Helsinki feels more connected to central Europe than to its Scandinavian neighbours. Nestled between Norway, Sweden and Russia, Finland is the only country in the region to have joined the Euro.
English isn’t widely spoken and the Finns are rather private people, often reluctant to break out of their existing social and business networks. This means you need introductions to do business here successfully. However, it’s a small place, which makes networking easy. Once you’re in, business is pretty straightforward. Corruption is virtually non-existent but in recent years the economy has taken quite a hit – it is now the size it was in 2006. Finland is also feeling the effects of less trade with Russia since sanctions were imposed last year. The numbers of Russians who visit to work and play has fallen.
The largest sector is services at 66%, then manufacturing at 31%, with the top industries being electronics, machinery, vehicles and engineering. Finland has good business fundamentals and a sophisticated tech industry, ranking second behind the US in terms of IT industry competitiveness.
It’s also relatively good value, despite the high taxes that provide for the generous welfare state. A glass of wine, for example, is £6 rather than the £12 you’d pay in Oslo or Stockholm. But Finns are more likely to be seen with a cup of coffee – they have the strongest coffee culture in Europe and knock back on average 4 or 5 cups a day.
The high taxes apply to residents and businesses – they help pay for a robust welfare system including the extremely good childcare. Not only is there generous parental leave, but the state gives every baby born a package with all the essentials in a large cardboard box – which many Finns then use as a Moses basket. It’s a good analogy of how the country works. Family is important and close knit, and once you’re in, they will look after you.