Currency and banking
The basic unit of currency is the markka (4.59 markkaa equal
U.S.$1; 1996). In the late 1980s, Finland had 10 commercial
banks, with 940 branch offices, and some 230 savings banks
with more than 1300 branch offices. Since 1976 stringent control
of the money market has been maintained by the government.
In May 1998, Finland and ten other members of the European
Union (EU) officially adopted a new, single currency, the
euro, for all transactions.
The new currency was first used on January 1, 1999, for electronic
transfers and for accounting purposes. Euro coins and bills
will be issued in 2002, at which time the Finnish currency
will cease to be legal tender.
When to go
Whatever time of year you visit Finland, there's something
happening. Most museums and galleries are open year-round,
annd there is as much to do in the depths of winter as there
is at the height of summer.
Nevertheless, you'll probably have a better time if you come
in the warmer months, either in summer or anytime from May
to September. As well as the advantages of warm weather, summer
is the time of the midnight sun. Despite snow falls from November,
it stays pretty sludgy until late winter: skiing isn't great
until February, the coldest month, and you can ski in Lapland
right through to June.
There are excellent flight connections to Finland from all
over the world. Finnair and SAS have scheduled flights to
Helsinki from most major cities in Europe, as well as from
New York, San Francisco, Cairo, Bangkok, Singapore, Beijing,
Sydney and Tokyo.
Twenty-two other international airlines offer regular flights
to Helsinki. There are no departure taxes when leaving Finland.
Land crossings into Finland from Sweden and Norway are hassle-free,
serviced by frequent buses and trains.
Land crossings from Russia are a little more problematic,
but border crossings are becoming more relaxed all the time.
If you stick to the main tourist corridors (eg. Helsinki-St
Petersburg) you won't have any troubles, but make sure you
have a Russian visa before you roll up at the frontier. The
Trans-Siberian Railway connects Europe to Asia, although its
popularity has declined in recent years due to the general
state of chaos in Russia.
You can buy a ticket in Helsinki for the Chinese border via
Moscow. Beware of sharks offering discounted tickets on this
service; it's almost certain you'll be ripped off.
Baltic ferries run from Sweden, Estonia and Germany to Helsinki,
Turku, Vaasa and Pietarsaari. The ferries are impressive seagoing
Finland has a superb network of domestic train, bus and air
connections. Over 20 cities are linked by daily air services,
as far north as Ivalo on the 67th parallel.
Buses are the principal carriers of domestic and visitor traffic
to more remote parts, although trains carry passengers efficiently
along intercity routes right up to the Arctic Circle.
The highway and freeway network is good between city centers,
although you can encounter unsurfaced dirt and beaten tracks
in the forests. No international licence is needed to drive
in Finland, but you should carry your own licence when driving.
Traffic keeps to the right and you should always drive with
your headlights on. In most towns bicycles can be hired and
are a recommended mode of transport during the summer. Lake
and river ferries operate over the summer period, and come
in handy if you're walking or cycling around the country.