Moving to Finland?
Finland: Expat Destinations
At the beginning of 2016, foreign nationals made up around 12% of Helsinki’s population, making Finland’s capital an extremely popular choice for expats. Work, study, and family are the primary motives that bring expats to Finland. Other than the Greater Helsinki Area, popular expat destinations are Tampere and Oulu.
More than Just the Capital: Helsinki
Finland’s capital, Helsinki, is also its largest city and, as of 2015, has a population of around 620,000. Its neighboring body of water, the Baltic Sea, lends a lot of character to the city. Helsinki is based on the mainland, but an equal amount of the city spills onto islands, making it very much a coastal city.
Founded in 1550 by the Swedish King Gustav Vasa, Helsinki (Helsingfors in Swedish) was not always as important as it is today. Turku was the capital of Finland until 1812 when that title was handed over to Helsinki.
Helsinki has excellent schools, a dynamic cultural scene, and a healthy economy, all making it an attractive choice for expats. It is big enough to offer countless entertainment options and small enough to allow you to quickly access the sea and forget that you are in Finland’s largest city. It is no wonder that Helsinki often does well in the livable city indexes produced by Monocle Magazine and the Economist Intelligence Unit.
In 2012, Helsinki was the World Design Capital, a prestigious position delegated by the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design, and was only the third city to receive this delegation. This was no accident as Helsinki is very much a design conscious city. Marimekko, the well-known Finnish design company based in Helsinki, even gave the paper cups and napkins on Finnair a makeover in 2013. This is a true testament to how seriously Helsinki takes design.
In addition to design and art, Helsinki is a very active city. Cycling is an ideal way to get around. The Helsinki Region Transport website even has a route planner for cycling in the Finnish capital. Sports, both indoor and outdoor, are also popular. The XV Olympics were held in Helsinki in 1952 and the city continues to be obsessed with sports today, football and hockey being the most popular.
Expat Destination Number One: The Greater Helsinki Area
Finland’s second largest city, Espoo, is part of the Greater Helsinki Area. It has a population of just over 260,000 and because it borders with Helsinki, it is possible to live in one city and work in the other. Public transportation efficiently connects the Greater Helsinki Area.
A lot of people who live in Espoo do indeed work in Helsinki. Several technology companies are based in Espoo and so some make the commute the other way around. Vantaa and Kauniainen are also part of the Greater Helsinki Area.
The Greater Helsinki Area combines urban living with wild nature, thus giving its inhabitants the best of both worlds. The capital’s urban core meets bucolic towns to make up the area. The population of the Greater Helsinki Area is about 1.4 million which means that roughly one in five Finns live in or next to the capital. If you are moving to Finland, you are most likely to also live in this area.
Going a Bit or a Lot More North: Tampere and Oulu
As an expat, Helsinki isn’t your only choice, however. Besides the Greater Helsinki Area, Tampere and Oulu are among the largest cities in Finland. These two cities both have populations around 200,000.
Tampere, essentially the third-largest city in Finland, is north-west of Helsinki about two hours by car. It straddles two massive lakes, which makes it feel like it is on the coast. Its industrial past has earned it its nickname: the Manchester of Finland. Industry is still important in Tampere and large companies such as John Deere Forestry, Nokia, and Metso all operate in the Tampere Region.
There are two universities and two polytechnics in Tampere, all of which collaborate with companies in the area. If you are a technology expert moving to Finland, Tampere might be a good destination for you. Tampere also has a lively cultural and restaurant scene and a large student population.
Oulu is the largest and most important city in Northern Finland. It has a university and a polytechnic and is quite well-known worldwide as a technology capital. There are two science parks in the area. This also makes it a popular destination with expats working in the IT sector. Oulu is just south of the Arctic Circle and it gives you a taste of Arctic life with wild berries in the summer and extreme darkness in the winter. Oulu also has some rock and roll edge to balance its status as an important IT center; it hosts the World Air-Guitar Championships every summer.
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