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Living in Helsinki?

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Francois Bertrand

Living in Finland, from Canada

"I found a former Helsinki expat who had recently moved back to Brazil, so we swapped all the important need-to-knows."

Maria Loura

Living in Finland, from Brazil

"Some information on InterNations helped me a great deal, and I'm sure other expats in Helsinki feel the same way."

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Helsinki at a Glance

Living in Helsinki

The capital of Finland has much to offer expats. In several surveys, Helsinki has been voted one of the world’s most desirable cities to live in. While Finnish and Swedish are the official languages, the majority of people also speak another language, usually English.

Education in Helsinki 

The Finnish state education system is widely recognized to be one of the most successful in the world. People involved in educational reform in numerous countries refer to the Finnish system as a benchmark.

As such, teaching is a highly respected profession, on a par with doctors and lawyers. Schools are well funded and all are required to have a child welfare team to ensure that general wellbeing is prioritized as well as formal education.

In Finland, all children are entitled to free education from pre-school through to university. Helsinki boasts five universities and four polytechnics. 

If you prefer your child not to learn through Finnish, which is a notoriously difficult language for foreigners, there are a number of alternatives. There are private schools teaching in English, Russian, German or French, including the Deutsche Schule Helsinki, the Ecole française Jules Verne, the Lyçee franco-finlandais and neighboring Espoo’s International Upper Secondary School.

Transportation in Helsinki

Helsinki is fortunate to have an efficient public transport network comprising buses, trams and the metro, all run by Helsingin Kaupungin Liikennelaitos (HKL).

You can purchase tickets on board, at stations or on your phone. Helsinki or metropolitan area residents can get a Travel Card, which can be loaded with season ticket or value for reduced rates in public transport.

Cycling is popular in Helsinki, partly due to the fact that it is a relatively flat city. The city operates a free bicycle hire scheme, and is committed to improving the cycling infrastructure.

Domestic flights operate from Helsinki Vantaa Airport to other parts of Finland, and there are direct international flights to over 30 countries from Helsinki. There are also ferry services taking passengers to Tallinn, Stockholm, Rostock, and St Petersburg. 

The minimum age for driving in Finland is 18 years. Foreign nationals from many countries, including EU nations, are permitted to drive using the driver’s license from their home country. For further details about the validity of foreign driver’s licenses visit the Finnish Police website.

Drivers should be aware that parking restrictions and regulations are rigorously enforced in Helsinki. It is a legal requirement to use headlights at all times of day and night in Finland. Roads in the capital can get congested at rush hour, something that needs to be factored in when planning a trip. From 1st December to 31st March, drivers are also required by law to have winter tires on their vehicle. 

Culture and Leisure in Helsinki

There is plenty to see and do in your spare time while living in Helsinki, both in the city and its surrounding area. One of the most impressive places to visit is the vast fortress of Suomenlinna, built in the 18th century across six islands next to the harbor.

Originally designed to protect the area from the Russians, the fortress has been used for various military purposes over the years, and even today is home to the Finnish Naval Academy. During the 1970s, Suomenlinna was opened to the public and has become a popular visitor attraction.

If you enjoy going to plays or shows, there are plenty of events at theaters in Helsinki, including a variety of events in English. Dance and circus performances are also popular. Helsinki’s annual arts festival is held in August, and comprises art, dance, drama, movies, and a wide range of musical events.

Whether you love sport as a participant or a spectator (or both) there is a wide range on offer in Helsinki and the nearby area. Ice hockey and soccer are popular sports in Helsinki.

A visit to the Flamingo center makes a great day out for all ages, with its water park, spa, restaurants and other leisure activities. It is also adjacent to the vast Jumbo shopping center, and is located close to the airport in Vantaa.

Also in Vantaa is Heureka, the science center which has hands-on activities designed to educate children through exploration and play. Explanations and other information at Heureka are provided in Finnish, Swedish, and English.

InterNations Expat Magazine