Paying rent

Paying rent for the apartment is a rather straightforward process: just do a bank transfer of the specified amount, to the specified account, with the specified reference number once a month. Pikipruukki housing company gave me an invoice with dates and amount of payments up to mid-2019. I actually already showed it in the post about banks. The due date is the 2nd of every month, and the amounts are all the same, although they increased a bit (for 6€ of so) since March 2018. I’m doing this payment with online bank, and it’s really easy, having defined it as a payment template (maksupohja). The due date comes two days after my monthly salary, so this is quite a convenient date.

When I moved in I had to pay for the remaining fraction of a month; the payment was proportionally lower, and I was given about a week before the due date. Thankfully within that time I finally got a bank account, so I didn’t have the sort of problems I had with paying the security deposit. So in the end I had to pay about 160% of apartment’s monthly rent when moving in (100% was security deposit and ~60% for the rest of the month). This seemed quite reasonable; in big Russian cities the norm is 300% (100% monthly rent (no one shifts due dates like that), 100% security deposit, and 100% rental agent fee; it’s possible to find an apartment without a rental agent, but this is quite a bit more difficult).

Electricity

The rent mentioned above doesn’t include utilities. Or rather, it includes the non-optional ones like heating and trash. For things that are metered or optional you might be paying separately. Electricity and water are most common metered utilities, but in my apartment I only had to pay for electricity.

In Russia you would typically be either paying for your utilities to the landlord, and he’ll pay the actual bills; or you will be just receiving and paying bills in his name. Not so in Finland; here you’ll be expected to make contracts with the utility providers yourself. This sounds like a big hassle, but actually isn’t; these days the contracts can be applied for online, and you’ll just get it in the mail in a few days.

This was the case with electricity; Pikipruukki warned me that I will have to make a contract with the local electricity company, Vaasan Sähkö, or Vasa Elektriska in Swedish (meaning, of course, Vaasa Electricity). I’m not actually sure if Vaasan Sähkö was the only possible choice. Of course the actual power lines are owned by a particular company, but they all have exchange agreements, and if you type your address at Sähkövertailu (literally “electricity exchange”) website they will list a lot of options. Well, I’m not really sure how all of this works, and at the moment I wasn’t even aware that there might be such options.

Vaasan Sähkö, in the middle, as seen across Onkilahti Bay

Vaasan Sähkö is physically located at a rather prominent building at the mouth of Onkilahti bay, between Vaasa center and Palosaari, with a power line pylon with unique twisted design (power lines from Vaskiluoto power plant on the eponymous island go right through there). It looks like a repurposed power station, although I’m not sure if it originally was one, and most of the building was actually built rather recently. My favorite thing about it though is that its address is “Kirkkopuistikko 0” (Church Esplanade, 0), quite officially. They are indeed loсated slightly beyond the place which you’d normally consider the beginning of Kirkkopuistikko, but I’ve never seen a building with zero house number anywhere else in any country.

But all of that is really beside the point as I never had to visit Vaasan Sähkö office in person and probably won’t ever (I’m not sure if that’s even possible really). Utility contracts these days can usually be made online. The form that I had to fill was really rather short and didn’t even ask for my identity number or anything else. It did, funnily enough, ask whether I wanted to use wind power though. Of course again there aren’t some physically separate wind-only power lines, so I suppose this pretty much only affects accounting. By the way the form they offer in Finnish language is more fancy-looking but at least they have the English version! You can also notice that the form also allows changing address for an existing contract, or terminating a contract, something you’d want to do when you move.

The electricity prices at Vaasan Sähkö are pretty regular for Finland, as far as I know. You’ll need to add the distribution prices, which come from Vaasan Sähköverkko, which is technically a different company but obviously closely affiliated with Vaasan Sähkö. In general, electricity payments in Finland consist of four components:

  • Electricity basic price per period (sähkö perusmaksu)
  • Per-kWh electricity charge (sähkö energiamaksu)
  • Electricity distribution basic price per period (sähköverkko perusmaksu)
  • Per-kWh distribution charge (sähköverkko siirtomaksu)

I’m not sure why electricity and distribution prices need to be separated — as a consumer you probably don’t care much which part of your electricity bill goes specifically to generation and which to distribution. I guess these theoretically might be unrelated companies but I have no idea if it’s possible to actually get separate bills. Distribution charges also technically include electricity tax.

At any rate, I pay 7.52€/month + 0.0836€/kWh. This is about twice as expensive than electricity in Russia costs (and in Russia you don’t have the basic fixed perusmaksu part, too). However, given Finnish normal incomes, this would still rather normally be a rather minor amount. If you’re not spending too much electricity, the ballpark estimate is that about 0.5-1.5% of the average monthly salary would be spent on electricity bills, and there’s little reason to be particularly stingy about it. Well, this is a common theme about Finnish prices in general — usually like 1.5x-3x bigger than in Russia, but income difference for most jobs (not mine though) might be closer to 5x or even higher.

Of course this assumes you don’t use electicity for heating — because that’s certainly the easiest way to spend a ton of electricity. I won’t go into details on Finnish heating methods, but in kerrostalo buildings (multi floor residential buildings) there’s normally central heating(*) and you don’t have to worry about that. For people with electric heating there are more tariffs available that the basic (yleissähkö) one: night-rate electricity (yösähkö), with cheaper electricity during the nights, and season-rate electricity (kausisähkö), with cheaper electricity in warm seasons (and also weekends and nights). I don’t think you can use these when you’re living in an apartment; I wasn’t given such an option, anyway.

(*) In Russia (which has pretty universal central heating in cities, but it’s notorious for service disruptions during heavy frosts and the like) there’s for some reason a persisent myth that central heating is something invented by Soviet regime, and is actually completely uneconomical and is never used in any other countries. That’s plain false, of course; central heating is inherently more economical (when maintained well and having decent thermal insulation) and is widely used in Nordic countries.

The wind power adds +0.0025/kWh to the bill. It’s a completely negligible amount so of course I ticked that option just for fun and so that I can feel myself so green and eco-friendly. There are a few wind power plants in Ostrobothnia, for example near Kristinestad or in Ilmajoki(**), and there’s that single turbine in the Sundom area you can see from the city waterfront. They have plans for quite a bit more, as wind power isn’t really that much developed in Finland yet, as compared to Sweden or Denmark. Vaasa is mostly actually served by Vaskiluoto power station on the eponymous island, next to the harbor, and it runs on plain coal.

(**) Ilmajoki is technically South Ostrobothnia region, not plain (coastal) Ostrobothnia. Culturally it’s quite a bit different from it; South Ostrobothnia is entirely Finnish-speaking while Ostrobothnia has a very noticeable Swedish-speaking population (which even forms the majority in most smaller towns and rural municipalities). Nonetheless Ostrobothnia and South Ostrobothnia are related closely enough that they’re sometimes counted together. So’s Central Ostrobothnia, which is pretty small, but the vast North Ostrobothnia is definitely much more distantly related.

But right after filling in the form nothing much happened, I just got the “thank you” message. That was the day before I moved in to the new apartment. The website actually says you have to do that at least two days in advance. When I first unlocked the apartment  after getting keys from Pikipruukki housing company and entered it for the first time, there was no electricity and I panicked a bit thinking they haven’t turned it on yet or something. Thankfully I quickly realized the master circiuit breaker in the apartment was just turned off since it had been vacant; it just took me a while to find it (it was over the bathroom door, behind a small door which doesn’t really look like it can be opened). I flipped it and the electricity turned on and kept working since.

I began to get worried if making a contract online actually worked, but after two weeks or so I finally got the actual printed contract in the mail. As I’ve noticed such contracts in Finland generally consist of three parts: the actual contract which is usually very short and to the point, and includes the actual customer data, tariffs, etc.; the contract terms, which are of course many sheets of small print; and the cancellation form. It seems kind of silly that they send a form for some pretty unlikely occurrence, but apparently that’s what customer protection laws demand; the customer must have the right to cancel any contract concerning him within two weeks after the contract’s been made.

Electricity bill from Vaasan Sähkö

The first electricity bill came in in January, slightly less than a month since moving into the Verkkokatu apartment. Actually they are mailed only once per quarter, so it’s a coincidence that I got one just a month after I moved in. The bill was a lot bigger than I expected; 24€ for the period from 13.12 to 31.12 (174 kWh used), which would have amounted to ~40€/month. It didn’t took long to realize the problem: heated bathroom floor. The apartment included heated bathroom floor, a feature that I always appreciated a lot in hotels, so I just turned it on to maximum when I moved in, and left it at that. After getting this bill I turned it off; it didn’t really even make that much of a difference, as the floor is made of water-insulating, somewhat rubber-like material which never actually gets too cold to the touch, unlike e. g. ceramic tiles. So I don’t know why they even bothered installing heated floors in first place.

Daily electricity usage. The overlaid line is outside temperature. Notice how on the top chart the period before turning off heated floor is clearly visible

Electricity usage without heated floor fell down to the expected ~17-18€/month. I haven’t got the next bill yet so the reason I know this is Vaasan Sähkö’s website client area. Its most useful feature is these electricity usage charts, which can be shown with hour granularity, and are updated within a day or two. I was extremely impressed by this feature really. In Russia you would just have electricity meter in the apartment, and report its readings at the same time as paying the bills. I think it may work similarly in older buildings here, but ours is apparently modern enough to get these online charts.

Internet and phone

Rental apartments in Finland normally have broadband internet, but not phone landlines. Actually mine has a phone socket, physically at least, but I have no idea whether it is usable; it’s not advertised anywhere. And really in the 2010s there’s rather little reason for an apartment to have a landline phone.

But of course you’ve got to have a mobile phone. You’d be expected to have a Finnish mobile phone number in Finland, and it will be orders of magnitude more economical than using mobile roaming.

Mobile phone contracts in Finland can be of two types, prepaid and postpaid. Most people would normally use postpaid contracts from one of the major operators, which include Elisa, Telia, DNA, and probably a few others. As far as I know, however, it is actually suprisingly difficult to get such a contract as an immigrant. If you haven’t been resident in Finland for a few years (!), you’d be required to pay a deposit of 500€ (!!). Five hundred! You could probably spend several days non stop on the phone on that! Thankfully the prepaid option is conversely trivial. You can just walk into any R-Kioski store and buy a prepaid SIM card for some 25€ or so. You will have a perfectly usable Finnish phone number, likely with unlimited Internet as well, and it won’t really cost you much more. You’ll be expected to keep your balance above zero, or the service will be interrupted until you pay some more. But that’s really how it always works for mobile phones in Russia too anyway.

Prepaid SIM cards in Finland may be bought by anyone. You don’t have to be a resident of Finland, and as far as I remember you don’t even need any identification, though I may be wrong on that. I actually bought mine a while ago, in the era I explored Finland as a tourist, and it always proved quite useful even then.

There are a few different prepaid SIM card offers from the mobile operators, and the offers of course change over time. The one I’m using is DNA Super Prepaid. It costs 0.066€ per call minute or per SMS, which is not that little but considering that I only extremely rarely actually need to call anyone, that’s fine. There are several options for data packages, and this is the good part: the best of them, a month of unlimited Internet, costs just 16.90€!

Really Finland is above pretty much every other country in the world when it comes to Internet cheapness and availability. That’s honest to god unlimited 4G+ (300 Mbps) Internet available in literally every populated place of the country. Well, it may degrade to 4G or 3G in villages or in the middle of the forest but really it takes quite a bit of effort to find a spot with no (or very poor) coverage. And it’s really unlimited! Not many countries even have unlimited mobile data in first place.

DNA SIM cards also allow tethering, i. e. using your phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot to connect a computer or other devices. For almost two months, I used this method exclusively for Internet access first from my temporary accomodation at a farmhouse, then from the current apartment. It worked absolutely flawlessly (even though the farmhouse in particular was quite far away from even the bigger villages). I seem to remember that some other prepaid Finnish SIM card I had years ago didn’t allow tethering, but maybe now these all do. But anyway I just recommend DNA Super Prepaid. The easiest option to buy prepaid SIM cards is R-Kioski stores, but they may have varying selections of them, so you might have to shop around a bit. Balance can then be refilled online or using the DNA Prepaid app, the latter being the easiest option.

I should briefly note the format of Finnish phones, because I found it a bit confusing, although it’s actually pretty simple. Within Finland phone numbers are usually written in the national format (with an area code, but without a country code). It looks like this: 012 3456789 (or 012 345 6789 or just all digits without breaks). The first digit is always 0 (trunk prefix, similar to initial 8 in Russian numbers). The following 1-3 digits denote area, with some combinations reserved for mobile operators etc. Theoretically you should be able to call places within the same city from a landline without the area code but these days probably no one does that. In international format, the initial 0 gets replaced with Finland’s country code, which is +358. So it will be written as +358 12 3456789 or +358 12 345 6789. Sometimes you’ll see that as +358(0) 12 3456789 to remind that it’s either +358 or 0 (but not both).

DNA does not allow changing between prepaid plans. However you are in theory allowed to switch to a postpaid plan, keeping the number. You are actually allowed to change between any operators while keeping the number, and it’s not uncommon for people to do that.

As for the broadband Internet, my apartment had it included in the rent (at the basic 10 Mbps speed). The actual kind of broadband here is cable (connected to the TV socket), and cable splitter and modem were one of the very few things that were already present in the apartment when I moved it. It took me a really long time to start using it though. First I needed to buy a router (I though I had one brought with me from Russia, but apparently not), and then I discovered I had to connect this router to a computer by wired network for the initial setup. No problem, except that my computer is a MacBook Pro ‘2017 laptop, the kind that has no other sockets on it other than USB-C! I could spend some more money to buy an Ethernet dongle, but instead I elected to just wait until I was able to invite someone over who had a laptop with an Ethernet port. Until that tethered DNA Internet continued to work just fine. Eventually I could finally put the modem and the router to use, although I still don’t really have a good place for them in the apartment.

My modem and router

The papers from Pikipruukki included a note saying that free broadband in all apartments has to be registered with its operator (Elisa) until the end of February, or it’ll stop working. Since that registration required calling Elisa, I of course neglected to do that almost until the end of February. But in the end they were very nice and asked for a lot of my data, and then I could log into their website to view my data just like with Vaasan Sähkö, and in a few days got the contract in the mail. The service itself remains free for me, although I have an option to pay to upgrade to faster speeds. I don’t know, I’m from the generation that remembers dial-up Internet, and 10 Mbps still sounds like quite a lot to me, enough for nearly all practical purposes. So I don’t want to upgrade. And besides, if I just temporarily need faster Internet, I can just connect again through my phone at 300 Mbps 😀

Locks, keys and stairs

This does not sound like a very exciting subject but there are a few words to say about locks and keys too.

My staircase

In Finnish apartment buildings all apartments normally have similar locks. You are not allowed to change them or install more locks. The reason is that there is a master key, which can unlock all apartments. Service company will use this key if they need to access your apartment for any emergencies or for planned repairs. Yes, they can just do repairs without you present; more on that later.

The staircase’s front door is locked from 21:00 to, I think, 6:00. I believe it locks and unlocks automatically. From 6-21 the staircase is freely accessible, and from 21-6 the front door must be unlocked with a key. If you don’t have a key but someone’s waiting for you inside, your only option is to call them or to shout. The latter option is of course not very desirable in these hours too.

Newer buildings and/or buildings in the city center may instead have a permanently locked front door, with an entryphone with buttons to call each of the apartments. So the same system that is used virtually everywhere in Russia, only in Russia instead of a button per appartment you’re supposed to type in apartment number.

The storage/bike shed, the laundry room and shared saunas are all also normally locked. Maybe in some buildings all of these are unlocked with a single key, but I have at least three different keys (with several copies of each one) which is actually rather annoying.

The staircase itself has an elevator, although the bulding is just three floors high (with the fourth floor for laundry room and sauna). It is fully wheelchair-accessible, as there’s not a single step you have to climb when going from outside to the apartment using an elevator. This also was a great help to me when I had to carry some furniture from the car to the apartment, as a few boxes were so heavy I was unable to lift them off the ground even a little bit, and could only drag them around.

My mail slot on the apartment door

It is normal in Finland to have your surname written on your apartment door, and also in the tenants list, posted on the wall on the first floor. I kind of like that. Along with the master key, that’s something that would be unthinkable in Russia, because people just distrust each other by default, and don’t want to reveal anything unnecessary about themselves. And here it’s just no big deal. This is why I don’t bother obscuring my exact address anywhere in these posts as well. The name on the door and the tenants list are updated by the housing company, and it took them about a week or so to put my surname there instead of the previous tenant.

Notification of move

As I told before, as a resident of Finland you’re supposed to have an official permanent address, and you’d probably get one when first registering at the magistrate. But at that point I was registered at that Malax farmhouse where I had temporarily resided, and upon moving to the rental apartment in Vaasa I had to change this address. This process is know as the notification of move (muuttoilmoitus).

There are several ways of making this notification. First, you can actually go to the magistrate again for that. Second, I think you can do it by phone. But of course this is Finland and for such a relatively straightforward operation there are ways of doing this without actually speaking to humans (horror!).

The easiest option is via Posti website. Notifications of move are processed by Posti (Finnish post), and the new address is normally recorded both with Posti and with the population register. There is even a special website URL for that (changeaddress.fi) so that it’s easy to find. However this requires authentication with bank codes, as most online government services in Finland do. As as you might remember I didn’t have a Finnish account at that point yet.

My notification of move, before sending it in. Sorry for the messy table — it’s not mine, it’s at the post office!

So I went with the last option, that is, making this notification at a post office. The local post office of Vetokannas area, in the local R-Kioski, didn’t do that and they said that’s something I should go to the central post office with. So I did. That one was in the city center, across the road from the railway station.

I wasn’t sure what to do at the post office but I looked around and quickly discovered forms for making notifications of move. They were available in Finnish, Swedish and English, and came in big envelopes. You were supposed to fill the forms in, then just put them into their envelope and drop it into the post box. Which is exactly what I did.

Making a notification of move has some secondary effects. For example, Posti will forward all your mail (except parcels) from the old address to new automatically and for free, for a month. (This can be extended for a year for a fee.) Various companies and address books will also have access for your new address, unless you stated, at the population register website, that you’d want it to be secret. So apart from the common untargeted advertisement papers and catalogs you get very often, there may be some occasional ones calling you by name and even saying things like “congratulations with your recent move”. That is normal and is not a symptom of the Big Brother watching you. I think Posti can also automatically notify utility companies etc. that the bills should now be permanently sent to the new address, but I’m not sure on that.

Notification of move should be done beforehand if possible, because for some reason it takes Posti a week to update their address, and before they do that the post may arrive to your old address without automatical forwarding. In my case I couldn’t do that beforehand and indeed had one official letter sent to the wrong (old) address.

The nicest thing about the whole procedure is how there isn’t any paperwork required to prove that this is your actual address. I’m really curious how this works — I mean, there must be some way for them to be able to verify that. But you don’t have to attach any apartment lease contract or anything else. This is in stark contrast with Russia, where many landlords won’t even make an apartment lease contract (in order to avoid taxes), and even if they do, actually registering you at this address requires a separate, explicit consent from them, which they have to give in person at the office called “passport desk”. And even then this registration is normally temporary and has to be renewed, because permanent registration is very difficult to revoke against tenant’s wishes. As a result of all of this, a large fraction of Russia’s population lives at places different from their official addresses, sometimes wildly so (as far as Russia is concerned I still live in the city of Yekaterinburg, although I actually haven’t since 2011). This naturally has often created numerous problems, although over time they reduced a lot.

To be continued in the second part.

Published on: