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Moving to Finland

Finland is the easternmost country of the Nordic region and one of the largest countries in Europe, not to mention one of its most picturesque. Travellers and expats alike are attracted to the country's gorgeous scenery, its cleanliness, its efficient economy, and its famously happy population.

As Finland’s capital and busiest port, Helsinki spills across a group of Baltic islands and promontories, and its smart new suburbs extend into the verdant surrounding forests and countryside. The city is one of Europe’s most modern and culturally progressive places, yet remains in touch with an intriguing history that stretches back over centuries. 

It may take expats living in Finland a while to adapt to cultural differences. The general perception is that Finns are reserved and quiet people, although this isn't always the case with the younger generations. Small talk, a skill which Finns are notoriously lacking, is sometimes regarded with suspicion. Expats would do well to learn Finnish before relocating to the country, but English is also widely spoken.

Finland scores highly on international rankings in many categories, not just in the GDP stakes but also social support, generosity and freedom of choice. The country is said to be one of the happiest and most well-governed in the world and new arrivals may be pleasantly surprised at how easy it is to adapt.

Home-ownership is commonplace in Finland. Expats moving to Finland will find that housing has all the modern conveniences, although housing projects and individual homes tend to be small-scale by international standards. The most important factor affecting housing costs in Finland is the shortage of spacious housing available in metropolitan areas, which often forces families with children to live in the outlying municipalities or further afield, resulting in long and expensive commutes, increased dependence on cars and limited access to services.

Healthcare in Finland is mainly provided based on residency and is primarily financed with general tax revenues. There are both public and private sector providers. Primary health services are generally the responsibility of individual municipalities and are provided through local health centres. Each municipality has a health centre, except for some small municipalities, which may share resources with a neighbouring area. Also, there are a few private as well as state-owned hospitals.

Education is mandatory in Finland and school attendance is compulsory for all children, including foreign citizens who reside permanently in Finland. Most major cities in Finland have good quality local and international schools but are likely to have a waiting list. For these reasons, it is vital to start looking for a school as early as possible.

Overall, expats who are willing to make an effort to adapt to local culture will find that life in Finland offers them a unique insight into Scandinavian and European lifestyles.


Fast facts

Population: Around 5.5 million

Capital city: Helsinki

Neighbouring countries: Finland is bordered by Sweden to the west, Norway to the north and Russia to the east.

Geography: Finland's terrain is mostly flat, with around 70 percent of the country covered in a dense forest. In Lapland, to the north, are low mountains and further south lies the Åland archipelago. Eastern Finland is littered with thousands of lakes.

Political system: Unitary parliamentary republic

Major religions: Christianity

Main language: Finnish as well as Swedish and Sámi, a recognised regional language

Money: The currency used in Finland is the Euro (EUR), which can be divided into 100 cents. ATMs and card facilities are readily available throughout the country's urban centres. 

Time: GMT +2 (GMT +3 between March and October.)

Electricity: 230V, 50Hz. Plugs with two round pins are used throughout the country.

Internet domain: .fi 

International dialing code: +358

Emergency contacts: 112

Transport: Finns drive on the right-hand side of the road and the country boasts an enthusiastic car culture. Major centres such as Helsinki have excellent public transport systems and inter-city trains are efficient and accessible.

Embassy Contacts for Finland


Finnish embassies

Embassy of Finland, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 298 5800

Embassy of Finland, London, United Kingdom: +44 20 7838 6200

Embassy of Finland, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 288 2233

Embassy of Finland, Canberra, Australia: +61 2 6273 3800

Embassy of Finland, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 12 343 0275

Embassy of Finland, Dublin, Ireland: +353 1 478 1344

Consulate-General of Finland, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 4 924 3416


Foreign embassies in Finland

United States Embassy, Helsinki: +358 9 616 250

British Embassy, Helsinki: +358 9 2286 5100

Canadian Embassy, Helsinki: +358 9 228 530

Australian Embassy, Helsinki: +358 10 42 04 492

South African Embassy, Helsinki: +358 9 6860 3100

Irish Embassy, Helsinki: +358 9 682 4240

Public Holidays in Finland

 

2020

2021

New Year's Day

1 January

1 January

Epiphany

6 January

6 January

Good Friday

10 April

2 April

Easter Monday

13 April

5 April

May Day

1 May

1 May

Ascension Day

21 May

13 May

Midsummer

20 June

26 June

All Saints' Day

31 October

6 November

Independence Day

6 December

6 December

Christmas Eve

24 December

24 December

Christmas Day

25 December

25 December

Boxing Day

26 December

26 December

Pros and Cons of Moving to Finland

While Finland may seem perfect to some, others may disagree. Expats moving to the Nordic country have to factor in every aspect of life: where they could look to benefit from Finnish society, and where the pitfalls lie.

Here is a list of some key pros and cons of moving to Finland


Healthcare in Finland

+ PRO: Universal healthcare

Finland is world-renowned for having one of the most progressive social systems. This extends to its healthcare system, being accessible and low-cost. Expats don’t need to worry about paying exorbitant amounts of money for a short check-up as they would in other countries.


Education in Finland

+ PRO: Excellent quality public education

Not only is the standard of public schooling in Finland high, but it is also free. The system may be unfamiliar at first, with children receiving little homework and having longer recess periods than expats are used to, but, ultimately, learning is highly valued. Teachers are well paid and respected, delivering fantastic learning opportunities, which are not limited to children. Adults can take free university courses in Finnish or Swedish at public higher education institutions, making it a great location for studying abroad.

- CON: Language barriers

Expats with children moving for only a short while may find schooling difficult to access due to the language barriers. Education is mainly in Finnish and Swedish, which can be difficult to learn as an additional language. That said, support systems and preparatory classes exist, aiming to integrate all students with diverse backgrounds, skills and abilities.


Accommodation in Finland

+ PRO: Most areas are accessible by public transport

If the city centre proves too expensive or families are more drawn to suburban life, transport and commuting need not be a concern. Buses, trains and the metro in Helsinki are easily accessed by surrounding areas.

- CON: Waiting lists for municipal-owned housing are long

Expats who struggle to afford the cost of living in Finland and are looking for cheaper accommodation can apply for municipal-owned housing. It's a great opportunity as this type of accommodation is cheaper than renting privately. Unfortunately, waiting lists are long as applicants are prioritised based on various need factors. Expats may need to opt for the more expensive route of renting privately.


Lifestyle and culture in Finland

+ PRO: Sauna culture

Many people visit saunas regularly as part of their lifestyle – sauna is, in fact, a Finnish word. It is an interesting atmosphere and is something that many new arrivals and tourists try out. Where the weather may not be to one’s liking, a sauna experience may make up for it.

+ PRO: Finland is a safe country

When moving abroad, expats often worry about their safety, if they should cling on to their bag when using public transport, not carry valuable items with them or not walk alone at night. In Finland, new arrivals should not over-stress about these issues as it is a safe environment, for families and children.

- CON: People may seem unfriendly at first

Some expats experience culture shock as people may seem as cold as the climate – Finns are known to be blunt and straightforward which can come across as rude. But by showing an interest in the culture, expats are likely to make local friends.


Cost of living in Finland

+ PRO: Greater purchasing power

The high cost of living in Finland is undeniable, and can take expats from less developed parts of the world a while to get used to, but with better job prospects and decent salaries, expats will have greater purchasing power and more disposable income to afford all their wants and needs. 

- CON: High taxes

One of the reasons why the cost of living is so high in Finland is the high rate of taxes. A sizeable portion of salaries goes to tax and this can be a shock to new employees. This is the cost of universal access to healthcare and education as well as efficient public transport and other amenities, and most people agree it’s worth it.


Working in Finland

+ PRO: Egalitarian work culture

Like other aspects of the culture, the workplace is egalitarian. There is no strict hierarchy implemented, and employees of various job titles can mix freely with others while offices are often open-plan and level.

- CON: Difficult to enter the job market

Being such a developed country, finding work in Finland can prove difficult. Many new arrivals already have a job in place, which can be beneficial. Otherwise, job seekers must put themselves out there, network and connect with people as well as try to learn some Finnish if their sector requires it. Luckily, expats can access support services from the Finnish government to help them find a job.


Getting around in Finland

+ PRO: Helsinki is walkable

A pro of moving to Finland’s capital city is how easy it is to walk around. It is a pedestrianised city, encouraging a cleaner, unpolluted environment, and its level landscape makes walking less tiring. Park-and-Ride facilities are also available, encouraging drivers to park their cars before entering the city centre and then continuing their commute either by walking or taking public transport.

- CON: Air travel is expensive

Compared to other European regions, areas of Finland are relatively remote, making air travel expensive. Expats who make regular trips abroad and to their home country must factor this in.


Weather and climate in Finland

+ PRO: Northern lights are visible in Finland

One of the greatest phenomena in the world is the aurora borealis, and Lapland in northern Finland offers a fantastic opportunity to witness this wonder. It is visible over half the year in Lapland but can also be marvelled at on several days in other regions of the country. The northern lights are a spectacle both tourists and locals observe in awe.

- CON: Cold and dark

While Finland is said to be one of the happiest countries in the world based on several measures, there are high rates of depression, likely connected to the climate. The country can get bitterly cold and daylight hours in winter are short, leaving residents in the cold and dark. The climate is not something to be ignored when planning a move as it could make or break an expat’s stay. Central heating systems, drinking coffee and visiting a sauna are some ways in which locals deal with the weather in Finland.

Working in Finland

Finland has a strong economy with a high GDP and a strong position both among European economies and as a global player. Finding a job in this economy might be a challenge, and expats need to be aware of required permits, tax and other issues surrounding foreign qualifications. That said, there certainly are a few gaps in the job market that foreign nationals can exploit. .

For a foreigner to work in Finland, a residence permit is normally required. Exceptions to this include citizens of EU countries, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, and other foreign nationals with a valid visa or Schengen residence permit. For expats with jobs already secured, the residence permit process is dependent on the type of work. For specific information on the need for and types of work and residence permits, contact the embassy directly.

When working in Finland, expats must have a tax card and follow tax regulations, paying tax on their income both from abroad and in the country. Another aspect of working life in Finland is that most employees are members of a trade union. This will cost a fee, though it is tax-deductible.

New arrivals must also understand that certain foreign qualifications may not be recognised, for example as a doctor or lawyer. For these cases, further training, as well as language proficiency in Finnish, may be required. More on this can be found on the official website of the Finnish National Agency for Education.

To secure employment, expats should understand the job market, how to go about their search as well as how to do business given Finland's work culture.


Job market in Finland

The service sector makes up a large proportion of the workforce with the government being a significant employer. Jobs can be found across public and private sectors in education, healthcare, hospitality, transport and commerce. Some of these industries have labour shortages, including IT, hospitality, accommodation and catering, which leaves the door open for foreign nationals to secure jobs.

Teaching English as a foreign language in Finland is another popular opportunity as English is in high demand. Expats are likely to find work as a freelance teacher, giving lessons to everyone from business people to children during winter camps.

Entrepreneurship is actively promoted and starting a business has been made easier in recent years. As a result, more small- and medium-sized businesses have been springing up and are looking internationally for employees.


Finding a job in Finland

When relocating, looking for work may be stressful. Some new arrivals may already have a job secured owing to a transferral through their company, but for those who do not have employment secured, job portals would be the go-to option to look for work as well as the European Employment Services website.

Thanks to its great social welfare system, Finland extends its support to foreigners just as they would to their citizens. This is because expats are going to be residing in the country and so are encouraged to be income-generators helping boost the economy and live happier lives in general. New arrivals can easily find support in job searching as well as integrating into their new homes and society.

One major contribution is the opportunity to learn Finnish or Swedish as a free course in universities, whether the expat is formally a student or not. For some large companies and sectors such as IT or teaching English as a foreign language, being able to communicate fluently in Finnish is obviously less important. Unfortunately, the job market is not altogether easy to enter as a foreigner and so learning Finnish will be a great benefit when looking for and securing a job.

On top of language, experience is also important. Recent graduates with little experience may find it harder to secure employment in Finland compared to those with more years of experience.


Work culture in Finland

The workweek in Finland is normally 40 hours, although many sectors allow their staff to work shorter hours. Time management is a strong point in Finnish culture and so employees do their best to produce and complete their tasks in the allocated work time.

Business communication is normally quite open and Finns are free to speak their mind. That said, courtesy and politeness are still highly valued. Punctuality is also important both in work culture and in social settings.

Doing Business in Finland

Doing business in Finland is made easier by the country's excellent social welfare system, which helps integrate expats into society, including helping them look for jobs and learn Finnish or Swedish to reduce language barriers in the workplace.

To look for employment, job portals are an expat's best bet. Expats, nowadays, are likely to find jobs in the healthcare and IT sectors, but there are also many opportunities in the service industry as well as entrepreneurial projects.

Finland’s efficient economy is reflected in how well and easily business is conducted. The World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Survey for 2020 ranked Finland 20th out of 190 countries, which places it above Germany and Canada. Finland also scored highly in terms of paying taxes (10th), resolving insolvency (1st) and starting a business (31st). The country promotes entrepreneurship and makes starting a business easier by lowering fees and processing times when registering businesses online. Overall, Finland performed well, though it ranked lower in some categories, such as getting credit (80th).

When relocating to Finland, expats should take time to understand business culture and etiquette to avoid confusion in business and social settings. Here are some key points to consider.


Fast facts

Business hours

Finland’s workweek is 40 hours, and office hours are normally Monday to Friday, 8am to 5pm, with lunch lasting one to two hours between 11am and 2pm.

Business language

Finnish and Swedish are the country’s official languages. Although learning a language is difficult, expats should make an effort to learn at least some Finnish. Free university language courses are offered whether expats are registered as students or not.

Dress

Business dress is generally conservative, formal and stylish, often in dark suits or dresses.

Gifts

Gift-giving is not common in business settings, although, when invited to a Finn’s house then flowers, chocolate or wine are good options.

Gender equality

Finland has strong female empowerment values and equality standards that are reflected in their employment practices, and most women with children continue to work.

Greetings

A firm handshake with a smile and direct eye-contact is the norm with greetings. Finnish colleagues call each other by their first names in the workplace, although for formal meetings, surnames may be more appropriate. Expats can easily ask their colleagues if they are unsure. 


Business culture in Finland

Communication

Finns are normally direct. Communication is fairly open with few topics being taboo. Still, conversational tones should be moderate, courteous and respectful, without interrupting anyone.

Hierarchy

Finns take pride in their egalitarian society and culture. As such, workplace hierarchy tends to be flat with open communication, and junior members of staff are often given authority to make decisions.

Relationships

Long-term relationships are valued, although small talk in formal business settings isn’t. Relationships and friendships are built in more informal settings and this includes not only restaurants but also saunas.

Values

Punctuality is valued in Finland – working hours should be stuck to, and being late for a meeting is not the norm. Expats should let their colleagues and peers know if they expect to arrive late.


Dos and don'ts of business in Finland

  • Do realise that Finnish people love their coffee and they drink it throughout the working day
     
  • Do be humble and modest
     
  • Do say what needs to be said in business meetings, getting straight to the point, avoiding small talk
     
  • Do manage your time well 
     
  • Don't interrupt when someone is speaking as this is rude
     
  • Don't be late – for both business and social situations
     
  • Don’t be surprised if expats get invited to go to a sauna – Finland is full of saunas and they make a popular social activity

Cost of Living in Finland

The cost of living in Finland is undeniably high, even by European standards. Expats from areas of the world where they were used to lower cost of living may find the higher prices a shock and something difficult to adjust to. It's therefore worth considering the cost of things before negotiating for a suitable salary with prospective employers.

Prices in urban areas and especially the capital, Helsinki, are much higher than in other areas of Finland, especially in terms of accommodation. Helsinki ranked 65th out of 209 cities in Mercer's 2019 Cost of Living Survey, making it more expensive than cities such Madrid and Cape Town, but still more affordable than Oslo and Miami.

With a job in place, expats can plan and budget accordingly, and while many goods and services come with a hefty price tag, the excellent universal public education- and healthcare systems make up for it. What makes things slightly easier is the currency – Finland is part of the EU and uses euros meaning that expats from other EU countries will face little issues in currency conversions.

Have a look at the varied living expenses in Finland.


Cost of accommodation in Finland

Housing costs in Finland are high, especially in the capital, Helsinki. Rent can take up a sizeable portion of one’s income, although generally, rates are better further away from city centres. Of course, this is something expats will have to weigh up – the time and financial cost of a daily commute into the city for lower rent versus the convenience and liveliness of city living.

Rent also depends on how furnished the living space is and, when inspecting accommodation, expats should keep this in mind. The cost of buying furniture adds up and may only be preferred by those staying long term.

Utilities are an extra expense. Water and heating are often included in the rent, but electricity and internet are not.


Cost of transport in Finland

Although public transport is efficient and useful in urban spaces and for reaching neighbourhoods outside of the main cities, it's pretty expensive. So we recommend buying a monthly pass or a travel card for the discounted price this offers – every little bit helps, especially if expats will be commuting every day. 

Helsinki itself is quite walkable and has fairly extensive cycle paths, making walking and cycling feasible and healthy alternatives of getting around.


Cost of schooling in Finland

Although Finland has a high cost of living, it has a progressive social system favouring education and healthcare. Not only is there free universal daycare for children aged eight months to five years, but some areas may give financial support to caregivers who choose to provide care for their children at home for the first three years.

Public schooling remains free and includes free school healthcare, daily lunch, books and materials. Upper secondary school from around age 15 requires students to buy their materials.

The issue, for many expats, may be the language. The language of instruction in public schools is mainly Finnish or Swedish, so for expats only staying for a short while or with older children, the better route may be to enrol their youngsters in a private or international school.

Additionally, tertiary education is free to students from the EU and Switzerland, while other international students are required pay tuition. Still, all tertiary programmes that are taught in Swedish or Finnish are free to everyone, including international students.


Cost of healthcare in Finland

Finland has universal healthcare, funded by tax, meaning everyone is entitled to health services regardless of their income level. Private healthcare centre expenses may vary.

Expats from the EU can use their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) in Finland. While employers must arrange health insurance for their workers, this only covers incidents in the workplace itself. Expats from outside the EU must therefore take out private insurance.


Cost of food and clothing in Finland

Food and drinks, especially eating out, can be expensive in Finland and while clothing can be pricey, there are always more affordable options, seasonal sales and the opportunity to buy second hand. How much one spends is down to their lifestyle choices, income level and budgeting decisions. Once expats get more settled, they may find places that offer better deals as well as supermarkets and stores they can go to for the best prices and discounts.


Cost of living in Finland chart

Prices may vary depending on product and service provider. The list below shows average prices for Helsinki in May 2020.

Accommodation (monthly)

Three-bedroom apartment in city centre

EUR 1,700 - 2,300

Three-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

EUR 1,100 - 1,700

One-bedroom apartment in city centre

EUR 850 - 1,300

One-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

EUR 700 - 1,000

Shopping

Milk (1 litre)

EUR 1

Dozen eggs

EUR 2.20

Loaf of white bread

EUR 2.35

Chicken breasts (1kg)

EUR 9.90

Pack of cigarettes 

EUR 8

Eating out

Big Mac Meal

EUR 8

Coca-Cola (330ml)

EUR 2.70

Cappuccino

EUR 4

Bottle of local beer 

EUR 6.25

Three-course meal at mid-range restaurant 

EUR 35

Utilities/Household

Mobile call rate (per minute – mobile to mobile)

EUR 0.07

Internet (uncapped ADSL or cable – average per month)

EUR 23

Utilities (average per month for standard household)

EUR 84

Hourly rate for a domestic cleaner

EUR 30

Transport 

Taxi rate per km

EUR 1

City centre public transport fare

EUR 2.80

Petrol (per litre)

EUR 1.55

Articles about Finland

Expat Experiences in Finland

When considering a move to a new city, there is nothing more useful than hearing real life stories and experiences from other expats who have lived there. We'd love to hear about your expat experiences. Please contact us if you live or have lived in Finland and would like to share your story.


Mercy is an engineer and working mother of four children. She has lived in Finland since 2005 and writes about her life in Finland, Finnish culture and motherhood in her blog. In our expat interview, she talks to us about learning the local language, schools, family attractions and her experiences in Finland. Read more in our interview with Mercy.

Mercy

Daiki Yoshikawa is a Japanese business person enjoying life in Helsinki as a blogger, sauna enthusiast and nature lover. He chats to us about Finnish culture and his experiences in the capital, and about enjoying what Helsinki has to offer while studying and working. Read more in his expat interview.

daiki

Paola grew up in Italy and moved to Finland in 2010 originally part of an Erasmus scholarship, but ended up staying. She is a mother and a full-time working professional. She shares a bit of her life in Espoo with us, talking about culture, language barriers, work-life and making friends. Read our interview with Paola for more insights.

paola