Finland: growing strong

A look at Finland's secure and enduring economy.

Renowned for its social safety net and perhaps less known as a country with a high "happiness" index among its people, Finland is a highly industrialized economy with a focus on manufacturing and an emphasis on exports, which make up more than one-third of the country's GDP.

One of the EU's strongest economies, Finland avoided the worst of the global financial crisis with robust growth and structural reforms in the decade preceding it. Lower demand for exports caused the economy to slow after the crisis but the country retained its triple-A credit rating.

Trade is essential for Finland, which depends on imports of energy and raw materials of almost everything except timber and some minerals. Its exports include electronics, forestry products and machinery. Finland readily supports startups in the information technology, gaming, clean energy and biotech sectors.

Facts for investors

  1. Helsinki is the business hub. Oulu, in the north, is a technology centre.
  2. Finland ranks 12th on the World Bank's Ease of Doing Business index for 2014.
  3. In December 2013, Finland ranked No. 6 out of 100 countries on Forbes' list of Best Countries for Business.
  4. Finland comes in third on the World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Index 2013-2014.
  5. The general value-added tax rate in Finland is 24%, although there are reduced rates of 14% and 10% on products and services such as food and accommodation.

Business etiquette

  1. Get to the point: Finns don't do small talk in business meetings. It may seem rude, but it's seen as respecting your counterpart's time in Finland.
  2. Bring your bathrobe: The sauna has historically been part of business culture in Finland. A few decades ago, it was common to take your business partner to the sauna after meeting. Now it's less common, but might happen with old-school CEOs.
  3. Don't delay: Finns are so punctual they're often early, but so as not to surprise, they try to be exactly on time. It's considered disrespectful to show up late.
  4. Interrupt not: Unlike their US counterparts, Finns wait for a person to finish speaking before responding as a sign of respect.
  5. Our word is our bond: When a Finn has agreed to a deal, he or she has truly agreed. Finns don't go back on their promises.
  6. Dry wit: Finns may seem reserved, but it's actually disguised deadpan humour.

Travel tips

  1. Mother tongue: Almost everyone in the larger cities can speak English. If you try speaking Finnish, they may politely switch to English. If you venture to the countryside, you'll find less English.
  2. Tip o' the hat: Tipping isn't done in Finland. Period.
  3. Getting around: Helsinki has great public transit options with a metro, taxis, trams, buses, trains and ferries.
  4. Honesty is the best policy: When Reader's Digest did a "lost wallet" experiment (by dropping wallets in busy places) in 16 cities, Helsinki came out as most honest, with 11 of 12 wallets returned.