top of page
Image by Satu Susanna

Finland is a country located in northern Europe where the state provides a wide range of services to its citizens. These services are financed by collecting various taxes, and their aim is to support citizens’ welfare. Taxation is also a way of trying to even out income differences between people. Finland is a parliamentary democracy and one of the freest, most stable and safest countries in the world today. This has not always been the case, however. Finland has been an independent state for 100 years. During this time, the country has developed rapidly on a number of counts. Over the course of one hundred years, what was once a poor country has become a modern democracy with free press, equal working life and a highly educated population.

Trust in the Government and the Authorities

Finns are united by their trust in the government and the authorities. Finns usually trust the decisions made by authorities, the judicial system and officials and believe that they are treated equally and fairly in administrative processes.

The Finnish society has been built democratically, meaning that all population groups have been able to influence how Finland was and is developed. That is why, so far, it has been quite natural for Finns to feel a sense of ownership towards their country, its officials and its services and to trust them.

Effects of the Climate on Finns

The northern location of the country and the cold climate have affected the life of Finns and the Finnish culture in many ways. Winters are cold and dark, and people are more tired and tend to stay indoors. They meet friends and family at home or in restaurants and bars.

In the summer, it is warm and light. It feels good to spend time outdoors, and the warm weather and sunshine make people happier and more social. Throughout history, the cold climate has shaped the Finnish character and behaviour and made the life of Finns a constant struggle against the natural elements. Men and women have joined forces to cope in the northern climate.

The Finnish Family Then and Now

Finland is one of the most gender-equal countries in the world. Men and women in Finland have the same rights and obligations. Equality can be seen in family life in that both parents usually go to work and also take care of family matters together. The Finnish state and municipalities support equality and the well-being of families by providing various benefits and services for families, such as financial support and low-cost early childhood education and care, i.e. day care for children.

Family Size has Become Smaller

A family usually refers to a family with children where at least one child under the age of 18 is living at home. The Finnish family most commonly consists of a mother and a father and their children. There are also many other kinds of families in Finland. Nowadays, grandparents and other relatives are not considered part of the nuclear family, even though they may be close. On average, Finns keep less in touch with their relatives as people from other countries do. However, the relationships with relatives vary greatly between families. Many have a close bond with their parents and siblings throughout life.

Over time, Finnish families have changed a lot. Families used to include more people. Families had many children, and it was common that grandparents and e.g. cousins or adopted children also lived in the same household. Family members typically worked together doing farm work and led a communal way of life. The members of a large family and extended family looked after each other’s well-being. Everyone shared a home and meals as well as joys and sorrows. This is typical of a collective, or communal culture. Today, the Finnish culture is individualistic, emphasizing the individual. This means that every person is responsible for him or herself and his or her actions and everyone has the right to make decisions about their own life.

The number of children in families has decreased since the early 20th century. In Finland today, the most common type of family is a mother and a father with one or two children. However, 100 years ago when the majority of Finns lived in the countryside, women gave birth to an average of five children in their lifetime.

Change in the Status of Women and its Effects on the Family

Men and women in Finland have an equal value and status in society and the same rights and obligations. This has not always been the case, but men have controlled the lives of women for centuries. As recently as one hundred years ago, husbands had the right to decide on behalf of their wives whether they could go to work and take part in civic or other activities outside the family.

The women's rights movement was born in Europe and the United States in the 19th century and aimed to promote the equal status of women and men. In Finland, a law was passed in 1864 freeing unmarried women from guardianship, meaning that they could decide on their personal matters themselves. Married women still remained under the guardianship of their husbands.

Back then, women were expected to choose either a career or marriage. Combining family and work was rarely possible. An employer would often dismiss a female employee if she got married. Many women chose to work, and spinsterhood became more common in the early decades of the 20th century.

Laws enacted in the early 20th century gave women some essential economic and political rights. These included the following:

  • 1906 right to vote and run in the parliamentary elections

  • 1919 right to practise a trade without the husband’s consent

  • 1922 right to personally conclude employment contracts without a husband

  • 1922 Act on Compulsory Education, which guaranteed both girls and boys the right to


  • 1930 Marriage Act, which made a husband and wife equal in marriage

    Women’s movements and female politicians had long demanded for a reform of the Finnish Marriage Act. When the new Marriage Act entered into force in 1930, women were freed from the guardianship of their husbands. Since then, women in Finland have been legally competent also in marriage. A legally competent woman has the same rights as a man and can decide on her personal matters herself.

Combining Work and Family Life

Many women did not work before the wars, but everything changed when war broke out. During the war years of 1939−1944, men fought at the front while women had to do both the men's and the women’s work in factories and on farms. Many women continued to work also after the war.

As late as the 1950s, women were mainly responsible for household management and child care and many did not work outside the home. But due to urbanization, it became common by the 1970s for women to work. Municipalities started to provide day care for children, and female employment became even more common.

Female employment affected the entire family, since the mother was no longer at home with the children all the time. Employment gave women independence and money of their own. As education and employment among women became more common, their possibilities to influence personal and family matters also increased.

Combining work and family life has been possible in Finland already for a long time. Both men and women can decide for themselves how they want to balance work and possible family life.

Individualistic Culture and Families in Finland

Due to societal changes that took place in the 20th century, the family culture in Finland largely shifted from a communal to an individualistic culture. An individual is no longer dependent on relatives and family, but the society is responsible for taking care of the elderly and helping everyone in need. Everyone may personally choose who they want to be involved with. In an individualistic culture, people are accustomed to the fact that everyone is responsible only for him or herself and his or her children under the age of 18.

Freedom to Make Your Own Decisions

In an individualistic culture, people see themselves primarily as individuals, not as members of a group. This is also the case in Finland. An individual may make and is also expected to make independent decisions about his or her life. According to the Constitution of Finland, everyone has the right to personal liberty.

Everyone in Finland may be whatever they want and live their life however they want, as long as they obey the law. However, cultural norms affect how individuals behave. Cultural norms refer to things that are generally considered right and wrong in people's opinion. In an individualistic culture, an individual has more freedom to decide on personal matters and, as a result, the moral rules of society are not usually as strict as in a communal culture. For example, a divorce is not typically considered a condemnable act.

Health and Social Services

The health, well-being and ability to function of each family member affects the family as a whole. Various health care and social services are available in Finland in e.g. situations where a disabled person and his or her family need help or support to cope with everyday life. Help is also available for mental health issues and intoxicant abuse problems.

Health is the opposite of illness, so a healthy person is someone without any illnesses. However, health also means that the person feels well. The person is able to cope with and get through various stages in life and considers his or her quality of life to be good. A healthy person can do the things he or she wants in life, such as study, engage in hobbies, work or take part in social life.

If a person becomes severely ill or disabled, he or she often has to give up some of the things that are important to him or her. However, a person can feel healthy and well even with e.g. a long-term illness, as long as it is treated and does not prevent him or her from leading a good life.

When a Family Moves to Finland

In order for a family to adjust to the new country, it is important that the parents are familiar with the Finnish culture, norms and society. When the parents know how things are usually done in Finland, this understanding supports their well-being and parenting and helps them raise their children here.

When a family moves to Finland, the children should go to school or day care as soon as possible. Children in school or day care will quickly learn Finnish or Swedish and also make friends who are of the same age. While the children are in day care or school, the parents have time to go to work, study and run personal and family errands.

When moving to a new country, the roles in the family may change if e.g. children learn the new language faster than their parents or the mother of the family goes to work for the first time. Some immigrants may have moved to the new country on their own without the familiar safety of their family and relatives around them. All this requires adjustment to big changes both in your mind and in the family, and this may take time.

Every family member goes through the same process when settling into Finland, but everyone does this at his or her own pace. Families often both cherish the customs of their own culture and adjust to the Finnish culture. Children often adjust faster than their parents. As the children constantly embrace new values and customs, this may cause tension in the family. Parents should discuss these issues together. Over time, each family member can find a suitable way to live in Finland.

The relationship of a couple may also encounter unexpected challenges when the whole family is faced with new things. The roles of men and women may be different in Finland than back in the home country. It is common for a family who has immigrated to a new country to experience a wide variety of emotions. It is natural to feel frustrated when things are not done the way you are used to and when your status is different from what it was before. If one spouse is already more fluent in the new language, he or she should try to help and support the other spouse. However, it is important for both to be active and learn the language so that one is not too dependent on the other. This also strengthens the spouses’ relationship.

Foreigners in Finland

In 2016, 6.5% of the inhabitants of Finland had a foreign background. Having a foreign background means that both of the person's parents were born abroad. In numbers, this is about 340 000 people. As late as the year 1990, there were only about 37 000 people with a foreign background in Finland. In 2016, the eight most common foreign nationalities in Finland were, in descending order: Estonian, Russian, Iraqi, Chinese, Swedish, Thai, Somali and Afghan.

For a long time, there was very little immigration to Finland. Finland used to be a poor country, and Finnish people emigrated elsewhere in the hope of finding a job and a better life. In the 19th century, Finns emigrated mainly to North America. Large numbers of Finns have also moved to Russia at different times. The Finnish society changed rapidly in the 1960s and 1970s. More and more people moved from the countryside to cities to work. There were not enough jobs for everyone in Finland, so many emigrated to work abroad. Back in those decades, up to tens of thousands of Finns moved to Sweden every year to work.

Refugees and other immigrants started to come to Finland later than to the other Nordic countries. Many moved to Sweden, Denmark and Norway to work in the 1950s–1970s, and refugees also started to arrive in these countries already back in the 1960s. In the 1970s, Finland only received about 200 refugees who had escaped the Chilean coup d’état. Several thousands of refugees came to Finland from Vietnam in the 1980s. In the early years of immigration to Finland, very few people immigrated to Finland to work.

Global events gradually began to bring more immigrants to Finland as well. The Somali Civil War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union at the turn of the 1980s and the 1990s brought a large number of immigrants to Finland. The Yugoslav Wars in the 1990s brought refugees to Finland from the Balkans. 

Today, people immigrate to Finland also for reasons besides war, such as family, work or studies. In 2016, 25% of the residence permits involved the registration of the right of residence of EU citizens or their family members. Of all the residence permits, 75% were permits for non-EU-citizens, and 21% of them were related to family ties, 16% to studying, 15% to work and 5% to other grounds. 

Residence Permits and Finnish Citizenship

The permits that you need for immigrating to Finland depend on your country of departure. In Finland, immigration matters are determined by the Aliens Act (ulkomaalaislaki). It includes provisions concerning, for instance, applying for residence permits, family reunification and permits and practices related to work.

Grounds for a Residence Permit

A residence permit may be granted on the basis of family ties, studying, employment or humanitarian protection. Residence permits are granted by the Finnish Immigration Service. A residence permit often requires the applicant to have sufficient funds to support him or herself and his or her family in Finland. This secure means of support must be verified when applying for a permit. If you plan to work in Finland, you must prove that the work provides a sufficient income, meaning that the salary is high enough to support you. 

If a person living in Finland wants to bring a family member to Finland, the family member must apply for a residence permit to Finland. The family member applies for this residence permit from the nearest Finnish mission. A residence permit on the basis of family ties may be granted to the spouse, cohabiting partner or children under the age of 18 of a person living in Finland, or the parents of a child under the age of 18 living in Finland. Usually, the person already living in Finland must be able to support the family members moving to Finland, meaning that he or she must have a sufficient income.

The family member of an EU citizen does not need a residence permit in Finland. If the family member is also an EU citizen and will stay in Finland for more than 3 months, he or she must register his or her right of residence at the Finnish Immigration Service. If the family member is not an EU citizen, he or she must apply for a residence card for the family member of an EU citizen from the Finnish Immigration Service.

If the relative or friend of a foreigner living in Finland wants to visit Finland, he or she may need a visa, depending on the country of departure. A visa is applied for at the nearest Finnish mission, i.e. an embassy. In addition to a visa, the visitor must have a valid travel document, such as a passport. More information about visas can be found on the website of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. Finland is part of the Schengen area in Europe. This means that visitors do not need a separate visa to come to Finland, if they already have a residence permit or a valid visa to another Schengen country.

Residence Permit Types

There are different types of residence permits. The permit may be fixed-term or permanent. The first residence permit is always issued for a fixed term, usually one year. There are two types of fixed- term permits, continuous (A) and temporary (B). A continuous permit is granted on the basis of, for instance, family ties, and a temporary permit on the basis of studying. After the first year, a continuous permit may be extended for up to four years at a time, and a temporary permit for one year at a time. You must apply for an extended permit while the previous permit is still valid.

You may receive a permanent residence permit (P) when you have lived in Finland for at least four years with an A permit and the requirements for granting the permit are still met. Committing a crime in Finland may have an effect on getting a residence permit.

Applying for Finnish Citizenship

Once you have lived in Finland for 4−7 years, you may apply for Finnish citizenship. In order to get Finnish citizenship, the applicant must be able to reliably establish his or her identity. He or she must usually also be able to demonstrate satisfactory skills in Finnish or Swedish. Language skills can be demonstrated by a language proficiency certificate in Finnish or Swedish. Language skills can also be demonstrated by completing a certification in Finland, i.e. graduating from comprehensive school, general upper secondary school or vocational school or completing university studies in Finnish or Swedish.

The citizenship application must also state that the applicant is not guilty of any crimes in Finland. The application must also include a statement confirming that the applicant is able to support him or herself here, meaning that he or she receives enough money from e.g. work or subsidies paid by society and that he or she has paid taxes on all the income. The citizenship application is submitted to the Finnish Immigration Service for processing.

A Finnish citizen has various rights and obligations in Finland. A citizen may not, for instance, be denied entry to Finland, be deported or be extradited to another country against his or her will. When abroad, a Finnish citizen will receive assistance from the embassies and consulates of Finland. Only Finnish citizens may be appointed to certain public offices, such as police and judicial posts.

A Finnish citizen may also vote in all the elections organized in Finland. The obligations of a Finnish citizen include national defence. This means that every Finnish citizen is obligated to take part in defending Finland or helping with its national defence. Conscription, or the obligation to take part in military training in the army or in non-military service, only applies to men.

Since Finland is a member of the European Union, Finnish citizens are also EU citizens who have the right to move and work freely in the EU area.

Finland - Civic Orientation Textbook

Add a Title
Add a Title
Add a Title
Add a Title
Image by Alexandr Bormotin
Image by Joakim Honkasalo
Image by Tapio Haaja
Image by Joakim Honkasalo
Image by Tapio Haaja
Image by Joakim Honkasalo
Image by Tapio Haaja
Image by Wassim Chouak
Image by Tapio Haaja
Image by Sasha Matveeva
Image by Raimo Lantelankallio
Image by Vivian K
Image by K8
Image by Dorian Mongel
Image by Jonne Huotari
Image by Wassim Chouak
Image by K8
Image by Hendrik Morkel
bottom of page