I have only a few posts left as the Swedish Institute has made the decision to discontinue having blogs. Ending this blog got me thinking that I want to leave those of you thinking of moving to Sweden or who are fresh off the proverbial boat with some concrete information (and maybe some more anecdotes) about life in Sweden. I thought I would revisit a subject I wrote about back when I was writing the Work Blog.
According to an article in The Local, an 87-year-old Swedish woman received a letter from the Swedish Tax Board (Skatteverket) informing her that she had died. “The letter was addressed to the “estate of the deceased” with the woman’s name on it. The letter asked for relatives to fill in the details concerning the woman’s address, to be returned to the Swedish Tax Agency.”
This, of course, resulted in her having to call the authorities and protest that she was still alive and kicking. My favorite part of the article is the woman’s description of her call to the Tax Board. “The person I spoke to said that I must be alive, as I was able to call. She promised to correct the details and write in that I was alive.” I love this story because it perfectly sums up a portion of my challenges with dealing with various authorities. Sweden is struggling mightily to improve the whole immigrant process but it’s a work in progress.
The Tax Board
I have had my share of trials and tribulations with the Tax Board. After receiving permission to continue working in Sweden for more than one year and receiving the ID card that said as much (read more here), I skipped off to the Tax Board office in Stockholm to apply for a Personal Number—the key to being recognized in all nearly all segments of Swedish Life. Sadly, I was turned away because although I had my passport and my newly won work and residence card, I did not have the letter from the Migration Board saying I could stay (strange, since that’s what the card says…) nor proof of my divorce.
I had filled out forms that stated I was once married but now am divorced and they needed official documents saying I was divorced. You see the Tax Board administers the population registration in Sweden (Folkbokföring), the civil registration of vital events (e.g. births, deaths, and marriages) of the inhabitants of Sweden. The registry spans back several centuries that’s why it’s relatively easy to track one’s genealogy in Sweden.
The Tax Board is no doubt trying to control who you can claim is a part of your family, should you ever try to have them join you in Sweden. But it feels weird to provide all sorts of private information about a man that I am no longer married to and who is not moving to this country. Oddly, I never had to produce evidence that I was married but I did have to prove that I was divorced.
Documents in Hand
So I returned a few days later with the proper documents. I had been advised that coming right when the office opened at 10AM was the quickest. I stood shouldto- shoulder with a crowd of about 50 of us—mostly immigrants—who all wanted to get their business done as quick as possible. But luckily the Tax Board sorted us out and gave us queue numbers pretty quickly.
Alas, when my number came up, I got a woman who looked very unenthusiastic about her job. She insisted that I my divorce papers were not originals. I explained that I had never owned originals but had gotten this certified copy directly from the California courts. The documents bore the certification seal and everything. I told her that they probably never gave out the “original” because, since there are two parties to a divorce, they probably can’t decide which party should get it. She stomped off to make copies of the documents. I had already made copies for them (as well as brought the originals) but she said they had to make their own copies. At least 4 other employees initiated conversations with her at the copy machine, in full view of gotta-get-back-to-work me. I thought maybe she was a supervisor or something and they were asking how to handle complicated cases but when I asked her for a printout of something I needed from the Tax Board, she was at a loss and had to ask the woman next to her.
Back to the story about the undead woman (hey, zombie stories play…) The article said the elderly woman also had to straighten out the problem with other Swedish governmental agencies. (Because once it gets into the system incorrectly, it then affects how all the other agencies see you.) “When the 87-year-old recently needed to get medicine from the chemist, for example, she was denied her prescription as the chemist’s records stated that she was a “non-existing person”. The woman said, “She saw that I was standing there and that I had my proof of identity with me, so after a while I was allowed to get my medicine anyway. But it dragged out a good while.”
I love the fact that even standing there in the flesh might not be proof that the report of one’s demise might be greatly exaggerated…