Many international students start their study abroad journeys with the goal of also building a career in the same country. This is especially true for those pursuing higher education, such as master’s degree students, who can dive into the workforce during their studies or shortly after. When we started our journey in Finland as international students, building a career here was already on our vision board. While in the initial months in Finland, the part-time jobs we had had nothing to do with our field and were simply for sustaining ourselves. Over time, we started working towards gaining relevant industry experience and building ourselves a career in Finland. Today, we’re sharing our tips and tricks to help you make that transition as smooth as possible.
1. Start laying the groundwork
There are many aspects that you need to start thinking about and acting on already during your time as an international student that will come in handy to jump to your professional career. Meeting people and building a network of individuals through career fairs, networking events, or student organisations can help you build connections with professionals in your field of interest. Building a network takes time, so the earlier you start, the better. Don’t be shy to share your professional aspirations with others, as there may always be an opportunity that your connections are aware of that you aren’t yet.
While you’re a student, it would be a good time to start preparing for job applications. For international students, we recommend you visit your institution’s Career Services to familiarise yourself with dos and don’ts of writing a resume/CV and cover letter in Finland. Feel free to ask your local friends or professors to take 5 minutes of their time to informally review your CV and ask them for feedback for improvement. While you’re a student, it is a good time to create your LinkedIn profile or brush up your existing one. Ideally, you could network with those you meet at events also on LinkedIn and start sharing your thoughts on topics you’re passionate about. Many employers are active on LinkedIn, so it’s worthwhile to take out the time to have an up-to-date profile.
2. Prepare yourself for the difference in living expenses
As an international student in Finland, it's important to prepare yourself for the difference in living expenses you may encounter when moving to a new country. Fortunately, Finland is known for providing various student discounts and benefits that can make living expenses more affordable for students on a budget.
One significant benefit for students is the affordable student lunches, which are available at many Unica restaurants and cafes for as little as 2.95€. These lunches are heavily subsidized by the government, making them an affordable option for students who want to eat out. Without student discounts, eating out for lunch can cost between 12-15€, depending on the location.
In addition to affordable food options, students are also entitled to discounts on bus cards and long-distance trains, which can be a major savings when commuting to and from school. For example, in Turku, students pay 38€ for a monthly bus card, compared to the regular price of 55€.
When it comes to housing, student accommodation is another significant benefit for international students in Finland. Rent for student housing is very reasonable, with a small studio apartment (around 18 m2) costing around 300-400€ per month in cities like Turku. And what’s even better, this price already includes utilities like water, electricity, and internet. In contrast, the private market for housing can be much more expensive, usually double or even triple the price of student housing. In our case, our rent doubled when moving from student housing to private housing, not to mention all the extra cost for utilities.
It's important to note that the significant financial difference in living costs becomes apparent when transitioning from studying to working. Therefore, it's best to inquire about how long you can retain your student rights, so you can continue utilizing student benefits for as long as possible. This will give you more time to prepare for the financial jump that may come with losing your student benefits.
3. Learn about Finnish workplace culture and language needs
You can start preparing for the Finnish workforce from day one by gaining an understanding of the country's culture. Take every opportunity to learn about the culture through peers, social gatherings, and classrooms because most cultural etiquettes also apply to workplace etiquette. For example, while still a student at university, take the time to learn about how Finns value punctuality, do not talk over each other, and respect personal space. Demonstrating that you understand these values can help open doors to potential employers.
One should also research the Finnish language requirements in their industry. While you can get by in some industries with less strict language requirements, such as in the IT sector, industries involving more human interaction, such as the service or healthcare industry, have stricter language needs. During your studies, you may want to evaluate workplace language needs by asking professors, classmates, and alumni to share their experiences. However, keep in mind that even in the same industry, workplace culture and language requirements may vary, so do your homework. Regardless of whether you need Finnish for your professional life, it's undoubtedly an asset to have if you're planning to build a life in Finland.
As the popular proverb goes, "The best time to start was yesterday. The next best time is now." This statement is accurate because it's never too early to start preparing for your professional career. And while you should make the most out of your student days, taking the extra steps mentioned above can help you secure a job you love even before graduating.
While you're a student, there are many support systems in place for international students. However, when you enter the workforce and lose your study rights, it can feel like having the safety net pulled from underneath you. Student years fly by quickly, and we found ourselves with little or no guidance on how to build a life in Finland. With more than half of our acquaintances moving to other cities in Finland and abroad, and the sense of belonging to the university community fading away, the transition was hard and lonely to navigate.
So, if you are nearing graduation and are concerned about losing your student benefits, you may want to ask your employer if they can provide a raise to help sustain you without these discounts. It's always better to be prepared and have a plan in place to avoid financial stress after graduation.
Overall, international students in Finland can take advantage of various student discounts and benefits that make living expenses more affordable. However, it's important to be aware of the significant financial jump that may come with losing these benefits and plan accordingly. This can include exploring options for extended student benefits, budgeting for higher living expenses, or negotiating a raise with your employer after graduation.