As mentioned before, all Finnish apartments are normally rented without any furniture. The exception might be a kitchen top, a wardrobe and other big embedded things; and also bathroom fixtures and a freezer and stove. But otherwise there won’t usually even be lights (except possibly in the bathroom and kitchen). Same goes for basic household stuff like plates. Of course this is all not some hard-set law and there might be exceptions, but this is generally what is universally expected by landlords and tenants.
For this reason, the Finns generally move with their own furniture, and moving companies making the process relatively pain-free are an important cottage industry (just Google for muuttopalvelut). But for an immigrant bringing much furniture from abroad will likely be too expensive and impractical, so it would be easier to buy it all here. Personally I never really owned almost any furniture of my own in my St. Petersburg years, which was good since this meant I didn’t have to spend time and nerve cells trying to get rid of it before the move.
But of course furniture costs money, and that’s the final expensive thing you’ll have to worry about in the immigration process — after residence permit, moving and renting expenses. It’s pretty hard to give any specific cost estimates here, because of course the desired amount and cost of furniture can vary wildly. It my case by now I’ve spent closer to 2500€ on it by now, which is already more than all other immigration expenses combined, and there’s quite a few things I still don’t have (like a TV or my own washing machine). That’s with budget-priced but all new stuff. Of course on the other hand you don’t need to buy all of this at once; no one’s stopping you from sleeping in a sleeping bag for as long as you want/need to.
It my case I didn’t have really much money remaining for the furniture, but I wasn’t intending to sleep in a sleeping bag either (even though I have one). Immediately after moving into my new apartment from Pikipruukki, the very same evening, I drove to Kivihaka, Vaasa’s big supermarkets area, to shop around.
The most obvious place to buy furniture in Nordic countries is of course Ikea. However there aren’t really many Ikeas in Finland, and Vaasa doesn’t have one; it’s really pretty much the only important thing Vaasa lacks. The closest Ikea is 240 km away in Tampere. Having no particular desire to drive to Tampere numerous times, I turned to the next best option, which is Jysk. Jysk is a chain which was pretty unknown to me (it has no stores in Russia), but it’s really somewhat like a Danish Ikea. It’s nowhere as iconic and the stores and their assortment are much smaller, but they’re more common, and the things they sell are also attractively priced, have a similar simple and clean style, and usually require some assembly.
For my first month I however didn’t intend to buy any actual furniture. Rather, I bought everything but the furniture — including a mattress to sleep on the floor, some sets of bedsheets, pillows and quite a few other things I don’t really remember. In the end I bought shopping carts of two stuff.
Then I went to Gigantti and Prisma. Gigantti is mostly about home appliances, and I bought a microwave oven and an electric kettle there. Prisma is a chain of rather vast supermarkets that sell damn near everything (I probably could have bought almost everything in Prisma on that day; it doesn’t have actual furniture but it certainly has bedsheets and microwave ovens). There I got plates, glasses and other kitchen stuff and also, importantly, some lights, including ceiling ones. All it all, I left with a car loaded with quite a bit of stuff; took a while to unload that.
Ceiling lights in Finland are relatively easy to install; usually there’s already a hook and a small socket of a special kind on the ceiling where lights are meant to be put up. (There’s also the kind with wires — I have one such spot in this apartment too, for some reason.) Still, getting those up was more than a bit annoying; it turned out I bought them with far too long a wire, and had to shorten it; and, having no other furniture to stand on, I found it pretty difficult to actually put those up. Still since the only existing lights in the apartment were in the bathroom and a small one over the stove, I had to do it too.
For the next month I slept on the mattress on the floor. This wasn’t really as bad as it might sound and I’m not very picky about this sort of thing anyway, but by the end it was getting rather tiresome. In January, having got my first salary, I bought my first actual furniture. I started with the biggest and costliest things; a big corner sofa for the living room, and a bed for the bedroom.
An obvious issue with buying furniture is delivery. Having a car is a great asset here, but things like a sofa still don’t actually fit into a regular car, even when disassembled. Borrowing a small cargo trailer from someone who has it might not be a bad idea if possible. Many people in Finland, especially in the countryside, have one. Still, I didn’t even have that thing where you supposed to attach it on my car as well. So I went with the easiest option, which is of course just ordering home delivery (kotiinkuljetus) from Jysk. I made an order online and had to wait about a week for it. I tried to take into account the discounts at the time, but in general they pretty much always have discounts on something.
Home delivery is, as it turned out, very hassle free; they delivered stuff almost on the exact time we had set before on the phone, and the process was extremely quick and efficient; it took two guys just a few minutes to get five boxes of furniture parts, about 200 kg in total, into my apartment. The only issue was cost! The delivery cost me 87€, which I’m pretty sure is the most I ever paid for any kind of delivery or shipping anywhere. And I live less than 3 km away from the store… although it seems the things I bought were actually shipped from Jysk’s central warehouse by Posti.
Assembling both sofa and bed took me about two hours each and was relatively easy, although I had to go buy a small toolbox for that. I found it mildly amusing that the Danish brand furniture was actually manufactured in the Ukraine. Life become much nicer with these things. A bed (jenkkisänky, as beds of that type are called) was particularly great; for many years I only slept on couches and having an actual bed is, as it turns out, so much nicer. Less nice part was when I had to throw out a huge pile of cardboard from all the boxes, of course.
The next batch and so far the last batch of furniture I bough on the next month, that is, in February. This time I picked some smaller and relatively cheap stuff, including a bookkcase, a bedstand, chairs and a coffee table. It could fit into my car, too, and I ordered self-pickup at Jysk. Even so, the bookcase in particular consisted of two big boxes of wooden boards weighing 35 kg each, and I, being not exactly an athletic person, had great difficulties maneuvering it into the car and then into the apartment. It helped a lot that my building has an elevator and there’s not a single stair even at the entrance, as I pretty much couldn’t even pick up these boxes off the ground. (The warehouse girl at the back of Jysk where I picked up these boxes, a beautiful blonde, actually was able to lift them without much difficulties, and I felt really awkward.)
Anyway these made the apartment much cozier and by now it actually already resembles a nice living place. As you see it basically completely consists of Jysk stuff but of course that’s not the only option; there are for example also Asko, Sotka, Isku, Vepsäläinen (that one’s really expensive) chains, and many smaller local stores (probably expensive too). On the cheaper side, it’s completely possible to buy second hand furniture, with an ad or from a kirpputori-store (flea market), and quite a lot of people do exactly that. But of course you’d have to take care about the delivery yourself then. I prefer to buy new things pretty much only because it’s easier.
One thing I still haven’t done is hanging a few shelves and a mirror, because I’d need a drill for that and I don’t have one yet, just haven’t got around to buying it. (I actually could borrow a drill, probably even from a library if I wanted — public libraries can rent tools like that — but I figure it’s a good idea to have your own drill anyway.) As a tenant you’re generally allowed to make holes in most walls to hang your stuff as much as you need, although of course you’d be wise to check your own rent conditions. For other things that would actually alter the apartment you’d need a permission. I doubt Pikipruukki would allow you to put up your own wallpapers for example. In Finland it seems everyone’s pretty happy with plain white walls, so good thing I am too.
There isn’t much to say about the bathroom. Thankfully these come furnished with the things you’d expect like a shower, a sink and a toilet. Mine had a mirror already, too. (Makes sense since Pikipruukki’s rules forbid drilling holes in bathroom walls without permission anyway.)
There are two peculiar things about Finnish bathrooms that are much more ubiquitous here than even in other Nordic countries. You are likely to have noticed them if you ever visited Finland as a tourist. First, showers aren’t really separated from the rest of the bathroom (except possibly by a shower curtain). The entire bathroom floor is waterproof, with a drain in it, and you’re free to splash water anywhere you want to. (You probably want to buy a squeegee to get rid of water afterwards, like the one to the left in this picture.) Some people hate such an arrangement but I find it pretty nice. Don’t expect to find an actual bath! These are pretty much unheard of.
Second, toilets (even many public ones) will have a bidet shower (you can see it in the far right here). You’re of course not obliged to use it but still that’s a rather nice thing to have.
Laundry room and sauna
The apartment of course didn’t have a washing machine, and these things are pretty expensive (also big and heavy; I would need to order home delivery again). This however is not a fatal problem because the building has a laundry room (pesula). This is a pretty common thing in Finland. Most people prefer to have their own washing machine; it’s obviously nicer not having to leave the comfort of your apartment and not to share anything with other people. But again for an immigrant a common laundry room is very much useful. You can in theory also occasionally find yourself using it even if you have your own washing machine, as laundry rooms have bigger “industrial strength” ones, and also dryers and a drying room.
Using laundry room may be subject to a separate fee, but in my case it’s free. You just have to go to the fourth floor of the apartment building, unlock the door with a separate key, and reserve time by putting your apartment number into a sheet of paper on the wall. You’re supposed to pick day and hour — not more than four hours in a week, and not in the night hours. I must say my neighbors aren’t very good at keeping to the reserved times; sometimes they don’t get their laundry out of the machines on time. It took me awhile to realize that the appropriate thing in that case is just plop their laundry on a table nearby as is. Once I also found an angry note in Finnish from someone else. There are two washing machines (the second one was broken at the time I moved in but they fixed it soon) in my laundry room so it’s easier to avoid conflicts even if someone’s not playing nice.
Using a washing machine is pretty straightforward. You’re supposed to bring your own laundry detergent. After washing stuff you can use a dryer if you want; I never used one and don’t know how to do that really. And there’s also a separate drying room nearby. It’s just a big empty room with lots of clothes lines for hanging things to dry, and there’s a big and loud electric heater working in it. It’s quite efficient; things get completely dry overnight with it. (Well, you’re actually not really supposed to leave them overnight I think, but since the heater is anyway working nearly all the time it took me a while even to realize that.)
There’s also a shared sauna also on the fourth floor of the building, where you’re similarly supposed to reserve times. I don’t really use it so I don’t even have pictures. It looks like a pretty regular Finnish sauna; a room with wooden benches where you can sit, and a box with superheated rocks on which you are supposed to pour water. The rocks are heated by electricity; most saunas in Finland these days are electric, and they’ll certainly be electric in an apartment building. Electric saunas of course are much better in regard to fire safety, don’t require fuel, and are much easier to handle. There isn’t really anything wrong with them although wood-burning saunas are of course the more proper way. Well, I’m sure you can read quite a bit about saunas in Finland and sauna etiquette and the like elsewhere. Myself actually I haven’t been to sauna with any Finns yet.
Another thing that most apartment buildings have is storage areas. It my case those are in a separate small building.
Each apartment gets a locker there. You’re supposed to get your own lock on the door in this case (the outer door is additionally locked with a common key). I haven’t, because I don’t have anything to store there. A pretty obvious thing would be off-season tires, but I didn’t bring my summer tires to Finland at all, as I later sold the car back in Russia anyway.
Another common room in the same small buildings is bike storage room (also used for skis, baby cribs and the like). As you see these are basically all in one big heap. Still it’s safer than keeping them outside, and there’s also less snow to deal with that way. Although there’s actually a bike parking thing right outside the apartment building’s outer door, and some people just leave theirs there. But anyway the important thing is that you won’t have to drag your bike into your apartment. Well, unless you really want to.
As is the rule in Finland, our building has containers for trash sorting. Even though of course I approve of that idea in general, it took a while to get used to it. Especially after my last St. Petersburg apartment, which had a garbage chute at the staircase, which was extremely convenient to use (even though it didn’t look or smell very nice).
I suppose the exact rules on garbage handling may depend on your municipality. In general I think most if not all municipalities have a single recycling company where the garbage ends up at, but the actual garbage pickup may be done by many smaller companies. In Vaasa and nearby municipalities the recycling company is named Stormossen (Swed. Large mire, after the location where it was built). You can find garbage sorting instructions on their website.
Our building has dumpsters for these kinds of waste:
- batteries (the smallest kind obviously but they require special handling; the container for them is pretty tiny)
- glass (beer and wine bottles and the like — you’re supposed to wash them briefly)
- metal (beer cans and a lot of other things. You can actually bring cans to a food store and get a bit of money for them; most people do this but I don’t bother)
- paper (good for the all the catalogues you’re getting in the mail)
- biowaste (things like banana peels and egg shells)
- combustible waste (everything else basically, including any plastics and most forms of packaging; 2/3 containers are for combustible waste)
So for me most trash goes into combustible waste; biowaste I don’t really sort separately because I have very little of pure “biowaste” trash; everything else I collect separately and take out when the appropriate trash bag gets full. It’s really not bad once you get used to it.
Taking out the trash means going to the apartment building’s dumpsters, 150 m from the building, behind its parking lots. All dumpsters are covered with lids, so there’s no smell, and in general the place is rather clean. It is kept in its own shed, and that the light turn on automatically when you go in is a nice touch. Judging by the content of dumpsters people actually try to sort their trash, although sometimes a bit carelessly. No one can really control how you’re doing that.
I’m not sure what you’re officially supposed to do when you want to throw out something big, like an old couch. From what you can see people just leave such things near dumpsters and eventually (on a timescale of weeks) these get taken away too.
In a detached house you’d normally have only one or two dumpsters, and you’d take specialized kinds of trash to an “eco-point”, which is basically a bunch of public dumpsters. These are rather common in Vaasa and around it and have some more specialized kinds, like containers for milk cartons, and for clothes which are actually given to charity.
Stormossen where the garbage eventually ends up (it’s located a few kilometers northeast of the city, near the National Road 8 towards Kvevlax and Kokkola) is of course not just a landfill; it does quite a bit of fancy stuff with the garbage. Metal, glass and paper are obviously easy to recycle. Biowaste, along with waste from city’s sewage treatment facilities, is used for biogas production. Almost all of Vaasa’s city buses (there are not many of them, mind you) are running on biogas from Stormossen since 2017; I like to say they run on shit, which is technically also true. Combustible waste gets, well, combusted at a separate waste incineration facility, named Westenergy. It is used for electricity production and for Vaasa’s central heating, although the power recovered in this way is not much compared to regular power plants.
Service company and repairs
While our building is owned by Pikipruukki the housing company, another company named Luotsi (Finn. Pilot, in maritime sense) is responsible for actually servicing the building. Their contact details were stated in the papers Pikipruukki gave me, and are duplicated in a note posted on the first floor.
(Most regular apartment buildings (those which are not from Pikipruukki-like companies) are legally owned by a special kind of cooperative company (asunto-osakeyhtiö) which belongs to all apartment owners in the building. So technically apartment owners own not the actual apartments, but rather shares in their house company; a little peculiar arrangement but it makes sense when you think about it. The house company has shareholder meetings, like the regular companies do, and similarly subcontracts some company for actual building servicing. Pikipruukki houses actually have tenants meetings to, but I haven’t been to one yet and don’t know what they are discussing there.)
Most of the time the service company just works. Takes care of removing trash, plows parking lots and driveways in winter, and so on. One reason to contact the service company directly would be if there’s something wrong in your apartment. In my case, after living in the apartment for a month or so, I noticed that the bathroom sink drain has developed a leak. It didn’t look dangerous (bathroom floor is waterproof anyway) but was pretty annoying, and it didn’t look like something I could fix myself (the leaking part looked like it had been glued rather than screwed together, and I wasn’t sure how to fix that). Thus I decided to contact Luotsi. Of course as a tenant you don’t need to pay for such repairs, unless that’s something that is obviously your own fault.
Since this is Finland, it was possible to do the whole thing without ever contacting an actual living soul. There is a form on Luotsi website named vikailmoitus (report damage), where you can, well, report damage. The interesting part is the “Saa käyttää yleisavainta” (Finn. use common key) checkbox. By checking it you allow the repair people to just come in wherever possible, and they would open the apartment with the master key that they have. Remember that I told you that there is a key that can open all locks in the building? Well, this is it.
I didn’t get any call or any other reply after submitting this form, but in two days when I returned home I discovered a large part of the bathroom drain piping was replaced. It hasn’t leaked anymore since. The repairman did a good job and even mostly cleaned up after himself.
Of course letting people into your apartment like that would be weird by the standards of most countries, but I kind of like that. It’s one of things that emphasizes the high level of trust in the Finnish society, which is one of the things that’s so great about it. People from service company in some cases may enter your apartment without such an explicit invitation too, in case there’s some urgent maintenance required for example. And that’s just fine with everybody and no one bats an eye.
Post in Finland (Posti) is rather efficient and convenient to use. The most obvious use case for it is getting various letters from authorities, utlity companies, banks and the like. As an immigrant you’ll be getting quite a few of those in your first months particularly.
In apartment buildings you normally don’t have a mailbox per se, just a mail slot on the apartment door. This is very convenient and additionally is a good way to make stealing mail very difficult. Although no one probably would bother stealing someone’s mail in Finland anyway but that’s just my Russian genes speaking.
Apart from expected mail, normally you’ll also be receiving a heap of various advertisements, free newspapers and direct marketing stuff in the mail a few times a week. The majority of these are catalogues with discounts for various big stores, like Jysk or Gigantti I mentioned in the “Furniture” part, but really even food stores too. In Ostrobothnia there’s also a weekly free newspaper named Ikkuna (Finn. Window); half of it is also ads but there’s actually something to read there too. And ther may be other things as well. For example the city mails timetables of the upcoming courses (e. g. for languages) for the season, and recently we all got a book named Elämäsi mahdollisuus (Finn. Opportunity in your life) with stories from Ostrobothnian people who suffered greatly and found God in their lives. It’s actually surprisingly good (it’s from the official Lutheran church, not from Jehovah Witnesses).
Many people who don’t want to get all that stuff put a sign Ei mainoksia, kiitos (Finn. No ads, thank you) on their mailboxes/doors. Surprisingly enough, it actually helps — even though it’s not strictly legally binding, with this you’ll almost never get other ads in the mail. You can put it up too, but I didn’t and wouldn’t really recommend too, at least not at first. First, there is sometimes something actually interesting like that book about God (believe it or not I actually found it rather useful for practicing reading in Finnish) or courses timetables. Second, yes, it’s a way to practice reading Finnish. Third, there may actually be good offers in all those discounts; although you’d have to be pretty bored to really read through all the catalogues every time.
Next thing you’ll probably want to do is receiving parcels. As nice as living in a city like Vaasa is, there are many things you can’t really buy here in person, and besides you probably don’t want to see any more people than necessary anyway (I mean why else would you move to Finland to a place like Vaasa). So online shopping is quite popular. Since post delivery is quick, reliable and convenient enough, there’s little reason to use courier delivery even when it’s available (which is usually also done by Posti anyway).
In bigger cities there are two options for receiving parcels: a manned pickup point, or a post machine. As a resident of Vetokannas district in Vaasa, my default pickup point is manned, a R-Kioski store in a five minutes walk from my house. But it’s possible to set any other pickup point you’d like on Posti website (by logging in with your bank codes). Regardless of the pickup method, you’ll get an SMS when your item will be ready to pick up (the phone number you can set at Posti’s website as well).
At a manned pickup point, you’d have to show the number from the SMS, and your identification (ID card from the police or at least your passport). You’ll have to sign, on paper or electronically on a tablet. That’s all and it’s simple enough, but of course using a post machine (pakettiautomaatti) is even easier. These are usually installed at major supermarkets, and they allow not only to receive but also to send parcels. A bit annoyingly, none of the Vaasa post machines are located conveniently for me (within easy walking distance from either home or work), but I still chose one at the Minimani store, where I usually do my weekly food shopping. Well, not at the moment since I sold my car.
Be aware that if you’re ordering from AliExpress or any other place outside EU, you’ll have to pay customs duty on any items more expensive than 22€. As far as I understand that’s not especially difficult; you’ll receive a notification and will be able to pay at the customs (Tulli) website, and after that your parcel will be delivered normally. But I don’t have any personal experience with that so far. Anyway EU’s quite big and for the majority of things it should be possible to order them within EU. There are some quite big stores like the British and German Amazon. Well, the British one won’t be in EU anymore soon, but that’s beside the point 🙂
Within Finland, post delivery times are usually rather rapid, sometimes even on the next day (between big cities). For a parcel from an online store the expected delivery time is around three days.
It is also probably a good idea to subscribe to at least one newspaper, so that you would be aware what’s happening around you. It will of course be in Finnish (or Swedish), but that’s a good way to learn some language anyway. In Vaasa, for example, the local newspapers are Pohjalainen (Pohjanmaa (Ostrobothnia) citizen) and Vasabladet (Vaasa newspaper), in Finnish and in Swedish respectively. As you might notice, their websites contain many of their articles, but most of them are accessible only to subscribers; thus learning about any local news for free is pretty difficult. The subscription these days is done online on their websites, and there are options both for an online-only subscription, and for actually getting a newspaper in your mailbox too. Subscription to a paper Pohjalainen costs 29€/month to me. This is a significant enough sum amount that I don’t subscribe to anything else (well I read Yle news, but those are paid by taxes), but you might also consider Helsingin Sanomat (Helsinki news; colloquially known as “Hesari”; the best and most trustworthy national-wide newspaper), Aamulehti (Morning newspaper, Tampere-based but also national-wide in scope), Ilta-Sanomat or Iltalehti (Evening news and Evening newspaper, the two big “yellow press” tabloids) and Kauppalehti (Trade newspaper, commerce news). Pohjalainen is a pretty good newspaper anyway; with seven issues a week and 40 pages in each (it has just switched to the smaller tabloid format) you’d be surprised how much there is in seemingly boring Ostrobothnia to write about. The newspaper gets dropped into the mailbox at 5:30-6:00 in the morning — the surprisingly loud sound is a good way to check time if you have insomnia 🙂
Some landlords/housing companies will require you to buy house insurance (kotivakuutus) upon moving in. Pikipruukki doesn’t, so I currently still don’t have one, but probably will buy it sometimes soon, next month likely.
Having a house insurance is extremely common in Finland. Nearly all property owners have it, and the majority of tenants buy it too even when not strictly required. It’s not obvious from its name, but it insures not only against damage to the actual house/apartment (that much is probably insured by the property owner anyway), but also to your own belongings there, like furniture or a computer. The usual things it protects against are fire, burglary, water damage from burst pipes, natural disasters, and some others. It also includes liability insurance in case it’s you who somehow damages others’ apartments, and also covers legal expenses. For all insurance events there will be some deductible, at least some 150€ or so.
House insurance can be bought online (although the forms will likely be in Finnish) or at insurance company offices. Some major banks including Nordea, OP and Aktia are in the insurance business as well. LähiTapiola is the biggest one that’s not a bank. Insurance for a year will cost about 200€ or so; less if you choose bigger deductibles and/or skip some kinds of insurance, although you probably shouldn’t do the latter.