Survival Guide

The following is a guide to the things you will need to do before and after you arrive in Helsinki. It was written by members of Tsemppi, the organization for internationally-minded students and researchers. We hope this gives you useful information about living and studying in Helsinki, and we look forward to seeing you at our events offered all year round.


          Please note that you should also check the university’s studying pages as they provide you with official and essential information about other matters when starting your studies at the University of Helsinki. There are also several useful manuals, which you may have received during Orientation Week. You can also find some useful resources on the University of Helsinki Orientation website.




1. Find TSEMPPI on Facebook and visit our blog


Moving to another country and starting your studies at a new university is a great adventure, but you might face some challenges on the way. Remember, you’re not alone! There have been others who have gone through the same process as you; they can provide support and help you get settled in!


We at Tsemppi help new international students adjust to life in Finland and involved at the university as quickly and smoothly as possible. There are also other people and institutions that provide assistance, from your study coordinator, to the student union and other student organizations. While you might get to know them in time, we’re here to help with any problems you might have from the beginning! You can get the latest updates about what’s going on with Tsemppi and Tsemppi PhD through our Facebook groups:




Tsemppi PhD:



The ‘Tsemppi’ group is intended for all, and the ‘Tsemppi PhD’ group concentrates more on doctoral students and postdoc researchers. You can also find information about us on our official blog:  




2. Arrange housing


The Foundation for Student Housing in the Helsinki Region (HOAS) owns quite a bit of real estate in the Helsinki area. They offer affordable housing to students, including single/shared/family apartments and studio flats.


Note: You should do this as early as possible! It may take some time for HOAS to find accommodations for you, and they work on a first come first serve basis. For more information about their apartments and the application process, go to the HOAS website:


While HOAS is by far your best bet, it is also possible to find apartments on the private market. You can either sublet from an individual apartment owner, or rent from a rental agency. Contract length and terms depend on particular agreements. You’ll find both open-ended month-to-month and longer term one or two year contracts. But beware! It can be very difficult to find housing on the private market. Most apartments in Finland are owner-occupied and the Helsinki market is extremely competitive!


Another very convenient option is to look for a room in a shared apartment. If you are looking for a room to rent or a flatmate to share the costs of a bigger flat join the Facebook group for student apartments:


Remember that if you are offered a place to rent, DON’T TURN IT DOWN thinking that you will probably find something better; in all likelihood, you will not find another place right away and having a roof is essential in a country where temperatures get well below zero in the winter.




3. Mandatory health insurance


Health insurance is now mandatory for international students, for more information about exactly what type of insurance is required for you, check the following link:




4. Get your student ID card


With the official student card you’ll be able to prove your student status whenever it is needed. For example, you’ll need to show it to get student discounts in numerous shops and businesses in Finland. It also serves as your library card and provides a convenient payment system for the UniCafe student cafeterias. You’ll be using it a lot, so be sure to order one!


You can order your card from the student service website:


Keep in mind that there are thousands of students ordering the card once the semester has started and make sure to order it as soon as you have paid the student union’s membership fee. Being a member of the student union is not mandatory if you are an exchange student or PhD student, but it brings many benefits, not the least health care in the student union’s health services (for all except PhD students, sorry!), which is definitely a big plus.


You’ll need to have paid the student union’s membership fee, and submit a digital photograph. The card costs about 15 euros and you’ll need internet banking or Visa/MasterCard to pay for it.


The cards will be ready in late-September/early-October. Once your card is ready (they will send you an email to let you know), you can pick it up from the Student Union’s central office in the New Student House (Finnish: Uusi ylioppilastalo or just Uusi), Mannerheimintie 5A, 2nd floor. More information about the card and how to use it can be found at:




5. Pack warm clothes


The average temperature in Helsinki in September is between 8 and 15 degrees Celsius – and it only gets colder from there! But no worries, there are plenty of stores where you can buy warm clothes, second-hand and new. And of course, it is not always cold! Summer in Helsinki might be short, but it is warm and beautiful. More information about the weather in Helsinki can be found on the English pages of the Finnish Meteorological Institute:







1. Get a Finnish identification number


Foreigners planning on staying in Finland for more than one year need to register with the Local Register Office (Maistraatti) (see contact informations on page 59). Aside from being a legal requirement, registering will give you a Finnish ID number (Finnish: Henkilötunnus). You will need this number for most of the paperwork you will have to fill out once in Finland, so be sure to do this as soon as possible after arriving. You can find your local office on the Maistraatti website:



For non-EU/EEA citizens:


– Bring your passport (with your valid visa if you are from outside the European Union) and your new address in Finland (so this should be done after you have arranged housing). If you’re coming with your family bring your marriage certificate and the birth certificates of your children.


– Go to your respective Maistraatti (population registration office) (see contact informations on page 59). Fill out, sign and hand in the form labelled “The Registration Information of a Foreigner” (Finnish: Ulkomaalaisen Rekisteröinti-ilmoitus). People there speak English, so do not hesitate to ask them in case some question arises.


– Fill out, sign, and hand in the form labelled “Notification of Moving/of Change of Address” (Finnish: Muuttoilmoitus).


– Remember the ID number they give you. You will need this number frequently during your stay in Finland.



Citizens of Nordic countries:


Citizens of Nordic countries do not need a visa or a residence permit to live in Finland, but you must register your stay in local registration office Maistraatti if you are stay for longer than six months. You should notify the office as soon as possible in order to receive a Finnish ID number.



For European Union nationals:


– Go to the Immigration Police Offices (Pasilanraitio 11, Länsi-Pasila, Police Building 2) and register your right of residence. They have a queue dedicated exclusively for EU citizens from Monday till Friday between 12:40 and 3:15 pm. You have three months to do this, but as you need to be registered in order to get a lot of other stuff done (getting the student discount for public transport most importantly), do it as early as possible! Take a valid ID card, your enrolment or acceptance letter from the university and money to pay the registration fee with you.


– After having done that (do not forget to take proof that you registered your right of residence with you), follow the steps above (i.e., Maistraatti visit).




2. Get a Helsinki travel card


To avoid unnecessarily high transportation costs, it’s important to get a Helsinki travel card as soon as possible. There is a reduced rate for Helsinki residents, as well as for students (though the latter doesn’t apply to doctoral students).


 You will receive a special form with a university stamp at the Welcoming Fair. Take this to the Helsinki Region Transport (HSL, Helsingin Seudun Liikenne) service point under the main railway station. Bring your passport, and if you already have it, proof of your registration in the population system and your Finnish ID number. In order to get the travel card, you need to live in Helsinki, Espoo, Vantaa, Kirkkonummi, Sipoo or Kerava. When you go to get your card you’ll need to have a valid address in one of these cities. The card costs 5 euros.


If you plan to travel regularly outside of Helsinki city limits, and want to pay with time, you should ask for regional (seutu) time when loading your card. It’s more expensive, but you will need this option if you live in Espoo or Vantaa. If you are using money instead of time, press number 2 to buy a single ticket for the whole region. As a rule of thumb, if you take public transit to school each day then paying by time is a much better deal, but if you mostly walk to the university then it may make more sense to load money onto your card and only pay per use. For more transportation related information check out the Helsinki Region Transport ( and the public transit Journey Planner (




3. Get a bank account


Once you have your Finnish ID number, you should apply for a bank account as soon as possible, as electronic payments are used heavily (read: almost solely) in Finland. You will find banks throughout downtown, the largest being Nordea (, Danske Bank ( and Osuuspankki (


Most often when you open a basic checking account, the bank will provide you with a  Visa-Electron card – a debit card you can use to access your account at businesses in Finland and a few other European countries.




4. Get a mobile phone


In Finland your phone and your operator contract are separate, so you buy your own phone and are generally free to move between operators at will. If you are not bringing a mobile phone with you, you’ll find many places to buy phones throughout downtown, for example in the shopping complex around the Old Student House (Finnish: Vanha Ylioppilastalo). Be sure to also ask about used phones. You should browse the different operators for the best contract deals. If you don’t already have a phone, many operators offer package deals that include a phone. You can check the websites of the main mobile phone operators in Finland:


– Telia-Sonera:


– DNA-Finland:


– Saunalahti:


– Elisa:


Another option is to buy a prepaid SIM card. R-Kioski shops sell a variety of prepaid cards; it’s worth taking a bit of time and talking to the shop-keeper about the different cards (DNA, Elisa, etc), since they charge different rates per minute.




5. Stock your fridge


Most grocery stores in Finland belong to one of two large retailing cooperations. The S-group operates a number of super markets in and around Helsinki: Alepa (a small store with long opening hours), S-markets (slightly larger), and Prisma (the S-group’s hypermarket). The other main retailing group is the K-group. They operate K-markets of all sizes – from one to four Ks, indicating the size of the store. A quadruple-K market is also known as a CityMarket. The K-group also operates the more general department store Anttila.


A good option for cheap toiletries and household supplies is Tarjoustalo (“Sale House”), which is located in the Itäkeskus Shopping Centre and in the Kaisaniemi metro station. If you would like to buy rare foods and delicacies, visit Stockmann Herkku under Stockmann, which is rather pricy but a high quality place. The area around Sörnäinen (two metro stops east from Kaisaniemi) has a good selection of shops for ethnic groceries. For lower prices and slightly different selection of food, Lidl is also a good option, located for example in Kamppi and Sörnäinen.




6. Health care


The Finnish Student Health Service (FSHS, or YTHS in Finnish) covers all undergraduate and graduate students, including exchange students (provided they are members of the student union), who have a valid student card, which entitles you to care from the Finnish Student Health Service. Unfortunately, doctoral students are not covered. Most basic health requirements, including dental care, are offered. You will have to pay a small deductible for many of the services. For more information about health care services, locations, and coverage, check the FSHS website:


Emergency treatment and hospital care are not covered, and we recommend that you obtain additional coverage for these. Students from EU/EEA countries and Switzerland should bring a European Health Card or an E106 form, proving that they are covered by the health care system of their own country. They will then be entitled to the same health care benefits as Finnish citizens. Students from outside the EU/EAA need to have private health insurance.




7. Apply for a KELA card


If studying is not the only reason you’ve come to Finland (for example, if you have a family, a job contract of more than four months, or you have Finnish citizenship), you should apply for a KELA card, which entitles you to many different benefits, from community health care to (in some cases) monthly study allowances. For eligibility requirements and benefit details, check their website:




8. Sign up for Finnish classes


Some faculties might require you to complete a certain number of credits of Finnish language studies. Even if they don’t, Finnish is crucial if you eventually decide to seek work in Finland. We’re not kidding — without Finnish language skills, finding even a part-time job is can be a major challenge! Registration usually takes place during the first two weeks of September and the courses are divided between different types of students (exchange, International Master’s  students, etc.). Check the web pages of the faculty for more information:


Please note that, generally, you have to go to the Department of Finnish (5th floor of the Main Building) and register for Finnish classes by adding your name to the list of the different Finnish classes that are offered. Even though it might be possible to join a Finnish class even without having registered beforehand, it is strongly recommended to do so as classes fill up quickly and those having registered are given priority over those simply showing up to first class.


If you miss the registration period, or if all the classes are full, it should still be possible to make some arrangements. Degree students are usually given priority when registering for Finnish classes required for their degree. A good idea is just to go to the class anyway and try your luck, since there are always a number of people who don’t show up or drop out.




9. Get the most out of the orientation week


Attend the mandatory Orientation Course for new international students (at the end of August or the beginning of September – your welcome pack will have more detailed info about the time and place). Although the course is intended for undergraduate/ graduate students, doctoral students new to Finland may also find it worthwhile. The course provides you with valuable information about all the official procedures at the University, and where to go if you need help finding more information. Not only that, but you get credits for attending, which in some of the Master degrees is required for the degree.


You should also participate in a tutor group. You will be placed in a group according to your faculty, and your tutor will show you around and explain how things really work! It’s a great opportunity to get to know both new and old students from your faculty/department. While you could look up some of the information you’ll get, there’s a lot that you can only get from other students!




10. Come to Tsemppi’s first events of the year


The program of Tsemppi’s first meeting of the year will be packed with especially useful information for new international students. Be sure to join us, and get to know other internationally-minded students and researchers! The Tsemppi Welcome party is also worth checking out, it’s a good place to meet both the new international students and the older members of Tsemppi. More information about the Tsemppi program will be posted in late summer. For location and program details please check the Tsemppi blog or our Facebook page




11. Contact your Faculty /Department’s Student Organisation


You should ask your tutor or advisor about getting in touch with your department’s student organization. Most organizations have a website and mailing list where they post information about what’s going in the department, for example, special classes, conferences, department events/parties, and traineeships. At the moment a lot of the information is only in Finnish, but some have posted some in English too and most organizations have someone responsible for international students.


They can also help you get a pair of overalls (Finnish: haalari), the ‘official’ party uniform of all Finnish students. Your department’s organization is also a great place to start meeting fellow Finnish students! For a list of faculty and department organizations, and their websites, check the HYY website: And if you find organizations from your department or which match your interests, remember to sign up for their mailing list. This way you will automatically receive information about their events!


12. Get your IT-account and email address


Students at the University of Helsinki are provided with an IT account and email address. You should go to User Account Office at the Aleksandria Learning Centre (or Welcome Fair on the 29th-30th of August), or a computer lab close to your department, and sign up for your account. You will be given a user name and password that you can use to access university computers and your email account. Information about the Aleksandria Learning Centre, its location and opening hours, can be found at:






13. Get your night-access key


A number of the University’s computer labs, including Aleksandria in the city centre, are available for use after-hours. In order to get access to these facilities, you need a magnetic access key. For more information on getting a key:




14. Get a gym subscription


The University of The University of Helsinki provides excellent sports facilities and classes to its students for very reasonable prices. Access to the University’s gyms and various activities/classes (e.g., aerobics, salsa dancing, squash, yoga) for an entire year costs 92 Euros.  For this price you get an unlimited access to the gyms and classes. You can also pay for shorter time periods.


The University Sports Service (Unisport) has facilities in all four of the University’s campuses: the City Centre, Kumpula, Viikki and Meilahti. The opening hours for the different facilities are different on each campus. Opening hours and class schedules can be found on the English pages of the University Sports Services website:


In order to participate in the classes and use the facilities, go to one of the sport centres in any of the campuses and sign up. Once you’ve paid, they will give you a sticker to put on your student card, or, if you don’t have it yet, a separate card. There’s a computer close to entrance of the sport centre. Before going to gym, you will have to scan your card at the computer and select what activity you’ll be participating in. For the individual and group sport classes you can register in advance. Using the same user name and password that you use for your email account, you can register for sports classes online on their website. You can also register at any of the sport centres, at the counter. Note, if you don’t participate in the class you registered for you will be charged a fee, so remember to cancel in advance if you can’t make it to the class!








1. Find out what’s going on in Finland and the world


        Once you’ve taken care of all the very important things mentioned above, you may want to look for some English language news and entertainment. The following is a short list of English language media in Finland:


        YLE News in English:


        Helsinki Times:


        SixDegrees English Language




        Latest Finnish new in English




2. Get involved with student organizations


Besides the faculty and department organizations mentioned above, the Student Union (Helsingin Yliopiston Ylioppilaskunta, aka HYY) has dozens of organizations for students with common interests, including a number of internationally-oriented groups. The following is a list of some of the Student Union’s international organizations:


– Tsemppi:






– ISHA – International Students of History Association:


– CISSI – Committee of International Social Scientists:


– University of Helsinki Debating Society:


– HYKY – Helsinki’s Youth and Student UN Society:


– CSSAUH – Chinese Students and Scholars Association of Espoo:


A full list of the Student Union’s


organisations can be found at:




3. Renew your residence permit


If you’re from outside the EU, you’ll need to renew your residence permit for each year of your studies. Foreign (non-EU/EAA) students staying more than 3 months need to renew their visa, which is usually only valid for one year at a time. Processing the renewal application may take 4-6 months, so the application should be filed well before the old visa expires. Your passport will remain with you while the application is processed. To renew your visa, you’ll need:


– A valid passport.


– Proof of 6000 euro in your bank account or a certificate from your sponsoring organisation demonstrating financial support for the next year.


– A registration certificate (Finnish: opiskelutodistus), which you can get from Student Services in the main building.


– A completed application form for a residence permit for studies (OLE_OPI).


– Proof of progress in studies – e.g., transcript or letter from supervisor.


– Applications can be made at the Immigration Police Offices (Pasilanraitio 11, Länsi-Pasila, Building 2). There is a queue for EU citizens on during the weekdays from 12:40 to 3:15 pm. Non-EU citizens must make an appointment.




– Several months after applying, call the police to check on the status of your visa (they will not call you). If it’s ready, you can go and pick it up.




We are looking forward to meeting you!