Helsinki, Finland Report of what it's like to live there - 12/09/22
Personal Experiences from Helsinki, Finland
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No, have also lived in Russia and Georgia (Caucasus).
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?
Virginia is home, flights are pretty simple, we either flew via Germany or Iceland. Icelandair had the best prices, was the fastest route AND agreed to take our pet in cargo when no other airline would (Summer 2022) but we weren't able to get the whole fare covered by State.
3. What years did you live here?
4. How long have you lived here?
5. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Housing is all over the city, though we did have a few in our neighborhood of Marjaniemi and those that went in to the office regularly would carpool. Embassy is located in an old corner of the city so you needed a metro and then a tram, plus walking time made it about 45-55 minutes. By car, traffic is extremely light so you could be there in 20-25 minutes but there's no parking at the embassy so you have to get creative.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Slightly more expensive groceries but better quality and no hidden chemicals, sugar, etc. With the current inflation in the states, plus our interest in organic/healthier options, we don't see a difference in our grocery bill after moving back to NoVA. Plus you get the VAT back. Only exception is alcohol, which is significantly more expensive than in the states but not prohibitively so and generally also better quality.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Very little, we took advantage of the case lot order only once (when we first arrived) but never again. I'd Amazon some weird items occasionally because of brand loyalty, not because they didn't have what I needed.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Restaurants are expensive, we used Wolt for food and grocery delivery when needed.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Too expensive for us. I think one day's worth of housekeeping service will cost in the ballpark of 200 euro. We had a hard time finding babysitters but it was also Covid times and the going rate was maybe 15-20 euro/hour for someone very mediocre.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Gyms exist but classes are at weird times because Finns have such flexible work hours. They have almost everything, just not the variety of the States. Public pools are also pretty nice.
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?
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Yes, extremely. Even for children, starting in 1st grade kids get bus passes and can take public trasport by themselves to and from school. Taxis are expensive, as you'd imagine. Maybe 60 euro to get to the airport.
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?
Something that can handle snow! We were in good shape with our Subaru Outback paired with studded snow tires and got a car/engine block heater installed locally.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. Takes forever to set up...
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Pay as you go is easy to set up but a plan requires a bank account which takes a lifetime to acquire. Get on that day one!
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?
Yes, no issues, great vets. Very dog-friendly culture.
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?
Small embassy, few jobs. It was a major issue while we were there, and EFM morale was low. Perhaps they've fixed it by now. No insight on local economy but I didn't know anyone that was locally employed and doubt it's possible.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Not sure, was Covid times and there aren't that many ways to help in a country with such a supportive social net.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
As you'd expect in the West.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Nope. Quality of medical care high. I had a baby locally and it was much better care than I received for my two previous deliveries in the States. Would recommend it in a heartbeat.
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?
Air quality great.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
None; there are gluten-free/vegan options everywhere, even at McDonalds.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
Yes, it's very dark Nov-Feb but the Finns don't let it get them down. They're outside all year round, hiking, biking, Xcountry skiing, etc.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Very cold in winter and a rather short summer but lots of snow so the kids loved it.
Schools & Children:
1. 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?
We enrolled our kids in local Finnish preschools and the Kulosaari bilingual elementary school and had an incredible experience. The local preschool/daycare system is higher quality than anything we've experienced in the States and a fraction of the price (when our three kids were going full time the monthly bill was approx 320 euros, all inclusive). The only negative is the early end time (pick up by 5pm latest) but I know some tandem couples who have made it work.
2. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, lots. Dance, soccer, swimming, gymnastics, tennis, etc. Mostly in Finnish but the coaches were always very accommodating for our kids.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Small-ish? Covid times meant we didn't socialize a ton so not sure about morale.
2. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Was amazing for us as a family with young children.
3. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Somewhat easy, Finns are more reserved but we did make several local friends.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I imagine it's quite easy, Finns are modern, accepting, open-minded, plus they put on a killer LGBT parade every year.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Skiing and sled dog rides up in Levi above the arctic circle. Quick boat trips to Tallinn/the Baltics. Camper van week in Iceland.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Day trips to Hanko and Porvoo. Hiking, berry picking and visiting the reindeer farm in Nuuksio. Kids weekly ski lessons at Talma. Long walks on the frozen baltic or shoveling an ice skating rink off our back dock. SAUNAs!
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Not a cheap shopping post but some nice handicrafts, reindeer pelts, etc.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Very little traffic, if ever. Everything relatively close. Amazing restaurants.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
I was surprised that it was just as idyllic as everyone says. Also, buy your winter gear locally!
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
90% of your summer wardrobe, maybe 10 days of the year are warm enough to require shorts.
4. But don't forget your:
Courage to get out and enjoy things even in the cold weather. Buy proper outdoor gear and get out with the locals.