On Moving to Finland (Guide)

While I have a separate post about moving to Finland, I thought it might be helpful to republish it here, on a single page, and continue to update it all in one place as I move through the process. Please feel free to comment on anything that might seem unclear, or any questions you might have about the process.

While my situation is rather specific (an American citizen marrying a Finnish citizen and moving to Finland to live), many of the guidelines below can be used in other cases, as well. If nothing else, you can get a sense of what all might be needed along the way.

These are 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.
F) Residency permit appointment with the police. YOU WILL NEED THIS APPOINTMENT OR OTHERWISE THE POLICE WILL REFUSE TO RECEIVE YOUR RESIDENCY APPLICATION! Advice: Make sure to apply for your residency permit as soon as you can. If you can fit in doing this the day you get married, do so. You end up in “benefits limbo” until that arrives, and the time frame I was quoted at the police station was ‘6-9 MONTHS‘ to process it. This was even though my case was pretty clear-cut, in that I was married to a Finnish citizen. So get on that as soon as you can. I’ll update with how long mine takes, once I receive it. For reference, I applied for my the 18th of September, 2014.
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:

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

B) Marriage (civil) ceremony
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.

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) ID Card

While not necessarily a needed item for native citizens of Finland, immigrants will want to apply for the ID card, which you will need in order to get your electronic log-in for the bank. To do this, you apply for the ID card at the police station (make an appointment!), and it takes about two weeks to arrive. You’ll need to bring your other ID with you (passport, etc) as well as another passport-style photo. This procedure was relatively painless. Once you get the ID card, which you have to return to the Police station to pick up, you can use that from now on, rather than carrying your passport around with you.

Your ID card will have a chip embedded in it. This is used to access your information. In addition, about a week after you pick up your ID card, you’ll get your PIN codes. If you have a chip card reader attached to your computer, you can use these in conjunction with it to access different services and make appointments. However, if you have a bank account, and the electronic log in codes for it, that should be sufficient for you to access the services, as well (and likely preferable). All monetary benefits are paid by direct deposit and require you to have a bank account.

F) 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 big 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.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Once you get all the paperwork submitted at the appointment, you will be ‘in process’ for several months, possibly even up to a year. Go to KELA (G).

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.

  • Again, bring all your stuff, most importantly the residency permit you got from the police and your passport, just to be on the safe side. You will have to fill out a form, but if 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).
  • Once your number is up, you will submit the forms. It shouldn’t take long and then the wheels start turning. You won’t get your KELA card until you have your residency permit in hand. After you have applied for the ID card, you might as well enjoy the next several weeks as nothing more can happen without it.
  • Once you’ve received the residence permit, next step is the Employment Office (H).
H) Employment Office (Työvoimatoimisto / TE-palvelut)
You might just as well wait to get your SSN (C), bank account (D) and residency permit (F) before you do this step, since you will need them for all of the services. 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.
  • At the employment office, they will register you as an immigrant and a job seeker, also known as one of their ‘customers’. In spite of what KELA might tell you, the TE office cannot take you until you have your residency card in hand. Since you are an immigrant, they will help to set up ‘integration 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.
  • 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.
I) KELA again
Once you have your KELA-card and you have visited the Employment Office and gotten your job plan & integration 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 a job and being integrated. I 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. Welcome to Finland 🙂.
Note: October 12, 2014 – I will continue to update this page as I move through the system or find better ways to describe the steps.
Update: October 27, 2014: I got a letter from the Polisii regarding my residency permit; they want to see our old passports to verify the trips that we listed on the application, plus I need to submit something with my name and address on it (like a lease, which I am not listed on). I hope my bank papers and the Extraction from the Census will suffice.  We’re headed there tomorrow.
Update: November 3, 2014: Got the call that my residency card was ready for pick-up! Went by the poliisi station and got it this afternoon. I’m official! Now off to apply for benefits tomorrow. Not bad, just about 56 days! Much better than the 6-9 months we were quoted.
Update: November 14, 2014: Received my Kela card in the mail today. Only about a week after I went and applied to Kela. Not bad when they told me to expect about a month or more. I have my ‘interview’ appointment (where I will do my integration plan) at the TE office for December 15, 2014, and then I should be all set and ready to go.

12 thoughts on “On Moving to Finland (Guide)

    • Hi Karina,
      My husband is a German citizen and I am a US citizen. We currently reside in Germany, but are contemplating a move to Finland next year. I was just curious as to how long it took for approval for you….being that you are an EU citizen. 🙂 Did it take longer than 3 months?


  1. Also, did you need a visa? Really any helpful information would be amazing, I still feel so confused and like I don’t know enough. This was really helpful though, thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ll start off with congratulations! 🙂

      Now for the answers. First off, I didn’t need a visa. Americans can visit Finland without a visa for up to three months, then you have to go home or apply for a visa to extend your stay. I got married in June, returned home after the honeymoon, packed and sold everything, then flew back. When I returned, my Finnish husband and I went to the police station and I applied for residency based on family ties. While I was warned that the process could take several months, it actually happened in less than two months, with the simplicity of the approval.

      The name change was very easy. When you get married, assuming it will be in Finland, ask the magistrate’s office for a copy of your marriage certificate in English. You will need to send the original in, along with your passport, to the US gov’t in order to get a new one. The process was painless and I had my new passport with my new name in about six weeks. They also return the original marriage certificate at the same time, although in a different envelope. Then I took the marriage certificate and the new passport to the local Social Security office to get my name changed in Social Security. Again, relatively painless.

      Let me know how it goes, and hopefully this helps! Feel free to ask me any other questions as they come up!


  2. Hi!
    I’m hoping to get married either at the end of this year or early January to a Finn. I was wondering if there was a way to get the affavdit over here in the States without having to wait until going to Helsinki? Thanks!


  3. Hi Michele!
    I have a quick question. I am also too marrying a Finn man in either December/January and I am currently residing in Kentucky. My concern is more with the affidavit. What type of format did you use to take to the notary and since I am not getting married in Helsinki rather in Hyvinkaa what can I expect or what are the necessary steps for the affidavit to be valid here and in Finland? Thanks so much!! 🙂


  4. The affidavit was simply a hand-typed page that I took to a notary in the US. It simply said that I swore that I had not married since my divorce, and therefore was still ‘single’ and eligible to get married. The notary is simply affirming that I am the person signing it (not the truth of the statement). The catch, so to speak, was that since I had done this in the US (which is fine), I had to send the notarized statement off to get an apostile seal, which simply affirms that the notary that confirmed my signature was actually a notary legal to perform the act. It’s a case of red tape bureaucracy, but if you want to get married, that’s what you have to do. In my case, mine went to the Louisiana State Department. My guess is that you can call up your state’s clerk and find out who issues apostile seals.

    As for getting married in Hyvinkaa, my guess is that the steps are the same. Since everything tends to go through Helsinki, no matter where the steps are performed, you’d need the same documents.

    Congratulations to both of you, and enjoy Finland! It’s wonderful!


  5. Hi Michelle. Am having trouble finding an answer to this and thought you might be able to help. I have moved to Finland permanently and married a Finnish Citizen, we also have 2 children together. I have applied for the first residence permit and are waiting in the ‘processing stage’. My question is are you able to get a Kela card whilst a decision on the permit is pending or do you have to wait until the permit is granted. Thanks, Peter.


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