Finland is a highly developed nation with a tiny population and some of the most pristine landscape in Europe. Some of the best things to do here are hike through the national parks, jump into a spa or sauna or watch the northern lights dance in Lapland. The capital, Helsinki, is one of the safest and most convenient cities in the world and the small towns and cities outside of Helsinki are comfortable and rich in history. Finland was long a country of hunters and trappers and actually just recently became a fully-fledged nation — compared with other European nations — so if you go here, the natural beauty will probably be the biggest draw. Here are some great tips on how to prepare for a trip to Finnish Lapland.
Visas & Passports
Passports are required to enter and leave Finland. Visas are not required for US citizens for visits of less than 90 days. For longer visits, contact the nearest Finnish embassy.
Obtaining a US passport
The US Government Website is where to start.
The Finnish Embassy in Washington has links and contacts to Consulates near you.
Finland currently promotes the Shengen Visa on their Embassy website, this visa allows you to travel through 25 different European countries.
Provides consular assistance to U.S. citizens
The American Embassy in Finland
Itäinen Puistotie 14 B
Finland Tourist Information
Culture and History
This far northern region of the world has been inhabited for at least 10,000 years. After the last Ice Age ended and the glaciers receded, hunters and gatherers roamed the forests, bay and mountains of present-day Finland fishing its plentiful waters and hunting the bountiful game. These hunters settles here and carried on with their lives for the next 5000 years until the Bronze and Iron Ages ushered in contact with neighboring Scandinavian and Baltic cultures. There was an inevitable mixing of the peoples, but no one is sure when the Finns began speaking Finnish or how. The language is relayed to Ugric (Hungarian) and as such has Central Asian roots, but since the region was largely inhabited by trappers, hunters and fishermen, it is unclear what the course of history was. In the 13th century, Swedish kings entered the region and established their control. For the next 600 years, Finland became a battleground between the Russian and Swedish Empires and when they were not at war, they occupied Finland, incorporating the land and its people into the empire.
During these years, Finnish was the language of the “lower class” and only in the 17th century did the first Finnish language literature appear. After the Russians occupied and held Finland into the 19th century, a national movement arose along with a greater appreciation of the local language: Finnish was granted equal legal status with Swedish in 1892.
When the Russian Tsars ceased to exist after the October Revolution in 1917, Finland found itself “independent” for the first time in 1000 years. At the time, the country was divided between the Right Wing (Whites), supported by Imperial Germany and the Social Democrat (Reds), supported by The Bolshevist Russia i.e. the future Soviet Union. A civil war tore the country apart and left deep scars in the psyche of the people that last to this day. The Whites emerged victorious and imprisoned, disenfranchised and executed their former enemies.
An independent Finland formed a republic and began land and economic reforms that lasted into the 1930s and the beginning of WWII. The Winter War between the Soviet Union and Finland was the first major test of the new nation and after dealing the Soviets several crushing defeats, the Finns were recognized by the international community for their tenacity, bravery and determination and the Finns themselves gained a stronger sense of self. Unfortunately, the international community was all talk and no action, so Finland has to cede large parts of land to the USSR after the war. During the Cold War, Finnish politicians kept a cozy relationship up with the USSR, even though Finland as not a member of the Warsaw Pact and had a market-based economy. After the USSR collapsed in 1989-90, Finland searched for trading partners to make up for the loss of revenue and entered a depression that lasted much of the 1990s. Today Finland is a quiet little country with a sound economy, well-cared for environment and an aging population that tries to keep to itself.
Currency in Finland
Finland uses the Euro
Driving in Finland
There are no big issues for Americans who want to drive in Finland. The roads are in good condition and Finland recognizes national driver’s licenses accompanied by a Finnish translation. The biggest worry you might have is driving in winter, when the roads become icy and visibility drops. AlltravelFinland has a helpful breakdown of things you need to know before you drive here.
Electricity in Finland
Americans will need to have a converter for their appliances here — Finland uses the Europlug Type C (two round plugs) and operates on 220-230v
Emergency Numbers in Finland
Like the other 27 countries of the EU, Finland uses 112 for their emergency calls — here is a link to more information about emergencies in Finland, how to make the call and what to expect.
Etiquette in Finland
Finns are generally conservative, self-sufficient and egalitarian. Women are equals in language, custom and practice and it is appropriate to greet the wife first when meeting a married couple. If a Finn invites you for a dip in the sauna, accept. Always. Other small tips such as avoiding body contact with new acquaintances, keeping your word and avoiding ostentatious behavior can be read here at Kwintessential or here at Ediplomat.
Public Hours in Finland
Longer business hours apply in Finland for most shops — 8am – 8:30pm during the week, depending on the shop. Shops are usually open on Saturday from 9am to 3pm or as late as 6pm. For more information check out Finland-Travel.
Helsinki was once rated the World’s Second Safest City. Outside of Helsinki the crime rate drops considerably — although the capital will have a few shady nightlife areas, Finland is for the most part a very safe place to travel. Nevertheless, practice common sense concerning money, drinking and important documents.
The time zone in Finland is GMT + 2:00, you can find more information here at Greenwichmeantime.com
Tipping in Finland
Tipping neither expected nor encouraged. The price given is usually fair and appropriate and giving any more than that is unnecessary. We would recommend giving tips only in exceptional cases.
Weather in Finland
Finland is between the coastal climate zone that includes the rest of Scandinavia and the Asian continental climate zone which includes Russia. This makes weather patterns in the country subject to quick and extreme changes, especially in winter. Generally, winters are cold and wet while summers are hot and slightly rainy. There can be serious extremes in summer or winter so be sure to check up on Wunderground.com or Finland’s own Climate site for specific information.
Getting Around Finland
There are direct flights to Helsinki from New York and San Francisco, contact Finnair for more information. From within Europe, direct flights can be spendy, but there are budget carriers such as RyanAir that might offer good deals. Most other airlines in Europe have flights to Helsinki, here is a list — you can check your local or favorite airline for deals.
Boats and Ferries
The best way to get to Finland is via Ferry from one of the Scandanavian countries, Germany and Estonia. The ferry ships are outfitted for fun and comfort and the scenery is great. There are several sites that offer ferry information and ticketing, including Karavaanarit and Directferries.
Land routes to Finland are long and expensive and involve ferry rides anyway, so why not just take the ferry? There are overland border crossing between Sweden and Finland and it is possible to book a bus ticket to Finland from Continental Europe, but it really makes no sense. If you are determined to do so, Eurolines is your best bet. If you are in Norway, Lapin-Linjat has all of the connections. Within Finland, there are good bus connections between Helsinki and other major and minor towns and cities, the best place to book those tickets is Matkahuolto.
It might be a good idea to rent a car in Finland for your trip. All major rental companies are available in Helsinki and you can book before hand through their websites or through a host of local agencies.
No permit is required to carry medication in your luggage for personal use. However, you should pack your medication in its original containers and/or have your doctor’s prescription with you. Customs officials will have to be satisfied that you are not importing more than would be necessary for your personal use, taking into account the drug type and length of stay (for no more than three months). Finnish clinics and hospitals are generally considered to be excellent — they are available for 24 hour emergencies and most hospitals will have English-speaking staff. The US Dept. of State has more information as well as links.
Lodging in Finland
Visit Finland has complete information for accommodations as well as trip planning, major sights and more. The tourism industry in Finland is highly developed, it is possible to stay in rural B&Bs, high end hotels, resorts or backpacking hostels.
Main Sights of Finland
Lemmenjoki National Park — gold panning center of Finland and a wilderness for trekkers
Oulanka National Park — treks through forests and gorges with waterfalls and rivers on all sides
Old capital of Turku — historic first university and church
Mikkeli — WWII military center of operations, freshwater fishing heaven and provincial town on the beautiful Lake Saimaa
Helsinki — capital and center of modern Finnish life
Lapland — removed from the rest of the world and lit up by the aurora borealis for six months out of the year
Public Holidays in Finland
Finland keeps many of the traditional religious holidays and not much more. Midsummer’s Eve is a big holiday in Finland.
1 January New Year’s Day
6 January Epiphany
Good Friday Friday before Easter Sunday
Easter Monday The day after Easter Sunday
1 May May Day
Ascension Day 39 days after Easter Sunday
Pentecost 49 days after Easter Sunday
Midsummer Eve Friday between 19 June and 25 June
Midsummer Day Saturday between 20 June and 26 June
All Saints’ Day Saturday between 31 October and 6 November
6 December Independence Day
24 December Christmas Eve
25 December Christmas Day
26 December St Stephen’s Day
Telephones in Finland
Mobile phones are very common in Finland and it is a good idea to buy a second-hand phone at a mobile phone shop or R-kiosk upon arrival along with a SIM card — this will be the cheapest and most convenient option if you are calling people within Finland. Expat-Finland has more information
Useful Country Codes:
USA and Canada 1
Returning to the US
Finland’s Customs, VAT refund and Duty Free Regulations adhere to EU-wide standards for Americans leaving the EU. You can find more specific information here by reading the Finnish Customs publications. VAT is 22% for most goods and services.