What does an expat look for in a city? If you are lucky enough to be able to choose your place of work and investment, what are the criteria for finding a good place? You could do much worse than start by taking a look at Helsinki, Finland, capital of the happiest country in the world for an astonishing fifth consecutive year.
In fact, when it comes to Finland, the superlatives keep rolling. Helsinki is the second safest city in the world, has the highest trust rating, is second for freedom of the press and, wait, Finland has been described as the safest city on Earth. a peaceful and stable country, which unsurprisingly earns it its unshakeable hold on the top ranking of the best business environment in the world. Fast 4G is available nationwide, and open data, public benchmarks, research, and best practices are deeply embedded. Companies like Wolt and Supercell have shown what Helsinki’s highly skilled tech workforce can do – but there’s plenty of room for more growth, and they want you to be part of it.
The Finns developed a national strategy based on design principles as early as the 19th century. That doesn’t just mean you can expect great homes, fabulous furniture and textiles. This means that Finland is decades ahead of the game when it comes to integrating good design in all sorts of ways into its economy, infrastructure and culture.
The focus is on sustainability and continuous improvement, combined with an open and collaborative philosophy, where everyone can participate and find the tools they need. Here’s an example: if you’re considering setting up a business in Finland, free business advisors are available to guide you. It’s a simple eight-step process that only takes a few weeks. For countries outside the European Union, a special “start-up permit” is available to help you expand your business internationally. If you need to raise funds, advisors can put you in touch with investors. Additionally, there are few language issues since all information is available in English (in fact, the mayor of Helsinki once seriously suggested that English become the language of the city, such is its widespread and fluent use ).
We are often told that “robust individualism” drives innovation and commerce. But the Finns have proven that being strong on social rights can also make you a business titan. For those considering starting a family, the Fair Family Leave policy, launched in August, means both parents get a whopping 160 days of leave, 63 of which can be transferred to the other partner. Unlike many countries, the last stage of pregnancy is also protected, with up to 40 “compensation days” available, meaning mothers no longer have to use their maternity leave if they have to leave the work before the baby arrives.
Working hours are regulated, limited to 8 hours a day, 40 hours a week – and public health care is free. Air quality and health ratings are in the top 5 globally, while drinking water is the best in the world.
It’s almost too good to be true, but happiness, well-being and success are tangible in the elegant streets and beautiful shores of Helsinki. In April, Helsinki receives an average of 200 hours of sunshine per month, reaching 298 at the height of summer. Compare that to saying Brussels, where 200 hours of sunshine is the best. Helsinkians certainly benefit from their exceptional climate. A Finnish mantra is “nature, space and silence”, and there are plenty of delicious places where you can seek out all three. The city abounds with parks and public spaces, from the vast expanse of Central Park – a 10km long woodland beginning in the city – to Esplanadi, a bustling green promenade that connects the Design District to the port.
And let’s not forget that the island of Helsinki and its culture facing the water is like having a huge sip of well-being every day. Helsinki is surrounded on three sides by the Gulf of Finland, also offering a wide choice of water leisure activities, such as the Löyly Sauna, an architect-designed public spa with floor-to-ceiling windows and terraces where you can cool off in the sea itself. (NB Finns love their saunas, for most it’s a ritual at least weekly. Saunas are scattered around the city and in most buildings and houses).
Löyly sits at the western end of the beautiful Eira district, where pastel-colored Jugendstil villas with turrets and decorative panels make for a fun stroll. There are also dozens of islands to visit and explore, some of them – like Lonna Island, offering a sauna and delicious meals in a relaxed and attractive setting. (By the way, the food scene in Helsinki is exceptional, with a focus on fish, game and fresh local produce). Simply put, there’s no shortage of places to wow your friends and family when they come to visit.
Want to find out for yourself? The 90 Day Finn program invites applications from those who wish to live and work for three months in the happiest country in the world: an advanced economy that is not afraid to look to the future. Applications are currently closed, but bookmark the page for the next round!