Apartment Hunting in Finland as a Foreigner


Finnish Apartment Hunting: Hoping for a Miracle

Today marks one year since I moved into my apartment, so I thought I would share with you the challenge that it is to find an apartment in Helsinki as a foreigner and hopefully give some advice if you're planning to move here. Like any major city, Helsinki is expensive, though it is less expensive than Paris. And because it is a major city, space is limited; there are just too many people and too few apartments. So convincing the landlords that you are a viable candidate is a challenge as there are at least twenty other people doing the same thing. But nevertheless, with a lot of persistence, something will come your way, and it is a great relief.


My Experience

When I moved to Finland I had no job and no contacts in the country. That means, whenever I applied to an apartment, I had no one to sign for me as a guarantee, no employment that promises a monthly income. I was looking for a job, but that wasn't enough for the majority of apartments. And I didn't speak a word of Finnish. I began to get discouraged.

Nevertheless I persevered. Every day I went on at least ten different apartment showings, begging the agency to put in a good word for me. Since Finland primarily uses the agency called Vuokraovi, apartment owners hire professionals to show the apartment and process the paperwork, meaning that you never have any contact with them. I got to know the regular realtors, and they started giving me tips, saying this one doesn't have many applications, or go here and try this one. It was nice knowing that they wanted me to succeed. I had probably seen almost 100 apartments in Helsinki. It became a full time job.

But then I figured out to stop going to showings and contact apartments that were not offering showings. This meant that I could meet directly with the owner and I had a better chance of pleading my case. I explained that I was an economics teacher, that I knew how to budget, and that I had saved money for this. Once I started doing this, everything changed for me. I got offered four different apartments within five days of each other.

The first apartment was far away but near a train station, but the problem was that it was absolutely destroyed, it reeked of smoke. I hesitated to take it since it was my first offer; it had been a week and a half of me looking and I was beginning to get discouraged. But I chose to wait and two days later I was offered a huge studio apartment, but it was far away and only accessible by bus. I didn't want to be trapped, so I tentatively accepted until I could find something better. The next day I got offered a huge apartment, slightly over budget, and in a wonderful neighborhood. The only problem was that it was over a restaurant/bar. Before I was discouraged that I wouldn't find anything, now I was discouraged that I wouldn't find anything affordable or decent.

So I decided to go to my favorite church, the Rock Church, and I decided to pray that I would get a good apartment. I wished that I would find one in my favorite neighborhood, but I kept that out of my prayer as something safe and affordable was my biggest concern. All of a sudden, my cell phone interrupted my prayers, so I quickly shuffled out of the church, answered the phone, and tried my best not to cry. I got an affordable apartment in my favorite neighborhood!

The only problem was that the apartment would not be available for two weeks. But I figured that it wouldn't be a problem since I could fly to France and stay with family for two weeks while waiting. And it worked out great. So great that I decided to stay in this apartment for a second year. It is a wonderful studio with brand new equipment in a fantastic area.


Tips and Advice

Try to contact private owners. While the agency Vuokraovi is helpful because there are multiple apartment showings each day, it can be impersonal for foreigners who are trying to plead their case. With private owners, you will notice that no showing time is displayed on the website, so it is up to you to email them to plead your case but also request a viewing. Many speak English so it is not a problem.

Be realistic. Helsinki, while a small capital city, is still a big city. So finding an apartment on the waterfront in the best neighborhoods probably won't happen right from the start. Many Finns get denied those apartments too just because there are in high demand. So be willing to commute. Luckily the train system can get you to the city center in less than twenty minutes. So an apartment a bit further away is not the worst.

Give as much information as possible. At every apartment showing you are expected to complete some paperwork that states your economic situation. All it does is ask if you are employed or a student. So sadly this is not enough information for us to plead our case. I began adding information just to better my chances.

Take off your shoes. In Finland it is common custom to take off your shoes when entering an apartment. So for the sake of putting your best foot forward, take off your shoes during apartment showings.

Get to know the realtor or owner. During the showing, most people are looking around the apartment, as you should be too. But stick around once you've seen it and ask questions. You can explain why you're moving here, ask for advice, but keep it relating to apartments while trying to shine a bit. Eventually you begin to get them chatting and it can get more personal. This was helpful in me finding apartments since they remembered me on a personal level, I was not just an application number.


But my biggest advice is don't get discouraged. It may be challenging, but keep at it and something will come your way. What is so wonderful is that Helsinki is a great and safe city, which means that any area is a great area to live in.


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