Spouses, Domestic Partners and Children
There is no established program for spouses or partners in the Fulbright Program itself. However, the universities have been very willing to assist in finding suitable classes and courses.
In some cases, host departments have been able to arrange teaching opportunities for spouses with an appropriate academic background. In such cases, however, a spouse may need to apply for a work permit and pay taxes in Finland.
It is a good idea to consider different options well in advance of departing from the United States. Spouses and partners are naturally welcome to attend all Fulbright Finland functions and events.
For me it has been joyful and rewarding to watch my child flourish with the independence that Finnish children have in their communities.
- U.S. Scholar Grantee 2014-2015
Young children have amazing amount independence. Don't be surprised if you see a 7 year old chatting it up on a cell phone while hopping on the metro.
- U.S. Student Grantee 2016-2017
A married partner of the grantee normally qualifies for a Finnish residence permit. Also a live-in-partner can qualify for a Finnish residence permit, if you can prove that you have been living together for at least two years. For instance a copy of an apartment lease could work as proof.
If the grantee’s spouse also moves to Finland, the spouse is usually asked to present a marriage certificate at the local register office maistraatti in Finland. To do this, you should bring from the U.S. a marriage certificate to which a notary public has affixed the notary seal. You also need to have an apostille with the certificate (for maistraatti registration purposes) issued by the proper authority.
If a grantee’s children also move to Finland, the local register office usually asks to see the children’s birth certificates when registering at maistraatti. Bring from the U.S. the children’s birth certificates to which a notary public has affixed the notary seal, as well as an apostille.
Legalizing Documents - an Apostille Certificate
If you bring your family to Finland, the Finnish Immigration Service requires that the family-related documents you attach to the residence permit application are legalized (e.g. marriage certificate and birth certificate).
If your spouse and children move with you to Finland, you will also need the legalized marriage and children’s’ birth certificates at the Local Register Office (Maistraatti) in Finland if you decide to register with the office.
In order for a document issued abroad by a foreign authority to have the intended legal effect in Finland, it must be legalized. Legalization takes place by two different means depending on whether the relevant country is a signatory to the Hague Convention of 1961. Documents supplied by countries that have ratified the Hague Convention are legalized by the issuance of an Apostille Certificate (stamp or paper certificate). The United States has ratified the Hague Convention. Documents issued by other countries are legalized through the Grand Legalization procedure.
Generally you can get the Apostille Certificate at the state Secretary of State’s Office. For detailed contact information, please visit the National Association of Secretaries of State. For more information on Apostille Certificate, please see the Finnish Local Register Offices' website.
A booklet on Apostille Certificate: ABCs of Apostilles - How to ensure that your public documents will be recognized abroad. Although the booklet states that the apostille can be issued in one day, some of our alumni have said that the process in total took a long time for them. So be prepared for that.
Schools and Day-care for Your Children
Grantees with school-aged children may place them in local Finnish or Swedish speaking public schools, or in public or private English or other foreign language schools. Please note that whereas the public schools run by the municipalities do not charge fees, private foreign language schools may charge tuition.
Grantees that will spend the full academic year in Finland should not be afraid of placing their children in Finnish or Swedish schools. Children learn the language surprisingly fast, and by the end of the school year most Fulbrighters' children have become fluent. Attending the local school is also a good way for your children to make friends with Finnish children living in the same area.
I strongly support the suggestion made by a Fulbright spouse to enroll school age children in a Finnish school. Any initial difficulties in mastering the language are more than compensated by the opportunity to be immersed in and share the Finnish culture and to get to know the people. It would be very easy to isolate oneself in work and the home. Having my children in Finnish environments provided the incentive to get to know people outside of the university and to get involved in other activities. This incentive gave the whole family the opportunity to experience Finnish life and truly enriched our time spent here.
- U.S. Scholar Grantee 2013-2014
In my opinion, Finland is incredibly friendly to students and families with small children. My son and I always felt safe, and I felt confident knowing that my son was learning a lot each and every day while attending his Finnish-language day care center. I couldn't be happier. -U.S. Student Grantee 2013-2014
The web is your first resource for information on schools in the city you will be living in. Finnish National Board of Education and InfoFinland - Finland In Your Language are good places to start your search. They both provide links to familiarize you with the Finnish education system and can point you in the right direction in terms of where to look for schools to suit your children’s needs.
Ask your academic hosts to identify the schools nearest to the location of your apartment and to assist you in securing a placement for your children. The cities' websites usually have at least the contact information for all schools in the area, with many of them offering links to the school’s own website. Larger cities may also have special sections on education for foreigners on their website.
The Finnish community was very welcoming to my family. We completely appreciated how safe it is in Finland, and by the end of our stay our two girls (ages 12 and 9) were even taking the city buses to school and back by themselves. -U.S. Scholar Grantee 2013-2014
Contact the principal (rehtori) of the school you are considering for your children. The principal makes the decision to admit a child to the school. You should contact the school as early as possible. Contact information for the schools and the principals can usually be found on the city's education website.
It may be useful to bring some of the textbooks your children would have been using in the United States. The teachers in Finland will appreciate information about the level and material your child is expected to work with upon return to the United States. Ask the Finnish school for additional instructions on what to bring and how to prepare your child.
Finnish public schools are uniformly of high quality. There is, however, relatively little extracurricular activity, and children’s free-time activities are often quite separate from those during the school day. Some Finnish day care centers accept foreign children, and there are also English language day care centers for children between four and seven years of age. The day care centers can be located on the city's website, usually under sections "For Families", "Services", or "Social Services".
Ask your academic hosts to assist you in finding day care for your children. Note that both nursery and elementary schools may be in session for half-days only. Therefore, school is not necessarily a substitute for daycare if both parents are working.
The general rule is that if you have a municipality of residence in Finland (kotikunta), you can apply for municipal day care for your child. Please see further information on municipal daycare at the InfoFinland website.
Day care for children less than a year old is difficult to find, as Finnish maternity and paternity leaves normally allow one parent to be at home during the infant’s first year. Many communities have apartment blocks with a small common park where children can be looked after for a few hours a day by a puistotäti (park babysitter). In most cities, there are good public libraries with video and children’s book collections (ask for ones in English).
Short-term child care can be found, for example, through these two organizations:
- Väestöliitto – the Family Federation. The page is only in Finnish, but you can call them at +358 20 799 5656. They do regular child care, care for sick children, do housework etc.
- Mannerheimin lastensuojeluliitto - The Mannerheim League for Child Welfare. They offer help with child care. The League’s child care service is meant to meet temporary and short term needs for child care assistance, around the clock, also on weekends.
Public daycare for my toddler was a highlight of the year in Finland - she speaks more Finnish than English at this point! And it has been an amazing foray into Finnish culture and daily life.
- U.S. Fulbright Student Grantee 2015-2016
The public school (K-12) year usually runs from mid-August to the end of May or early June, with 190 days of attendance over a five-day week, and a four- to seven-hour school day.
The school system in Finland is considered one of the best in the world, with that said, though, it is completely different from the U.S. The Finnish kids start school older, but they also do not go to school at 8:30 - 3:00 Monday - Friday. Each grade has its own schedule with regards to when school starts and ends. -U.S. Scholar Grantee 2013-2014
There is slight variation in the school calendar between different cities and schools. If you plan on placing children in Finnish schools, you should arrive in Finland before mid-August. Generally, the school year has two terms, with a two-week holiday at Christmas. There is also a vacation week at Easter, and another in February or March for winter vacation. In addition, some schools have a vacation week during the fall. Day care centers operate throughout the year, but are closed for public holidays and the summer holiday season.