Guide to Finland

Guide for Syrian newcomers to Finland

Welcome to Finland!

This guide has been prepared by the Suomi–Syria Friendship Society to help you understand and succeed in your new country. It contains information about the local culture and suggestions on how to access services which you might need.

The Suomi–Syria Friendship Society organizes different cultural activities, such as exhibitions, concerts, networking events, trips and parties, and is in constant contact with the various public administrations in Finland. The Society cooperates with a number of different nationalities, non-governmental organizations, and offers advisory service in Arabic three days a week (Tuesday–Thursday) at our office in Kalasatama from 10 to 14 or by appointment.

The Finnish–Syria Friendship Society aims to provide necessary information to immigrants about Finnish society, customs and culture, as well as the rights of immigrants while acting as a link between Finns, immigrants and authorities. The ultimate aim of this work is to assist new immigrants to assimilate themselves into Finnish culture without forgetting their roots. Our homepage is:
You can also find us on facebook.

If you need advice or information as you make your adjustment to life in Finland, feel free to contact our director, Imad Alkathib. Mr. Alkathib has lived in Finland since 1998, and will be happy to provide you with assistance.

Our contact information

Contact person: Imad Alkathib
Address: Moniheli, Hermanninrantatie 12B  (4th floor), Helsinki
Tel: +35840 4125900

Your Rights

During the asylum application process, asylum seekers and refugees are accommodated in a Reception Center. The accommodation is free during the entire process. When you receive a residence permit, you should contact the Reception Center for instructions on the various practical arrangements. They will also help you to fill in an application for your own apartment. Finding an apartment may take a while. Private apartments near city centers are usually expensive. Cities provide less expensive rental housing, but there is a limited number of apartments. In addition to the rent, there are other costs associated with housing. You usually do not have to pay for services such as electricity and water because Social Security is responsible, in a limited way, to provide you with these services.

Regarding internet service, you should pay it by yourself when you subscribe in your own house. Internet service is available in many houses in Helsinki, but in some cases you should subscribe via Finnish communication companies such as:

A person who has been granted refugee status can apply for a travel document for a refugee. This travel document is given instead of a passport and can be used as an identity card.

Asylum seekers are entitled to a living allowance, which is intended to cover all living expenses, including food and clothing. Asylum seekers are entitled to work without permit three months after they have left an asylum application. Salary from the work affects the living allowance of the asylum seeker. Children of asylum seekers are entitled to attend Finnish comprehensive school (7–16 years of age.)
The Refugee Advice Centre provides legal aid and advice to asylum seekers, refugees and other foreigners in Finland. Lawyers of the Refugee Advice Centre give legal aid to asylum seekers in different stages of the asylum procedure. The Refugee Advice Centre also works to promote the legal rights of asylum seekers, refugees and other foreigners.

There are three Refugee Advice Centers in Finland:

Helsinki office

Kaisaniemenkatu 4 A, 6.krs
00100 Helsinki
tel +358 (0)75 7575 100 (lnf + 5.57 cents/min, mcf + 13.64 cents/min)
e-mail: pan(at)
Opening hours during weekdays from 9 am to 4 pm.

Lappeenranta office

Läykäntie 62
54190 Konnunsuo
PL 104
53101 Lappeenranta
tel +358 (0)75 7575 105
Opening hours during weekdays 9–12 am and 13–16 pm.

Oulu office

Kirkkokatu 9 A 16
90100 Oulu
tel +358 (0)75 7575 105
fax +358 (0)8 5578 030
Opening hours during weekdays 9–12 am and 13–16 pm.

Integrating into Finnish Society

Employment and Economic Development Offices (Työ- ja elinkeinotoimisto) and municipalities have immigrant advisors who can help you to integrate into Finnish society. These advisors can provide information on the following, for example:

  • integration and related services
  • working life
  • education and studying.

When you first approach an Employment and Economic Development office, they will make an initial assessment. The purpose of the initial assessment is to assess the services you need to support your integration. The initial assessment collects information on your education, work experience and language skills, for example. The initial assessment is conducted at an Employment and Economic Development Office (työ- ja elinkeinotoimisto) or a Social Office (sosiaalitoimisto). After your initial assessment, they will help you make an integration plan, which is a plan detailing measures that will aid your integration. The integration plan can include Finnish language studies, other education or practical training, for example. You can prepare the plan together with a job counsellor at an Employment Office or with a social worker at a Social Office.
An information guide in English for refugees to Finland can be found on this page:

The information is available in Arabic at this address:

Finnish Language Courses

One of the most important ways to integrate yourself into Finnish society is to learn the language. The sooner you are able to speak Finnish, the more likely you are to find employment and to understand the culture around you.

For many refugees, the first opportunity to begin learning the language is in the reception center. All reception centers for refugees offer language tuition in either Finnish or Swedish.

There are also Finnish language courses offered at Finnish adult education centers (kansalaisopistot), which are located throughout the country. For a complete list of these centers, go to this page:

The Finnish “Information Bank” (Infopankki) has a list of places where you can study the Finnish language. For the Helsinki region, the list of possibilities can be found at this address:

Health Care

Basic healthcare for asylum seekers and refugees is performed by the Reception Centers. Asylum seekers also have access to municipal, and in some cases also private, healthcare if they require urgent medical treatment or essential dental treatment. These services are free.
In case of emergencies, the telephone number is 112. Call the emergency number only in genuine emergency situations, when someone’s life, health, property or the environment is in danger. In an emergency situation, you will be treated even if you do not have a municipality of residence in Finland. The medical costs can be collected from you afterwards.

If you are in Finland without a residence permit, you can get medical assistance and advice from the Global Clinic. Global Clinic operates in the following cities: Helsinki, Turku, Oulu, Joensuu.

You can call or send an email to the Clinic. A nurse or a doctor will answer the call. The services of the Global Clinic are free of charge. The Global Clinic will not report its customers to the police or other authorities. The location and opening hours of the clinic are not listed publicly. To contact the Global Clinic:

Tel: +35844 9774547

Tel: +35846 625 1412


Tel: +35846 5900 186

Cultural Differences

In many ways Finnish culture is very different from Syrian culture. Many of these differences have to do with male–female relationships. Women in Finland expect to be treated as equals, and it is expected that men should not stare at or touch women in public. Likewise, men should not make unsolicited advances to women whom they do not know. The style of dress is very different from that of the Middle East, and many arrivals are surprised at how revealing women’s clothing is during the warm months. This is considered acceptable in Finland and does not indicate that a woman is of low morals.
Another cultural difference is that of smoking in public. Smoking is not permitted in public buildings in Finland or on public transport. Many people also do not appreciate people smoking in their homes.
Finns are by nature a very reserved people. They do not usually initiate social interaction with strangers, and might not seem to be friendly because of their shyness. They generally do not speak loudly in private or in public, and it is considered rude to talk loudly on phones while on public transportation.

Public Transportation

Public transportation is very good in Finland. You can buy a ticket each time you ride, or you can buy a monthly card in the area where you are living in permanently, which is a cheaper and more convenient way to use public transportation. Once you have the card, there are two options on how to travel with it:

You can either travel with a season ticket loaded on your card or pay your fare with value, i.e. money loaded on it. Loading a season ticket is recommended if you use public transport regularly, for example for commuting.

Loading value is a good option for occasional users of public transport. Value tickets bought with a Travel Card are cheaper than single tickets bought from the driver or conductor.
If you are traveling with a child aged 0–6 years in a pram, pushchair or wheelchair, you are entitled to free travel on HSL’s public transport services. The child does not have to be in the pram or pushchair during the journey.

On low-floor trams, the space for prams is located by the two front doors, on other trams the space is in the middle. On buses, you should board through the middle doors.

If a passenger does not have a valid ticket when an inspector checks tickets, there is a fine of €80 euros.

When you want to travel somewhere, but are unsure of how to get there, you can find a journey planner on line in English which explains the best route and which transport to use. The address is:


Finnish food is quite different from Arabic food, so you might want to shop for different types of Arabic food. You can find all the Arabic materials which you need in the Arabic shops which are located in the Itäkeskus area. There you can find butchers for (Halal) meat as well as many other items you might need. The Helsinki Metro goes directly to Itäkeskus as does bus number 58.

Finns are fond of buying & selling good-quality secondhand goods such as clothing, kitchen ware and furniture. There are plenty of secondhand shops and flea markets in every town where you can find for example affordable winter clothing. The quality is usually good, but can vary. The city of Helsinki has listed secondhand shops on their site here.

Useful Website

A very useful web site which is dedicated to helping refugees who arrive in Finland is: There you will find lots of helpful information. If you do not have access to a computer, you can go to a Finnish library and use the computers there for free.

A century of Finland -video

In this link you can find a video that introduces the century of Finland and the building of a welfare state though the experiences of a Finnish family. The educational video can be watched in English, Arabic, simple Finnish and many other languages and it shows how Finland has overcome from the past hardships.

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