Living in Finland as a foreigner

Since my younger and susceptible teenage time, I had dreamed of living and working abroad. I left Japan in 2016 and have lived in Finland for more than three years now. Overall, life here has been great.

Living abroad is like an adventure in a role playing game.


More specifically, after moving to a new country, 

You would strive to :

  • Find new comrades (=friends/relationships/families)
  • Get new weapons (=experience/skills/knowledge)
  • Face enemies (=challenges/difficulties) and 
  • Complete missions (=your own goals).

In this blog post, I want to focus on what kind challenges I have had, what excites me on a daily basis and what principles I have as a foreigner living in Finland. Please note that these are based on my personal experience and values so not necessarily apply to all foreigners living in Finland.

1. Challenges


1.1. Residence permit

As I’m not from an EU country, I have to have a residence permit based on one of the  grounds designated by the government. 

I first moved to Finland with residence permit based on study (Masters degree at University of Jyäskylä). Once I finished my study and started working, I got a residence permit based on work.

Finland gives you work permit based on your work contract. If your work contract is one year, then your residence permit would be also one year in many cases. It means that you have to get your current work contract extended or find another work in order to extend your residence permit. 

It is very STRESSFUL and UNSETTLING to wonder if you can find a job or not within limited time period when you hope to stay in Finland. 

When I was working for a company with fixed-term contract and it was about to end in a couple month, I asked people there to start the discussion regarding the contract extension asap.

They were kind of slow so I told them my situation regarding the residence permit as well as why I want to know if my job contract can get extended. 

They said that they understand it as they have also lived abroad as an exchange student…but apparently they didn’t understand it nor how I was feeling. I decided not to expect them to understand those matters regarding residence permit. 

Plus, Finnish immigration office (Migri) doesn’t have enough resources so they are usually fully booked and things can be slow in the application process.

1.2. Job

Finding a job would be probably one of the big challenges for foreigners in Finland. 

By having a job, you can get residence permit, support yourself, get experience and connections, and contribute society through your job and paying tax. It means, finding a job can be one of the ways to create positive cycle in your life. 

Reasons why it’s usually not easy to find a job here are :

  • Many jobs require fluent Finnish or Swedish (Of course! No complaint)
  • Many jobs are not advertised publicly = Having connections is important! 
  • Even many of trainee or internship positions require previous experience

Besides, some job advertisements are written only in Finnish and Swedish even if the jobs don’t require those languages.

Some people say that these situations, especially the fact that having connections or knowing right people means a lot to find a job in Finland, are not fair. I get the point and I also used to think in that way before.

However, if you see it from the perspective of employer, it’s obvious that hiring someone from their own network can be an effective and low-cost way.

This is such a deep topic so I should write another blog post about job hunting in Finland, but my simplified argument is that it’s significant especially for us foreigners to maximise possibilities in career by being alert and agile for opportunities, taking strategic actions, and continuing to develop ourselves. 

Nothing will be changed even if you just keep complaining.

Plus, it feels like that it also depends on ‘luck’ and ‘timing’ eventually…

1.3. Family

I’m close to my family and I appreciate their support to me who moved to Finland. 

Even though the recent technology allows you to be in touch closely with people abroad, living in a different country from your family could sometimes bring you loneliness or anxious thought. I’m usually optimistic but sometimes this sort of questions come to my mind.

‘What if something emergent happens to my family, and I need to go back home immediately, can I make it in time?’

‘What if they need my help or support but can’t ask me for it as I’m living far away from home?’

Actually, during the first three years of my life in Finland, my grandmother, great grandmother, and two of my grandfathers passed away and I was able to attend two of the funerals. 

Those experience made me think about the ideal way of working and life in Finland. 

I don’t want to sacrifice something important like my family for enabling me to live abroad. 

That’s why I constantly think about how to have businesses or projects both in Japan and Finland so that I can create bases/hubs there as it would definitely enable me to be in Japan more often.  

This would be one of the things I will keep working on it to find the best solution. 


2. Excitements


2.1. New learnings 

While life in Finland brings me several challenges on a daily basis as I mentioned, I get more opportunities that bring me new learnings.

Those new learnings can be varied from small daily stuff to something big that blows your mind or gives you culture shock.

But where do they usually come from? How do you get them?

I would say people and firsthand experience.

You can of course get new learnings from books, TV or internet search, but I believe that the most important learnings and key information usually come from primary information source, including your workmates, local friends, someone in your community or through your own work, activities or other own experience.  

Regarding an attitude to get new learnings, I think we could learn from tips from a Michelin-starred chef with engineering background who was featured in the in-flight magazine by Finnair, Blue Wings (December, 2019 issue). 

  • Don’t be limited to what you know 
  • Open your mind to see what is to come 

Besides, as an expat who doesn’t have Finnish citizenship, native language skill (yet), nor same cultural background as Finns, keeping learning new things on a daily basis is essential to survive and thrive in this country. 

2.2. New people

One of the best parts of living abroad is meeting new people. Especially in the beginning of new life abroad, you are likely to get an impression of the country from people you meet. 

There are people who try to fool you or approach you with selfish motives in every country, but there are also nice, kind people who socialise with others without expectation of a return.   

After moving to Finland, I have lived in four different cities, namely, Jyväskylä, Rovaniemi, Tampere and Helsinki. 

In each of the city, there were always some super nice new Finnish people who helped me a lot and I might not have been able to make it without their help, which I appreciate a lot. 

I got to know them in some lecture at university, work, through friends, or even through app.

For instance, they helped me a variety of things in a daily life, including ;

  • Finding an apartment in or other platforms
  • Moving to a new city with a car
  • Giving tips & info to find a job
  • Teaching Finnish language patiently
  • Showing new places & local culture in Finland (Finnish food, sauna, etc…)

I could say that these people I met along the way after moving to Finland are now not just my good friends but also like my teachers or comrades in a role playing game.  

2.3. Sense of achievement

One exciting moment in my Finnish life is when I manage to clear a variety of hurdles as mentioned before.

It might be a moment when I manage to have a proper conversations with Finns, when I received the master’s degree certificate, or when I move forward in my career. Some of them might not be anything magnificent for some people, but it doesn’t matter at all. 

Feeling the sense of achievement regardless of the scale has been one of the best ways to keep my motivation and improve the state of mind, especially during dark, depressing Finnish winter.  

One important point here is neither comparing yourself with others nor accepting only common, conventional way of thinking. 

In addition, during my Finnish life, I also realised that people who achieve something tend to make a genuine choice for their life and take responsibility for it.  


3. Principles


3.1. ’When in Rome, do as the Romans do’

This is my fundamental policy in Finnish life. (I mentioned this in the article of MTV Uutiset)

It includes respecting Finnish culture, learning Finnish language, enjoying local culture or adopting the local manner.

Of course It’s not easy at all to follow things as Finns do, but I believe that one of the first rules of living abroad as an expat is making as much effort as one can do to fit happily into the society. 

I’m not saying that we foreigners definitely have to do everything as Finns do, but at least we should follow widely accepted manners in Finland, such as being punctual, respecting personal space and not interrupting a conversation. Besides, following these basic rules would make it a bit easier to make friends with Finns. 

3.2. Retain my Japanese identity

While trying to socialise myself into Finnish society, I always hope to keep my Japanese identity as well. 

That’s actually how we foreigners can make value in many ways. I realised that many Finns, at least people around me, appreciate different culture and tend to be interested in knowing different perspectives or way of thinking as a non-Finnish person.  

I got that learning through my experience studying at Finnish university as well as working for Finnish companies.

In my opinion, however, it should come with an attitude to accept and respect the local culture. It is essential to balance them. 

3.3. Follow my intuition and go with the flow

This is more like my motto in life. 

Finland is such a peaceful, stable country to live but still life here is full of uncertainty and volatility in a good way, which actually makes life more exciting. 

As the unexpected often happens, we could try to leverage contingencies rather than avoiding them. 

Many people say that it is important to control yourself towards one clear goal based on the set plans, but I learned that one great way to enjoy life here is being flexible and open-minded enough to try whatever you want or change what you already have if you feel like by intuition.

In the business theory, this is more of effectuation rather than causation. 

(You can read more about effectuation theory in my previous blog)

What We Can Learn From Effectuation Theory

Future doesn’t come from trends or forecasts but it is created by decisions and actions by yourself. 

Plus, I believe that taking an action and going with the flow is more powerful than spending so much time just to plan or prepare something.

I think it is better to regret doing something than not doing something at all. I want to be action-oriented based on my interests and intuition.

3.4. Being a good representative

Last but not least, I think this is super important. It’s not a very good idea to generalise people from specific countries but usually many people (including me) are likely to form some kind of image and impression of your country by looking at your attitude and behaviour. 

In other words, especially if you are an expat, your daily behaviour might be associated with your country’s image. 

Some people might not really care about it, but I personally think that it’s vital for each of us immigrants to have a will to be a good representative of our own country. 

After I moved to Finland, I met many people who have good image for Japan. There should be several reasons behind the positive fact, but apparently the great contributors for that would be Japanese people who have lived in Finland earlier than me and contributed in Finnish society in various ways.

Likewise, I also hope to make a positive impact in this beautiful Finland as a representative of my home country.