Finland has a reputation as a modern, highly progressive country. Taxes might be high, but the standard of living, healthcare, and social benefits are commensurate. If you are thinking of working in Finland, then there are many advantages. We will take a look below at some of your best options.
Although Finland is not itself an EU member state, it has reciprocal arrangements with other European nations which are in the EU, so citizens of EU states, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland, do not need a residence permit in order to live and work in Finland.
If you are not a member of an EU nation, you will need to apply for a residence permit, otherwise if you work, you could be fined. There are specific residence permits for different work sectors, so you will need to make sure that you are applying for the right kind of permit. The Finnish Immigration Service runs an Application Finder website for you to be able to evaluate the correct sector.
You can also apply for a general residence permit for an employed person, in cases in which there is not a specific permit for your employment sector. This can become complicated: some permits will allow you only to work in a specified field, whilst others may restrict you to working for a particular employer. If your residence permit was granted on the basis of a particular job, your residence will come to an end when the job terminates.
Unlike some nations, your employer will not be able to apply for a residence permit for you: you must do this yourself. You can submit your application online or in person, but you will need to visit the Finnish Immigration Service at some point in order to have your fingerprints taken.
It will be to your advantage if you speak Finnish or Swedish, even though Finland, like its Scandinavian neighbours, has a high standard of English. Many Finnish companies, however, operate in Finnish.
Civil engineers are in demand, and so are nursing staff. Specialist medical practitioners will also be at an advantage: for instance audiologists and speech therapists. The social services sector currently has staff shortages, and there is a demand for cleaners, restaurant workers, and home care assistants. There is also a need for supervisors in the construction industry.
IT workers are oversupplied in Finland so if you have a background in the tech industry, this is not such a good choice of destination for you as some other nations. The country is also oversupplied with secretarial workers at the moment.
If you have a university degree and a TEFL qualification you can teach English and there is a demand, but education is a competitive environment in Finland and the job market might prove quite tough. However, it is reasonably well paid. Note that there is a preference for TEFL teachers from within the EU, who do not need to apply for a work permit, and this may prove to be the case in other sectors as well.
Typical working hours consist of 40 hours per week, 8 hours a day for 5 days (Monday to Friday). Employers are usually reasonably flexible about working times. However, legislation is changing in Finland to try and make working hours even more flexible, including changes to the työaikapankki (working hours bank), which some companies run: this works out your average working hours over an agreed length of time in weeks.
Overtime (either as leave or pay) will be arranged if you work more than the number of hours above.
An employee is entitled to two and a half weekdays of leave each full holiday credit month if the employment relationship has lasted for at least one year. The country also has 14 public holidays per year.
You will be entitled to 4 months of paid maternity leave and in addition, fathers may claim 2 months of paid paternity leave: Finland is generous in this regard.
Finland does not have a minimum wage applied overall, but each sector has legally binding minimum wages to which employers must adhere. These apply to expat workers as well as to Finnish employees. Average salaries are above €3300 per month.
Your spouse will be able to work in Finland as long as they are either a EU national, or, if from another part of the world, has the relevant residence permit. Your spouse will not automatically be able to work simply because they are your dependent.
Speculative applications are common, but you may want to go through one of the online recruitment agencies applicable to Finland. Alternatively, you can approach a company directly.
Job fairs outside Finland might be limited, but there are options online, including Finnish Labour Administration’s site (TE-Palvelut). This is in English although some of your search options may only be available in Finnish/Swedish.
You also have the option of the European Job Mobility Portal (EURES), which lists vacancies across the EU and other European states. In addition, specialized recruitment agencies (for example, for nursing) may also be helpful.
It is advisable but not essential to have a CV/resume in Finnish, particularly if you are applying to a branch of an international company in Finland.
Finnish employment law is regulated by a Non-Discrimination Act, which covers age as well as ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation among other factors. You should not therefore encounter questions at interview that breach this legislation.
You should not need to have copies of any diplomas or certificates translated into Finnish, but it is always a good idea as a general principle to have your qualifications apostilled.
Depending on the country you come from and your length of stay, you may or may not need a visa to travel to Finland. Confirm this before you set out. If you plan to be in Finland for a long period, you may need a residence permit.
Nationals from the European Union can enter and work in Finland for as long as they want, but will need a residence permit if they plan to stay longer than three months. The Schengen Agreements states that people travelling from one Schengen country to another do not need to show their ID documents to enter. People from the US, Australia and Canada can stay in Finland for up to 90 days without a visa. However, they are not allowed to take on paid work during this time. They will have to provide a return ticket and bank statements proving they are financially stable. Citizens of other countries should check with their embassies for visa requirements.
Short stay visas last for three months and are suitable for people from countries that do not have specific visa requirements. Those in Finland on short stay visas are not allowed to work during this period. The visa can be applied for in the Finnish consulate in your home country.
The documents you require for a successful visa application include: a passport, bank statements that show enough funds for your stay, passport photo, a completed visa form, travel insurance policy, return ticket and travel itinerary. You may also be required to write down the purpose of your trip and duration of your stay. If you are visiting Finland to stay with someone, you need to add details about how you and the person you are visiting know each other. There are cases where you will be invited for an interview to discuss the purpose of your visit. If any of the conditions are not met, your visa will be revoked, and you will have to leave the country immediately.
The type of resident permit you need will also depend on the country you come from, how long you are staying and your plans. Nordic residents can enter, reside and work in Finland without needing a permit. Citizens should register their right to reside if their stay is more than three months. This can be done at the nearest police station. All citizens from other countries should apply for a permit from the Finnish embassy in their home country. The consulate will give you the relevant forms and information. The final decision about whether to grant you residency or not lies with the immigration service of Finland.
You are entitled to Finnish residency for the following reasons: humanitarian purposes, family ties, remigration, being of Finnish descent, or undertaking employment or studies. To apply, a separate form must be completed for every individual coming to the country. This includes children, even if they are on their parent’s passport. The immigration service website has the applications forms, which carry a fee. A valid passport is required during the application, but children who do not have travel documents will have a residence permit sticker on the travel documents of their guardians.
Your residence permit sticker has your photo and can be issued in either Swedish or Finnish. You are required to specify the language you want the sticker to be in. Once you have your permit, you are entitled to live and travel in Finland for as long as the permit is valid. You may also use the permit to enter other Schengen countries if you are not subject to entry restrictions. The residence permit is for a fixed amount of time, which may be a year, or the duration of your employment or studies. If you have resided in the country for four consecutive years, you can apply for a permanent residence permit.
Students coming into the country to join a Finnish learning institution must apply for a residence permit unless their study time is less than three months. EU students coming to Finland for studies do not need a residence permit. However, they are required to register their right to reside in the country at a police station if they are going to be stay for more than three months. A student’s right to live in Finland is automatically granted as long as their aim is to study in a Finnish institution and they have enough funds for the learning period. Bank statements will show proof of funding, which is not required for Nordic students. EU citizens are allowed to work while studying, and do not need a permit for that.
Students who come from non-EU countries will need a residence permit if their study period exceeds three months. Those who need to sit for an entrance exam before acceptance into a Finnish university may need a visa as well. The visa will cover you for the short stay as you take your exam; after that, you will need to go back to your home country and apply for a residence permit. A permit will be automatically granted if you study the country’s languages at degree level or if you are an exchange student from an international university doing an academic year in Finland institution. If your main reason for staying is to study in a Finnish school or if you are a student participating in an exchange program, you may also be granted the permit.
Students are expected to show proof of enough income, which is about €6,000 yearly. This can be reduced if the institution offers accommodation, tuition and meals. Students can take up employment during their stay to take care of their financial needs. The type of work permit one can apply for is limited to training relevant to the area of study, and employment hours cannot exceed 25 hours per week. However, in Christmas and summer holidays, students can work full-time. Valid health insurance is also required for a student to be granted a residence permit.
Many expats take out private medical insurance, even if this is not a requirement of residence, because healthcare is expensive in their destination country or because certain treatments and procedures are not available.
When taking out health insurance, be sure to check factors such as the annual and lifetime policy limits, whether there are any exclusions which are likely to affect you, whether you are limited to treatment from specific types of healthcare providers, and whether the policy covers emergency evacuation for medical treatment.
Too frequently, potential buyers of health insurance look only for the lowest cost of premiums before really considering the specific benefits and areas of cover they may actually need. Some plans are cheaper for a reason. Often they include large voluntary deductibles on any claim you might make in the future and may severely cap the benefits received under the plan. Clients should define their needs first, establish the particular area of cover they need, then determine their annual healthcare insurance budget. Only then should they look to premium comparisons, last of all.
Do not buy a plan without studying the policy wording carefully. If in doubt, ask, and only when completely satisfied complete all application forms fully, to the best of your ability.
Important questions to ask the insurance provider:
1. Does the plan allow for cooling off periods, cancellation and then repayment of premium in full?
2. Does the plan offer “Moratorium” or is it “Full underwriting” and do you need to have a medical examination before joining?
3. Does the insurer offer a 24 hour help line, 7 days a week, available from anywhere in the world (freephone)? Most insurers now offer this facility.
4. Are pre-existing conditions excluded when joining and if so, for how long are such conditions excluded?
5. Are all and any nationalities accepted or are there restrictions which apply to local nationals? Some insurers will only take expatriates abroad and not local nationals into an overseas plan.
6. Does the plan allow you to continue cover unbroken through your lifetime? In most cases insurers will continue to offer existing clients cover year on year, irrespective of age or claims history, although premium rates charged can increase dramatically with age.
7. Does the insurer allow for any doctor or consultant or hospital within the plan? Are there any restrictions in this respect? Most international plans do not place restrictions on either hospitals or doctors, but almost all demand that their help lines are called first, prior to approval of any inpatient care.
8. Does the insurer provide for the direct settlement of bills presented by hospitals worldwide, regardless of location (or do you have to pay first)?
9. What are the insurers procedures for outpatient claims? Do these require any pre-authorization or if stated in the plan can you just pay and claim? How long before you get money back from the insurer? 14 days? 28 days?.
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Word of mouth is a good way to find an apartment to rent in Finland. Alternatively, you could look for adverts in local newspapers, although you may need the help of a translator. If you have an area you would like to move to in mind, you could Google ‘vuokra-asunto’ (rental apartment) plus the place name, which should generate some results. There are also various websites that you can go to directly to help you in your search, such as:
The Finnish Tenants Association also publishes helpful links.
You can hire an agent to look for properties on your behalf, in which case you will make a formal agreement (toimeksiantosopimus) with them in writing, and agree to pay a commission, which will probably be equivalent to one month’s rent. Compare the commissions of various agencies in advance.
There are two kinds of tenancy agreement in Finland:
• Valid until further notice (toistaiseksi voimassa oleva vuokrasopimus), or permanent – this will only end when either the tenant or landlord gives notice
• Fixed-term (määräaikainen vuokrasopimus) – this ends automatically at an agreed end date without notice, and cannot be terminated beforehand; if you want to stay longer, you will need to make a new agreement
You will almost certainly have to pay a security deposit of two months’ rent, plus one month’s rent in advance. You will usually get the keys to the property once the deposit has been paid.
The lease will specify the amount of rent and the date it is due. Once the lease has been signed, the rent is set in stone for the entire period. It must be paid into the landlord’s bank account. The rent should include a charge for property maintenance.
Rentals are not usually furnished, but the property will always include a shower, taps and a toilet, and will almost always include cupboards, a fridge and a stove. Always check exactly what else is and is not included.
The property will have its own water supply, and you will have to pay the water rate. The contract will state whether this must be paid to the landlord or directly to the water company. Central heating costs are usually included in the rent, but if the property has oil or electric heating, then this may need to be paid separately. You must make your own arrangements with electricity, internet and cable providers; the market is competitive and there are several to choose from.
Apartment blocks may have shared saunas, laundry facilities and parking spaces. You may need to pay a fee directly to the housing company to be able to use these.
Tenants on a ‘valid until further notice’ lease must always give at least one calendar month’s notice, in writing. The notice period begins at the end of the month during which it is given. Therefore, if you give one month’s notice during October, the notice period begins on 1st November, and you cannot leave until 1st December. You will have to pay rent for November too.
For landlords, the notice period on a ‘valid until further notice’ lease depends on how long the lease has been in force. It will be three months if the tenant has rented the property for less than a year, and six months if the tenant has been there for more than a year. The landlord is entitled to give you notice without explanation, however long you have been there.
A fixed-term lease cannot legally be terminated before its end-date, but if you are facing unforeseen circumstances, then you may be able to negotiate with the landlord.
The landlord will inspect the property once you have moved out, and will return some or all of your deposit, depending on the condition the property is in and whether you owe any money in rent/bills.
If you settle in a major expat area, then a two-bedroom apartment will likely cost you €2,000 per month or more. If you are happy to be elsewhere, then a similar property may cost you less than €1,300 per month. A more family-friendly apartment, with three bedrooms, will usually cost you between €1,500 and €2,200, depending on location.
The worst time to start looking for property is just before the start of a new academic year, when students are on the look-out for accommodation.
City rental properties are usually apartments. If you want a family home, then you may have to resign yourself to a place in the suburbs.
The market is fast-moving, so you must be too. You will probably be given an application form to fill in when you go to a viewing. Make sure you check the condition of the property before you sign anything, as well as the conditions of residence and exactly what is included in the rent.
There are no restrictions for buyers from the EU or EEA. Buyers from outside these areas may buy shares in a housing company, which is how most apartments are owned, but must have permission from the Finnish Ministry of Defence to buy real estate. Applications are made either by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by post to the Ministry of Defence, PO Box 31, 00131 Helsinki, Finland.
There are two main types of purchase:
• Asunto-osake (shares in a housing company) – this is how most apartments and terraced properties are sold, and means there will be a monthly maintenance fee (hoitovastike) on top of all your other costs; find out whether costs such as heating are included in this, or whether they must be paid separately
• Kiinteistö (a real estate purchase)
In both cases, the entire process from submitting the bid to completion averages 32 days. The first step, once you have found a property, is to conduct due diligence, examining its certificate of title, making sure there are no encumbrances and so on.
At the same time, inspect the property carefully for defects. For asunto-osake, the seller continues to be responsible for any defects that emerge for two years. For kiinteistö, the seller is responsible for five years. However, the buyer is responsible in both cases if they should have noticed the defect when inspecting the property, or if they were already aware of it.
Your offer to the seller must be in writing, and it is binding. It may be open to upward or downward negotiation, but cannot be cancelled without paying a fine (which will equate to a few percent of the property price) to the seller.
If the seller accepts the offer, their bank or estate agent will prepare a sales contract for both parties to sign. This will specify a number of things, including the size, price and condition of the property; the date on which the final payment is due; and the date on which the buyer takes possession. The buyer makes a down payment of around 3% of the agreed purchase at this stage. Almost everything will be conducted in Finnish and there is no obligation to provide a translation, so make sure you understand every term and document – you should hire a translator if necessary.
Once the seller has received their money, a notary confirms the identities of the buyer and seller and attests the transfer of property. Once the buyer receives the title, they must submit a claim within six months to the property’s local district court for legal confirmation. The transaction is formally at an end when the title is released, and the property is now theirs.
Osaomistusasuminen means part-time ownership. The buyer pays 10% to 15% of the agreed purchase price to buy a share of the apartment, then pays rent as a tenant to the majority owner of the property. The buyer can then increase their share of ownership during the residential period. After a specified period, they have the right to buy the apartment outright, deducting their initial investment plus later investments – but not the rent they have paid – from the agreed purchase price.
Asumisoikeusasuminen means right-of-occupancy. Residents pay a right-of-occupancy fee (asumisoikeusmaksu) of 15% of the purchase price. The Housing Fund of Finland (ARA) grants a loan for the remaining 85%. Residents then pay a monthly occupancy fee, which is similar to rent but is often less than the rent on a comparable property. They do not ultimately gain the right to purchase their homes, but the owner cannot terminate the agreement except in cases of non-payment. Therefore, for the period they live there, they get to enjoy much the same rights as an owner. The 15% fee is returned, index-adjusted, when they leave the apartment.
Most of the websites listed above, in the section on renting properties, will also handle purchases.
If the housing company has any loans, for example for work on the building, then repayments will be apportioned to the apartments based on the square metreage of each property. These repayments are specific to the property, so will be transferred to any new owner.
Therefore, look for the following sums:
• Myyntihinta (sale price): the amount the seller is asking for
• Velaton myyntihinta (sale price free of debt): the amount the seller is asking for, plus the lump sum of any expected future repayments on the housing company’s loan; if the advertised myyntihinta and velaton myyntihinta are the same then there is no loan outstanding
• Rahoitusvastike (financial consideration): the amount you will pay monthly towards repaying the housing company’s loan. Note that by paying the full velaton myyntihinta at the time of purchase, you can free your apartment of debt and your rahoitusvastike will be zero. However, if your housing company is planning any future loans then existing rahoitusvastike may increase, or new rahoitusvastike may begin from nothing.
Mortgages (asuntolaina) are common and there is no nationality bar. You must, however, be resident in Finland, with a Finnish ID number, and the property must be located in Finland. Your bank may also need to be satisfied that you are in Finland for the long-term. They may only provide loans to borrowers with permanent residence permits (pysyvä oleskelulupa), or to those who have guarantors with Finnish citizenship. It is easiest to obtain a loan if you have a source of income in the country.
Consider if you want (or are able) to transport your belongings yourself or whether you will need the services of a removals company that deals with international moves. Unless you are travelling very light, or making a fairly short move by road, you will probably need professional help to ship your possessions. Ask for quotes from several companies first, ensuring that they visit your home to carry out a survey of your requirements. It may be worth paying extra for the removals firm to pack your possessions for you, particularly if they are going to be transported to a distant country and need special protection for the long journey. Make sure you bring to their attention anything fragile or precious that needs particularly careful wrapping and packing.
Before agreeing to a quotation, ensure that you are fully aware of exactly what is covered in the price, and that the service to be provided meets all of your requirements. For example, does the service include both packing and unpacking of your household effects? What about disassembling and reassembling of furniture? If you are planning to put anything into storage in your destination country while you find accommodation, does the price include final delivery and unpacking at your home, or will you need to arrange collection of the items? Obtain a firm estimate of the likely arrival date of your items and obtain contact details for any agents that will be dealing with the removal in your destination country. Ensure that the removals company is aware in advance of any practical considerations such as the lack of an elevator to your apartment, or likely parking problems.
If using a removals company, you may be required to take out their insurance cover for your possessions. Whether or not this is the case, ensure that you have adequate insurance for anything of actual or sentimental value that could get lost or damaged during the move. Take the time to accurately complete or check an inventory of your possessions to be moved, as this will form the basis for any insurance claim for losses or damages. Find out if insurance is included in the price quoted by the removals company, or whether you are required to pay extra for this.
The removals company should arrange any customs and importation documents on your behalf, but if you are arranging the move independently you will need to find out what documents are required and what import duties and taxes are payable (and whether you are eligible for exemption from these).
Make sure that you set aside the important documents you will need for the journey, such as passports and air tickets, and keep these easily accessible in your hand luggage.
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QUICK LINK: Finland health insurance
Finland finances its healthcare system out of taxes and like many European countries, faces a dual problem of an ageing population who are most likely to need medical treatment, and a smaller percentage of tax-payers as a consequence. This inevitably impacts on the healthcare system, which has become overstretched and underfunded.
Finland’s municipalities run the healthcare system and clients are put into one of two groups:
• group 1 patients can choose their GP within the area in which they live
• group 2 patients can go to whichever doctor or specialist they please
The funding for this system comes from taxes collected by the municipal authorities, but they can ask for both user fees and state subsidies if the tax revenue is not sufficient to fund healthcare, so you might find yourself having to pay a relatively small sum for your care. For a doctor’s visit, for example, you could be charged around €20, but these fees are capped by the municipality and can only be charged three times per year.
Everyone is covered under the NHI, which is run by the Social Insurance Institution (SII). Your national insurance payments will cover a range of things such as health insurance, unemployment benefit and maternity leave.
When you sign up under the national scheme (sairausvakuutus) with the Social Insurance Institution of Finland (Kela), you will be issued with a Kela card (Kela-kortti). You will need to take this with you when you visit your GP or go to a pharmacy to pick up a prescription.
Kela also covers sickness benefit, so if you are unable to work due to illness or an accident, you can claim cover for 300 working days. The amount paid will depend on your income.
You can use your EHIC card in Finland if you are from an EU member state, but remember that this is not supposed to be a substitute for health insurance: it is only for emergencies.
In some areas of the country, a telemedical service is available in English.
Everyone is eligible for healthcare if they have a ‘municipality of residence’ (kotikunta). If you are not sure whether you qualify for this, you can check with a local register office (maistraatti). If you are not covered by Kela, you may still be treated, although the healthcare system may recover the costs from you later on.
Kela regards residency as permanent on the basis of:
• return migration to Finland
• employment in Finland lasting at least two years
• marriage or a close family relationship with a person already residing in Finland
Your employer should register you for healthcare if you are working in Finland. If you are self-employed or not working, you will need to check with your local municipal authority.
Since 2002, Finland’s currency has been the euro. One and two-cent coins are rare in Finland, meaning it is common to find the amount rounded off to the nearest five cents. Goods and services are easily paid for using credit and debit cards.
Towards the end of the 20th century, Finland was voted one of the most expensive countries to live in, although the cost of living in the country has dropped in recent years. However, compared to some parts of Europe, the cost of living of in Finland is still high. Accommodation is reasonably priced, whereas goods such as tobacco and alcohol are expensive. The value added tax in the country is 22 percent and is included for all products and services.
The banking system in Finland is advanced, meaning opening a bank account is quite easy. The country’s three leading banks are OKO Bank Group, Nordea Bank Group and Sampo, which make up about 80 percent of the banking services. The country also has commercial banks, mutual funds, finance entities and life insurance companies on offer. Banks operate from 9:15am to 4:15pm, although this depends on the bank and its location.
As you prepare to open your Finnish bank account, ensure you have all the right documents, which include proof of residence, residence permit, passport, Finnish personal identification number, KELA card and passport photos. Once you have all this paperwork, the process is straightforward, and you can get your ATM card on the same day. It is important to ask for services such as bank statements in the language of your preference. Access to online banking will allow you to pay for services and goods conveniently.
Bank charges vary from institution to institution. However, they are reasonable, and some banks have fewer fees than others. Services that you may or may not have to pay for include monthly reports, withdrawals, bill payment using cards, balance enquiries, deposits and money transfers. Finnish people are heavily reliant on online banking, since it is a secure and convenient way to carry out transactions and pay bills.
Loans, pensions, investments, monitoring of credit cards and insurance are some of the services you can expect from online banking. It is fairly easy to access your online account; the bank will provide you with the codes, web contacts and customer number you will need to access the platform. If you have a WAP phone, you can also access internet banking from it if you would prefer. Speak to your bank first. The majority of banks in Finland offer internet-banking services in English, Swedish and Finnish. Ensure you check whether your bank has any charges for accessing internet banking.
Before you arrive in Finland, make sure you have a plan for how to access your money. You can use credit cards, traveler’s cheques and debit cards in the country before you obtain a Finnish bank account. Since credit and debit cards are popular ways for paying for products and services, you should confirm whether using your card in the country is an affordable way to pay. Common cards accepted in Finland are MasterCard, Visa, American Express and Diners, although you may need to show identification.
It is hard for migrants to obtain a credit card in Finland if they do not have a steady job or a local bank account. Regulations vary from bank to bank, so if the charges on your home country’s credit card are not high, you could continue to use that. Those who need a credit card from Finnish banks may have to pay a large security deposit. This is usually three times the credit limit amount for which you are applying. The bank will hold on the deposit for three years and if you pay your bills on time, you will be refunded the amount. People who have been living and working in Finland for a longer time have no problem accessing a credit card from local banks.
Most petrol stations accept cash payment right now, but they are working to upgrade their systems. Some stations might refuse to let you pay using a card so if you are driving in Finland, you may need to have some cash handy in case you need to fuel. ATM machines are widely available in Finland if you do need a quick cash withdrawal. Ask your bank to confirm the charges you may incur for withdrawals. Normally, withdrawals from your bank’s ATM should be free, but if you take money out from the ATM of another bank, you may need to pay a small fee.
Bringing money into Finland through travelers’ cheques is generally considered safe. Note down the serial number of each cheque so you are insured against theft or loss. Keep them tucked away safely and only remove them when you need them. Cheques can be exchanged at a bureau de change in the airport, city and railway stations. There are also larger shops that accept these cheques as a mode of payment, although preference is given to cheques that are in sterling pounds, euros and US dollars. When you cash your travelers’ cheques into a Finnish bank, confirm the charges, since these vary across banks.
Some of the factors that determine whether you can get a loan from a Finish bank are your income, the amount you would like to borrow, your employment status, salary, credit background and the sponsor who will act as your guarantor. The interest rate on repaying loans depends on the banks, so it is advisable to shop around before you settle on the bank you would like to take a loan with.
The financial system in Finland is easy, so as long as you have the required documents, you can open an account with the bank of your liking. Loans and credit card applications rules are flexible enough for migrants to access.
There are many ways of sending money from one country to another. As always, expats can save themselves a lot of trouble and expense if they do a little research and shop around for the best deal.
International Bank Transfers
For most expats, currency transfer involves transferring small to medium sized amounts regularly from an existing bank account back home into a new overseas bank account in the local currency. These may be pension payments, benefits, or any other form of income.
Your home bank will usually be glad to oblige. You can set up facilities with them “on demand” whereby you fax or call them on the phone, provide a secret code or two, tell them the amount in question, and they will transfer it to your new bank, automatically converting it into the relevant local currency. Some banks also allow you to make international payments online. Whatever method you choose, transfers normally take between 3-7 days although 1-2 day transfers are often available but be prepared to pay more for these.
You can also set up regular transactions that are processed automatically on a fixed day of each month. Many state pensions and benefits can be paid directly into your new bank abroad without going through your home bank at all. Some private pension organisations may also offer the same facility.
When you first set up a transfer of funds abroad, the sending bank or institution will ask you for various codes that identify the destination bank. Often they will ask for IBAN (International Bank Account Number), BIC (Bank Identifier Code) or SWIFT codes but don?t panic – your new bank will give these to you and they may even already be listed in your new chequebook or bank statements.
As far as charges are concerned, you will probably be required to pay a flat fee per transaction. Additionally a percentage fee is often charged for the currency conversion itself. You may also find that your receiving bank charges you for receiving the transfer. Charges vary by bank but can quickly add up – ask your bank(s) for an indication of the fees involved.
As a general rule, transferring larger sums less frequently usually works out cheaper than transferring smaller amounts more often. However, if you need to transfer regular amounts of at least a few hundred pounds/dollars or need to make a larger one-off payment (e.g. for a house purchase) you should consider the services of a currency broker.
Cash Machine/ATM Withdrawals
Thanks to modern technology, most people abroad can go to a cash machine/ATM and withdraw local currency funds directly from their home bank account. This is a useful option to have for expats but exercise caution – many banks make hefty charges for using this type of facility. You may also find that withdrawal limits are in place (as a security measure) even if you significant funds in your account back home.
You can also use VISA or Mastercard credit cards to obtain cash in this fashion and if you pay the amount off quickly and avoid interest charges then fine – but once again credit card charges for cash withdrawals can be high. Check the rates carefully.
Currency brokers (also called foreign exchange brokers) offer significant advantages over traditional banks. Firstly, brokers will often be able to offer you a better rate than your bank. Secondly, the entire process is more transparent – many banks require you to accept the exchange rate available on the day they process your transaction, whatever and whenever that may be, but a specialist broker will offer greater flexibility, even allowing you to specify the rate you want in advance.
Currency brokers are smaller companies than major banks so always check their background carefully. Ask existing expats for their own experiences and recommendations before choosing a firm to handle your own foreign exchange requirements.
A good broker will discuss all the options with you and enable you to make the best decision for your circumstances. Using a broker will typically off the following advantages:
1) Currency brokers generally provide superior exchange rates to the high street banks. The currency brokers have access to the interbank rate and do not have the high costs that the banks have. This means that they can usually offer better exchange rates.
2) Use of a free Market Watch/Order Service: This allows you to tell your currency broker your target or budget exchange rate and they will ring you if that exchange rate level is reached. As the rate moves every few seconds, currency brokers can act as your eyes and ears on the market.
3) Ability to fix the exchange rate in advance using a Forward Contract. If you know you need to convert/move funds in the future but don?t yet have the money you can reserve a rate in advance using a Forward Contract. During this period, you are exposed to exchange rate movements and therefore, a forward contract is ideal if, for example, you have agreed to buy a house and want to fix the rate now but will not be making payment for a couple of months.
Savings from currency brokers can vary from between 1 and 4 per cent on the exchange rate alone, and specialists do not typically charge any fees for transmitting the funds abroad, unlike banks which often levy expensive fees or charges. If you are emigrating and transferring a large sum of money – such as the proceeds of a property – a foreign exchange company could potentially save you thousands.
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Finland is an interesting country and the language is no exception, bearing no resemblance to the tongues of its European neighbours, with the possible exception of Estonia. How easy is it to learn Finnish – and will you need to? How widespread is the use of English throughout this country? We will answer some of your questions below.
Finland has three official languages: Finnish, Swedish, and Sami. But there are a number of other languages spoken in the country, including:
Swedish is spoken by about 5% of the population, mainly in the district of Åland, but it is a mandatory language in schools, along with Finnish and a third language, which is likely to be English.
Finnish is not a particularly easy language to learn from scratch if you are English-speaking (although most English speakers already know at least one Finnish word: sauna). Each Finnish verb has 200 possible endings, for example. You may wish to commit to Finnish language classes if you are going to be living and working in the country in the longer term. If not, you might like to master some useful phrases:
• meet and greet
• days of the week/months of the year
• shopping and food-related vocabulary, including eating out
• some basic medical vocabulary (e.g. asking for a doctor’s appointment)
• some basic banking vocabulary (e.g. opening a bank account)
Although official statistics suggest that the level of English spoken in Finland is relatively low, in practice most Finns speak English to some degree (many are fluent up to native speaker level), but you may find those who do not, particularly if you are travelling in rural areas. Older people may speak more Russian than English, but the younger generation are often fluent and you are likely to find a significant understanding of British and American popular culture among younger Finns.
English is the language of commerce in Finland and some companies have it as the workplace language. If you are employed in Finland, particularly in an international company, you should experience relatively little difficulty regarding communication.
Modern standard Finnish (kirjakieli: ‘book’ language) is derived from 19th-century standard written Finnish. It is prescriptive and not tied to one particular dialect. Most Finns will speak one or another of the dialects (puhekieli: spoken language). As we mention below, the difference between the two can be quite marked.
Finding Finnish language lessons (FFL) used to be quite difficult, due to the limited spread of the language, but now it is relatively easy to find classes and there are a lot of resources, particularly in the cities. You will find groups and workshops, language cafes, and simplified Finnish newspapers (selkosuomi) as well as formal classes in private language schools or at university level.
Expats say that the biggest barrier to learning Finnish is the Finns’ enthusiasm for, and proficiency in, English. Language cafes and swap groups are a way around this, as they will enable you to interact with native Finnish speakers. This is important, as it will introduce you to puhekieli, rather than the kirjakieli which you will encounter in the classroom. Like most languages, the Finnish that you will hear in everyday life will be different, and less formal, than the Finnish you hear in official pronouncements or the literary world.
You may be moving to Finland with the intention of teaching English. It is always easier to get work in international education if you have at least a certificate in either TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) or TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) as this is a requirement in many schools.
It is also preferable if you have experience in teaching schemes such as the Cambridge English exams or IELTS (International English Language Testing System): the English test for study, migration or work. Some teaching experience in the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) will also be helpful. This assesses analytical, writing, quantitative, verbal, and reading skills in written English for use in admission to graduate management programs, such as the MBA.
You may also find work more easily if you are experienced in teaching English for particular sectors, such as tourism and hospitality. Business English is always a good specialisation and is in high demand in Finland at the moment. Most of your teaching in Finland is likely to be in language schools rather than one-to-one provision. August and December are the highest recruitment months and you can expect an average salary of €1 – 2K per month. However, remember that the cost of living here is quite high.
You will require at least a Bachelor’s degree: basically, the rule of thumb is that the more qualifications you have, both in TEFL and in academic subjects, the easier you will find it to get work.
You may wish to take up translation or interpreting work, but obviously your Finnish will need to be of a high standard and if at government or university level, you would be expected to have the relevant formal qualifications. As with teaching, you will need at least a Schengen visa if you are coming from outside the EU: Finland is an EU member, unlike some of its Scandinavian neighbours, and if you are from an EU nation as well you will find it easier to get work.
The Finnish education system is one of the best in the world by many metrics. Its literacy rates are the highest in the world, at around 100%, and Finland ranks well above average amongst OECD reporting countries on the percentage of GDP spent on education, at around 5.5%. The nation’s PISA rating is also one of the highest in the world.
State education in Finland is very well developed, and well regulated. It is controlled by the Ministry of Education. Lessons are conducted in Finnish, but several other languages will be taught throughout the system, including English and Russian.
If your child needs Finnish language training to be able to attend state school, this can be organised locally (typically a minimum of 70 hours would be required), and extra support can be continued at school.
The Finnish education system is divided into several levels:
• Nursery/kindergarten is widely used in Finland, with up to 80% of children receiving this level of pre-schooling
• The final year of pre-school, at age 6, is compulsory
• Primary and basic secondary tuition is then compulsory to age 16, and all tuition is provided free up to secondary school graduation
• Primary schooling covers ages 7 – 11
• Basic secondary school runs from ages 12 – 16
Upper secondary school runs from ages 17 – 19, but many students will either cease study at 16, or enter a vocational or technical college with the aim of gaining qualifications in their chosen trade. The duration of tuition here will vary depending on the profession or occupation chosen. For those attending the vocational colleges or taking apprenticeships, there is also the chance of further advancement through technical universities, and there are many institutions for professions such as teaching.
For those continuing their studies in the state upper secondary system, a final Graduation Exam is taken at the end of studies, with many then expected to go on to university, depending on exam grades.
There are a large number of universities of applied sciences, with colleges and specialized institutions available for those who may not achieve the grades necessary to go to university.
Homeschooling is a consideration for many expats. Although it is legal in Finland, numbers and support are very low (probably because the state system is so good), so you will need to do your own thorough research and seek out expats who might have tried this route already.
There are a tiny number of private schools in Finland, offering tuition at various levels, but all are subsidised by the government – they are not allowed to charge fees. Their curricula will generally be closely aligned to the state system, with additional classes and activities depending on the philosophy of the individual school.
There are also a good number of fee-paying international schools catering more specifically for expat children of all ages, some with day care for infants, but separate pre-school kindergarten (ages 3-6) is also available privately in the larger cities. Several of these schools offer the full International Baccalaureate Diploma Program (IBDP), and most are based on tuition in English under various national education systems.
Here are a few of the international schools in Finland (some fee-free):
• International School, Helsinki (IBDP, NEASC accredited)
• Kielo International School, Helsinki (Primary – grades 1-4, English)
• Kulosaari School, Helsinki (bi-lingual Finnish/English, free tuition)
• Maunula Schools, Helsinki (English tuition – intended for expats or returning Finnish children – no fees)
• L’ecole Francaise Jules Verne (French curriculum, with French national teachers)
• Mattlidens Gymnasium, Esbo (Swedish – Finnish matriculation, plus IBDP)
• IB World School, Imatra and Lappeenranta (IBDP)
• Finnish International School, Tampere (English, grades 1 – 9)
• Rellu, Tampere (general curriculum, European Studies and IBDP)
• International School, Turku (IBDP for English speaking students and Finnish children who may have lived abroad)
Extra-curricular activities will vary considerably, and need to be ascertained from the individual school. Demand for places at international schools is always high, and it is important to contact the school of your choice as early as possible. Fees will also be quite substantial, and need to be ascertained with the school. It is always important to read the small print – additional expenses can mount up – for example many schools have additional contributary capital funds for improvements/repairs.
Secondary school or international school graduates will have the choice to continue their studies in Finnish universities, which generally have excellent reputations, but many students, local and international, will want to pursue their higher education abroad. Successful graduation from Finnish schools (public or private) will give your child an internationally recognised high standard qualification, which is accepted at major universities worldwide without the need for additional assessment tests.