Denmark estonia finland Norway Sweden

Nordic winter: survive (and have fun) when the temperature drops

Brrrr!!!! The cold of another Nordic winter is here. No doubt about it. Luckily, all of us here at sulonorth can call ourselves sort of experts on how to handle the below zero temperatures and the dark temperamental skies of Northern Europe. This is not our first reindeer rodeo after all. Here are 8 tips for surviving the extreme Nordic winter conditions.

1. Hygge (do it hardcore)

If you have not heard the Danish word “hygge” you have probably been living under a rock. Basically it means taking cosiness to the extreme. We are talking about candles, smooth lightning, cosy home decor, comfortable sitting areas, fuzzy blankets and hot drinks. These all make “hygge”. You will be spending a lot of time inside during the winter. So make your home as “hygge” as possible. Good lighting is key to achieving this during the dark months. You cannot spend too much on scented candles, herbal teas, mulled wine or hot chocolate at this time of the year. Also, cosy warm robes (or better yet blanket robes, Google it, and thank us later) and wool socks are a must for anyone living this far north!

2. Force yourself out

This can be seen as counterproductive since we just told you to invest a small fortune on good lighting and cosy pillows. It’s important though to try to get out during daylight hours whenever you can. Better yet, try one of the crazy Nordic outdoor activities like cross-country skiing, sledding or skating. Who knows, you might just fall in love with it. Spending time in nature is an extremely important step for winter survival because it undoubtedly reduces depression and anxiety. If you live in Helsinki, we strongly suggest a walk in Lauttasaari. If you drive anywhere make sure you have your winter tires!

Bright sunny day and snow piles in Helsinki
Piles of snow in Helsinki!

3. Warm clothes

The importance of wearing warm attire in Northern Europe is clear during the winter months. You will be miserable without it. It is good to invest in some proper winter clothes so that being outside and taking the longer walks recommended in Step 2 won’t feel so extreme. Outdoor activity won’t be enjoyable if you are feeling you are freezing your ass off the entire time. Also, pro-tip, take a thermos full of your favourite hot drink with you to enjoy at break time while taking in the beautiful winter scenery.

4. Invest in energy-giving light therapy lights 

Light therapy really works. 30 mins a day is all is needed. Turn it on as you wake up and have your breakfast. Your energy levels will immediately go up. Ströme Energy lights are what we use.

5. Discover a new hobby or interest even if just for the winter

Start to try new food recipes or get into building miniature trains. Anything you can do indoors when it is already dark at 4pm. Something you might not have done in the summer since you didn’t want to waste time indoors. Now it is time to try it. Bonus points if you take a course at a university or community centre away from home. Also, now it is the perfect time to start reading those classics you always wanted to but never felt you had time for or had better things to do outside. Maybe learn about P2P-lending.

6. Explore the indoors outside your home

There is a lot of things to do indoors. There are many museums throughout the Nordics. If you are in Finland, wintertime is a good time to invest in a museum card that gives you free access to hundreds of museums around Finland. Many museums are also kid friendly and have kid play areas. Also, malls often have nice kid areas for those with tiny humans. Other fun indoor activities could be movies, theatre and bowling. 

Snow at Töölönlahti in Helsinki Finland
Snow covered Töölönlahti in Helsinki.

7. Fun and games

A cold Nordic winter is the perfect time to get hooked on games or start binge-watching a new addictive show. As it happens, Apple released its mobile game subscription service Apple Arcade just recently. Though still a work in progress, Apple does grant a one month free trial to all new users. Winter is the best possible time to take advantage of this deal. The games can also be played on the Apple TV with a PlayStation game controller. For those more into traditional games, there are many fun board games to spend those cold winter days with family or friends indoors.

8. Eat well and exercise

Maybe it’s a cliche but remember to eat healthy and exercise. To survive the dark and cold make sure you get all the vitamins you need. The best way to do this is with help from a varied diet. It might also be useful to take D Vitamin supplements if you don’t consume any dairy products. Some dairy products are fortified with D vitamin in the Nordics to make sure people get enough with the lack of sunlight. 

(9. Finland bonus: sauna time)

Three words: Weekly sauna shift! Utilise it! Most people in Finland have easy access to a sauna, either there is one in your own apartment/house or there is a shared one in the apartment building you can book once a week for yourself. A Nordic winter is the perfect time to start using it. While at it, experiment with different sauna oils and scents to take your relaxation to a whole new level.

finland Sustainability

Finland makes sustainability easier

A leading Northern European airline emails customers, saying it is moving ‘towards a better climate future’.

Reusable grocery bags are spotted all over hipster neighbourhoods of Helsinki, Stockholm, Oslo, Copenhagen, and Tallinn.

Local Facebook flea market groups are buzzing: buying second hand is a popular move.

In the small neighbourhood of Jätkäsaari in Helsinki, there are two second-hand shops. People can drop off their used clothing and items and have them sold for a small service fee. Both shops have opened up only this year (Jätkäsaari is seeing a lot of development). It looks like business is doing well.

Let’s be honest, doing your part to combat climate change is trendy in Nordic countries. It’s also considered essential for the public relations efforts of companies.

Protecting the climate and being sustainable isn’t a bad move to make – for all kinds of reasons. By 2030, the sustainability industry will create more than USD12 trillion in business opportunities, according to one estimate.

Of course, the interest in preventing climate change and sustainability is real. Those melting glaciers are undeniable from where we sit. Northern Europe also produced Swedish Greta Thunberg, the famed teenage climate activist who is even better than Donald Trump at Twitter.

Given the market demand wide-spread interest, sulonorth is also jumping on the sustainability wagon.

On Tuesday, we began a regular series of posts related to Nordic sustainability efforts. We kicked the series off with an exciting issue close to the heart of every Northern Europe resident: waste management and recycling.

Jokes aside, being able to contribute to the circular economy and focus on living in a more sustainable manner is one of the joys of being a Helsinki resident. The city makes social responsibility more achievable. Sustainability is usually difficult. All too often guilt and a sense of helplessness replaces action. Yet, for many, the only choice Helsinki offers is to live in a more sustainable manner.

The priority Finland gives to sustainability is driven by both a moral responsibility and self-interest. For example, it would be very bad for the Finnish forestry industry if temperatures rise too much. The forestry industry is critical for Finland’s economy.

Watch for more on the circular economy and sustainability in the coming weeks.

Yellow rental bikes make sustainability in Helsinki, Finland easier
Save Finland’s trees, rent a bike!
Denmark estonia finland Norway Sustainability Sweden

Why Sweden is the waste king of Nordic Europe

Want to live in Finland or another Nordic country? Get ready to spend a lot of time sorting waste and recycling.

In Finland, most apartments and houses contain multiple bins for waste sorting by type. You carry it outside regardless of the weather and dispose of it in one of several different receptacles: biological, mixed, cardboard, plastic, paper, cans, glasses, and hazardous (batteries, small electronics).

Compare this to Britain, where residents usually put out three bins: food waste, mixed recycling, and garden waste. In countries such as the UAE and Turkey, people generally do not recycle at all.

I chose these countries as examples because I can speak from first-hand experience after living for multiple years in each. The point is that Northern Europe is a leader when it comes to waste treatment and recycling.

How do they do it in Sweden and Finland?

In Sweden, nearly half of general waste is sent for energy recovery. The country is so good at burning waste, which produces steam for electricity producing turbines, that it imports waste from other nations, including Norway and Finland. The energy is used to heat Swedes’ homes and even to power buses.

Some numbers from Swedish Waste Management and Recycling Association Avfall Sverige:

  • In 2018, each Swedish citizen produced 466kg of household waste.
  • In 2017, each Swede produced 473kg (so waste per person in Sweden is being reduced – at least between 2017 and 2018!).
  • In 2018, 15.5% of household waste was treated biologically.
  • Nearly 50% of household waste went to energy recovery in 2018.  
  • Only 0.68% of the waste went to landfills.

Finns, on the other hand, produced 510kg of waste per person in 2017. In Finland, most of the municipal solid waste is treated for energy recovery. The rest gets recycled and only a tiny amount is sent to landfills, as per data from Statistics Finland.

The most dramatic change with Finnish municipal waste management happened in 2016 when the dumping of municipal waste in landfills decreased substantially compared to previous years, coming in at 3%. This change was due to a regulation that banned dumping organic waste into landfills. 

Helsinki neighborhood waste center door
Fall in line and recycle as you are told!

Why are Danes the largest waste producers in EEA?

NOTE: How countries define municipal waste varies. Sometimes the term covers a wide amount of commercial waste. This is the situation in Denmark, which partly explains the large amount of generated municipal waste per capita. Therefore, the figures below are not completely comparable between countries.

Danes produced the most municipal waste in the European Economic Area at a staggering 781kg per capita in 2017. In Norway, the figure was close at 748kg. In Iceland, the third biggest waste producer, it was 656kg. 

This puts Scandinavian nations on the top of the list for municipal waste generators. This can partly be explained by the wealth of these nations. Usually, rich nations produce more municipal waste than less wealthy nations within the EEC.

However, Sweden and Finland are producing much less waste and are also wealthy countries.

Urbanisation is considered another important contributor to Denmark’s high level of waste. However, perhaps the main reason for the high figure is the way that municipal waste is determined, according to Denmark’s Environmental Implementation Review 2019. The review also states that Denmark is among the countries with the lowest amount of landfill waste in the EU at 1%.

Why does Sweden import waste?

Currently, Sweden imports more than 1.3 million tonnes of waste from other European countries. Nearly half of this waste comes from Norway, but also Finland exports waste to its western neighbour. Why is that?


Finland has a problem when it comes to energy recovery at home. The country’s waste burning facilities are overcapacity. That is why a lot of Finland’s waste is sent to Sweden and Estonia. All in all, Finland exported 100,000 tons of mixed waste in 2018, according to Yle.

A ban on dumping organic waste in landfills also increased the amount of municipal waste being burned. If Finland’s waste incinerators only took in household waste they would have enough capacity. However, they also accept industrial waste.

Finland Waste by Sector 2017
Finland Waste by Sector 2017

Finland is building a new waste incinerator facility in Salo, but it won’t be ready until 2021. Finland’s largest waste management facility (in Vantaa) is also being expanded. However, for the time being, it seems Finland will keep exporting waste to its neighbours to the south and west.

Trash means cash

In Norway, the problem is not related to capacity but the free-market economy. Norway has enough facilities to burn its waste at home. The capacity was built up after landfill dumping was banned in 2009. However, Swedish waste burners compete in the Norwegian market. They offer a cheaper price due to lower costs in Sweden. 

It seems that Sweden is destined to sit on the Nordic waste throne for the foreseeable future.

finland Politics

Finland’s super popular President Sauli Niinistö meeting with Donald Trump

What is the Niinistö – Trump Meeting About?

Finland’s super popular President Sauli Niinistö is meeting with US President Donald Trump on 2 October at the White House. The 100th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Finland and the United States is the reason for the meeting, according to a statement from the Finnish Presidency. European and Arctic security (code words for Russia) will also be discussed.

In our view the key points of concern here are:

  • A possible new arms race in Europe
  • European energy security
  • Two recent nuclear-related accidents in Russia

Don’t expect much public clarity about any of these points following the meeting or afterwards. Follow Niinistö though if you’re interested in US – Russia relations. Or US – Finland relations for that matter. Also follow him if you’re enough of a politics junkie to enjoy press conferences with ultra-awkward body language.

August 2017 Niinistö – Trump press conference

Niinistö vs Trump Popularity Contest

At the least, Niinistö meeting with Trump is an occasion to comment on their differences.

Niinistö’s approval ratings have consistently been high. Nearly all respondents of a recent poll thought he was doing a good job. During a speech this week to the UN General Assembly, Niinistö focused on the need to address climate change, which is already occurring ‘from the Arctic to the Amazon,’ he said.

On the other hand, the opposition Democrats have just launched a formal impeachment inquiry against Trump. Polls show the US president’s approval rating to be about 43%. His speech to the UN General Assembly focused on threats aimed at other countries and championing nationalism.

Upon arriving at the UN he got dirty looks from Swedish teenage environmental activist Greta Thunberg, who later bested him on social media taunts.

Who is Sauli Niinistö?

Niinistö has been president of Finland since 2012 (Finland’s presidency has 6-year terms). He was reelected in 2018, notably becoming the first Finnish president to be elected in the first round of voting. During his time in office, Niinistö’s seen four different prime ministers, giving him plenty of perspective on how governments in Finland, or in the United States, can come and go. Finland’s current Prime Minister Antti Rinne has his hands full with some controversial economic reforms and the longevity of his government is under question.

On 24 September, Niinistö tweeted about meeting UK economist Nicholas Stern (someone who is very concerned about climate change), emphasising how important this issue is for Finland and Niinistö personally.

Niinistö is also not shy about meeting some of the more difficult leaders in global politics. For example:

Personality Matters in Politics

Of course personality is what really matters in politics. Niinistö is pretty likable in the eyes of most Finns. He’s not done much that would make him controversial in Finland. He comes across as trustworthy and honest. He also shares photos of hockey games, along with images of his baby son and Boston Terrier dog.

Niinistö Walks the Line

We’re not expecting much to come out of Niinistö’s meeting with Trump. We do think that the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry will ultimately help Trump gain votes in 2020 and probably aid his reelection. That means Finland will need leaders who, like Niinistö, can have positive relationships with other politicians with whom they don’t see eye to eye on all issues.


Crime in Finland, just how safe is the happiest country in the world?

True story. In 2011, a newspaper in Finland reported on an alleged shoplifter, who was accused of eating part of a pickle without paying for it. He had put the rest of the pickle back. Needless to say the store was forced to dispose of the contaminated pickles.

Another true story. Around 2010, a man sprinted across a snowy Hakaniemi Square carrying a jacket that he’d shoplifted from a nearby store. A security guard pursued. He grabbed the man’s leg and brought him down on the icy sidewalk at the corner of Hakaniemen ranta and John Stenbergin ranta.“Stop or I’ll use spray,” he said in halting English as they wrestled. Threatened by the pepper spray, the shoplifter gave up and was compliantly escorted back to the store.

Finland crime

Crime in Finland is rare and low scale. The past few weeks offer a slight variation on this story though. On 9 September, police raided an apartment in the Jätkäsaari neighborhood, searching for a man who had robbed a nearby convenience store the day before, apparently with a gun. Police thanked citizens for helping to identify the man, who was arrested.

Police prepare to detain a criminal in Jätkäsaari, Helsinki.

Meanwhile, on 5 September, police shot a man in the city of Tampere who was threatening residents with two handguns. On 25 August, two police officers were shot and injured in Porvoo. Two suspects were apprehended following a high speed chase and have appeared in court. On 23 July, a shooting occurred at the intersection of Hietalahdenkatu and Porkkalankatu in central Helsinki.

All of the above are exceptional events. Crime in Finland is low. Some concern exists that in the coming years (and, yes, years, not next year or the year after), a significant increase in violent crime will occur, similar to what has been experienced in some areas of Sweden.

It’s too soon to know, though it’s highly possible that this occurs. In terms of public perceptions, many citizens will probably believe that crime is increasing amid a greater level of reporting and information dissemination. If you live in Finland and read the police Twitter account and Iltalehti instead of Helsingin Sanomat, you’ll probably feel nervous about the direction of society.

Now that we’ve mildly disparaged Iltalehti readers (among which SuloNorth is counted) let’s look at some data, namely Q1 and Q2 criminal offenses from 2015 to 2019

Crime in numbers

In terms of overall numbers, Finland appears to be even safer so far in 2019 (based on preliminary data), with a fall in total recorded offenses.

  • 398,630 (2015)
  • 396,331 (2016)
  • 427,594 (2017)
  • 424,219 (2018)
  • 326,543 (2019)

Of course, our question is what caused the rise in total offenses in 2017 and 2018? Will adjusted data for 2019 be dramatically different from what’s been published now?

We would like to be hitting refresh on the official statistics page and download the finalized data. But we’re not. Even for a country of only 5.5 million people, crime in Finland is remarkably low. Less than 2,000 residences were broken into during January to June 2019. Numbers of robberies have stayed about the same between January to June 2015 to 2019 at approximately 800.  

Narcotics offenses are up though, with 14,250 in 2019 compared to 11,749 in 2015. Sexual crimes have also increased include the sexual abuse of a child (from 629 in 2015 to 813 in 2019) and rape (from 481 in 2015 to 715 in 2019). Part of this increase is due to more reporting of these types of incidents, which is positive, but the overall rise is concerning. 

January to June 2019 also saw a notable rise in murders, rising to 41 from 34 in 2018. In 2015, the number was 46.

Keep it all in perspective. Finland’s Interior Ministry says that bicycles are the most common stolen object in Finland.


Ultimate Guide to Finnish Music – Back to Work Edition

Our ultimate guide to Finnish music arrives as the summer season wraps up and the end of year work frenzy begins.

In Finland, most companies were fully up and running again by mid-August. Employees will want some new tunes to deminish the pain of losing that refreshed post-vacation feeling.  

What do Finnish people listen to while at work you may wonder?

What is the soundtrack that keeps Finns the happiest people in the world despite the daily toil for Euros? (Note that only 10% of Finns usually work more than 40 hours per week – that’s just plain smart).

The answer is…probably pretty much the same type of music that you listen to. Maybe there’s a little more metal in the mix.  

Here’s SuloNorth’s 10-song ultimate guide to Finnish music (back to work edition). Listen to the Spotify playlist or one by one below. 

1. Hard Rock Hallelujah, Lordi

2. Matkustaja, Egotrippi

3. Sandstorm, Darude

4. Missä muruseni on, Jenni Vartiainen

5. Texas, Haloo Helsinki

6. Ikävä, Chisu

7. Wings of A Butterfly, HIM

8. Pohjoiskarjala, Leevi and the Leavings

9. Kulkuri Ja Joutsen, Tapio Rautavaara

10. Palasina, Vilma Alina

finland Politics

Hold onto your horses, Putin is coming!

Photo: A woman at the Russian Orthodox Pokrovskaia Association in Helsinki, Finland.

Stop the traffic. Stop the music. Stop whatever you are doing. Putin is coming to town!

The big man of Russia will be in Finland on August 21 to meet with President Sauli Niinistö.

The two have a tight relationship, and Putin visits Finland annually. 

Niinistö last met with Putin in April at the International Arctic Forum in St. Petersburg. Putin expressed that relations between Russia and Finland are developing in a good direction. Thanks for the love, Vlad!

The meeting next week takes place at the Finnish president’s summer residence in Naantali and comes at a time when relations between Russia and the West are, frankly, in a dreadful state. Niinistö has sought to reassure the Finnish media by saying that no conversations topic will be taboo. However, he refused to disclose the talking points.

We expect Niinistö to continue acting as a bridge between Moscow and Western countries and to carefully tend to what is an uneasy, but important partnership. Many Finnish companies want the sanctions currently imposed on Moscow to be lifted and for Russia to return to buying a wider assortment of products from Finland . Don’t forget, Russia remains an important market and is located right on Finland’s eastern border. Even notoriously quiet Finns talk to their neighbours.

An abusive relationship?

A digression to dig a little deeper into Russian-Finnish relations…

Innocent and inexperienced small town girl meets mysterious, unattainable bad boy. It is an old story that rarely has a happy ending.

Falling in love with such a character can bring your exhilarating excitement. Yet one day you wake up and realise that you are in an abusive relationship with a narcissistic lunatic and there are very few ways out.

Perhaps I am exaggerating a bit (just a bit) by seeming to compare such a dynamic to the Russia-Finland relationship. Yet, like that unattainable new love interest, Russia remains a mystery to Finland, and just about everyone else.

That doesn’t stop Finns from pursuing it of course….there are all those people, all that land, so many resources…

 Russian poet Fyodor Tyutchev famous poem says it all: 

”You cannot grasp Russia with your mind 

Or judge her by any common measure, 

Russia is one of a special kind –

You can only believe in her. ”

Another Cold War?

Yes, Russia is Finland’s main longterm external security threat.

In March, the Finnish Defence Ministry released a critical report of Russia entitled “Voiman Venäjä” (eng. Russia of Power). The report was a continuation of two previous reports “Haasteiden Venäjä” (Russia of Challenges, 2008) and Muutosten Venäjä (Russia of Changes, 2012).

“Voiman Venäjä” paints a grim picture of Russia-Finland relations and even mentions being on the edge of another Cold War. An unstable Russia could have a huge impact on Finland’s security. Meanwhile, the increased Russian military activity in the Baltic Sea makes Finland nervous. Russia sees Finland as part of its larger geopolitical goals, according to the report. For example, the presence of the Russian Orthodox Church (not to be confused to Finnish Orthodox Church that is part of the Patriarchate of Constantinople) is controversial in Finland as it is seen as part of Moscow’s soft power strategy.

Helsinki views Russia as unpredictable and wishes to convey itself as a reliable partner, one who can talk it out, no matter the issues, without physical altercation, according to the report.  

For its part, Russia has criticised Finland’s closer defence co-operation with Sweden and the fact that Finland has taken part in NATO exercises. 

Friends, until we’re not

Hostility is unlikely to be seen during the meeting between Niinistö and Putin next week.

In official meetings Russia has always highlighted its good relations with Finland. This is despite occasional not so subtle hints about the horrible consequences should Finland do something disagreeable (such as making plans to join NATO).

In other news, the Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif will also meet with Niinistö next week, on August 19.

So it will be a busy week for Finnish foreign policy. 


Nobody works in Finland (during July)

Doing business in Finland is great. Don’t even try during July or early August though. Many companies move at a slower pace and normally busy workers head to the lakes.

Not so at SuloNorth. Don’t worry, we’re still enjoying ourselves of course. Smells of strawberries, sweet peas and seagull shit (those famous Helsinki seagulls) have filled our noses, while we’ve tasted fresh ice cream and cold brews.

Soon life will be back to normal. In the meanwhile here are some interesting summertime facts:

  • Finns are the biggest ice cream eaters in Europe, on average a Finn eats about 13 litres in a year. 
  • In 2018, there were 40 ‘heat days’ (days when temperatures reached over 25C) between May-August period (measured at HEL aka Helsinki Vantaa Airport). This makes it the hottest summer in capital area since measurements were taken by the Finnish Meteorological Institute (year 1959).
  • While beer is still the most popular cold alcoholic beverage in Finland it has lost popularity while Finnish Lonkero (long drink) has gained market share, according to statistics from The Federation of the Brewing and Soft Drinks Industry. Cheers!
  • In 2018 traveling by train in Finland increased by 1.8 million passengers from 2017. At the same time air traffic increased by 2.3 million passengers. 
  • There are more wasps around now than earlier in the summer since the hives are full, baby bees everywhere. So be on the look out for these stingers!

education finland Politics

Work to Study, or Study to Work?

Photo: Student housing in Helsinki.

University students in Finland are demanding more money. In 2017, financial aid was cut to EUR250.28 per month. Today, students are demanding a EUR100 increase in financial aid from the new government that would bring their support to around EUR350 monthly.

Unfortunately for students a rise in financial aid seems doubtful. Earlier this month Interior Minister Maria Ohisalo (Green League) stated on Yle’s 8 minuuttia programme that a hike is unlikely, though that had been one of her party’s main campaign promises during the election earlier this year. The new government has agreed, however, to link the amount of aid to the cost of living. Also more affordable houses and living have been promised to students.

Keeping students happy in a country that faces an aging population may be important, but increasing financial aid would be difficult given an already optimistic government budget.

GoNorth! Outlook
Finnish university students will have to keep up the pressure for the
long-term (we mean years) to see their financial aid increased.
The current government is unlikely to agree to a direct increase in
support …sorry students…

Why might Finnish students turn down work?

This year, Finland’s student financial aid program hits the graceful age of 50. University students don’t pay for education in Finland and receive government financial aid to support themselves. The idea is that young people are enabled to focus on their studies and not have to worry about working at the same time. Therefore, they should be able to graduate faster and become tax payers, which is what Finland needs, especially given the demographic challenges mentioned above.

Here’s the catch: accepting financial aid substantially limits how much a student can earn by working. Yet few companies will hire a graduate with little work experience. Currently, if you study nine months out of the year, and you take out financial aid during those months, you can earn up to EUR11,973 annually.

Summertime blues

The income limit was set because the Finnish state didn’t want wealthy students who were able to independently support themselves also receiving financial aid.

It’s not exactly easy to survive in expensive Finland with only financial aid, especially if you want to enjoy your university years, which every sane person does. What’s tough is that even if students don’t get financial aid for the three summer months (unless they study full-time during the summer), the income they earn from a job during this time is calculated into the whole year’s earnings. A student who succeeds in getting a well-paying summer job and continues part-time work during study time can quite easily go over the earnings limit.

For example, if you make EUR6,000 between June-August, you’ll only be able to earn EUR5,973 the rest of the year. This would mean EUR664 per month. This limit is quite low especially if you, like many students do, work on weekends or nights and earn extra for unusual working hours. For example Sunday work pays double the usual salary.

Tax the students

A January 2019 study from the Labour Institute of Economic Research recommended that the earnings limit be increased to about EUR18,000 per year for students who study nine months out of the year. This would have a positive impact on students’ well-being and increase the government’s net income tax revenue by EUR5.9 million annually, the report found.

At present, the risks of earning too much are real for students. Finland is the only Nordic country that requires students who earn over the limit to pay back the financial aid they received that year in full. That’s right. Go over the limit. Pay it all back.

In comparison, in Finland’s Nordic neighbor Norway, students who earn more than they are allowed only have to pay a greater amount of tax. In Denmark, only the amount earned that’s over the limit for students receiving financial aid has to be paid back.

Finnish social service agency KELA says about one in ten Finnish students ends up exceeding the earnings limit. In fact, the latest statistics show that the number of students who earn too much while receiving financial aid has increased. In 2019, KELA requested 40,000 students to repay financial aid from 2017. This was an increase from 34,800 in 2018 (a payback request from support given in 2016).

Cuts and Loans

Student financial aid without housing support is currently EUR250.28 a month. It used to be EUR336.76* before the previous government (2015-2019) brought it to the cutting board in 2017. Chop.

That government, led by Juha Sipilä of Centre Party (Suomen Keskusta), increased the amount of affordable government backed loans offered to students instead. Now students can take out loans of up to EUR650 per month. On top of that a student can get an up to EUR400 per month housing allowance, depending on how high their rent is and if they live alone or not.

This lower financial aid was put to place in August 2017 and already now it has increased the amount of debt that students take on. According to the Bank of Finland students took out EUR15 million more in loans in January 2019 than they did in the same month a year ago. In total, the amount of loans given to students in January 2019 was EUR285 million. The median interest rate on these loans was 0.48%, according to Bank of Finland data. This is a very low interest rate and some students even use the loan or part of it to invest in different assets. As of August 2014, if a student takes out a loan, 40% of the amount borrowed above EUR2,500 can be ‘forgiven’ (up to EUR6,200) if they complete studies within the amount of time Kela estimates it should take them, becoming an educated, full-time tax payer on schedule.

*For students at university and college level. Lower level students were already receiving only EUR250.28 per month before August 2017.

finland health

Healthcare in Finland – A Personal View

Finland’s healthcare has a pretty good reputation globally. Medical journal Lancet’s study The Global Burden of Disease ranked the country’s healthcare among the best in the world in 2018. Still there is always room for improvement.

Local health centres vs big hospitals

In fact, Finland’s new government aims to reshape the country’s health sector. According to the government, the Northern European country’s weakest link when it comes to healthcare is primary care at local health centres which are often underfunded compared to big hospitals and don’t attract the best medical talent.

Currently, for non-urgent care, these health centres are by law required to give an appointment within three months. The new government plans to decrease the waiting time to only seven days. The government’s programme reads: “The maximum waiting times for access to primary healthcare will be shortened so that access to non-emergency care must be arranged within a week (7 days) of the assessment of need for care.” This is yet another ambitious goal that the new government has on their agenda. You can read more about their other ambitious goals on our previous blog post.

The National Institute for Health and Welfare has estimated that bringing down the maximum appointment waiting times in Finland would require 1,600–2 ,600 more health centre doctors. The government is hoping that 1,000 will be adequate enough and estimates the cost for this to be €50 million. Apparently 1,000 new GPs will suffice since the newly improved health centres will be better managed and use more digitalisation (will going digital be the answer to every problem?). In the government’s own words, they plan to create “multidisciplinary health and social services centres that harness the possibilities of digitalisation and modernise division of work to make better use of different professionals’ skills and of specialist consultations.”

Counties to receive more funding

Another big step the government is going to make in terms of the health sector is the health and social service reform that seems quite similar to the one that the previous government had set the groundwork for. This means that the responsibility for health services will be moved from municipalities to 18 autonomous counties. The counties will be run by elected councillors and there will be five collaboration areas for specialist healthcare between the counties. Citizens are free to choose which county’s healthcare they want to use. The public sector will dominate in providing the care but private healthcare will also be used when needed.

“The counties will receive most of their funding from the central government. We will reform the system for financing health and social services so that it is structured on needs based criteria” the government programme reads.

Making an appointment

I have experience with healthcare in five different countries and I have given birth in both Finland and UK. My experiences with Finnish public healthcare has been mostly positive. Having two small children I usually have gotten care pretty fast and haven’t had to queue for long. The longest I ever had to queue when visiting a health centre without an appointment was for about an hour and 30 minutes. But usually I have only had to wait for about 15 minutes.

In Helsinki, if you need to visit the doctor on a weekday you ring a callback service for your local health centre to make an appointment. The nurse will call you back the same day usually within two hours and assess the urgency of the situation. Is he/she thinks you should be seen the same day they will first try to make an appointment for an exact time. If all appointment times are taken then you will have to go to the health centre for a walk-in appointment which requires some waiting, depending on how many people are there on that particular day. It works on a ‘first come, first served’ basis. I usually ask the nurse on the phone to tell me what the walk-in situation is so I can estimate if it is worth it to go and wait or if I can hold off and make an appointment for next day.

If you are lucky you might only have to wait for 5 minutes for your walk-in appointment, but some days it can be closer to two hours. This is how it works on a regular week day, on weekend you would have to go to your closest hospital’s emergency care unit.

These appointments at the health centre and the hospital have always been completely free*. However, prescription medicines are not free. They are subsidised by Kela but you still pay some out of pocket. What also costs money is giving birth which I will go into in the next segment of the article.

Giving Birth in Finland – the cost

I have given birth in Finland and in the UK. Both times I received high quality care but at what cost?

In Finland, giving birth in a public hospital is not completely free. This came as a surprise to me since I had never had to pay for any public health services in Finland before this. The cost varies depending on how long you have to stay in the hospital. I stayed only one night and the total cost came to €130.50. On top of the care this included meals, diapers, formula milk and hospital clothes for me and the baby.

Meal time at Helsinki’s Naistenklinikka Hospital

In the UK I stayed at the hospital for five days and the total cost of labour was €0. You read that right. In the UK giving birth at a public hospital is completely free. This also included meals. However, you were supposed to provide the diapers, formula milk, clothes for baby and yourself.

Meal time at John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, UK

If I had stayed five day in the public hospital in Helsinki it would have cost €244.5. The daily fee for the hospital stay is €48.90 in Finland. The fee is double if your spouse stays with you but he/she will also get meals and a bed included in that fee. The maximum you would ever have to pay is €683 even if you have to stay in the hospital for a longer time due to serious complications. My fee came down to €130.51 because I also had to bring the baby for an additional check-up due to my early release. The check-up cost was €32.70.

The bottom-line on giving birth (in Finland)

The bottom-line is that giving birth in Finland and UK is not going to make much of a dent in your wallet. Another story is all those American parents. On average giving birth is US costs about €8,900. Parents who are blessed enough to have insurance are usually left with a bill of about €2,700 for vaginal birth. This doesn’t include pre- or post-natal care.

How about safety then? UNICEF’s report on infant mortality rates published in 2018 ranked Finland as the fourth safest place to give birth globally. According to the report Finland’s newborn mortality rate is 1.2, the UK’s stands at 2.5 and in the US the rate is 3.7.

*Free means that these services are paid with tax income and no private insurance is needed to receive care.