Friday, September 05, 2008

Moving to Sweden – Getting a Cell Phone

It’s time for yet another installment of Moving to Sweden. Because we all need help when deciding to throw caution to the wind and move to a country that is shrouded in darkness during the winter months. Of course, we’ve already covered some of the basics of getting here in the previous posts:
Moving to Sweden – What to Bring
Moving to Sweden – The Swedish Language
Moving to Sweden – Finding a Place to Live
Moving to Sweden – The Metric System and You
Moving to Sweden – Getting from the Airport to Stockholm City
Moving to Sweden – The Weather
Moving to Sweden – Swedish Citizenship Test
Moving to Sweden – Public Holidays
Moving to Sweden – Finding a Job
Moving to Sweden – Culture Shock: It's the Little Things
Moving to Sweden – Making Friends
Moving to Sweden – Cost of Living
Moving to Sweden – The Laundry Room
Moving to Sweden – Marijuana
Moving to Sweden – Most Common Jobs and Salaries

Now that you’re here it’s time to get a cell phone.

I recently was speaking to a couple of people, one of whom had just arrived in Sweden and after four days was without a cell phone, and one of whom had lived here for quite a while. The honorary Swede (because I’m just not sure of the status of his Swedish citizenship) joked that you couldn’t get in anywhere in Sweden without a cell phone. And it’s true. Kind of.

Obviously, no one is frisking you at the door, but not having a cell phone in Sweden is tantamount to kicking baby seals. You just don’t do it. Along with Finland, Sweden is one of the most well connected countries when it comes to mobile technology. They do good work. I’m not sure what it is but the Nordic countries tend to be at the forefront of mobile technology. You can basically be anywhere in the country and get decent connection. Except for the tunnel through Stockholm Södra. Damn that tunnel.

Anyway, with that in mind, it’s a good idea to get a cell phone when you get to the country. It makes things a lot easier when you start making friends, start searching for a job, or start looking for a place to live. The following will give you an idea as to what kind of choices you will face. In the end though, only you can prevent forest fires. And choose your own cell phone.
Look at how old that phone is.
2008 was a long time ago.
There are a few different options. You need to decide if you want a kontantkort or an abonnemang. Literally, a cash card or a subscription. Basically you have the choice between signing up for a contract for a set amount of time or getting a plan where you can just fill up as you go.

Plenty of thought can be put into this. But it depends on how much calling you plan on doing, how much texting you plan on doing, what kind of options you want, and all that extra stuff. The contracts are usually for 12, 18, or 24 months. The pay-as-you-go cards, (which have a name in English that I can’t think of for the life of me) come in various levels but the most common is 100 or 200 SEK. Various plans and cards have different advantages so you need to put a little bit of thought into this. Or, maybe you’re like me and have a deep seated disdain for cell phones and didn’t get one until after freshman year of college. Then you can avoid some thought and keep it simple.

I just wanted something that I could call with every now and again and maybe make an international call or two when I felt the need. So I went with the kontantkort and chose Comviq Amigos because it offered really cheap phone calls to the US and other countries around the world. If you plan on just using Skype (a wonderful Swedish invention by the way) you don’t need to worry about it, but it’s still nice in case you find yourself stuck on a train wanting to call someone back home. Whatever you do, don’t pay full price for a phone if you’re going to get a contract. And, because Sweden likes to make things difficult for immigrants, most places will not give you a cell phone contract unless you have a personnummer. So that's a thing. If you're just here as a student, consider bribing/asking nicely a friend to put you on their plan. That way, you can get any perceived benefits of a contract, without the hassle of not having a personnummer.

You also need to pick a service provider. The big ones are Tre, which means three. Luckily, they use a large bubbly “3” as their logo. There is also, Telia, Tele2/Comviq and Telenor. Then there are a few smaller ones that are working hard like Halebop and Glocalnet. This is obviously not a complete list but gives an idea as to what you have for choices.

What you plan on doing with it is going to be important. Calling. Texting. Sending pictures. All stuff to take into account. You can also take into account which logo you prefer. Because when I studied abroad here that’s what I did. Which is how I ended up with Comviq. They have a basset hound. And who doesn’t love basset hound’s? I probably wouldn’t suggest this for everyone though; it’s basically like picking the Lions over the Rams because you believe a lion could eat a ram. It’s not a good strategy for most aspects of life. But it worked out quite well for me and I haven’t had any problem at all.

For those who want to make a more informed decision, some stores, like The Phone House, will offer some information comparing the different plans. A handy pamphlet with options, columns, little x’s. It’s beautiful really. And should help you decide which plan will meet your needs. You can also check places online like where they compare contracts.

It’s important to note here that most companies will allow you to call for free to others who are using the same company. So Tre can call Tre for free. And Comviq can call Comviq or Tele2 because they are the same company. This is one reason it pays to stick to one of the larger carriers. If you already have a group of friends, check with them to see what they have. If you plan on communicating primarily with them, it might not be a bad idea to get the same carrier as they have.

You also need a cell phone. There are plenty of options here. Too many options to choose from really. You can go obviously go to a specialty store. Like a Telenor store. Or a Tre store. You can also check out an electronics store like MediaMarkt, Siba, or Expert. Or you can go to The Phone House. Which is what I suggest. They’ve got just about everything you need. They have always been incredibly helpful, which you don’t always find in Swedish retail, and they tend to have pretty good prices. Plus, they usually have a couple of phones that have special deals tied to them so you can slide in and snag one of those.

If you’re trying to save money ask around. Everyone loves to get a new cell phone. And with the cellphone culture here in Sweden, Swedes are no exception. That means that a lot of people have older cell phones lying around. Sometimes they’ll just give them away, other times you might have to drop a bit of money. But it’s worth asking. Also, check places like’s notice board. It has a large ex-pat and international community. People are coming and going, and those going often want to get rid of their cell phones for a bit of money.

Finally, because in 2014, when I moved back to Sweden, I had graduate to a smartphone. Really moving up in the world. If you plan on coming over to Sweden with your current smartphone, that's fine. Just make sure you unlock it first. I've been with AT&T in the US for years and they tend to just unlock my phone without too much hassle. This time around, I've been using a Swedish contract with Tele2.

There are other options though. You can sign-up for plans such as T-Mobile's Simple Choice Plan, which offers a whole lot of benefits for not a whole lot of cash. There's unlimited data and unlimited texting. Of course, since you're in a different country and maintaining your American phone number, it means anytime someone wants to call you, they're calling international. And that gets expensive. Or at least annoying.

Now you should have the basics taken care of. You have a plan (card or contract), you have a carrier, and you have a phone. You’re ready to tackle Sweden like a true Swede. With a cell phone as your newest appendage.

Welcome to Sweden.

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  1. this will be a useful post for me to look back on next year. do you know if you can use a phone from the US and just put a new SIM card in it?

  2. Are iPhones popular there yet?

  3. @john - good work

    @jessica - good call on the American phone. I actually am using my american phone. some will work here. others won't. but you need to make sure that your phone is unlocked. I had a nice little att phone which was locked to any sim card except for att. I called customer service and they helped me to unlock it. from my experience though, the two american phones I have used here have worked fine with a swedish sim card in them once I unlocked them. I have tried without the unlock and it didn't work at all.

    @jd - yes. people were camped out way in advance to get one of them. and they do not come cheap.

  4. You name the "big service providers" and forget the largest one? Telia`?

  5. good catch... I could have sworn I had included them but looking back you're right. I missed it. I've edited that and thrown them into the mix.

  6. Hey...
    Natasha here. We met at Rotary this week. loved this post on cell phones.. I couldn't find a SIM card in my phone, but I think I will drop into a Phone House and check.. I just LIKE it better than the swedish one I've got.
    And I also really like the recent couple of posts. very insightful. makes me feel less alien to know someone else is thinking along these lines.

  7. yeah I use my American phone. it's pretty handy as long as it works... plus it's cheaper which is always nice.

  8. I LOVE your site! Very informative and entertaining. My hubby is contemplating a temporary transfer to Sweden (1-2 years) and your blog has been very helpful in preparing for a move.

    May I suggest a future topic for your 'Moving...' series? I would like to know what steps to take as soon as a foreigner like myself sets foot in Sweden. Get a personnummer(? do I need one), sign up for TV, train passes, drivers license, language classes (are they mandatory?),etc. Also, I hear the postal system is a little different than America's- is it really inside a store???

    Thanks for your hard work, and I am looking forward to your next post!

  9. @kelly - glad youve been enjoying it!

    those are some good suggestions. Ill see what I can do with them. probably split them up into a few separate posts though.

    I touched on the language stuff already, and, as far as I know, language classes are not mandatory at all. epecially for ex-pats coming in when transferred as you mentioned. that being said, with the current discussion surrounding immigration, that could possibly change, although I still doubt that Sweden would go to mandatory language classes.

    and dont worry at all about the post office. they have separate offices but also have places in stores where you can take care of business. its really handy actually.

  10. I lived in Sweden (Malmo and Ahus) for a couple of years. I managed to survive without a cell phone. Something I'm managing to do back home in the US--living without a car. But then, in the current city I live, you can virtually bike wherever you want to go; the people here are psycho when it comes to cycling. (not to mention rock climbing, skiing, anything outdoor.)

  11. @me - you're right. anything is possible. but the vast majority of swedes have cell phones. but well done. I must say. because I have a strange hatred for cell phones.

  12. Haha. Loved the "tunnel to Stockholm Södra" part! Man, do i hate that tunnel :P

  13. seriously... its where cell phone calls go to die.

  14. The mobile phone technology is actually a Swedish invention, along with Bluetooth (another mobile technology that is found in modern cell-phones).

    This might be the reason for it bein so widespread - Nokia in Finland must have done the same thing for that country (Nokia is the world's number 1 provider of cell-phones while Ericsson is number 2).

  15. an excellent point. the nordic countries, and more specifically sweden and finland, tend to be pinoeers in cell phone technology.

    they do good work.

  16. How can you say that Tre is the biggest service provider? Telia is bigger by far. I'd even say that Tele2 is bigger than Tre. Tre states that they have the best 3G coverage, but I've read that thats not true. Tre is the last that I would recomend!

  17. I dont say tre is the biggest. I just name the biggest ones in general. tre just happened to come first in my list.

  18. Good post... I got one addition for you though... My husband and I moved back to Sweden in December 2008 after 9 years in the US and wanted to buy a cell phone through Telia. Turned out that they recently changed the rules so in order to sign up for a calling plan we had to be "folkbokförd" (whatever that would be called in English!) for 6 months before they would allow us to be account holders. Good thing my dad was with us so he could be the account holder and we could get our phones! Not sure if this is something just valid for Telia, but as we wanted iPhones we didn't have much choice here.

  19. oh wow... I have never heard of that happening before.

    I suppose one option would be to just get a kontantkort for those first 6 months and then switch that over the a regular plan after you qualify.

    but that is ridiculous.

  20. Hej!
    Came across this blog thanks to a suggestion in Google Reader. Interesting reading, indeed. I'm a Swede, living in North America... Canada to be more precise. It's been five years since I left my native Sweden and I've still not gotten over the screwed up North American cell phone system. The «roaming», the «locked» phones, the charges when somebody calls YOU...the list could go on.

    For four years I lived in Quebec. One of the first things I did was to get myself a cellphone. Because I'm a Swede...that's the thing to do. Little did I know about the workings of it. I didn't want a subscribtion so I went with the pre-paid card. As soon as we left the province of Quebec it ceased to function. I was baffled. Later I checked with my carrier, and it turned out that in order for it to work outside the province I'd had to pay through my nose.

    When I first arrived in North America I had my NOKIA phone with a Telia pre-paid card. Had a stop-over at Newark, went out for a smoke and turned on my phone. It hooked up immediately to AT&T. A little later I did the same thing in Montreal...hooked up there also, to a different carrier.

    Guess I could have kept it that way, but it became too complicated both with the payments and if someone would call me -- they'd have to dial a Swedish cellphone number.

    Now I don't have one at all...and it hurts :-)


  21. one of the first questions I asked was about whether or not I woul dbe charged when people called me. the phone guy looked at me like I was an idiot and expalained that, no, that only happened in the US. and apparently canada.

    good times with cell phones. but I think you're right. cell phones seem to be so common here that they have figured out ways to make it cheap and very easy to use.

    although cell phones seem to be pretty common everywhere. maybe sweden knows something north america doesn't.

  22. Hello, HairySwede! I've been following your blog while preparing for my semester in Stockholm, and the amount of information here is fantastic! I feel a bit silly asking questions pertaining to a entry posted awhile ago. I hope you get this in time!

    This is a really stupid question, but how do I go about finding a phone? i.e. do I simply go into a place like The Phone House, pick a phone, pick a plan -- and I'm done? I won't be able to bring my phone from my U.S. and I haven't had any prior experience finding a phone that didn't belong to a contract.

    Also, if you can remember, what are the price ranges? I'm looking for something really simple, that will let me call and text (maybe even take photos).

    Those are my questions for now. Again, thank you so much for your blog! Keep up the good work :)

  23. yeah your best bet is just heading right into a phone house or electronics store and going from there.

    if you do have a phone in the US, you can ask that your provider unlock it and then you can use it in Europe with a European sim card. assuming it has the 3g capabilities or whatever that technical stuff is.

    the prices usually start around 600 SEK or so for the most basic stuff.

    its not too hard though. lots of people have phones without contracts here and use the pay as you go thing.

  24. Blogs are so informative where we get lots of information on any topic. Nice job keep it up!!

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  25. I'm flying to Sweden on Friday.
    After reading your post and google translating Comviq pages (terrible translation) I think I'll go with them and the "Amigos" plan.

    But question:
    1) What is the price of the actual SIM card

    2) And I couldn't find with amigos the price of incoming calls and SMS sent to the States and around europe

    Thank you

  26. the Amigos is a pretty solid plan.

    The actual price of the SIM card varies, sometimes they will have deals on start packages where you might only pay 100 SEK or so. Walk into a couple of different stores and you'll see the price pretty quickly.

    And also, there is no charge for incoming calls. I think the SMS charge is the same as sending to a swedish number as long as you are in the country.

  27. Just to clarify a little about bringing American phones to Europe. It must be a GSM/3g phone that has a sim card. It can not be a CDMA/3g/4g phone.

    I am a swede living in America so I did my research when I went here.

    If your American carrier is T-Mobile or AT&T you are pretty safe, but if you are with Sprint or Verizon make sure that it is a GSM phone you have.

    If you have a GSM phone you also need to make sure it is a triple band phone. In America GSM works on 1900MHz but in Europe it is 900MHz and 1800MHz. The best way to find out is to check the manual of your cell phone if you still know where that one is ofc, but otherwise you should be able to find manuals online.

  28. Hi. Nice series. Useful to me. On this one you have missed an important point though: it seems to be tricky to get a contract for the newly arrived immigrant.
    T. ex. I would need to have had a personnummer for 8 months to get a contract with Telia. I don't know for how long, but I also need a personnummer for Comviq. Also, I imagine that the direct debit/standing order lots of mobile phone contracts require would be easier if you had a Swedish bank account. And you can't get a bank account without a personnummer (at least, I have tried without success, in the past few weeks. Someone said SEB do have this service, but they do not).

  29. @Laura - I'm a Swedish citizen who lived abroad for many years and when I moved back to Sweden I couldn't get a contract even when I had a personnummer! In my case I had to be nationally registered for 6 months before they allowed me to get a contract.

    That bank account issue you mentioned seems weird. I read online that there is no law that require banks must have an account holder's personnummer, rather it's the banks own decision. It seems very strange that no bank would allow you to have a bank account considering many internationals work here and I figure they want a Swedish bank account for salary, bills etc. I don't know all banks that exists here but someplace must offer bank account to people without personnummer. They can't expect immigrants to keep their mattress as a bank account, can they? ;) Especially as many companies require a bank account to deposit the salary to.

  30. @Laura - true. what I would suggest is one of the cheap pay as you go sim cards. after having that for a while, you can very easily keep the same phone number and roll that over into a contract.

    the bank thing is a pain. I had an American girlfriend at the time who I dragged with me to Sweden. We had the same trouble getting her a bank account. We ended up going to three or four different SEB branches getting different information at each one. Eventually we managed to find one that would open an account. So my advice? Keep trying.

    @Cecilia - all good points. There are definitely banks out there that will be happy to take Laura's money.

  31. The only bank that let us open an account before we had a personnummer was SwedBank- this was upon seeing proof of a work contract. And then, the only of the big cell phone companies that let us have an abonnemang was Telenor (Telia said some BS like we needed to own a house, Tre said we needed a personnummer...).

  32. It's incredible how many horror stories I've heard about banks for foreigners in this country.

  33. Hi there, I am moving to Sweden for 10 months and I need to buy a new mobile phone. What will you offer, what can I do and what these contracts mean? please, help :)))