One thing we haven’t covered yet is of course taxes. In reality you would have to deal with that soon enough after moving, certainly before your first paycheck.

Finland, along with the other Nordic countries, is generally known as the land of high taxes. You know, to finance the social policies and blah blah. Very broadly speaking this is true, but the reality is more nuanced. Certainly for an average salaried worker taxes are fairly reasonable, especially considering that, to use a tired cliche, you can actually see every day where your taxes go.

Compared to some countries Finnish tax system is certainly relatively complicated though. In Russia especially, the only tax the average person will likely ever have to pay is the flat-rate income tax of 13% (and property and car taxes, which you just get invoices for; the low income tax rate is mostly compensated by the high rate of employer contributions), and the average salaried worker may conceivably live his/her entire life without ever having to deal with the tax office and to file a tax declaration. This would not be possible in Finland. You do not need to know exactly how the amount withdrawn from your salary is split, but you need to know some basics like what a tax card is.

How the tax system works

Let’s have an overview of how the tax system works and why it works like that.

Example tax calculator results from 2017

Each person who is considered resident in Finland for taxation purposes has to pay a few taxes and “tax-like charges” on the income earned. Tax office (Verohallinto) is the entity that collects these. Taxes are paid on most kinds of income, including not only salaries, but also pensions and unemployment allowances (you’ll see why later). These normally are, approximately from biggest to smallest amount:

  • State income tax
  • Municipal tax (for low to middle income people will be higher than state income tax)
  • Pension insurance premium
  • Unemployment insurance premium
  • Health insurance premium
  • Church tax (only for church members)
  • Broadcasting tax (pretty much a relic at this point)

There are further employer contributions but you don’t need to be aware of those. They are fairly significant but usually smaller than your own tax share.

Usually the state income tax and the municipality tax comprise the majority of overall tax rate. Pension insurance premium is smaller, and everything else is usually less than 2% (individually, not combined).

Like most first-world countries, Finland has a progressive tax rate, that is, the more you earn, the bigger is your rate. This however only applies to the state income tax. Municipal tax is ostensibly a flat one, but due to automatic deductions in practice it ends up somewhat progressive too. However it still actually dominates the overall tax share for people with average incomes.

Municipal tax rate depends, of course, on the municipality of residence. Bigger cities have lower ones, as they have enough other incomes to sustain themselves; remote rural municipalities have to hike up their rate and still end up needing government subsidies. Still, the difference isn’t really that huge, a few percentage points at most. You may change your municipality of residence many times throughout a single year, but for tax purposes, all your municipal tax goes to the municipaly where you were resident on 31.12 of the previous year, and the tax rate of that municipality is used as well. (If you only just first moved into Finland this year, then your first municipality of residence will be used for taxation.)

All tax and tax-like charge rates get revised every year. There are rarely if ever any major changes, but the exact percentage points may shift (in both directions).

Payments like pensions or unemployment allowances are thus taxed, despite coming from the state in first place, because a person may have additional sources of income, and the ultimate tax rate will then still depend on total income. So the amount withheld from these allowances may be different too.

This all means that the question “what is the income tax rate in Finland” is meaningless, and if you tried to Google that you wouldn’t get a straight answer. You can find state income tax brackets, but that’s only a small piece of the picture; you can find municipal tax rates too, but just adding that on top will not give a correct answer either. There are just too many variables coming into play. In practice though for an average salaried worker without significant tax deductions the rate still would largely be the same regardless of circumstances, depending mostly only on the actual income.

The overall tax period in Finland (well, as is everywhere) is a year. All tax rates, deductions, and the like are calculated from your yearly income(*). However, income tax on salaries has to be paid at the moment of receiving salaries, rather than at the end of year. (You probably wouldn’t really want to receive a lump invoice for 6000€ or so of due income tax at the end of year, too.)

(*) The fact that the tax period is a year actually has non-obvious but very useful consequences for an immigrant. If you moved into Finland late in the year, then obviously your income in this year will be smaller, and hence you will be paying less tax. (In my case I moved to Finland in the beginning of December and, having received only one monthly salary in all of 2017, my basic tax rate was actually 0%). 

Although for an employed person their taxes are withdrawn from salary and paid automatically by their employer (and they get pay slips explaining the amounts), the employer cannot automatically know the rate at which to withdraw the tax. The employer of course knows how much they pay their employee, but the employee may have other sources of income, and even if they don’t there are other variables coming into play (like church affiliation, municipality of residence, and the like), and it’s really not the employer’s business to be aware of all that stuff. Neither can the tax office automatically know your tax rate. Thus, as a taxplayer it is your responsibility to calculate your expected yearly income and provide it along with other necessary details to the tax office.

The tax office then calculates your tax rate for you accordingly, and gives you a document named tax card (verokortti) which contains this rate. (Despite its name it is actually a sheet of paper rather than a card.) You then have to give the tax card to your employer so that they will withdraw tax at the appropriate rate. There are two kinds of tax cards, with an overall yearly estimated income, or for estimated income for an actual pay period. (There are going to be some tax reforms in 2018, and only the yearly tax card will remain after that.)

Getting a tax card is not really complicated. It can usually be done online, and for the most basic case the expected pay period income or yearly income (which is of course basically your salary times 12) is the only thing you need to provide. If your income does not change, you do not need to be doing anything at all, as at the turn of year everyone gets reissued a tax card with same numbers as in the previous year automatically. However as an immigrant I believe you have to visit tax office in person to get your first tax card, and it is in your best interest to do this as soon as possible. Without a tax card, the employer has to withdraw 60% of your income by law; 60% is a rate which is basically guaranteed to be greater than any possible valid tax rate under any circumstances.

If your salary or any other circumstances change mid-year, you have to amend your tax card (which can be done online), particularly if the salary goes up. Otherwise you’re going to be hit by the so-called additional rate.

Additional rate (lisäprosentti) is a concept which took me quite some time to understand properly. In a tax card there’s actually two tax rates, rather than one: the basic rate (perusprosentti) and the additional rate. The latter looks quite scary, as it’s 20% or more greater than the basic rate. This is not a cause for concern. Normally, all your income is taxed under the basic rate. If at any point you go over the estimated income (for tax period or for the entire year, depending on what kind of tax card you have) you specified when you originally got the tax card, any income over that is taxed at the additional rate.

The reason for that is not to punish you for earning more (well, insofar as you in general don’t consider a progressive tax system to be punishment for earning more, which of course it sort of is), but rather to help you. Consider what would happen if the additional rate didn’t exist. Then all your income would be taxed under the basic rate, even if it went over your estimated income ceiling. But that means that the estimation was incorrect in first place, being too low, and your actual tax rate — on your entire income throughout the year — was too low too! Tax office at the end of year adds up your actual income and makes the final calculation what amount of tax you should have paid throughout the year. And in that situation, since you’ve been paying too little tax (under an incorrect rate), you would receive a bill to pay up the difference. The bill could end up rather large, and inconvenient to pay as a lump sum.

Additional rate is calculated so that the bigger tax rate on the extra income more or less compensates for the overly low basic rate. You will still ultimately owe the state the same amount, but with additional rate it can be deducted off you at the same time you earn the income, rather than at the end of year. So you’ll be getting little or no bill for underpaid tax, and rather may actually get a tax refund.

The additional rate mechanism is however meant for minor one-off occasions of exceeding the estimated income ceiling, most commonly if you worked some overtime. If your income increased permanently, then it makes no sense to keep paying additional rate for the extra, and you should get your tax card fixed as soon as possible.

But at any rate, the tax office ultimately recalculates your actual final tax owed at the end of year, based this time on your actual income rather than any estimations. Any excess tax paid will be refunded, including anything taxed at additional rate by mistake, and even anything taxed at 60% rate for not having a tax card. So the tax card, its rates, and any and all estimates you make are just that — estimates to make sure you’re paying approximately correct amount of tax throughout the year.

In fact many if not most Finnish people prefer to overestimate their income level for the tax office slightly. This will result in a slightly too high tax rate, and hence slightly too much tax paid; and this tax will be refunded next year, which makes for a nice bonus. There’s even a small interest on that money (0.5%). The tax refund day (in early December) is sort of a small national holiday even, and various stores may have big sales on or around that date. But of course conversely, if you happened to underpay your tax (and the additional rate trick didn’t help) instead of the refund you’ll be getting a bill to pay the rest. The same interest of 0.5% will be charged then.

All of this isn’t exactly a fast process. The tax-related events timetable is:

  • Year X: you work and you pay taxes according to your tax card
  • Year X+1, January: you get reissued a new tax card with the same numbers and it is mailed to you. You can change the numbers at any moment
  • Year X+1, March or April: you receive a letter with the final tax calculation for year X, with the amount owed or refunded. At that point you have the right to declare any other income you had and/or apply for any relevant additional tax deductions until April or May. If you do that you’ll get one more letter with the updated, very definitely final calculation
  • Year X+1, December: if the tax for year X was overpaid, it is refunded into your bank account (the bank account for that purpose may be set online at tax office’s website, otherwise they’ll ask you specifically) at that point. If the tax for year X was underpaid, then this is the due date for finally paying it.
  • Year X+2, February: if the tax for year X was underpaid, and the amount owed was over 170€, then you also have the right to pay it in two installments if desired, and this is the due date for the second installment

Armed with this information, you already can answer the most important question of “how much taxes should I expect to pay”, assuming you know your income. There is a tax percentage calculator at the tax office website, and you can find it here(**); it does not require logging in with bank codes or anything eslse. However, it asks for and gives out quite a lot of numbers, and it’s rather confusing if you don’t know what to look at. The procedure is:

  • Fill in on the first page: town or city (municipality), church adherence (“not a taxpayer for Church tax” most likely), year of birth. Everything else affects only rather specific circumstances
  • Fill in on the second page: the very first column, the very first row (Pay and fringe benefits, principal employment; Estimated annual gross income). Enter your monthly salary pre-tax, times 12, here. This is a big form but you don’t need to fill in anything else, unless you already know what you’re doing of course.
  • The third page will present you the result of the calculations. Again there is a lot of numbers, but the only one that is really important is “Results of calculation; Basic rate”. This rate does not include pension and unemployment insurance premiums, as the calculator notes itself. Add the rate for them that it suggests (“Please add 8.25 percentage points…”) to your basic rate, and you’ll have the final, exact tax rate you’ll be paying. Your salary minus that final rate is the final sum you’ll actually be getting in your bank account.

(**) The link is for the tax calculator for 2018. It will probably eventually become invalid, but in any case it should be easy to find at the tax office website.

This is how income tax works in brief, omitting of course quite a few details like capital income. Of course there are lots of other kinds of taxes. Some of them, like the ubiquitous VAT, fuel tax, electricity tax, alcohol tax and others are just included into the price of goods and services, and you don’t need to be aware of them. For yearly vehicle and/or properly tax as far as I understand you just get yearly invoices. Capital income works somewhat like employment income but differently enough. And of course businesses have their own taxes to pay. But anyway all of these are probably a lot less important to your than the basic income taxes.

As I said you don’t really need to know how exactly tax rate is calculated (because it’s rather complicated) but you can if you really want to, that’s no rocket science. In September 2017, even before moving to Finland, I took the trouble to actually figure out tax rate calculation. I made a post about it, but it’s one of the few I only have in Russian and never translated. For what it’s worth, here it is.

If you however want some really rough general numbers, then it’s pretty easy to give those. They may be off by a hundred or more, depending on your exact municipality and other details, but unless you have some particularly unusual circumstances they should be in the right ballpark.

  • 2000€ salary = ~1600€ net pay
  • 3000€ salary = ~2200€ net pay
  • 4000€ salary = ~2700€ net pay
  • 5000€ salary = ~3200€ net pay
  • Salaries over 5000€ are quite rare in any industry

When going above average salary (which would be 2500-3000€ or so, depending on the region) taxes begin to rise rather sharply. This is not very nice news for people whose jobs tend to yield above average salaries (including software developers), but this is how it is in Finland. If you don’t like that, you can choose some other country 🙂  Personally I’m fine with that and I consider that a fair price for living in such a nice place. Although then of course my salary is not that much higher than average.

Registering at the tax office

As an immigrant I didn’t have that good idea of all this at the time, but I knew I had to go to the tax office as soon as possible at least. I went there a few days after my first work day, just after going to the police department for the identity card as the tax office is rather close to the police department too. Vaasa tax department is located in the northeastern Hietalahti, outside of city center but still within walking distance from it. It looks like a typical Finnish plain goverment building.

Vaasa tax office. It’s dark because it’s pretty dark in a December morning in Ostrobothnia

There are some sort of computers there where you can do common tax-related things (with help from an assistant person if necessary) but in my case of course that wasn’t enough and I took an electronic queue ticket. Luckily there was only one kind of tickets there. There wasn’t much of a queue, and a few minutes later it was my turn and I went inside a booth and stated my business.

The tax office clerk gave me a rather long form, in English thankfully, that I had to fill. It was largely the same as the form you can see when changing your tax card data online. I had a few questions that the clerk answered. I think the form actually had a field for the tax number in my home country, although enough time passed that I’m not sure I’m not confusing this with forms for opening a bank account. What I do remember is that I of course didn’t remember that number and didn’t think to bring any of the Russian papers with that number that I had; the clerk shrugged and said “okay, leave this empty then”. The employment contract I did bring and I think they scanned it although I’m not sure.

When everything was done they gave me two sheets of paper, one was the actual tax card with basic/additional rates and another explained the numbers and percentages in a bit more detail. I was rather surprised to find out that the basic tax rate was 0%. Well as I said before I, having moved to Finland in December, only was getting one month salary as my income in the tax year 2017, and that of course meant my yearly income in 2017 was lower than any tax brackets. This didn’t sound right but it was, as everyone I asked about that confirmed. Of course I had made quite a bit of income in Russia in 2017 before but I don’t think that counts in this case.

Note that when you move in Finland for work on an A-type residence permit, you become a tax resident of Finland right away, as far as Finland is concerned. This means all the usual taxation rules apply, and also that Finland has the right to tax you on any worldwide income — but not on the income gained before you became a resident, of course. A tax non-resident of Finland would be someone moving to work there for less than 6 months — according to the contract, not to the actual time passed — and probably on a B-type residence permit. These normally get a flat 35% tax and are not taxed on non-Finnish income. These rules work a bit differently in Russia, so in 2018 I won’t be a Russian tax resident but for the duration of December 2017 as far as I understand tax residences in Finland and Russia coincided, which again sounds wrong. At any rate, most pairs of countries (including Finland and Russia) have agreements on preventing double taxation. That means that if you are a tax resident of country A, and make some action in country B that would be taxed at X% in country A, and and at Y% in country B, you’ll have to pay Y% to country B, but only X-Y% in country A (provided you declared all that correctly).

Basic tax rate of 0% meant that my taxes for December salary were about 550€ smaller than they would be otherwise, but didn’t mean I literally got to receive all of my gross salary. As you might have noticed from the tax calculator, you always have to add pension and unemployment insurance premiums on top of the tax rate, 8.25% in 2018, and in 2017 that was 7.75%. These payments are not technically considered taxes, and are collected from everyone at a flat rate regardless of any deductions (unless you’re not a part of social security system, but everyone permanently resident in Finland is). So my effective “tax rate” for 2017 was 7.75%. I brought the tax card to work, and they scanned it and sent it to the accounting company, and indeed I got my full salary minus 7.75% at the end of December.

I expected to get a tax card in early to mid-January, as everyone does, and I expected that I’ll have to amend it right away because obviously my income in 2018 would not be just a single salary. However, I never got one, and when I tried to log into the tax card online service, it simply said “you haven’t been issued a tax card yet”.

Tax office interior

Eventually I become worried enough that I took another visit to the tax office in person. They didn’t explain why they didn’t issue the tax card as they were supposed to (I assume the glitch might have been related to the fact I got the first tax card very late in the previous year), but finally gave me the new one rather quickly, having just asked me what’s my expected income for this year. I similarly brought the new tax card to work; although it was just before the payday, the accounters took it into account correctly and withheld the proper amount of tax from the January salary. (If I didn’t do that, the previous tax card would have been valid for January anyway, but not any longer, and I’d have then to pay back the missing tax next year.)

So I’m a happy Finnish taxpayer now, and as my trial period at work is about to end I’ll be getting some pay rise and have to amend the tax card then, but this time I’ll certainly be able to do it online. In that case you can either print the tax card yourself or wait for it to be mailed to you in a few days.

Health care and social security system

Finland is a proud example of what people sometimes call the Nordic welfare system, although as far as I know it’s not that much different from other developed Western European countries (UK, Germany, France). It has universal public healthcare and an extensive safety net for the unemployed and the like. It’s not perfect but it certainly works, and it makes it a lot more difficult to fall into abject poverty or suffer from nasty but treatable diseases in Finland than in Russia or the US.

Finland is also very friendly to its immigrants with regard to access to welfare system. As an employed person you’re entitled to full coverage, with the same rights as a Finnish citizen, right upon arriving to Finland, and so are your close family members if they’re moving with you. That’s something less common among the developed nations.

The instutution that is responsible for both healthcare and social security payments is named Kela, short from Kansaneläkelaitos (Finn. People pension office, although the name is a relic and it’s responsible for far more than pensions), also known as Fpa in Swedish. Kela issues you a card, named, well, Kela card (Kelakortti), which proves that you are covered under Kela benefits. It gives you the right to receive treatment in municipal health centers and hospitals, and buy prescription medicines for just a token fee, to be also covered by health insurance in other European countries in emergencies, to reimburse a fraction of the costs from private clinics, and to receive unemployment allowances and other benefits in case you need it. And you’ll also receive a pension one day! Yay!

Of course as a person who literally moved to Finland for work you shouldn’t expect much in the way of social security. Still you are entitled to Kela benefits same as everyone else; e. g. if you have worked in Finland for at least 6 months, you are eligible for the unemployment allowance. How it is going to affect your residence permit extension of course is another matter entirely. You cannot extend a residence permit on the basis of employment if you’re, well, not employed anymore.

You spouse, for example, if you have one, will also be entitled to Kela benefits on a regular basis, and that may come quite useful. The very basic unemployment allowance that a person can in principle be collecting indefinitely is something like 600-700€ I think.

Health care, of course, is another matter, and everyone may need it sooner or later, employed or not. This is why it’s in your best interest to apply for a Kela card as soon as possible. You should be aware that automatically having a right for Kela coverage does not equal automatically getting Kela coverage; it has to be applied for explicitly.

Without Kela coverage and without other possible health insurance you’ll be expected to pay healthcare costs out of pocket, and as in any developed country this is very likely to be A LOT. It might be possible to buy a travel insurance before moving to Finland but I’m really not at all certain it would actually work (after all it’s meant for travel, not for residence!). Kela coverage is however retroactive, and should reimburse any expenses made during the period you weren’t covered but already had a right to be covered. That probably also doesn’t happen automatically and has to be applied for separately.

Most or maybe even all Kela interactions can be done online, and unlike many other institutions mentioned not even the initial application requires an in-person visit. Of course online operations require bank code authorization. So I, having no outstanding health problems, decided I’d rather skip one more institution visit and apply as soon as I have a bank account and online bank access, which happened a few weeks after my actual move.

Kela online service

Although Kela website has extremely detailed information in English on all aspects of its operation, and in person I think they’re even supposed to find you an interpreter for free if you do not speak Finnish/Swedish/English, the actual online services are provided only in Finnish or Swedish, and have rather an old-fashioned look. (I found that particularly funny in contrast with the tax office, which indeed comes to great lengths to provide all online services in English.) Still Google Translate — as always, preferably augmented with a proper dictionary and some rudimentary Finnish knowledge on your own — is generally enough. You need to look for an application for sosiaaliturva oikeus (right to social security). Indeed, as someone who doesn’t have this right yet pretty much the only thing you can do at Kela is apply for it. The application form is rather long and you will have to attach a scanned copy of your employment contract — yet another place where that contract’ll come useful.

The service claimed the decision is made in four weeks on average, but in reality it took closer to 1.5 months! Good thing I didn’t get sick within that time! I was getting worried and considered going in person to Kela, but finally they did their job. You’d think my case would be very straightforward and could be approved immediately, but no. Well, they probably have one big queue with all kinds of applications. As a rule various welfare benefits in particular are also not granted automatically and have to be applied for; I imagine examining these application takes a lot of effort.

Kela card in its current design. Stock picture from Kela website

The actual Kela card came in mail about a week or so later. It’s made of rather cheap-looking material, and does not really have anything else but your name and identity number. Kela card is valid only within Finland, and you can order a European Health Insurance Card as a supplement to it; it is available through Kela online service and only requires clicking a few buttons. I applied for that one recently and am currently waiting for it to arrive in mail. EHIC card covers urgent situations only and only to the same extent that a citizen of the receiving coutnry would get them; thus getting a regular travel insurance is still a pretty good idea. In case you’re in an emergency abroad and do not have an EHIC card, the hospital can in theory contact Kela to ensure they’re covering the costs, or Kela may reimburse costs to you afterwards, but obviously that’s rather less convenient.

I do not have any experience actually using public health care in Finland yet. The go-to place for all health problems is the health center (terveyskeskus, terveysasema) or basically a clinic. You’re generally attached to one health center, usually the closest one to where you live, and only supposed to get non-emergency care there. Normally you have to make a reservation by phone (maybe also online in some areas but in Vaasa you can do it only by phone), although with semi-urgent things you can go as is. I unfortunately did not quite understand how to learn which one is your health center, as there are about five of them in Vaasa. Although based on where I live I’m pretty sure mine would be the one in Gerby district. But anyway if you contacted a wrong health center by mistake they’ll probably correct you. I think you can also change your health center if you really want to.

Health center in Ristinummi, a district of Vaasa

In a health center you would generally be received by a nurse, and your problem would be escalated to a general practitioner or a specialist only if appropriate. The waiting times to see a specialist might be measured in weeks or even more. For common illnesses you also shouldn’t expect much more than simple symptomatic treatment like painkillers (which makes sense to me, why treat something that will resolve itself anyway). If however there is suspicion you might be having something really serious, everything will start to happen much more quckly and efficiently. For in-patient treatment you can be sent to a hospital (sairaala) which are much less common than health centers, and to one of the few university hospitals in the most difficult of cases.

In case you’re having urgent problems in non working hours or weekends, or really urgent problems (like severe chest pain or severe bleeding) even in working hours, you’re supposed to go to a place designated as päivistys or ensiapu respectively. I don’t know if these can be different ones. In Vaasa both of these are handled by the emergency ward of the central hospital in Hietalahti. Some waiting still might be involved depending on the severity of your problem. Urgent care is of course possible to get thoughout the country, and not only in your municipality. And as is everywhere in the world, if you’re unable to reach an emergency ward yourself there’s 112 to call. But that’s of course only for real absolute emergencies.

Using public health care services is not completely free but the fees charged are rather minimal ones (something like 20€ per health center visit) and are quickly capped. Hospital care is more expensive but in any case the overall payment ceiling for all kinds of healthcare is less than 700€/year. This can be further reduced for people with low incomes.

The whole public healthcare system is also going to be massively changed by the so-called sote reform (sote = sosiaali- ja terveidenhuolto = social and healthcare services), which according to current plans should come into effect by 2020. It has implications going beyond just healthcare changes. Regions (maakunta), which currently have almost no institutions and no powers on their own, and are little more than loose groupings of municipalities for convenience, will once again come into being as concrete entities. The existing regions will remain and their borders will be almost unchanged (just a few minor municipalities will change their regions) but they will be greatly empowered. They will form their own governments and there will be regional elections held. Municipal taxes will be reduced and regional tax will be created. Organizations such as ELY centers (responsible for regional development, things like roads) will be disbanded and regions will create similar organizations on their own. And the most important thing that will be managed at a regional level will be health care and social security; both of them are currently the responsibility of municipalities. It is expected that the reform will help both reduce costs (due to economies of scale) and improve quality of health care, although I’m not sure how exactly they’re going to do that. I know Vaasa will build a new hospital building at a staggering cost of over 100 million euros, as part of sote reform preparations, which doesn’t exactly sounds like a cost cutting measure to me.

One of the central Vaasa pharmacies (next to a Sale food store and a Topelius statue)

Going back to present times, most kinds of medicine are only available by prescription, the most famous over-the-counter one being the ubiquitous Burana, an ibuprofen brand, a painkiller which is used to treat everything. Prescription medicines are however subsidized by the state and the amount you pay is similarly capped at 600€/year. You must have your Kela card on hand to buy prescription medicines, and get a queue number at the pharmacy (apteekki). Pharmacy working hours are usually rather short, not much longer than general office hours. In Vaasa the three central pharmacies alternate in working late hours every week, and in places like Helsinki there might even be such luxury as a round the clock pharmacy.

Kanta. Information about a blood test visit

In Finland there is a common nationwide system named Kanta, or also OmaKanta, for medical information, including medicine prescriptions, lab test results, and so one. Therefore you don’t for example need to carry a paper prescription to a pharmacy, they will already know what you need from Kanta (and you can’t forge a prescription this way, too). You can also view all of this information yourself, of course. You’d be surprised how much they record, and I kind of hope this data is well protected, but I heard for example that for a doctor or a pharmacist even opening someone’s page without sufficient reason (and not closing it immediately in case that was a honest mistake) is an automatically recorded and punishable offense.

Kanta has a few other purposes as well. You may write there something useful for the doctors, in case you’re hospitalized unconscious, and you may give your consent for organ donation in case of your death. Organ donation is of course a very good thing so I agreed here, but I can’t help thinking this is a rather non-obvious place for that. Not all Finns even ever log into Kanta!

There is also private health care in Finland. It however may only supplement the public health care, rather than replace it. Dental clinics, for example, are a very common form of private health care, as Kela covers basics but not cosmetic issues here, and waiting times to see a dentist in the public system are particularly long. A very common private clinic chain which you’re likely to see throughout entire Finland is Mehiläinen (meaning “bee”), but there are many others, including rather small dentists or opticians offices. You can go to any private clinic at any time, and you don’t need a Kela card or really anything else for that, but the amounts they charge will be considerable. There’s a reason the Finns sometimes go to Estonia for tooth implants, for example — these may cost 2000€ or more here in Finland! With a Kela card a fraction of the costs may actually be reimbursed even in private clinics, but that would be a rather small fraction (like 10-20%). And in any case the range of services in private clinics is rather limited, as they’re just that: clinics. You can see a specialist quickly and effortlessly there, but for surgeries or anything requiring actual hospitalization for example you’ll be referred to a public hospital, because there are no private hospitals in Finland. Well okay, there is one in Helsinki for really fancy folks.

You can also buy a private health insurance from any insurance company and while it’s not very cheap it’s not as expensive as you’d expect either (OP’s online calculator quoted 400€/year to me for a rather complete coverage). But again it would only cover things that private clinics do in principle, and while it has for example dental coverage that’s probably not for cosmetic issues either. The amounts such an insurance pays look considerable (tens of thousands of euros) but for treating stuff like cancer that’s really not much, and again you’d use public health care for that in the end.

Promedi private clinic in Vaasa

Employers in Finland are also obliged to provide occupational health care to their employees, which means health checks and the like. For an office worker like me this does not really amount to much of course. They also may provide access to healthcare on a nurse or general practitioner level. Of course they do not have to do this themselves but may arrange this with a municipal health center or a private clinic. In my case I had to go to a health check to a Vaasa health clinic named Promedi. Promedi to date has been my only experience with health care-related matters here in Finland.

Waiting for a doctor at Promedi

The health check took rather long to arrange, over two months since I started work. First I had to go there for a general blood test, and a few days later to see a nurse for the actual health check. She basically just asked me a lot of questions about my diet and lifestyle and workplace, checked my blood pressure and weight and the like, and recorded all that to Kanta. Since I actually mentioned I have some stomach troubles — nothing serious-looking but pretty persistent ones — they offered to arrange a doctor visit for me. I agreed and thus a week later went to Promedi again to see a doctor (general practitioner), a pretty nice guy who declared that that’s almost certainly nothing to be afraid of and suggested that I could buy an over-the-counter medicine, which I did and it seems to help somewhat although not entirely. He promised to call six weeks later to follow up on that.

That’s all experience I had with Promedi or any other health care so far. Promedi seemed a rather nice place, anyway. I didn’t have to pay anything myself there, neither of course for the initial health check, nor for a doctor visit later.

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