How to move to Finland – SULONORTH

sulonorth is moving across the pond in January 2020. No, I don’t mean we’re moving to the United States. We’re moving to Lauttasaari, a beautiful wooded neighbourhood of Helsinki.

We aren’t the only ones moving in Finland.

In 2018, Finland had a deficit when it came to Finns moving abroad compared to those moving in.

Though the country’s overall population grew as foreigners immigrated, 3,578 more Finnish citizens moved abroad than moved in, according to Statistics Finland.

Is there so much happiness here, that Finns feel the need to escape?

Why are Finnish citizens moving?

According to the report Decoding Global Talent 2018 by Boston Consulting Group (BCG), 60-70% of Finnish respondents would be willing to move outside of Finland for work or already were abroad. Swedish citizens gave similar responses.

The reasons for moving are more multi-faceted than before. Finns used to move abroad mainly for economic reasons. Today, the search for adventure, learning new languages, and experiencing other cultures are among the many reasons for moving. International travel is relatively easy for anyone with a Finnish passport.

The most popular destinations for Finns to move to are the United Kingdom, Germany, the United States, and Sweden. Yes, Sweden. Many Finns can also speak Swedish fluently. Sweden, for them, is a very easy destination. Finns also tend to speak English relatively well, which partly explains why the United Kingdom and United States are among the top destinations. According to YLE, Swedish- speaking Finns are more eager to move abroad than Finnish-speaking Finns.

Finland’s population shortage

The problem for Finland is that most people who want to move out are educated young people – exactly the citizens Finland needs, given its aging population. Even as educated people move abroad, more and more educated professionals are retiring. Not enough children are being born to replace the retiring or globetrotting talent force and the tax money and talent that they represented.

How to stop the ‘exodus’?

The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment and Business Finland have been concerned enough about the lack of educated people to release -as part of the Talent Boost programme of the Government of Finland- a handbook entitled Cookbook Finland.

“Since sufficient skilled labour is not available in Finland to cover the demand, international talent is a needed solution. Make no mistake: companies need greater numbers of talented workers than Finland has to offer,” the handbook says.

Especially of concern are fields such as software and computer technology, which are lacking thousands of skilled workers.

Part of Finland’s problem with attracting skilled labour is the lack of good marketing. As a small country, it is not easy to compete with big fishes such as Germany, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.

Finland’s international branding mainly focuses on self-deprecating humor, saunas, and nature. All of this is great, but casts Finland more as a cute holiday destination than a country to live and innovate in. Can Finland better market its international companies and make them more attractive to foreign workers with the needed skills?

Another issue is that even though Finland’s labour market has taken huge leaps in terms of internationality, it is still fairly old-fashioned when it comes to language requirements. Many big, Finnish companies with global operations still expect workers in Finland to speak Finnish, even if the job itself doesn’t require it.

Of course, the dark and cold winters don’t help either.

Solving the talent shortage

Better integration services would be beneficial for Finland and may help keep the already acquired talent in the country longer. For example, many letters from the Finnish Tax Office arrive only in Finnish or Swedish. This is difficult to navigate with limited local language skills.

The system and expectations regarding speaking Finnish are slowly changing though. More English language resources are available for those of you thinking about a move to Finland.

Networking is becoming easier with several expat groups and free co-working hubs such as Helsinki Think Company. In a future post, we will give more tips on landing your dream job in Helsinki. For now, our key tip is: network, network, network. Spend far more time networking than filling out applications on online job portals. Stop reading and go network!

  • Estimated number of jobs not filled due to the talent shortage in 2018: 60, 000
  • Finland needs approximately 34,000 immigrants per year to meet the labour shortage
  • Finland needs 53,000 tech experts by 2021 and over 10,000 new software developers in the next four years


Why move back to Finland?

I was among the Finns that returned home during 2018. Why did I do it? I’ve lived in Sweden, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom. What made Finland great again?

After three years in London and Oxford I was ready for a dramatic change of pace. Also, I wanted to be closer to family after 10 years abroad.

Did the Finnish social system place a role in my decision to return?

Yes. The security that the Finnish state offers is reassuring in this seemingly ever more volatile world. My family does well enough that we don’t normally need social benefits. Still, knowing that a sudden illness or lack of work won’t leave us destitute is comforting. Since we have small children, the affordable schooling and heavily subsidized healthcare are hugely helpful.

However, the key factor in the decision to return was, ironically, the sunnier climate. The summer of 2018 was incredibly sunny and warm in Finland. Visiting on holiday, I spent hours outside and noticed how the city had become more international and seemingly more colorful and happier since I left all those years ago. The business start-up scene was flourishing and the warmth suggested Finland was changing for the better.

Will I move abroad again when my children are older and have immune systems built up by a few years of exposure to nursery germs?

I don’t know. Maybe I will again become one of those Finns moving out of the country, fueling the deficit.

For now, Finland is home and it’s time to innovate.

Alina Lehtinen-Vela is sulonorth’s commander-in-chief. Follow her on Twitter: @alinalehtinen

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