The Åland Islands, hereto forth called Åland, is a beautiful archipelago located in the Baltic Sea at the entrance of the Gulf of Bothnia. Although, it is comprised of more than 6700 islands, only about 60 are currently inhabited. Åland is a demilitarized, autonomous region of Finland, a popular destination for many expats because it is peaceful and safe. Despite its relatively small size, Åland society is quite active and lively, with many inhabitants very much in touch with nature. Cycling, hiking, and fishing are very popular, so it makes for a wonderful destination for retirement as well.
Country Facts and Interesting Information
- Capital: Mariehamn
- Currency: Euro
- Languages: Swedish
- Major Religion: Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland
- Largest Cities: Fasta Åland (largest island)
- Population: 29,013
- Consists of an archipelago in the Baltic Sea
- Smallest region in Finland
Process of Moving Overseas to Åland
If you have decided to relocate to the Åland Islands, there are certain steps you must take to ensure a successful transition. The following list is a good breakdown of what you must do prior to moving:
- Create a time line. This is an important first step, because it helps to plan things out ahead of time. It will also make sure you stay on track, so you can avoid the unneeded stress generated by procrastination. Make a list of all you want to accomplish and give deadline dates for each item, then begin the process and stick to your time line.
- Find a reputable international moving company. In order to find a great moving company, you will want to begin with a simple internet search. You need to enlist the help of someone who has actual successful experience with Å Moving to an island is a completely different process than moving to a landlocked city or destination, so you need someone who knows the best way to do this. Your moving company will also be your biggest asset in providing information and helping you make connections over the course of the relocation, so choose wisely, and do not rush this step.
- Apply for and obtain correct visa. Exact visa application information can be found below, but this is a reminder to start the process early. These things take time, and not having a visa when you need one can through a serious wrench in your plans.
- Begin job search. There are several resources below for getting started in the job hunting process, and it definitely doesn’t hurt to begin this well in advance of your move. Keep in mind that many companies will want you local before making an offer of employment.
- Secure accommodations. Whether you plan on renting an apartment or buying a house, you should at least plan for a couple weeks of accommodations prior to your move, so you don’t need to stress once you arrive. Explore the option of local hotels or short term living facilities, and make sure you come with enough money to cover the costs until you have a steady income.
- Move to Åland. You finally have all your ducks in a row, and it is officially time to embark on your new adventure to your final destination of Åland. Remember to allow yourself plenty of time to adapt, as all moves of this magnitude require flexibility and often cannot be rushed.
In order to obtain Åland citizenship, you must first obtain Finnish citizenship. The requirements for Finnish citizenship by application are:
- five years continuous residence (or a total of seven years since age 15, with at least two years continuous)
- knowledge of Finnish or Swedish language (or Finnish sign language)
The next step is to apply for the “right of domicile” in Åland which allows you to:
- vote in elections to Parliament
- own property or real estate in Åland
- conduct business legally in Åland
You must be a legal Finnish citizen and have resided in Åland for five continuous years to request the right of domicile. Keep in mind, that just because you have satisfied all the requirements, it is possible to still be denied the right.
The islands of Åland are quite small, so it is easy to get around via bicycle, private vehicle, or public transportation. Public transportation consists mainly of the city bus and archipelago ferries. Taxis are also widely available, but it can be expensive if you must rely on them regularly. A much more convenient way of transport is definitely by way of your own personal vehicle.
Because Åland is a region of Finland, all Finnish import laws and regulations apply. That being said, you are able to drive your vehicle for up to three months while your vehicle tax declaration is processed. Once the tax declaration is completed and you receive the total owed, make sure you pay within 15 days of the decision to avoid additional penalties and fees. Expect to pay approximately 23% of the vehicle’s value toward duty fees as well as a VAT (Vehicle Added Tax) that can range anywhere from 5% to 50% of the vehicle’s value determined by age, mileage, make, and CO2 emissions. Further details to help you with the auto shipping procedure can be obtained by contacting your full-service moving company or perusing the Finnish Transport Safety Agency website.
Although Åland is technically part of Finland, much of the culture and customs are derived from Sweden, as evidenced in the fact that nearly the entire population speaks Swedish. Despite its small size, or perhaps because of it, culinary delights abound, and Åland is also home to an amazing microbrewery called Stallhagen. There are also a number of museums that provide you with a glimpse into Åland culture, with exhibits ranging from hunting and fishing to the dramatic postal route across the sea to archipelago culture in general.
Despite a relatively low rate of unemployment, it can be tough to secure a steady job in Åland as an expat, especially if you are not fluent in Swedish. If at all possible, make use of any contacts in your industry or reach out to your moving company for referrals prior to making your move. If you plan on moving first and seeking employment later, it is in your best interest to save up enough money to allow you to live comfortably with no viable income for at least 3-6 months.
Phone and Internet
Phone service in Åland is quite similar to that of the surrounding countries. Most people use personal mobile phones, often prepaid plans, making it easier to purchase phone cards at gas stations or various other convenient locations. Internet access is generally easy to find, with wifi offered all over the islands, at hotels, often for free, or at locations known as sweetspots where you can purchase access for a fee.
Postal service is provided by the Åland Post and is for the most part efficient, although you can expect delays based solely on the fact that Åland is a group of islands, requiring air mail or ship mail, instead of traditional ground-based courier options.
Again, as is the case for many aspects of moving to Åland, you must follow Finnish protocol and procedure to properly immigrate into Åland. No visa is required if you plan on remaining in the territory for less than 90 days, but you still must be able to present a valid passport with a minimum of 6 months validity in order to enter as a tourist. If you are making a permanent relocation, then you will have to apply for residency, and there are generally four different options to do this.
- First Residence Permit – this is most likely the type of permit you will need if you have not yet entered the country, but plan to relocate to Aland long-term.
- EU Registration – this only applies to current EU citizens and residents, and may possibly extend to direct relatives of these areas.
- Extended Residence Permit – this comes to play after your initial permit is approaching its expiration and you wish to remain in Aland.
- Finnish Citizenship – Only if you have satisfied the following requirements would this even be an option for you, and almost never comes to play for a new expat relocating to Aland:
- your identity is established
- you have reached the age of 18
- must meet the residential period requirement
- must meet integrity requirement
- must not have neglected payment obligations
- must have secure means of livelihood
- must possess sufficient language skills
Further information regarding these types of entry permits can be found on the Enter Finland website using the eServices portal.
Cost of Living
On average, the overall cost of living in the Åland Islands is almost 25% over that of the United States. That, however, does not take into account rent prices, which are generally 50% lower than those in America. This means that although day to day living is significantly more expensive, the low rental pricing will more than make up for the differences, making living in Åland a much more affordable option than initially what meets the eye.
Åland has guaranteed representation in the Finnish parliament with exactly one representative chosen to act on the region’s behalf. Regional or territorial citizenship is an absolute prerequisite for voting rights, so don’t expect to participate in local elections until you have achieved the right of domicile.
AHS is the organization in charge of all public healthcare in Åland, both preventative and specialized, administered to locals and tourists alike. All insurance provided to citizens of the EU will be able to use their regular insurance for treatment in Åland, but if you are not from a neighboring country, you must purchase travel/health insurance from AHS in order to ensure coverage. The good news is, insured or not, all medical practices and procedures are billed uniformly across the board, so you will not be gauged for improper coverage.