Survival guide to getting settled in Finland as a student: Part 1
Updated: Feb 19
Hiya there! For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Savidu. I am from Sri Lanka, and as of the time of writing this blog, I am a first year Master’s student at the University of Oulu in Finland. I have been living in Finland for 2 months now, and I’m going to tell you some of the things you should do if you ever decide to move to Finland and settle down here.
I had friends who helped me navigate through some of these, and others, I had to figure out on my own. There were a lot of mistakes that I made, and I wish there were someone or something to help me navigate around the complexities. I hope that this blog will be your one stop guide to everything you need to know about settling down in Finland.
I will be explaining everything you need to do, and get into as much detail as I can. Everything I talk about will be in the order of importance. Some of the things I talk about will be more specific to Oulu, since that’s where I live. But I will try to make this as generic as possible.
Before arriving in Finland
Finding an apartment
If you’re reading this, I assume that you have already been admitted to a university in Finland, and therefore, know about student accommodation in your area. But basically, there are different student accommodation providers for different regions in Finland. These providers are affiliated with the university, and can provide you with apartments whose rent would cost almost half as much as a regular apartment.
I got my apartment through PSOAS, who works on student housing in Oulu. I know that student housing in Helsinki is handled by HOAS, and Ayy provides accommodation for students at Aalto University. Keep in mind that the rent for student apartments would depend on your area. Student apartments here in Oulu are much cheaper compared to those in Helsinki.
I got a 33 square meter studio apartment, and this is what it looked like when I moved in. If you want to learn more about student apartments in Finland, you can watch this video. This YouTube channel helped me a lot with information about Finland, so I will be sharing a lot of his videos here.
You would have noticed that there is almost no furniture in the apartment. With the exception of a fridge and stove, there will be no furniture in the apartment. However, some apartments may have dishwashers and washing machines. So make sure you have a bed, and any other furniture arranged to survive your first few nights. I will talk more about finding furniture later in the blog.
Also, if you are arriving in Oulu, you can look into the Oulu Flat Sublease Point Facebook group. You can find fully furnished apartments that people are subleasing. This is a good way to find an apartment for a month or so after arriving in Finland.
The most important thing you need to prepare yourself for before moving to Finland is the weather. To be more specific; the winter. If you’re from a tropical country and have never experienced winter like myself, you’re in for a fun surprise.
There are certain items of clothing you should bring from home, and others you should buy once you arrive in Finland. The key to surviving the cold is layering. That is, it is better to wear clothes on top of each other than to wear one thick piece of clothing. This helps keep your body heat inside. Here in Oulu, I had to deal with temperatures below -20 Celcius. However, if you’re going to be somewhere further South, the temperatures may not be as extreme. This is what you would need to wear.
Waterproof pants (helps stop snow from melting in your jeans)
Maybe a second pair of socks
My advice here is that you don’t cheap out on your socks. It is better to use woolen socks over cotton ones. Depending on how cold it is, you may need to wear two layers of socks, because your feet will be one of the first parts of your body that starts to freeze.
When it comes to shoes, this is where I tell you to buy a pair once you arrive in Finland. If you are arriving in the winter, it would be better to get some sort of winter shoes, if you can find any where you live (I could not find any good ones in Sri Lanka). The shoes you get must be windproof as well as waterproof. The last thing you would want is water getting in your shoes while you’re out in the winter.
All of these must be worn on top of each other in that order. None of these are special. In fact, if you already have some with you at home, you would not need to buy any once you arrive in Finland. However, I recommend that the jacket you get is windproof, and has a hood for protection from the wind.
It also helps if everything you’re wearing is made of wool, as it helps insulate your body heat better than most materials.
Windproof gloves (wool-lined leather gloves)
Thin gloves (supports touchscreens)
You will feel the most amount of cold in your hands. Therefore, it is important to make sure that your hands are well insulated. Depending on how cold it is, you may need to wear two layers of gloves, which is why I recommend wearing some thin gloves underneath your main gloves.
When you arrive for the first time, you will need to use navigation on your phone most of the time you are outside. Therefore, I highly recommend that the thinner gloves you get can be used with touchscreens. It helps with not having to take your gloves off and expose your hands to the extreme cold each time you need to use the phone. The touch screen gloves are quite cheap, and you can find them in any Tokmanni store.
Face mask (?)
Most of your body heat escapes through your head. Because of that, it’s important that you get a beanie to protect your head from that cold. What most people recommend is that the beanie should be long enough to cover your ears. It’s also good to find one that protects your head from the wind.
You will need a scarf to protect your throat and neck from the cold. Another option is to get a winter jacket with a long collar that protects your neck.
On a side note, I have also found that wearing a face mask helps keep your face warm as well. As a bonus, it protects you from that pesky virus that’s going around.
If you’re on a budget like I am, you could also find clothes to be used secondhand. A few of the second hand clothing stores that you can find are UFF, Kierrätyskeskus, and Fida. For more information on the type of clothing you would need to survive winter, you can check out this video.
Register your Municipality
You actually need to register your municipality after arriving in Finland. However, you will most likely need to make an appointment, and the next available appointment could be weeks ahead. It is important to get this done as soon as possible, as you need to have the registration to open a bank account.
At the time of writing this, to make an appointment, you must visit here. The web page may be in Finnish. You can get it in English by selecting “EN” in the dropdown menu at the top. Thereafter, select “International registrations” under “Personal law services”.
In the next page, select your service location, and the date and time that is convenient for you. After that, confirm your appointment, and you will get a confirmation which can be downloaded as a PDF file.
When registering your municipality, you must register as a foreigner in the Finnish Population Information System. You need to fill this form. It can be filled in advance, or you can fill it during the appointment itself.
If you are going to Finland as a student, this part is very important, so listen carefully. Before you go into your appointment, please remember to get a certificate of enrollment from your university. This is so that the Digital Population Agency can verify that you are living in the country as a student.
After your appointment, they say that you will get your registration confirmation through email in 6 - 7 weeks. However, I got mine in less than 2 weeks.
Student discount flights
Check if the airline you are planning to fly in offers student discounts. I flew from Colombo, Sri Lanka to Helsinki on Qatar Airways, and they offer discounts to students along with an additional 10kg of baggage allowance. You can join the Qatar Airways Student Club here (full disclosure, I get additional air miles if you register to Student Club with this link). However, you will most likely be able to find student discounts in other airlines as well.
After landing in Finland
Get a local SIM card
After landing in Finland, your first order of business should be getting a Finnish phone number. I recommend that you get one at the airport immediately after landing, as it is going to help you a lot in the long run.
There are two types of mobile connections in Finland; prepaid and subscriptions. Subscriptions are cheaper long term, which is helpful if you are planning to stay in Finland for more than a year. However, I found out after arriving that telecom providers in Finland do not give subscription connections until you have lived in Finland for over a year. Therefore, the only option here is to get a prepaid connection.
However, fret not! You can easily find prepaid sim cards almost anywhere in Finland. You can find them in grocery stores such as R-kioski, any of the K chain stores, or S market chains. When you are arriving in Finland, Helsinki would most likely be your port of entry. The easiest option is to get a sim card at the R-kioski store in the airport itself.
In terms of mobile connections, Finland has one of the best mobile connections in the word. You can get unlimited 4G data plans for around €25 a month. In terms of telecom providers, the most popular ones that I know of are Elisa, Telia, and DNA. They are all very good, and you can’t go wrong with picking any of them. However, I recommend checking their coverage in your area.
Following up on SIM cards, you would also need to think about getting an internet connection for your home. In the case of student apartments, most of them already come with an internet connection free of charge. However, you will need to contact the internet service provider to activate the connection.
Student apartments will not come with WiFi. Apartments will have data sockets on the wall. You will need to get a router, and connect it to the socket with an Rj45 cable. Once your service provider activates the connection, you can use WiFi however you please.
If you’re arriving in Finland as a student, your first priority should be to find furniture, as your apartment may not have any. The best option I would suggest is to find them secondhand, as buying brand new furniture would cost almost twice as much.
If you are coming to Oulu, I would suggest going over the Oulu Sale Point Facebook group. This is a group where people sell secondhand items including furniture. In fact, I got the mattress for my bed through here. There may be similar Facebook groups for other regions as well.
In addition to that, you can also look into secondhand stores. There are places that sell secondhand furniture and do delivery as well. Once again, if you’re going to be in the Oulu region, you can look into Käytetyt huonekalut ja kuljetus Oulu. Although they have a low rating on Google, I personally found them very helpful. I was able to buy a bunch of furniture and get them delivered at a very reasonable price.
Finnish ID card
Another important thing that you need to take care of immediately after arrival is getting a Finnish ID card. This is because you will not be able to open a bank account until you have a Finnish ID.
To do so, you must have first registered your municipality. After your appointment with the Digital Population Agency, it may take a few weeks to get your municipality registration. Thereafter, you must immediately go to the nearest police station and get your Finnish ID.
You must first visit a photo studio and get your photo taken. The photo will cost around €12. Thereafter, you must visit the nearest police station. If you are going to be in Oulu, there is a photo studio very close to the police station.
You can make an appointment at the police station online, or simply walk in as well. Make sure to bring your Passport and Residence Permit with you along with the photo. The entire process takes no longer than 10 minutes, and will cost €60. Thereafter, the ID card will be available to you within a week, which can be collected at the police station.
Opening a bank account
Opening a bank account is by far the most difficult part of the process of settling down in Finland. This is mostly because of the ridiculously long amount of time it takes to open a bank account due to regulations from the EU.
The fact that you need to wait until your municipality is registered and your ID is ready makes it worse. From the people I have spoken with, it takes around 2 months to get a bank account after submitting the application.
After a bit of digging and talking with other students, I personally decided to open a bank account at OP (not a sponsor). This is mainly because it only takes about a week to open an account with them, considering you already have your municipality registration and ID. To open an account with OP, you simply need to visit any of their branches, fill out an application and submit it. Thereafter, you will be called for an appointment within 10 business days. In addition to that, most of their services are offered in English as well.
If you are not in any hurry to open a bank account, you may take your time to research which bank is the best for you.
Life in Finland
For me, the most difficult part about getting used to everyday life in Finland was grocery shopping. Mainly because most of the items are labelled in Finnish. Even the ones imported from abroad. However, you occasionally come across things with English labels. Don’t worry too much about this. I have been living here for 2 months, and I’m already used to reading Finnish labels in grocery stores.
The next thing I wanted to highlight about grocery shopping in Finland is how you buy fruits and vegetables. Where I’m from, you used to put whatever you wanted in a bag, and ask the guy to weigh them and stick a label. However, you have to do this all by yourself here.
This is an example of me buying bananas. In the fruits and vegetables section, you have the name of the item. Underneath the price (yes, it’s expensive, get used to it), you have a number (99). There are scales nearby. Put your things on one of the scales, and press the corresponding number. The scale will print a sticker with the price and barcode. You need to stick this on your item. If you put your fruits or vegetables in a bag, you can stick it on the bag.
Finally, a common thing that people in Finland do when shopping is bring their own bag when going to the grocery store. After checking out, you can put everything in the bag and walk home with it.
This part is going to be more specific to what public transport is like in Oulu, but I assume that it is similar everywhere else. Public transport information on Google Maps navigation is very accurate. When taking the bus, you need to hold out your hand to indicate to the driver that you want to get in. Otherwise they may not stop.
You can find more information about public transport in Oulu here. However, this will serve as a quick summary. You make the payment when getting into the bus. Although you can pay the driver in cash, I have only seen someone do it once. The next most common option of payment is a mobile ticket. You can buy tickets through the app, and then show it to the driver when you get in.
The most common method of payment is using a travel card. Travel cards can be bought at the Oulu 10 service point. Make sure to bring some form of identification with you (passport, residence permit, ID card). After buying the card, you will be able to use it immediately. Simply tap it on the card reader inside the bus. You can top up the amount of money in the card through their online shop.
When you are about to get off the bus, you will need to press any of the “stop” buttons when you are close to your stop. When getting off, thank the driver (say “kiitos”), and off you go!
When I first moved to my apartment, I spent a couple of weeks collecting trash because I didn’t know where to throw it. This is what the garbage area was like where I live. Keep in mind that this may depend on where you live, but the idea is the same.
Your garbage can be thrown away in a shed like this. Inside the shed, there will be separate bins for different types of waste. It is better to sort your garbage before heading out, as it will save you a lot of time having to sort it out in the freezing cold.
You can pause the video to see the different types of garbage.
I have used the same washing machine my whole life. So moving to another country and figuring out how to use their washing machines was an interesting experience for me. Although many of you may be comfortable with using washing machines, this is for the few of you who may run into the same struggles as I did.
Before you read any further, let me preface this by saying that I’m not a laundry expert. So take whatever I say with a grain of salt.
Depending on your apartment provider, you may have to reserve your washing and drying machine before using it. Make sure you make a reservation, and are not stealing someone’s time slot. Reservations can be made online in Oulu, and it looks like this.
You can put detergent and fabric softener into the machine. Or you could do what I do and get laundry pods (which can be bought in any grocery store), and put it in with the rest of your clothes.
The language for the machines may most likely be in Finnish. Worry not, you can change the language settings quite easily. Turn the knob until you see an option with the word “kieli” (which means “language” in Finnish). Thereafter, you can change it to the language of your choice.
You can play around with different settings after that, but I usually just set it to “Normal” and let it wash. It takes around 45 minutes. Make sure you select a duration that does not exceed the time of your reservation. If you need more instructions on how to do laundry, this is what was given in my laundry room.
After you have washed your clothes, you can either take them back and let it dry on a clothes rack. Or if you’re lazy like me, you can use the drier. Keep in mind that you will need to make a reservation for this as well. The settings here are similar to the washing machines. You can select the language, and choose the options for the drier. As always, I go with the “normal” setting. Once again, make sure that the duration does not exceed the time of your reservation.
Surviving the dark winter
An important thing to keep in mind before you arrive in Finland is the fact that you will need to learn to live in the darkness. Towards the middle of December, you will only experience a few hours of sunlight each day. I didn’t believe what people said before I moved in, but the constant darkness really starts to mess with your head after a while.
Personally, I started feeling hungry at around 5 pm, even after having lunch, because my brain automatically thinks that it’s time for dinner based on how it looks outside. Additionally, your sleep schedule gets messed up, and it becomes harder to wake up in the morning. So make sure to prepare yourself for that.
Another result of the darkness is seasonal depression. Although I don’t think that I personally experienced any to a huge extent, I definitely felt some effects of it (it could also be due to the lack of sleep). Here are some tips to survive the darkness.
Get yourself some vitamin D tablets. You can find them in any grocery store. I bought a set of 120 tablets of 10μg. It costs around €5. This is the smallest dosage available, which I take every morning, and it works fine for me. It looks like this. You can also find similar tablets from other brands.
The next thing you need to do is to get a lot of lights, and make sure that your house is as bright as possible. Although it may be a little expensive, it’s a worthwhile investment considering your sanity.
The final thing you should do is to go out regularly. It could be something as simple as going for a walk, or even getting some exercise. You may feel discouraged to go outside because of the cold, but getting some fresh air really helps your mental health.
Although English is not considered to be an official language in Finland, almost everyone here can speak the language to a decent extent. You would not have to worry about not being able to speak Finnish, unless you visit some extremely rural areas. However, it may be useful to learn some basics such as greetings, numbers, and names of food items. Also, you can say “kiitos” (thank you) to people like cashiers and bus drivers, just to be extra polite.
Depending on where you are coming from, you may also need to consider the effects of the cold and dryness on your skin. Coming from a tropical climate, the first few weeks in Finland were kind of painful. Your lips will get dry, and it will hurt. However, having some lip balm will be helpful. Also, you will need a lot of moisturizer as your skin will dry up quite a lot. As always, you can easily find all of these in any supermarket.
If you are not fully vaccinated after arriving in Finland, you can visit any of the vaccination sites and get vaccinated immediately. Once you are vaccinated, you will also get a COVID-19 passport, which is valid throughout the EU. Make sure to bring in some form of identification that has your Finnish personal ID. You can find out more information about vaccinations in Oulu here. Similar information on vaccinations in other cities is a simple Google search away!
As of writing this, I have been living in Finland for 2 months, and these are the things I needed to take care of immediately. I plan on following up with part 2 after I have lived here for a few more months.
I hope that I have covered everything important that you may need to know. If you feel like I may have missed something important, or need to know some more information, feel free to leave a comment, or get in touch with me on LinkedIn or Twitter.
All the best with your new life in Finland. I’ll see you in part 2. Hei hei!