First, just why is this code so important? It's the number you get when you are added to the Swedish Population Register, and you get it by registering with the Swedish Tax Agency (Skatteverket). Once you have it, it's used for everything from shop loyalty schemes to picking up prescription medicines.
The application is an in-person process, which means you need to visit your local tax office and take with you at the very minimum a national ID card or passport, a valid Swedish home address, and documents to prove your right of residence: depending on your home country, this may include an employment contract, family documents, and/or a work permit.
But not everyone is eligible for the person number, and the situation varies depending on where you're from and what your personal circumstances are (including your occupation and whether or not you have a Swedish family member).
Citizens of EU and EEA countries are entitled to come to Sweden and start working immediately, and they may also come to Sweden as a job-seeker for up to six months.
This means you have a choice between applying to jobs from your home country and moving once you get an offer, or moving to Sweden and starting the job-hunt from here.
If you choose the latter route, you can get right of residence (uppehållsrätt) as a job-seeker in Sweden for up to six months but this doesn't qualify you for a personnummer. You can register with the Public Employment Agency and get a coordination number, which acts as a stand-in for the personnummer on official documents but means you're not officially registered.
Once you find work in Sweden, you should apply for your personnummer as soon as possible, using your employment contract.
A Skatteverket office in Malmö. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT
Citizens of countries outside this group usually need a work permit in order to start working in Sweden.
It's rarely possible to come to Sweden until you've applied for and been granted this permit, and citizens of many countries will also need a visa and residence permit. You can only apply for a work permit once you've been offered a job (and the employer must agree to fulfill certain conditions, such as having advertised the role with Sweden's Public Employment Service and offering the same pay and conditions a Swedish employee would get).
There are a few exceptions. Certain occupations offer the chance to work in Sweden for a specific amount of time without needing a work permit – you can find out more about that here.
Another exception is if you are moving to Sweden with a family member who is a Swedish or EU citizen, as explained below.
If you're a family member of an EU/EEA citizen
Here, the situation is slightly different again. If your reason for moving to Sweden is to join a family member who is a Swedish citizen, and you plan to stay for at least one year, you can be officially registered and get a personnummer even without a job in Sweden.
To do this, you need to visit a Swedish Tax Office and bring documents including your passport or national ID card and documents showing your relationship to the Swedish family member (for example birth or marriage certificates, or proof you have lived together elsewhere). Find more information here.
If you are a non-EU citizen moving to Sweden with a partner or family member who is a citizen of another EU/EEA country, you go through the same process but will also need to prove that the family member has right of residence in Sweden, such as an employment contract or proof of studies.
And if you are a family member of another non-EU citizen who has been granted a work permit in Sweden for more than six months, you can get a work permit for the same period even without a job offer of your own. The family member with the job offer should include all family members who will move to Sweden with them on their own permit application. Find out more details here, or here if the family member will be self-employed.
The process is slightly easier if your partner is Swedish. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT
Will it be harder for me to get a job without a personnummer?
This is the hurdle for many foreigners: it's tough to get a personnummer without a job, but some potential employers may expect you to have one. It's easier for an employer to take on someone who already has a personnummer, or at least a right of residence, because then they don't need to put extra time and resources into the work permit process. Hiring someone from a non-EU country is harder, because they have to follow certain rules regarding how the job is advertised, for example.
But Sweden is experiencing a skills shortage in many areas, and relies on international talent. Most large companies will be used to hiring foreign workers, and small companies will often be happy to go through the process if you're a good match for them. So while the process won't be quite as straightforward without a personnummer, it's not an insurmountable hurdle.
Can I get paid and pay taxes without a personnummer?
Yes. One of the things your personnummer is linked to is your Swedish bank account – but you don't actually need it in order to set up an account.
You should be able to set up an account using a temporary ID number, which banks can create using your passport or other national identity card. As The Local found when we investigated Swedish ID, not all staff at all branches will be aware of this, so if you encounter problems it's worth asking to check with a senior staff member. For non-EU citizens in particular, the process might take slightly longer if staff need to verify your details.
With this temporary number, there will be some restrictions on your account, and you'll need to re-register once your personnummer comes through, but you can still get paid and make withdrawals.
As for paying taxes, you can set up a coordination number (samordningsnummer) if you are not initially eligible for a personnummer, for example if you plan to stay for between six months and a year. This is your identity number, used for taxes, bank accounts and so on.
Do you have any questions about life in Sweden? E-mail The Local or comment below.