Updated 8 months ago

Ask any Finn for the cure to whatever ails you, and they will all probably make the same suggestion; go to a sauna. Indeed, that Finnish invention may have something to do with the fact that life expectancy in this country is among the highest in the world. But what happens when you require something a little bit stronger than a steam bath? Finland’s healthcare system is municipal, which means that the quality of treatment you’ll be getting may vary greatly depending on the city you’re in. If you’re a Nordic or EU citizen you should have no real problems navigating it.

For a country that does so well when it comes to welfare and education, it may come as a surprise to realise that its health sector could probably do with some improvements. The core problem is fund-related; Finland’s high taxes go towards childcare and education, but not so much towards boosting the health system, which only got 9.7% of the country’s GDP in 2014. This, of course, translates to several weeks worth of wait for an appointment (up until recently, 80% of the Finnish population had to wait more than two weeks to see a GP), substantial queues in health centres and thus many people turning to private healthcare (which is obviously more expensive) in order to speed things up.

How the system works

In case of illness, the first step would be to call your health centre (terveysasema) and make an appointment with a general practitioner or nurse -- sometimes when there’s a lot of people waiting, you will end up seeing a nurse first anyway, so that they can assess whether you actually need a GP or not. Your GP will then refer you to a specialist, if you need one, although you’ll probably need to go to a hospital to see them as not all health centres have in-house specialists. Health centres are usually open from 8 am to 4 pm on weekdays. In order to make an appointment you are advised call them in the morning, as soon as they open. If it’s not an emergency, your appointment could be in a couple of weeks time -- but bear in mind that you need to be there on time and call a day in advance if you wish to cancel, otherwise you will be charged a non-attendance fee. If you have an emergency while the health centre is closed, you can go to an emergency clinic (päivystys).

Are you entitled to healthcare in Finland?

As mentioned above, Finland’s health system is municipal, so to access it you need a 'right to a municipality of residence' (kotikunta) in Finland. That mostly depends on your country of origin, your reason for coming to Finland, and whether you’re moving here permanently or staying temporarily. All permanent residents of Finland are issued a Kela card, which is a personal health insurance card allowing them to access the healthcare system (Kela is the Social Insurance Institution of Finland).

If you are a Nordic citizen, who is covered by health insurance in another Nordic country, you are entitled to receive care under the same terms and pay the same amount for the services as Finns do. All you need is your ID card. Same goes if you have health insurance in another EU member state, EEA member state or Switzerland. You can use that card to access public healthcare services (or receive treatment if you have an accident/ a long-term illness/ you’re pregnant or delivering a child), whereas, for private healthcare services, your Kela card may reimburse some of the expenses.

Private healthcare in Finland

If you don’t have 'the right to a municipality of residence' or you simply do not wish to wait a long time to see a GP, you can choose some of Finland’s private health services -- they are considerably more expensive, but appointments will be considerably faster too. If you have a Kela card then you will be entitled to some small reimbursement for both private health care and dental care (sometimes deducted directly from the sum you pay at the cash desk) but you should visit Kela’s website for more information.

 Useful links:

European Health Insurance Card Information
Compare prices of doctors
Kela -- Social Insurance Institution

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