…I set the date of the actual move to the end of the same week when I picked the residence permit card at the St. Petersburg consulate. It could have been faster, really. I didn’t do all that much before the move; found a new home for my rabbit, bought boxes for the move, packed my things, visited my parents, resigned from my St. Petersburg job. I actually was on a long unpaid vacation at that point; my boss suggested it to me it case the Finland move doesn’t work out. Although I doubt I would have wanted to return to that job even in that case. And I could have taken the rabbit with me, in theory; the main difficulty would be that I wouldn’t be able to leave him with anyone when I go on vacation or something. But I can assure you that the big-eared rascal is in very reliable hands now, and gets sweet banana and apple treats regularly, along with more healthy food of course.
I decided to buy new boxes for the move, although I had a variety of some old nasty-looking boxes and bags, like everyone does. I can recommend Jättene boxes from Ikea; they are cheap and quite spacious. Since this is Ikea, you have to assemble them too; they’re sold as basically just big pieces of cardboard with some cuts. Quite big pieces of cardboard, mind you; it would be nigh impossible to carry them home from Ikea without a car.
And yes, I decided to move using my own car. If you have one and don’t need to take, like, ten granny’s pianos with you, that’s of course the most obvious option. And a car in a relatively small Finnish city is, while not an absolute necessity, still something that will make your life greatly easier.
Of course, moving to Finland by own car has some legal aspects as well. Obviously you can’t just drive there with Russian license plates indefinitely. As far as the customs is concerned, you can drive like that for 6 months since the date of your first entry on your residence permit. Of course no one will purposefully hunt you after 6 months, but if you leave after that time, you won’t be able to re-enter on that car anymore. It’s worth pointing out that the customs (Tulli) website actually doesn’t state this anywhere clearly, but this is something I’m pretty much certain about. (As far as Tulli is concerned, you’re not allowed to drive a car registered outside of Finland, while being a permanent resident of Finland; and as far as Tulli is concerned, you are a permanent resident if you have lived in Finland legally for 6 months. This is only a customs’ definition, and has nothing to do with your residence permit type.)
So there are two options; the first one is officially importing a car into Finland and getting Finnish license plates, and the second one is selling the car in Russia in the future. The first option is fairly complicated and expensive. You’ll have to unregister you car in Russia, drive to the border with special temporary license plates, and at the Finnish border state that you intend to import your car as “removable goods”. They’ll give you a ton of papers, with which you’ll need to pass vehicle inspection, measure CO2 emissions, pay car registration tax and/or duties, and only after that you’ll be able to get Finnish license plates.
There are some finer points here as well. If you import a car while moving into Finland, you don’t have to pay duty or VAT if you have owned it for at least 6 months, but still do have to pay car registration tax. They used to waive this one as well, but don’t anymore; in the last years they waived it only for cars bought no later than 31.12.2014, and since 2018 even that loophole isn’t available as well (my Renault Sandero was originally bought in 2015). The tax is calculated based on CO2 emissions, and is generally at least 1500-2000€, and can easily be more. This is for gasoline cars; for diesel ones it’s based on weight I think, you can google it yourself.
A Sandero is a pretty cheap car, and mine was a pretty run-of-the-mill one, and it sounded like a lot of bother and a lot of money to pay out of pocket (at least immediately after immigration). And it could easily end up more expensive and difficult to service it here, for example. Sanderos aren’t very popular in Finland, and here they are sold under Dacia brand, with slightly different appearance, different engine options, and god knows what else. Selling such a car in Finland at some later point would probably also be very difficult.
So I’m going to actually sell the car in Russia by spring. I have friends that may buy it, or in worst case I can sell it to a car dealership. Again, there are intricacies; after half a year outside of Russia I’ll lose its tax residence, and will have to pay a 30% income tax when selling a car (the usual deduction for owning it sufficiently long does not apply for non-residents), so I can’t put that off for too long. And of course I’ll need then to transfer the money received to Finland, which is easiest in cash, and explain to the Finnish bank where I got it, so I’ll probably need to get a translation of the purchase agreement. Still, this all sounds easier than the first option. And then I’ll of course buy a car in Finland. They’re pretty expensive here (that car registration tax is included into the price for new cars), but loan rates are pretty tiny compared to Russian ones, and I’ll have a nice sum for the downpayment. Of course I’ll need to pay that loan but I’ve been repaying a loan for the current car for almost three years (almost finished by now) so I’m pretty used to that 🙂
Well anyway, I’ll need to worry about this no earlier than spring, and in first months I can just drive my old car and don’t think about that too much. And apart from a car, I really didn’t own much of anything. In the end I took with me only four boxes of stuff (there were plenty of leftover ones), two small boxes of various papers, a backpack, a suitcase, and the regular bag I usually use. This is what it looked like:
Didn’t even have to fold up the rear seat, and the boxes didn’t block the rear-view mirror as well. At that point I dropped off the keys from my old St. Petersburg rental apartment into the mailbox (by the agreement with my landlady), got into the car, and drove to Finland!
It’s about 700 km from St. Petersburg to Vaasa. Drivable in a day but I decided to make it two days, so that I don’t get tired too much and get to drive more in the daylight; the daylight hours were pretty damn short. So I set out on 1.12 at half past two, intending to stay overnight in Finland at a motel in Luumäki, not far from Lappeenranta and the border. Driving to Finland on Scandinavia Route is very unpleasant even in the best weather conditons, and in winter, after a heavy snowfall and partially after dark, that was outright miserable. But I’ll probably only ever need to repeat that once in the future, when I come back to sell that car 🙂
I was worried about my other stuff as well; will they let me into Finland with all of that. Russian customs probably wouldn’t mind, but I was less sure about the Finnish one. In theory you have to declare that as “removable goods” when moving in as well, although you don’t have to pay anything. But declaring that seemed quite difficult; it seems there’s a unified EU form, which is always the same, no matter if you’re bringing in a box of old clothes or a nuclear reactor, and there are like ten pages in it, and it seemed pretty damn incomprehensible (even in English version). And there are more forms for “removable goods” too. I googled around, and people who likewise moved to Finland on own car with some things all say there either were no questions at all, or at worst they were asked for a free-form inventory. I made such an inventory, in Russian and English, just in case, and decided to go as is. Worst case, I’d fill that declaration on the border.
In the end, they asked me to open my boxes at Russian border, but didn’t dig inside too much and lost interest on the third box, and at the Finnish border no one cared at all. As it turned out, if you have a residence permit (which you hand to the border guard along with passport), they don’t ask you about your destinations anymore (unlike with tourist visa), and don’t put stamps in your passport as well. I wondered if the border guard would say “Welcome to Finland” or something like that. In reality he just handed my papers back and said “that’s it”. Well. That’s actually a really Finnish way to say welcome! 🙂 He didn’t make any remarks about the car as well; I handed the same papers as I had used to as a tourist.
Immediately after the border I stopped at the Laplandia supermarket parking lot, and stood there for some minutes, trying to really feel that I was now in Finland, and that was for good. Brushed off a single tear and stuff. Well, honestly speaking, I didn’t really feel all that much; there isn’t enough poetry in my soul. Finland looked exactly the same as it had looked for the last 35 times or so.
I quickly drove to a village named Jurvala in Luumäki municipality. In 3 km away from the hotel I bought a lot of food at a local Sale store, and then went to the hotel and had some rest there. They have quite a nice hotel there, named Salpa Hotel, you can google them; they’re located in a beautiful place by a big lake. And there was quite a lot of snow but the lake was fully ice-free yet. Both in the evening and in the morning it was extremely beautiful outside, and the breakfast was nice, and the personnel there speaks Russian too. That was the last Russian-speaking person I met for the following three weeks (would have been more if I wouldn’t have visited Russia at around Christmas).
The following morning I went to Vaasa. Or rather not to Vaasa itself yet, but rather to a place 40 km south of it. I obviously had to live somewhere until I rent my own place, and Mattias, my boss, offered me a spare farmhouse at his family’s farm. It was for free (of course with the understanding that I wouldn’t overstay there), and that was of course so very generous of Mattias (and his dad)!
I’ll talk in more details about it later, but a permanent address is one of the three things you can’t really live in Finland without. I was able to easily register in that farmhouse, and I immediately got a permanent Finnish address (and subsequently re-registered at the apartment I actually rented; this is very trivial in Finland). Without such an offer, my options would have been limited to staying at Forenom apartments, which every major Finnish city has, or at AirBnBs. (Well, or at regular hotels, but that would have been ridiculously expensive.) But you can’t register at a Forenom place, and most likely neither at an AirBnB too. So I would have had an extra difficulty without that farmhouse.
I arrived at the farm at 18:15 — fifteen minutes later than intended, but then I had to drive for 550 km on that day. Mattias met me there and helped to make myself comfortable. I dragged my stuff from the car into the house, unpacked the bare minumum that I needed, and watched Frankenstein ballet on a Swedish TV channel, because there was a TV there.
I lived at that farmhouse for a bit less than two weeks. On one hand it felt quite cozy and authentic; a real Finnish farm in the countryside, 40 km away from the city! (hardly a really remote place though, it was right by a major road) On the other hand, there were quite a few practical difficulties with living in a small and fairly old farmhouse (including shower and heating ones). There also was a cute tiny black mouse which was a bit noisy at night, although it didn’t eat anything of importance at least. I called it Jaakko after the old Ostrobothnian peasant uprising leader. But most importantly of course I wanted a place that I could call my own. (Well, still a rental one of course, but in Finland that feels close enough.)
So, on the next day it was Sunday, and I mostly did nothing and wandered a bit around local forests and fields, and on Monday I went to work. 40 km to work (and 40 km back in the evening) — that’s quite a lot, on one hand, but on the other one it took just slightly over than half an hour. And the road was pretty nice as well, although in that two weeks there were snowstorms and icy conditions, and in general it didn’t feel comfortable to drive in the dark every day (what if there’s an elk?).
But the main thing was, I immediately started working, and also getting the necessary Finnish papers and arranging the place of my permanent residence.