Several visits to the bank, unclear answers and arbitrary treatment. That is reality for many international students in Lund that want to open a Swedish bank account.
When Reuben Masereka from Uganda arrives in Sweden, he doesn’t get a personal number. His master program in business is shorter than the twelve months required for getting a personal number. Still, Reuben Masereka decides to get a bank account, because he wants to be able to pay his rent in a simply way.
Reuben Masereka first visits SEB, but they tell him that he can only get an account without access to online banking. Eventually he visits Handelsbanken, where he immediately is accepted as a client and receives an account with online banking.
“At Handelsbanken I only had to show my passport and my acceptance letter and then I got my account,” says Reuben Masereka.
Reuben Masereka’s situation is not at all uncommon. Many international students need a bank account to pay rent, to receive scholarship money, to take out money at an ATM without additional costs or to pay only. But, just like Reuben Masereka, they experience problems, especially if they come from countries outside of Europe.
In theory, no problems exist, though.
“According to Swedish law, banks that offer to accept deposits that are protected by deposit insurance required to accept such deposits of ‘everyone’ if there are no specific reasons against it. Of course, it can be discussed who ‘everyone’ is, but you could say that it means ‘anyone’, regardless of personal number or nationality,” Åsa Arffman, lawyer at the Swedish Bankers’ Association says.
She notes: “For that reason, it’s not possible to directly refuse when a student without a personal number comes to the bank and ask for an account.”
The Swedish Bankers’ Association represents all larger banks in Sweden. They have also created a checklist on how international students could get a bank account with their banks.
But when Lundagård calls the larger banks, it turns out that much is unclear about which rules they have and how they apply them. It seems that getting a bank account as an international student is a matter och luck.
Nordea and SEB’s press offices are uncertain, but answer eventually that they give an account to everyone after having checked whom they are dealing with. Nordea adds, however, that they “rather have students with personal number” and SEB underlines that it can take longer to get a response if one comes from a country on which Sweden has an embargo, for example Iraq or Syria. Swedbank refers us to the Swedish Bankers’ Association and their regulations.
Bernd Schmitz, Danske Bank’s press officer, replies that it, at the moment, doesn’t work to open an account without a personal number with them. Danske Bank was, however, the only bank where Madina Balgabek (see the linked article) was allowed to open an account.
Lund University says that they have been familiar with this problem for many years.
“This is an important question that we have brought up. It is important for the integration of international students that the first weeks in Sweden run smoothly and the university has a large responsibility,” Maria Johansson says, international officer at External Relations.
Will revise the guidelines
During the last years, the university has regularly met the banks. Whether this has given a concrete result is nevertheless not something that Lise Bröndum, financial director at Lund University, can make a statement on.
“I can’t say whether it has become better or worse, but the dialogue has in any case become batter, and that is an important step,” Lise Bröndum says.
Now the university works on seeing over the policies, together with the banks. “We are now discussing which documents the students need to show when they come, so that they don’t get different answers at the banks in Lund,” Maria Johansson says.
Financial director Lise Bröndum thinks, though, that it’s hard to say when the problem will be solved.
“I don’t think that this is a question of which one can say ‘now it’s solved’, but that one has to work with it continuously.”
Everyone has the right to get a bank account. But there are exceptions.
According to the law, banks are not allowed to process transactions if
- The person has contacts with a banks that is on a sanction list (EU-regulation)
- It is suspected that the money will be used for money laundering.