Sweden – the Cashless Country?

Sweden - a Cashless Country? Photo: Nature Travels.

They used to say “Cash is King”. No so in Sweden anymore! Like many of its Nordic neighbours, Sweden is fast becoming a cashless economy.

We’re often asked by our guests whether they need to bring cash with them for their trip to Sweden. Here we answer some of the most common questions:

What currency is used in Sweden?

The currency of Sweden is the Swedish Krona, plural Kronor (SEK). Although Sweden has been a member of the European Union since 1995, it has never adopted the Euro and has no plans to do so. It is not possible to pay with Euros in Sweden.

Although 1 SEK is theoretically divided into 100 Öre, for some years now the smallest coin has been the 1 SEK coin (about £0.08). The most “common”* notes are 20 SEK, 50 SEK, 100 SEK and 500 SEK.

*As this article mentions, cash of all kinds is becoming increasingly uncommon!

Sweden - a Cashless Country? Photo: Nature Travels.
Photo: Nature Travels.

Should I bring cash with me to Sweden?

In general, no. There is no need to arrange to bring any Swedish Kronor with you. In the unlikely event that you need cash during your visit, cash can still be withdrawn at ATMs, though in rural areas these may be few and far between.

Even for those with a Swedish bank account, high street banks, with the exception of central offices in the city, will probably not even have cash to dispense over-the-counter at all anymore.

You’re much more likely to find that a situation where cash is not accepted than where card payment is not accepted.

Sweden - a Cashless Country? Photo: Anna Hållams/imagebank.sweden.se
Photo: Anna Hållams/imagebank.sweden.se

If you particularly wish to, you might like to have some cash with you just in case, but bear in mind you’re unlikely to need it. Only 2% of transactions in Sweden are now made with cash in many parts of the country.

Many shops, particularly larger stores, may still accept cash, so if you do have some spare, try to use it before you go home. As Sweden is the only country that uses the Swedish Krona, you will not be able to use any spare currency you take home with you until you return to Sweden again (by which time the notes may be obsolete) and will lose significantly on exchange rates when re-converting your cash. You can always of course donate any unused currency to charity – you will normally find an opportunity to do this with your airline or at the airport.

Do I need a contactless card?

Yes. You will definitely need a card (or phone/smart watch, etc) that can be used for contactless payment.

When paying by card in shops, supermarkets, restaurants, etc, you will usually have the possibility (and may be required to) insert your card and enter your PIN, but in other scenarios this will not be an option.

Sweden - a Cashless Country? Photo: Margareta Blook Sandebäck/imagebank.sweden.se
Photo: Margareta Blook Sandebäck/imagebank.sweden.se

For example, when taking public transport in the Stockholm city area, you simply tap your card on the railway station platform before boarding the train, when going through the turnstiles on the underground or when boarding the bus. This payment will have to be contactless – there is usually no option to insert your card and enter your PIN code.

This then gives you (at the time of writing) 75 minutes of travel on Stockholm’s public transport network for a fixed fee of just 39 SEK (about £3). Your total journey time can be longer than 75 minutes, provided the last leg of the journey (the last time you “tap in”) begins within the 75-minute window. If you tap in after the period has expired, you will simply be charged another 39 SEK.

You will receive no receipt or ticket – the system recognises that the card has been used for payment and either charges you or not next time you tap in.

You cannot pay in cash for the transport network.

Another example of when contactless payment may be the only option is for pay-to-use public toilet facilities at a train or bus station.

Sweden - a Cashless Country? Photo: Ulf Lundin/imagebank.sweden.se
Photo: Ulf Lundin/imagebank.sweden.se

What happens if my card doesn’t work?

It’s always a good idea when travelling to have a back-up card with you, just in case you should have any difficulties. While it’s rare for problems to occur, you might have a situation where a payment is refused because your bank’s automated security system flags the activity as unusual. While you are sorting out the problem, having a spare card can be useful.

Make sure you know the contact information for your bank to be able to contact them to unblock your card and/or know how to resolve the issue by notifying your bank through your online banking app.

Sweden - a Cashless Country? Photo: Simon Paulin/imagebank.sweden.se
Photo: Simon Paulin/imagebank.sweden.se

What is “Swish”?

Swish is a very common payment platform used in Sweden and is the most common way for Swedes to pass money between themselves – it became particularly popular as a convenient way to split the bill in restaurants! It’s free of charge for private individuals to send and receive payments, while companies pay a small transaction fee. However, it requires a Swedish bank account and Swedish mobile phone, so is not a payment option for visitors.

Sweden - a Cashless Country? Photo: Simon Paulin/imagebank.sweden.se
Photo: Simon Paulin/imagebank.sweden.se

Will Sweden become completely cashless soon?

It would seem so. Some forecasts predicted this would already have happened by now, but cash still seems to be maintaining a foothold for the time being.

There are of course strong arguments for keeping cash alive, both practical and ethical, and not everyone sees the move as positive. But the future for those Kronor notes and coins certainly seems uncertain.

Further reading:

Additional articles published before 2018 can be found at our previous blog location at naturetravels.wordpress.com