Much more useful informtion

My wonderful husband typed up a very informative step-by-step of what we did/what is required, if you are an American coming to Finland and are marrying a Finn. 🙂 Very specific. But it may help someone. So, without further ado, here is my cut and paste:

Reservations you want to make months in advance!
A) Get your marriage license (not really a reservation, but still).
B) Marriage ceremony, whether civil or church. Civil ceremonies tend to be booked solid a couple of months in advance. Church weddings can be booked solid for half a year or more. But you probably knew about this already.
E) Residency permit appointment with the police. YOU WILL NEED THIS APPOINTMENT OR OTHERWISE THE POLICE WILL REFUSE TO RECEIVE YOUR RESIDENCY APPLICATION!
___________
A) Marriage License

This is what you need to get married in Finland. You have to apply for the license at the very least two weeks or so in advance. A couple of months would be better, just in case, so you have time to prepare for any hiccups. It is a bit more complicated than for a Finn, since US doesn’t have a centralized population record that tracks the marriage status and such things of its citizenry, unlike Finland. These are the steps:

1) Make a sworn affidavit in front of a notary that you are not currently married. Having your divorce papers won’t hurt, either. This is best done at the US embassy in Helsinki, as they have experience with these things, but if you do not happen to be vacationing Helsinki prior to the wedding, it would not be worth the trouble to fly over. All of this is much easier to deal with in person, of course.

2) Get the apostille -stamp on the affidavit. This is done by sending the affidavit to the local secretary of state and costs some money (search internet for instructions of your local state government). The Embassy will do this as a matter of course, as they know what they are doing.

3) Get the apostille-stamped affidavit and a filled, signed & witnessed ‘marriage examination form’ fedexed to your SO in Finland, if you are not present in person.

4) Your SO will submit the paperwork to the local Registrar office. Be ready to argue about the validity of the apostille-stamp, unless you went through the US Embassy, or perhaps even then as the clerks might not be familiar with the marriage to foreigners. Be adamant, go up the chain of command to a public notary and have them check with the US Embassy if necessary to validate the apostille. (We had problems with the State of Louisiana apostille in Helsinki, but the Registrar notary managed to sort it out with the US Embassy.)

5) Your SO should be receiving the marriage license in mail in a week or so.

B) Marriage (civil) ceremony

1) This was a breeze. Just had to show up well in advance and wait for our appointed time. A quick, simple ceremony later we were married, and received our marriage certificate. Be sure to ask for an English copy with an apostille -stamp, as you will need that in the US if you changed your name or if your spouse wishes to apply for a US residency.

2) The name change can be a big hassle, by the way. In our case, there was a return to US between the marriage ceremony and coming to Finland to live here, so there was time to get an updated US passport. If memory serves, the Registrar office was not willing to accept the new last name for the social security number purposes (more about SSN below), since the then-current passport had the old name, even though we got married in that very building!

C) Population registry & Finnish social security number

This you do at your local registrar office. You can do it the same time as you get married, and we probably should have, and just do a name change later, hindsight 20/20. This application will put you into the official population registry in Finland and assigns you with a social security number (SSN). The SSN is extremely important, as without it, it is next to impossible to open a bank account or to prove that you are, indeed, living where you are living. Most contracts (phone, electricity) require it as well. It takes a couple of weeks for your SSN to arrive by mail. However, at least you can drop this application off without too much bother (again, have all your documents with you!). You don’t need to wait for your SSN for E & F, either, so I recommend you deal with them ASAP, too.

D) Bank accounts and online login
You will need your SSN to open a bank account (or at least so the bank teller told us). It would be best to make an appointment online/by phone, although in principle you could just walk in and hope there is a slot for them to take care of you. The bank account is very important as not only will you get a bank account for all the benefits or salaries you start to enjoy, but it will give you an online login as well. In Finland, the online bank account login has been implemented as part of an official electronic identification, so for instance, if you wish to make an appointment at the Employment Office (G), you will need to login with your online bank login. The EO login takes you to your bank login, and the bank’s system confirms that you are who you say you are based on your ability to login to the bank’s system, and you are then returned to the EO page to make your appointments and so forth. In principle, you could submit your residency permit forms (E) electronically as well, as long as you have your online bank login. But since there is at least a 2-week lag, it is better to make the police appointment months in advance and go in person (you don’t need the SSN or the bank account for making the police appointment).

E) Residency permit in Finland

This can be a bit of a nightmare. You can do this in the US, but unless you happen to live in a bit city with a Finnish embassy or a consulate, it will be a pain to do it in the US. However, assuming you did make your appointment like a good boy/girl, this will be easy to do in Finland, as a US citizen doesn’t need a visa/residency permit to get into the country. Note, you don’t need your SSN for this one, so in principle you could book it right after the marriage ceremony, especially if you are not changing your name.
1) You can make the appointment at any police station that handles these things; we ended up going to Lappeenranta, 4h away by bus, since Helsinki was booked solid for over two months.
2) In addition to the appointment, you will of course need your documentation: the residency forms & passport photo (Finnish style), passports for both you and the spouse and the marriage license… birth certificate won’t hurt either, although the divorce papers were not needed, as the official said they assumed that the marriage license folk already dealt with that. Still, I’d bring everything just in case you run into a more fastidious official.

3) Once you get all the paperwork submitted at the appointment, you will be ‘in process’ for several months, possibly even up to a year. But worry not; for once the bureaucracy’s inertia is on your side… it is assumed that while the residency application is ‘in process’, you are, de facto, a resident of Finland. Go to KELA (F).

F) KELA

You do not need an appointment to visit KELA, but be advised that the lines can be long. You can do this in any KELA office, it doesn’t need to be your ‘own’ town.

1) Again, bring all your stuff, most importantly the ‘in process’ residency paper you got from the police and your passport. You will have to fill out a form, but since you are a spouse of a Finnish citizen, it is a breeze. You’ll just have to declare that you are moving in to be with your spouse, and fill out the relevant information (you can get the form from the internet and fill it at home with your spouse, which is what you should do).

2) Once your number is up, you will submit the forms. It shouldn’t take long and then the wheels start turning. Since you are already ‘in process’ for the residency permit, KELA will give you a temporary KELA -card (which entitles you to the national health care and other social benefits, like the unemployment benefits), although it can take a month before it arrives in the mail. But that is much better than waiting for a year!

3) The next step is the Employment Office (G).
G) Employment Office (Työvoimatoimisto / TE-palvelut)
You might just as well wait to get your SSN and bank account (D) before you do this step, since it won’t help you until you get your KELA-card (above). Also, in order to use the electronic appointment reservation, you will need your online bank account login (D). You can stride in, take a number, and wait until you are called, however.
1) At the employment office, they will register you as an immigrant and a job seeker. Since you are an immigrant, they will help to set up ‘assimilation courses’: learning Finnish, learning about Finnish society and stuff like that. There will probably also be a job plan to try and help you get employed in Finland.

2) Once you have had this appointment and been registered and given a job plan and all, it is time to head back to KELA, if you have your KELA-card already.

H) KELA again
Once you have your KELA-card and you have visited the Employment Office and gotten your job plan & assimilation schedule (bring them with you, alongside your passport!), you can go ahead and go back to KELA to register as currently unemployed but actively seeking job and being assimilated. We don’t have personal experience of this yet, but it probably takes about a month for KELA to issue a decision that yes, you are entitled to the benefits, and it will pay those retroactively. If I recall correctly, you will have to make a monthly visit to KELA to reconfirm your status as an active job seeker. Or until you manage to get a job, of course.
And there you have it, kids. Marry a Finn and then do all of the above :). Will keep you posted on how things progress.

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