Finland Travel Information

Photo Ruled by Sweden from the 12th to the 19th centuries and by Russia from 1809, Finland finally won its independence in 1917. During World War II, it was able to successfully defend its freedom and fend off invasions by the Soviet Union and Germany. In the subsequent half century, the Finns have made a remarkable transformation from a farm/forest economy to a diversified modern industrial economy; per capita income is now on par with Western Europe. As a member of the European Union, Finland was the only Nordic state to join the euro system at its initiation in January 1999.

The origins of the Finnish people are still a matter of conjecture, although many scholars argue that their original home was in what is now west-central Siberia. The Finns arrived in their present territory thousands of years ago, pushing the indigenous Lapps into the more remote northern regions. Finnish and Lappish--the language of Finland's small Lapp minority--both are Finno-Ugric languages and are in the Uralic rather than the Indo-European family.

Finland's nearly 700-year association with the Kingdom of Sweden began in 1154 with the introduction of Christianity by Sweden's King Eric. During the ensuing centuries, Finland played an important role in the political life of the Swedish-Finnish realm, and Finnish soldiers often predominated in Swedish armies. Finns also formed a significant proportion of the first "Swedish" settlers in 17th-century America.

Following Finland's incorporation into Sweden in the 12th century, Swedish became the dominant language, although Finnish recovered its predominance after a 19th-century resurgence of Finnish nationalism. Publication in 1835 of the Finnish national epic, The Kalevala--a collection of traditional myths and legends--first stirred the nationalism that later led to Finland's independence from Russia.

In 1809, Finland was conquered by the armies of Czar Alexander I and thereafter remained an autonomous grand duchy connected with the Russian Empire until the end of 1917. On December 6, 1917, shortly after the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, Finland declared its independence. In 1918, the country experienced a brief but bitter civil war that colored domestic politics for many years. During World War II, Finland fought the Soviet Union twice--in the Winter War of 1939-40 and again in the Continuation War of 1941-44. This was followed by the Lapland War of 1944-45, when Finland fought against the Germans as they withdrew their forces from northern Finland.

Finland has a industrial economy based on abundant forest resources, capital investments, and technology. Traditionally, Finland has been a net importer of capital to finance industrial growth. In the 1980s, Finland's economic growth rate was one of the highest of industrialized countries.

Finland has been among the fastest-growing economies in the European Union (EU) for several years, with GDP reaching 5.6% in 2000, fueled by the booming Nokia-led electronics industry. With an export-led recovery from a severe recession triggered by the collapse of the Soviet market in early 1990s, GDP has grown at an annual average rate of 4.8% since 1994. Unemployment has decreased significantly since 1994, however the current 9.1% unemployment rate (2001) remains above the EU average. Finland's membership in the EU (Finland joined on January 1, 1995) has helped spur structural changes in key economic sectors. However, total output grew only marginally in 2001, when GDP growth amounted to 0.7%. The last time output increased as little was in 1993, at the end of the last recession. The growth in 2001 was stalled by a reduction in worldwide consumption demand, with exports, the traditional growth motor, struggling.

Exports of goods contribute 42% of Finland's GDP. Metals and engineering--including electronics--and timber--including pulp and paper--are Finland's main industries. Finnish-designed consumer products such as textiles, porcelain, and glassware are world-famous.

Except for timber and several minerals, Finland depends on imported raw materials, energy, and some components for its manufactured products. Farms tend to be small, but sizable timber stands are harvested for supplementary income in winter. The country's main agricultural products are dairy, meat, and grains. Finland's EU accession has accelerated the process of restructuring and downsizing of this sector.

An extensive social welfare system includes a variety of pension and assistance programs and a comprehensive health insurance program. Currently, Finland spends 6.2% of GDP on health care. Free education through the university level also is available. According to a recent OECD report, from December 2001, Finnish teenagers were rated as having the best reading literacy among OECD countries. In the mid-1970s, the educational system was reformed with the goal of equalizing educational opportunities. Beginning at age seven, all Finnish children are required to attend a "basic school" of nine grade levels. After this, they may elect to continue along an academic (lukio) or vocational (ammattikoulu) line. But most pursue vocational studies, since the number of openings in higher educational institutions is less than the demand.

Important: Travel to Finland may require a travel visa. Whether a visa is required for travel depends on citizenship and purpose of journey. Please be sure to review Travisa's Finland visa instructions for details. Visa instructions for other countries are available on our do I need a visa page.

Country Statistics

Full country name: Republic of Finland
Capital city: Helsinki
Area: 338,145 sq km
Population: 5,262,930
Ethnic groups: Finn 93.4%, Swede 5.6%, Russian 0.5%, Estonian 0.3%, Roma
Languages: Finnish
Religions: Lutheran Church of Finland 82.5%, Orthodox Church 1.1%, other Christian 1.1%, other 0.1%, none 15.1%
Government: republic
Chief of State: President Sauli NINISTO
Head of Government: Prime Minister Jyrki KATAINEN
GDP: 194.3 billion
GDP per captia: 36,000
Annual growth rate: 2.7%
Inflation: 3.3%
Agriculture: barley, wheat, sugar beets, potatoes
Major industries: metals and metal products, electronics, machinery and scientific instruments, shipbuilding, pulp and paper, foodstuffs, chemicals, textiles, clothing
Natural resources: timber, iron ore, copper, lead, zinc, chromite, nickel, gold, silver, limestone
Location: Northern Europe, bordering the Baltic Sea, Gulf of Bothnia, and Gulf of Finland, between Sweden and Russia
Trade Partners - exports: Sweden 11.8%, Germany 10%, Russia 9.2%, Netherlands 6.8%, UK 5.2%, US 4.9%, China 4.7%
Trade Partners - imports: Russia 17.6%, Sweden 13.6%, Germany 13.6%, Netherlands 7.6%, China 4.2%