Helsinki, Finland Report of what it's like to live there - 07/19/12

Personal Experiences from Helsinki, Finland

Helsinki, Finland 07/19/12

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No. Munich, Vienna, Manila, Kuala Lumpur.

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

Washington D.C.- Schipol Airport, Amsterdam 9 hours. Connecting flight to Helsinki is 4 hours

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3. How long have you lived here?

2006-2007

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Government

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Very dependable transportation. On the outskirts of Helsinki, a commute typically takes 25-30 min. Traffic is practically non-existant. In the city, a car is not needed, and public transportaion is stress-free and will get you anyplace you need to go.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Groceries are about the same cost as they are in the U.S. Maybe a little more. I thought the quality of the groceries was much better. Fish and deli meats are definitely better quality.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Skis and hockey equipment.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

McDonald's, Burger Kings, and Subways are everywhere. Pizza is very popular as well as Chinese food, Kabob, and Japanese food. Expensive. The average combo meal at an American-brand fast food chain is 8-9 Euro. The other restaurants are about the same per meal, but you get more for your money.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

None

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

DHL is very efficient here.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Available, but extremely expensive.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Yes. Very plentiful, but most Finns prefer exercising outdoors. There are also many pools and swimclubs. Saunas are in every home and apartment. Saunas are a big part in Finnish lives.

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

Very safe. I had no problems of places denying credit card use. I used my credit card everywhere and never fell victim to a scam. I used it at bars, pubs, clubs, hotels, restaurants, and fast food chains. I never experienced any problems.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Yes. Any Christian denomination is plentiful. There are also many mosques for believers in Islam. There are also some scattered synagogues for Hebrews.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

TV is mostly Finnish with some Russian, German, and Swedish channels. BBC is available for English speakers.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Everyone speaks English and there alot of English signs. The Finnish language is extremely difficult to learn.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

None.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Yes. Very safe and affordable. However, a 20 minute taxi ride will cost you 50 Euro.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

Any car is fine. No special vehicles needed. Even though there is lots of snow and ice in the winter, the Finns really know how to clear the roads well for driving. Gas is expensive! Don't bring a gas-guzzler because you will PAY at the pump.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Average cost for excellent internet services

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

The land of Nokia. It speaks for itself.

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

No.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

Yes.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

Not really, unless they came over by being sponsored by a Finnish or American company.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Business or business casual. The weather is pleasant. So it is never uncomfortable to wear formal or business attire.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

None. Very Safe. Safest country I have ever been in.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

None. Excellent medical care.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

Very clean. The cleanest environment I have ever been in. The tap water is like drinking bottled water.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Summers have 20hours of daylight each day. Winters have 20 hours of darkness. Winters are freezing with lots of snow, ice, and freezing winds -10 to 25 degrees Fahrenheit. Spring/Summer are pleasant, with a warm climate and hardly any humidity and a comfortable high of 75-89 degrees Fahrenheit.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

ISH (International School Helsinki) is great. Especially their Winter Games.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

Accommodating.

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

Expensive.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Ice Hockey is prevalent and very competitive. Gymnastics/ballet for females is plentiful.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Very small expat community and many congregate at the U.S. embassy and many of the bars/clubs in Helsinki.

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2. Morale among expats:

Good. They are there because they want to be there.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Yes, it is great for singles/couples/families. Singles will love the nightlife of plentiful pubs, bars, and clubs. Couples will enjoy the same night life as well as the traveling. Families will love the endless recreational activities, travel, and entertainment in Helsinki, and the surrounding Baltic/European countries. Overall, you will spend the same amount of money paying for drinks/nightlife as you will traveling in Finland or in surrounding Europe. It is a win-win.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Yes. This is a very open and liberal city/country. Everyone is friendly. The older generation of Finns can be conservative, but also very liberal.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Overall, No. However, there are some isolated cases of general stereotyping and racism toward blacked-skinned nationalities and Gypsies. There is a very large ethnic Somali and misc. African community in Helsinki. Finns sometimes are biased about these dark-skinned nationalities. In addition, there is a large ethnic Gypsy population in Finland. Gypsies are frowned because of their reputation for being swindlers, con artists, and thieves. Although not every story is true, many Gypsies are glared upon at a distance with great disdain. Gypsies women are very noticeable by the traditional ethnic clothing which they wear in public. (Large traditional "bustle dresses." Almost look like "Ye Olde English Tavern Maids.") Men are harder to notice, but tend to wear an exaggerated amount of overt jewelry and have Eurasian/Mediterranean facial features. Don't be surprised if you are standing next to Finn when they see a Gypsy, and they tell you "to watch your wallet."

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Great Winter and Summer sports (skiing and cycling). Moose hunting was a new experience for me. Very fun. The meat is plentiful and delicious. Very pedestrian and bicycle friendly. Going to Lapland for camping, snowmobiling, and dog-sledding north of the Arctic Circle. Spending the night in a hotel made completely of ice. Taking the cruise from Helsinki to Stockholm was very entertaining.

Liking snow is a must! Learning to cross-country ski was an addicting recreational hobby. It is great exercise. Every Finn from ages 6-70 participates in this activity. Every home or apartment has a sauna. The Finns invented the sauna. It is a great recreational and social activity. Many Finns host Sauna parties. Sauna for 10 minutes,followed by rolling outside in the snow, is a repeating process that goes on for hours. It sounds crazy, but it feels great and it has many health benefits.

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Lapland and Finnish skins, furs, bone carvings

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Great Medical care. Very Safe. The most pedestrian and bicycle friendly country I have ever been to. Locals are very active in sports/fitness all year round. It's central location in the Baltic Sea makes it convenient, cheap, and quick to travel to any country in the Baltic, Central Europe, and Eastern European countries. Neighboring countries can be reached by rail, ship, or air, quickly, conveniently, and cheaply. The cleanest country I have ever been to. Tap water tastes like bottled water. The public transportation system of trolleys, buses, and trains is very efficient and convenient. Unfortunately, it is very expensive. A 20-minute taxi ride will cost you approximately 50 Euro.

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11. Can you save money?

If you want to party and travel then, no. It's very expensive. Just and pick and choose what you want to do here.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

No. One year is enough. There is only so much you can do and spend. It was fun, but you will run out of things to do. Also, I did not enjoy the insomnia due to the changes in daylight from Winter to Summer.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

obsessive bottled-water drinking habits.

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3. But don't forget your:

cold weather clothes and equipment for sports/fitness.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

This truly is a safe, clean, and a fun country. People keep to themselves or will open up to you in the friendliest way. It's one extreme or the other in Finland, from weather to socializing.

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