Helsinki: What to Expect as an International Student


Updated on Jan 22 • 3 minute read

Helsinki is a fascinating city, just bursting with opportunities, especially for those incoming international students who have chosen to call Helsinki “home” for a semester or two. Along with experiencing what will be sure to become one of the most rewarding times of your life, there are also numerous facets of Helsinki that you will discover, making it a unique place, amidst other well-known European destinations.

When you’re planning to pack up your life for six months or even two years, it can be extremely helpful to know a bit about what to expect once you arrive in Helsinki, including the weather, the local people and, of course, finding the ideal housing option to suit your needs.

Let’s explore a few things to help you prepare for your time in Finland’s bustling capital city!

Land of four seasons

If there could be one word to accurately describe what Helsinki is made of, it would most definitely be diversity. Filled with an array of multi-faceted cultures, innovative events and foods from seemingly every corner of the globe, things are always changing in its colorful facade. This also includes the weather.

The climate in Helsinki may be something that you’re not quite used to. One morning the sun is bright and high in the sky, threatening to melt that last patch of ice, while the next day brings yet another dowsing of snow. So if you are planning on making Helsinki your new home, be sure to pack for a variety of weather conditions and four full, remarkable seasons.

However, as the temperatures change along with different forms of precipitation, the main thing to take into account is the sun. In the summer, expect plenty of time to spend outdoors, often with up to 19 hours of sunlight.

Yet, in the winter, things begin to change. In fact, the sun hides its warm glow for about 18 hours at a time. Of course, this doesn’t deter the people of Helsinki. With a plethora of winter sports and indoor activities, you’ll soon forget that the sun has even gone down.

Of course, with Helsinki being such a student-friendly city, the student associations and local city planners are sure to plan events fit for all four seasons. For example, summer is the perfect time for traditional crayfish parties.

When fall comes around, there’s Halloween, which might be a bit different than what you’ve experienced. There is no trick-or-treating in Finland, but students do dress up in costumes.

With winter, you can expect to find dozens of Christmas-related parties and events throughout Helsinki. This could be due, in part, to the fact that the Finnish people believe that Santa Claus was actually from Finland! Students also celebrate two special university events: “little Christmas”, a few weeks prior, and the day after Christmas.

But the largest student happening comes with the arrival of spring. Called Vappu, this event includes all past and current students in Finland, who gather for picnics across the city in its parks and green spaces. Participants wear colorful clothes and the traditional white hats given to them upon graduation, in this two-day event that is packed with fun and an enormous amount of balloons.

While all four seasons present both their own challenges and their contrasting characteristics, they all add their own unique touch to what Helsinki has to offer. As an incoming international student, you will find four completely different reasons to fall in love with this ever-surprising city.

Learning about the locals

The residents of Helsinki are known for their friendliness. Whether you need directions or a few good suggestions on where to grab a decent dinner, you’ll find plenty of helpful ideas from the locals.

The younger generation that you come across will speak Finnish, Swedish and almost always English. However, keep in mind that you may find a greater language barrier with older citizens.

Even if you don’t speak the language, it is considered a great courtesy and a sign of respect to pick up a few of the most common words or phrases used in Helsinki. For example, “Moi” means “Hi”, and “Kiitos” means “Thank You”. These are excellent words to learn, using them when shopping, going to the movies or simply greeting some of the friendliest strangers you’ll ever meet as you walk down the street.

Finding the Housing That’s Right for You

When you’re moving to another country, even temporarily, thinking about relocating can often be very overwhelming. You have to start looking early for accommodations, put out many requests and search every day on Housing Anywhere’s rental platform.

Remember that if you find a shared apartment that meets your requirements, don’t wait! Rooms in popular student neighborhoods at good rates sometimes don’t last the day, so don’t hesitate to contact the landlord.

Also keep in mind that there are some requirements when moving to Finland that might be vary from other locales, so be sure to check out some practical information about moving to Finland, including information on resident permits, social security numbers and obtaining bank accounts. There are also restrictions on health insurance, so be sure that you are covered during your stay in Finland, as that it’s a requirement by law.

Above all else, be prepared. Knowing before you go can be one of the most important moves that you can make as an international student. It will leave you much more time to meet new friends, acclimate to the friendly Finnish culture and focus on studies that will impact the rest of your life. Good luck, and welcome to Helsinki!

Ready for your adventure?