declaration? 

Until the Tax Agency makes a tax decision, normally in June, you can resubmit your tax declaration using the same form on the website you used to declare it the first time, and the agency will use the most up-to-date declaration when calculating your taxes. 

Even after it has made a tax decision for an income year, the agency is liberal about any voluntary changes made in future. 

Once a declaration has been made, you can still request changes to the final tax decision based on new information or corrections you have made for up to five years. 

For the first 12 months after the end of the taxation year (IE, until January 2024), the tax agency will never levy a so-called tax surcharge (skattetilläg), even if one of its officers discovers that someone has failed to declare, or falsely declared, some earnings or income in your return. 

After the first 12 months, if you bring undeclared income or falsely claimed tax breaks voluntarily to the tax agency’s attention before the agency discovers it, you are also likely to avoid a surcharge. 

What happens if the agency catches you not declaring income or falsely claiming rebates? 

If you are caught evading taxes or make a mistake, the penalty is set quite high. You have to pay the tax you should have paid, plus a 40 percent surcharge.