Coming to Finland: The Actual Move

The road into the new life. Somewhere near Kouvola I think 🙂

Introduction
Residence Permits
Job Search
Applying for Permit
Actual Move

…I set the date of the actual move to the end of the same week when I picked the residence permit card at the St. Petersburg consulate. It could have been faster, really. I didn’t do all that much before the move; found a new home for my rabbit, bought boxes for the move, packed my things, visited my parents, resigned from my St. Petersburg job. I actually was on a long unpaid vacation at that point; my boss suggested it to me it case the Finland move doesn’t work out. Although I doubt I would have wanted to return to that job even in that case. And I could have taken the rabbit with me, in theory; the main difficulty would be that I wouldn’t be able to leave him with anyone when I go on vacation or something. But I can assure you that the big-eared rascal is in very reliable hands now, and gets sweet banana and apple treats regularly, along with more healthy food of course.

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Coming to Finland: Applying for Permit

I really don’t have any pictures to illustrate that part so here’s a picture I took while waiting for my permit. It looks like Finland but it’s actually taken near Yekaterinburg

Introduction
Residence Permits
Job Search
Applying for Permit
The Actual Move

Mattias warned me that this part could be a little slow because they didn’t have a HR person or anyone else to deal with the paperwork, and he was busy enough as it was. Well, I wasn’t in any hurry.

In a week or so he sent me two documents by email, an employment contract and a TEM-054 form. For two options of applying for a residence permit at once: as an expert and as a regular employee. I guess it’s a good time to examine how these options differ now.

Unlike many other countries Finland, in principle, allows hiring any person from abroad, regardless of qualifications. But it still would be much easier for a specialist. The company would have to fill in much more paperwork for a regular worker; the main paper is the aforementioned form TEM-054. More importantly, the job opening will have to go to the unemployment office, and they will have to make sure there are no possible unemployed candidates from Finland who could fill that position. I suppose it might be possible to state the job requirements in such a way that this step would become a mere formality, but of course I don’t know for sure. But in any case that’s a pretty long process; getting an employee residence permit takes 3-4 months in total.

Things are much easier for a specialist; he or she should get a permit in just a month, and all that is necessary is: 1) a company which is willing to hire them (and made an employment contract with them to prove that); 2) a high enough salary (at least ~3,000 € before tax); 3) high enough qualifications of the person involved. And of course I, and my employer too, had concerns about the third part; this generally means a university degree, which I don’t have, and Migri and most of other relevant official websites say the degree is required. But I saw some mentions on various web forums that it can be substituted by work experience, especially in IT. So of course we hoped for the specialist route, and went for that.

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Coming to Finland: Job Search

My future office, as I saw it in September. One of the prettiest buildings of Vaasa… since then they completed the renovations

Introduction
Residence Permits
Job Search
Applying for Permit
The Actual Move

The first thing I have to note here is that this part of course describes my own experience in finding a job in Finland. Job search is kind of an art in itself and there can be no single unified procedure here, while I only ever looked for a job in Finland once, and that didn’t actually take too long. So it’s possible that I miss something in this part.

Okay, so, if you decided to move into Finland on the grounds of having a job here, then you need a job (duh). A good starting point for job search is Monster.fi website. It has only Finnish interface, so you may just well begin to get used to Google Translate being your friend! (Chrome automatically prompts to translate pages in foreign languages, and there are similar extensions for other browsers; I use http://www.sidetree.com/extensions.html#Translate for Safari.) Google Translate by now is fairly good at translating Finnish, and you can read Finnish websites without too much trouble. You should however always choose the option to translate into English, even if that’s not your native language; otherwise Google would actually make two translations, from Finnish into English, and from English into another language, and that will be a big source or errors.

But you probably won’t need to translate much on Monster.fi yet. Just type “php” or “frontend” or whatever kind of developer job you’re looking for into the first field, and optionally a city or a region into the second one. Some (maybe most) of the results will be in Finnish, and others in English. It’s likely, although not certain, that the language of the job advertisement will correspond to the language that is actually used on the job.

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Coming to Finland: Residence Permits

Introduction
Residence Permits
Job Search
Applying for Permit
The Actual Move

Let’s start with reading up a bit on the theoretical part: what do you need to legally live and work in Finland (of course it doesn’t make sense to even consider “illegal” options). In principle you need several papers for that, but there’s only one that’s really important (and which gives you access to others once you’re in Finland): a residence permit (oleskelulupa in Finnish). It is also sometimes known as work permit or work visa, but we’ll use the official term to avoid confusion.

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Coming to Finland: Introduction

I haven’t written here in a while again, but of course this is not by accident, but rather for the greater good!  Writing about various places in Finland (and to lesser extent Sweden and Norway) is fun, but it seems the time has come for a new subject: immigration into Finland!  (I began to write about it in my Telegram channel (in Russian), but that was really far too lengthy a topic for it, and so I switched over to the blog.)

Introduction
Residence Permits
Job Search
Applying for Permit
The Actual Move

Attention-grabbing picture:

This is a Finnish residence permit card (it doesn’t really contain any particularly sensitive information on this side, if you wonder). I got it in November. This is what I went to Finland with.

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Lahti (Part 1)

Laune Park in the city of Lahti, with old radio masts of Radiomäki in the background

It’s been two months since I last visited Finland. I kind of had to save up a bit of money and Finland trips, even short weekend ones, usually end up being quite big money-sinks (even when it doesn’t really feel you are spending money on anything in particular at all). In the end though I lost my patience and made a day-trip to the city of Lahti with my friend, in early November 2017.

Lahti and Kouvola are the only two cities in Finland (apart from Helsinki) which make sense as day trip destinations when going from St. Petersburg, because these are the cities the high-speed Allegro train goes through. A car trip practically requires an overnight stay; it’s a 200 km drive just to get to the Finnish border, and then crossing the border takes some time, and then you’ll need to drive to somewhere in Finland, and if you have to make the return trip on the same day it gets very exhausting and you end up with not much time in Finland itself at all. And it’s the same with Lappeenranta/Imatra buses, although at least you do not need to drive youself.

Allegro train, first introduced in 2010, on the other hand makes the St. Petersburg-Helsinki trip in about 3 h 30 min (and the border formalities are all done on board and don’t require any extra time), and it’s even faster if you only go to Kouvola or Lahti. There are four departures every day; the first train leaves St. Petersburg at 6:40, and the last one arrives to St. Petersburg at 23:27. So you’ve got plenty of time in Finland. The only downside is that it’s a rather costly option, several times more expensive than going on own car or by bus, unless you buy a ticket well in advance (which I never do).

Still, a day trip to Kouvola on Allegro was my first ever trip to Finland (in fact my first ever trip abroad) way back in February 2012, and this time we did the same thing only to Lahti, which incidentally was the Finnish city closest to St. Petersburg that I had never visited before.

Lahti (Finn. bay) is actually quite a big city by Finnish standards, at 115,000 population, located about 100 km northeast of Helsinki. However it’s a relatively young city and, like Kouvola, it pretty much owes its existence to St. Petersburg-Helsinki railroad (or more propery Riihimäki-St. Petersburg railroad, as the town of Riihimäki was where it connected to Helsinki-Hämeenlinna line which had been the first railroad built in Finland) built in 1870. Before that Lahti had been a rather unremarkable village in Hollola parish, by the Upper Vyborg Road (Ylinen Viipurintie), an old road going from Hämeenlinna to Vyborg/Viipuri, approximately along parts of modern National Roads 10, 12, and 6. Old Lahti had some twenty houses, and also a manor belonging to the noble Fellman family.

Lahti village burned down in the 1870s (with no loss of life), and a new city was planned in its place in 1878. Modern Lahti still keeps rather closely to the city plan of 1878. The location was a really favorable one, at the crossroads of trade routes. Apart from the old road and the railroad Lahti is located on the shore of Vesijärvi Lake, which had been connected via short Vääksy Canal to the huge Päijänne Lake System in 1871, which made it an important lake harbor, connected by waterways to Jyväskylä and other relatively remote places; lake steamships were a hugely important mode of transport at the time. And in 1900 a narrow-gauge railroad (eventually converted to a regular-gauge one) connected it to the Loviisa harbor, allowing easy export of goods by sea. Industries boomed in Lahti, and it remained an industrial city throughout the 20th century, although the 1990s recession hit it hard. As of the 21st century, Lahti enjoys excellent connections to Helsinki; the entire section of National Road 4 between Helsinki and Lahti enjoys motorway standards since 1999, and a direct high-speed rail line Kerava-Lahti (bypassing Riihimäki) was constructed in 2006. Since then Helsinki center can be reached from Lahti in about an hour (via Z-line suburban trains), making Lahti effectively an outer suburb of Helsinki.

Lahti doesn’t have many historical sights or much of old architecture due to its young age, but nonetheless in our opinion it’s quite an enjoyable place to visit. It also has some very beautiful nature (Vesijärvi Lake and many steep hills, including Salpausselkä Ridge) really close to the city center; something quite common for Finnish cities, of course, but I’d say Lahti is even better than others in that regard. Lahti is also a famous winter sports center, holding world-renowned Lahti Ski Games in particular.

Lahti is located in the historical region of Häme (Tavastia). Tavastians/Häme are considered to be one of the first tribes which made up the Finnish people; they are mentioned as Yem (емь) in Novgorodian chronicles. Lahti is the capital of the modern region of Päijänne Tavastia (Päijät-Häme), named after Päjänne Lake System; this is one of the smaller Finnish regions by area. Its other towns are Heinola and Orimattila but both of these are many times smaller than Lahti.

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Väärämäenselkä Nature Reserve

Volchya River (also known in Saijanjoki) in Väärämäenselkä Nature Reserve on the Karelian Isthus, Priozersk District, Leningrad Oblast, Russia

Last weekend I visited the Väärämäenselkä Nature Reserve, in Leningrad Oblast, Russia; on the Karelian Isthmus 100 km north of St. Petersburg. I do not often make posts about Russia (where I happen to live), and even less commonly, about Russian nature. Nothing wrong with it of course; it’s just that Russian nature isn’t particularly accessible. It’s not like Finland, where you have national parks, various trails ranging from municipal jogging trails to long-distance ones hundres of kilometers long, excellent topographic maps of the entire country, and a dense and well-maintained road network which make reaching even quite remote locations easy (assuming you have a car, of course). In Russia you’re basically on your own. Designated hiking trails only really exist in major nature reserves and national parks few and far between (which often have entrance fees and/or require getting a permit to visit them), maps are very hit and miss depending on the region, and only the major federal roads can be really relied upon; secondary roads may be in terrible condition, while logging or mountain roads are generally passable only on a 4WD car.

Arguably, of course, this only makes the experience more genuine, as you don’t have anything pre-made for you. And Russia, being the biggest country in the world and all, does have some stunning nature. The “stunning” part however isn’t really uniformly spread. Most of Central Russia and Western Siberia really looks very uniform and bland. And for the most part so is Leningrad Oblast, which is the St. Petersburg region.

Finland, my favorite destination, is a very beautiful country — especially if you’re into forests and lakes! — but truth be told, it doesn’t have much variety too (unless you’re really familiar with it and begin to spot lots of minor details). However its landscapes actually do look a lot more interesting than Central Russia and most of Leningrad Oblast. The reason for that lies in basic geology: Finland is located on really ancient bedrock (Fennoscandian Shield), only thinly covered with soil; the bedrock was cut up by a great glacier in the Ice Age, resulting in innumerable lakes in depressions that the glacier scoured, rocky outcroppings where it scraped off the topsoil, boulders that it moved a great distance, and so on. Central Russia on the other hand is covered with a very thick (3+ km) cover of sediments (Russian Platform), which are very flat and remained very flat even after the glaciation. The boundary between the Fennoscandian Shield and the Russian Platform cuts across the Karelian Isthmus, fairly close to the Russian-Finnish border, approximately following Vyborg (Viipuri)-Priozersk (Käkisalmi) line. Most of the Karelian Isthmus, and the vast majority of the overall Leningrad Oblast lies south of that line, in the “boring” Russian Platform area.

Still of course there are some beautiful places, and Väärämäenselkä Nature Reserve is one of them. It’s located on the Karelian Isthmus, and I’m not sure whether it lies north or south of the geological boundary; most probably south of it. It’s still beautiful, with low but steep sandy hills and ridges covered with pine forests, and small rivers and lakes among the hills. So after much deliberation about my day trip destination I chose this place. I knew essentially nothing of it but it seemed fairly easy to reach at least.

The name “Väärämäenselkä” is Finnish; the nature reserve has no Russian name. The name is transribed as Вярямянселькя into Russian, although Вяярямяэнселькя would be more precise. It means “Crooked Hill Ridge”. It can be found in old Finnish topographic maps and texts, spelled as Väärämäen-selkä, and sometimes also as Väärämäen-harju. The regional nature reserve was officially established in 1978.

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Nord Norge 2016. V: Murmansk

Midnight sun on the streets of the outskirts of Murmansk, Murmansk Oblast, Russia

Introduction
I. What Northern Norway is all about
II. Our trip in brief
III. Kola Route
IV. Petrozavodsk
V. Murmansk
VI. Varanger. Vadsø
VII. Varanger. Vardø
VIII. Varanger. Hamningberg and Kiberg
IX. North Cape. Honningsvåg
X. North Cape. The Cape itself
XI. North Cape. Kirkeporten and Knivskjellodden
XII. Alta
XIII. Lyngen Alps. Steindalsbreen Glacier
XIV. Lyngen Alps. Blåvatnet Lake
XV. Tromsø. Downtown
XVI. Tromsø. Museums and Storsteinen Mountain
XVII. Senja
XVIII. Treriksröset
XIX. Return Journey

The biggest city north of the Arctic Circle in the world! That’s Murmansk (Мурманск), the center of Murmansk Oblast region in Russia, located on the coast of the Kola Bay, a long narrow fjord of the Barents Sea of the Arctic Ocean. Like Petrozavodsk, Murmansk is the only major city in the region. Its modern population is about 300,000.

A small town at the bottom of the Kola Bay, named also Kola (Кола), existed for centuries (and still exists today as a suburb of Murmansk), but by the end of the 19th century the need for a major seaport on the Barentz Sea became quite urgent. The new city, originally named Romanov-na-Murmane (Романов-на-Мурмане, Romanov upon Murman) was founded in 1916 (when the railroad connecting it to the rest of the country was finished), the last city ever founded in Tzarist Russia era. Shortly after the February Revolution of 1917 it was renamed to Murmansk. The northern coast of the Kola Peninsula has always been known as Murman Coast; “Murmans” was an old Russian word for Norwegians (likely from Norwegian nordmann, “northern man”). The tiny town quickly grew in Soviet years, becoming the base for many Soviet explorations of the Arctic.

Murmansk was extremely important to the Soviet Union in the World War II, as a warm-water port which the Germans could not blockade. Much of the lend-lease aid from Britain and the US came through Murmansk, shuttled south on the railroad then. Despite bloody battles Nazi Germany, attacking from Northern Norway and Finnish Lapland, never managed to capture the port of Murmansk or sever the rail line. The city itself was nearly completely destroyed in the war, and had to be rebuilt afterwards. This was accomplished as soon as 1952.

Murmansk continued to be the Soviet “capital of the Arctic” of sorts, but underwent a great depopulation after the fall of the Soviet Union. As many as a third of its population left. Although Murmansk climate is not as harsh as one could expect, it’s still colder than most of Russia, and polar night doesn’t make it a very attractive place to live in as well (unless of course you really like the Arctic). So people who lost their jobs mostly just moved elsewhere.

Nonetheless modern Murmansk looks quite good, much better than Petrozavodsk (the city we visited before Murmansk) anyway despite similar size. Despite the depopulation it doesn’t really appear to have any abandoned buildings (perhaps we just didn’t see them but still). The city is rather boring, truth be told (its surroundings are probably way more interesting, but we were just passing through and didn’t see them), but it appears to be kept in a nice shape.

Perhaps one reason for that is the closeness of Russian naval bases. Russian Northern Fleet is the most important one by far, as it is the one with most (if not all) nuclear subs. Most towns near Murmansk are naval bases: Severomorsk, Polyarnyi, Snezhnogorsk, Skalistyi, Ostrovnoi, Vidyaevo, and other smaller ones. In fact Murmansk is almost the only Russian populated locality on the Barents Sea that can be actually visited without a special permit! Severomorsk and the others are “closed cities”. Although Murmansk is located deep in the Kola Bay and you cannot actually see the open sea from it; the only place where you can is the semi-abandoned fishing village of Teriberka (Териберка), lately known as the place where Leviathan movie was shot. That’s a pity of course. Barentz Sea is incredibly beautiful but you really need to go to Norway to appreciate that (or to places like Sredny and Rybachy Peninsula, reachable only with a 4WD vehicle).

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Nord Norge 2016. IV: Petrozavodsk

Fishermen statue on the shore of the Onega Lake in Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia, Russia

Introduction
I. What Northern Norway is all about
II. Our trip in brief
III. Kola Route
IV. Petrozavodsk
V. Murmansk
VI. Varanger. Vadsø
VII. Varanger. Vardø
VIII. Varanger. Hamningberg and Kiberg
IX. North Cape. Honningsvåg
X. North Cape. The Cape itself
XI. North Cape. Kirkeporten and Knivskjellodden
XII. Alta
XIII. Lyngen Alps. Steindalsbreen Glacier
XIV. Lyngen Alps. Blåvatnet Lake
XV. Tromsø. Downtown
XVI. Tromsø. Museums and Storsteinen Mountain
XVII. Senja
XVIII. Treriksröset
XIX. Return Journey

Petrozavodsk (Петрозаводск, Russ. Peter Works City; known as Petroskoi in Finnish) is the capital of the modern Republic of Karelia (Russian Karelia), and its biggest city by far; with its population of 280,000 it is almost ten times bigger than the second biggest Karelian city (Kondopoga).

I do not often make posts about Russian cities, because I rarely actually visit Russian cities, because I’m just not interested in them much; over the latest years my heart has always been with the Nordics, and it’s likely to remain this way. Which is not to say Russia isn’t worth exploring! Most of its cities and regions do not really have any major sights, but then, neither does Finland, yet I find exploring Finland so interesting and satisfying. And indeed a great many blogs about Russian cities exist, and I know of a few good ones, though I’m not aware of any that post in English. And as for us, we were passing through Petrozavodsk on our way north and staying here overnight, so of course we didn’t sit around in a hotel room, and went out to have a look at the city.

It should be said that Petrozavodsk is not really a Karelian city; it was founded in 1703 by the Russians and its population has always been predominantly Russian (at the moment there are 4% ethnic Karealians, <2% Finns, and <1% Vepsians). You wouldn’t find signs in Karelian or Finnish there. In fact Petrozavodsk is fairly typical of a minor Russian regional center, with dusty streets, crumbling plaster on buildings, potholed roads, and the general air of underfunding and neglect. It doesn’t really have any sights either. At the same time I must say I oddly liked Petrozavodsk. It’s a pleasant city to be in; it’s hard to express, but the people in the streets just seem… so nice and friendly. Far less alcoholics and gopniks that even in my native Yekaterinburg which is like five times bigger. Petrozavodsk is fun to walk around, taking pictures of various minor details. So this post is going to be a really long one, with 75 pictures.

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