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Finland 2020 Crime & Safety Report

This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Helsinki. OSAC encourages travelers to use this report to gain baseline knowledge of security conditions in Finland. For more in-depth information, review OSAC’s country-specific page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Travel Advisory

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Finland at Level 1, indicating travelers should exercise normal precaution. Review OSAC’s report, Understanding the Consular Travel Advisory System.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

Crime Threats

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Helsinki as being a LOW-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. Finland is one of the safest countries in the world, and has one of the world’s most effective and trusted police forces. However, petty crimes such pickpocketing do occur in crowded areas and during the summer tourist season. Review OSAC’s report, All That You Should Leave Behind.

Bicycle theft is the most common type of theft. However, after a long period of increase, the number of bicycle thefts has started to decline. The number of car burglaries has trended downwards since the early 2000s, and there has been a significant decrease in business burglaries. Theft offenses are more common in urban environments. In Uusimaa, the prevalence of theft offenses is many times higher than in the rest of Finland.

In 2018, Finland reported 95 homicides, and increase of 28% from the previous year, but still well below the national average of the 1990s and the early 2000s. However, an almost continuous decline in the number of homicides over the last 20 years has ended. Homicides in Finland most likely to occur during disputes between socially excluded males, and usually involve alcohol use. The homicide rate is lower in Finland than in Russia or the Baltic States, but higher than that its western neighbors.

The number of organized crime groups in Finland has increased over the last ten years. The National Bureau of Investigation estimates that there are 90 organized crime groups in Finland, with 900-1,000 members. In Finland, these groups are mainly of domestic origin, although most organized crime groups collaborate with groups based in Russia and the Baltic states. Russian organized crime is also a topic of concern for authorities.

Outlaw motorcycle clubs first entered Finland more than 20 years ago, as cross-border mobility increased. These gangs have continuously strengthened their position, spreading their activities throughout Finland, and opening chapters or becoming active in all major cities. At least eight motorcycle gangs are active in Finland, although overall membership levels remain low and expatriates are unlikely to encounter them.

Cybersecurity Issues

Cybersecurity remains a concern. Authorities continue to express concern over the threat posed by economic espionage facilitated by cyberattack. In 2017, Helsinki opened The European Center of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats (Hybrid CoE) to coordinate a response against political, diplomatic, economic, cyber, and disinformation measures.

Finland also operates a National Cyber Security Center (NCSC-FI), which operates under the Finnish Transport and Communications Agency.

Finnish and EU privacy laws are strict, although a great deal of personal information remains available via government sources, including address, telephone, and vehicle information. In 2018, the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) went into effect. An updated Finnish Data Protection Act went into effect in 2019.

Review OSAC’s reports, Cybersecurity Basics, Best Practices for Maximizing Security on Public Wi-Fi, Traveling with Mobile Devices: Trends & Best Practices, and Satellite Phones: Critical or Contraband?

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

The Finnish road network is safe, comprehensive, and well maintained, despite severe winters. Winter driving in Finland can be hazardous. Daylight hours are very short and drivers should be comfortable driving in darkness. Icy road conditions are common. Your vehicle must have snow tires (or M/S rated) from December through February. Engine heaters are strongly recommended.

When driving at night, drivers must be alert to moose wandering onto major roadways. Striking a moose can severely damage a vehicle and even fatally injure its occupants.

If you are in a car accident, you must have your insurance paperwork with you.

Driving in Finland is on the right side. A valid U.S. driver’s license is legal for driving in Finland, but drivers must be at least 18 years of age. Traffic approaching from the right has priority, even if entering a primary roadway from a secondary one. Stop signs are rare. It is common practice in Finland, including in large cities, to turn off traffic lights at certain intersections in the early morning hours. Road signs use standard international symbols and Finnish text. Many urban streets have traffic lanes reserved for public transportation only. Vehicles must use headlights at all times.

Finnish laws governing driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) are extremely strict; driving with a blood-alcohol content (BAC) level at or above 0.05% is illegal.

More than half of all offenses reported in 2018 were traffic offenses. Three quarters of traffic offenses are speed limit violations. Drivers committed about 510,000 traffic offenses in 2018 (does not include offences involving driving under the influence). In 2018, 226 people died in traffic accidents, the lowest figure for Finland in more than 70 years. Approximately 13% of traffic fatalities involved alcohol.

Review OSAC’s reports, Road Safety Abroad, Driving Overseas: Best Practices, and Evasive Driving Techniques; and read the State Department’s webpage on driving and road safety abroad.

Public Transportation Conditions

Public transportation in Finland is of good quality and is the recommended method of travel. Passenger trains, intercity buses, and air flights provide regular service over longer distances. Public transportation in urban centers includes buses, subways, trams, suburban trains, and taxis. Taxis are more expensive than in major U.S. cities. Rates vary widely depending on the company providing the transportation service. Most local residents use public transport in Helsinki, as parking is expensive and can be hard to find.

Review OSAC’s report, Security In Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the government of Finland’s Civil Aviation Authority as compliant with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Finland’s air carrier operations.

Terrorism Threat

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Helsinki as being a LOW-threat location for terrorism directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. Finland experienced its first terrorist attack in 2017; the attack left two people dead and eight injured. The Finnish Security Intelligence Service (SUPO) rates the terrorist threat as “elevated,” the second lowest of four levels.

According to SUPO, “the growth of radical Islamist networks in Finland is conforming to international trends. In the same way as the individuals who departed for the conflict zone, radical Islamist networks in Finland are multi-ethnic and intergenerational. Marriages occur within networks, potentially hampering disengagement from radical ideology and reinforcing the radicalization of future generations. The groups and networks in Finland that promote terrorist operations have contacts abroad in both Muslim-majority and Western countries.

ISIS remains a threat despite territorial losses in Syria and Iraq, with functional networks that it can call upon in external operations, disseminating propaganda, recruiting, and fundraising.

As Finland is a member of the anti-ISIS coalition, ISIS regards Finland as a legitimate target for terrorist operations. As the threat of extreme right-wing terrorism has grown in Western countries, the inspirational impact of recent attacks, social confrontation and especially online radicalization encourage similar individual acts of violence in Finland.

The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has cross-border support operations in Finland that involve extreme left-wing anti-fascists. Approximately 100 Finns may have traveled to fight in foreign conflicts. Additionally, approximately 390 individuals are under police surveillance for suspected ties to terrorism.

Finland harbors significant terrorist support activities and international networks, with known resident and visiting individuals and groups possessing the motivation and ability to carry out terrorist attacks. The threat of a religiously motivated terrorist attack on Finland comes primarily from lone operators or groups pursuing radical Islamist ideology and objectives.

Lone operators the greatest threat of terrorist attack, irrespective of ideology. While a straightforward attack using readily available instruments is the most likely action and methodology, use of firearms and explosives is also a possibility.”

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

Civil Unrest

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Helsinki as being a LOW-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. Tensions between far-left and far-right groups continue against the backdrop of a migration crisis that has not yet fully abated. Protestors in Finland must notify the police at least six hours ahead of any planned demonstration. There are approximately 300 protests a year in Helsinki; most protests are small, peaceful, and unrelated to U.S. interests. Review OSAC’s report, Surviving a Protest.

Religious/Ethnic Violence

Some far-right groups incite violence against minorities; authorities maintain effective control of the situation via hate-speech legislation and strong social disapproval of far-right views.

The Finnish Immigration Service continues to process migrant and asylum claims, though accepted numbers in 2019 fell below 1,000 for the first time since the Syrian crisis began.

Anti-U.S. Sentiment

Anti-U.S. sentiment remains very low. Certain small segments of the population tend to hold marginally less favorable views of the United States.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Finland experiences extreme cold. Travelers should prepare for the cold with specialized clothing and transportation protocols during appropriate seasons.

Finland experiences limited air pollution in urban centers, with some water pollution from industrial wastes and agricultural chemicals. Habitat loss threatens wildlife populations.

Critical Infrastructure Concerns

Finland has one of the highest broadband and mobile penetrations rates in the region.

Economic Concerns

Gray and black-market activities are relatively rare, although authorities regularly deal with illicit economic activities connected to Russian organized crime.

Personal Identity Concerns

Finland is traditionally an egalitarian country with high levels of social acceptance. Over the past two decades, the greater Helsinki area has become an increasingly cosmopolitan and multicultural environment. However, some far-right groups still espouse racist ideologies. According to the results of the European Union Minorities and Discrimination Survey published in November 2018, 14% of persons of African descent in the country stated they had been subject to racist harassment in the previous five years. The most frequent complaints of discrimination or harassment concerned employment and online communication.

In 2018, the police recorded 910 reports of suspected hate crimes. Most crimes involved racist elements, with the most common offence being assault. Hate crimes reported to the police decreased by 22% compared to 2017.

Violence against women, including spousal abuse, continues to be a problem. The Council of Europe Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (GREVIO) reported that key professionals in the criminal justice system, such as prosecutors and law enforcement officers, were not systematically trained before taking up their duties on how to intervene in cases of violence against women, including domestic violence. The law defines sexual harassment as a specific, punishable offense with penalties ranging from fines to up to six months’ imprisonment. Employers who fail to protect employees from workplace harassment are subject to the same penalties. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for female travelers.

The law prohibits discrimination based on gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation in housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services, and the government enforced the law. The law requires that a transgender person present a medical statement affirming their gender identity and a certificate of infertility before the government will legally recognize their gender identity. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for LGBTI+ travelers.

Representatives of the Jewish community reported feeling under threat and specifically targeted due to their beliefs, reporting multiple anti-Semitic incidents including harassment (in person and online) and vandalism. Police continued to implement the 2018 court ban on the neo-Nazi group NRM. The Finnish-language website of the organization was no longer online, and public displays of their symbol decreased in frequency, although members continued to spray graffiti. Review OSAC’s report, Freedom to Practice, and the State Department’s webpage on security for faith-based travelers.

Authorities generally enforce laws mandating access to buildings for persons with disabilities, but many older buildings remain inaccessible. Some public transportation systems are less adapted to individuals with disabilities. Check ahead with your hotel/destination to learn more about options to accommodate disabled traveler needs before visiting. Most forms of public transportation are accessible, but geographically-isolated areas can be especially problematic for travelers with disabilities. Train travelers must request assistance in advance at most stations. For more information, visit the Finnish National Tourist Board’s website. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for travelers with disabilities.

Drug-related Crimes

According to the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addition (EMCDDA), use of all major illicit substances has increased over the last decade among Finnish adults. Cannabis, mainly in herbal form, remains the most common illicit drug, with its use is concentrated among Finns aged 15-34 years. Amphetamines and MDMA/ecstasy are the most common illicit stimulants used by the general population, with use also concentrated among those aged 15-34. In general, illicit drug use is more common among males than females. Finnish Customs reported its first seizure of carfentanil in 2017.

Kidnapping Threat

Incidents of kidnapping in Finland are extremely rare. Review OSAC’s report, Kidnapping: The Basics

Other Issues

Review OSAC’s report, Picture This: Dos and Don’ts for Photography.

Read the State Department’s webpage on customs and import restrictions for information on what you cannot take into or out of other countries.

Police Response

The emergency line in Finland is 112. Finland has one of the most professional police forces in the world. Most Finnish police speak English. Due to the high effectiveness level of individual officers, Finland maintains the lowest police-per-capita ratio in the industrialized world. Finnish law allows the police to demand identification on the spot.

Police impersonation has increased in recent years, with police warning of several cases of police impersonation via phone in an attempt to steal banking information. All police officers should have an official police identity card that is in the process of updating; two versions of this card will be in use during the next several years as the update progresses. U.S. officials should cooperate fully with police and request consular assistance as appropriate.

Comprehensive victim-assistance resources are available via police and social services agencies. Download the State Department’s Crime Victims Assistance brochure. For local first responders, refer to the Embassy’s Emergency Assistance page.

Police/Security Agencies

Finland has ten regional police forces and one metropolitan police force (Helsinki) under the command of the National Police Board; together, they maintain internal security. Finnish Customs and the Border Guard have law enforcement responsibilities related to their fields of responsibility. The Border Guard has additional law enforcement powers to maintain public order when it operates in joint patrols and under police command. The defense forces are responsible for safeguarding the country’s territorial integrity and providing military training. The defense forces also have some domestic security responsibilities, such as assisting the national police in maintaining law and order in crises. The national police and Border Guard report to the Interior Ministry, which is responsible for police oversight, law enforcement, and maintenance of order; the Defense Ministry oversees the defense forces.

The National Bureau of Investigation serves as Finland’s sole investigative agency for major crimes and organized crime. SUPO and its police officer staff serves as Finland’s sole civilian intelligence and national security agency.

Medical Emergencies

The medical emergency line in Finland is 112. Finland’s medical system is one of the best in the world. A combination of public and private providers offers comprehensive, state-of-the-art treatment in all areas of medicine.

Finland has a well-developed air ambulance system for acute trauma cases and inter-hospital transfers throughout the country. Regardless, outside of a major metropolitan center, it may take more time for first responders and medical professionals to stabilize a patient and provide life-saving assistance. Find contact information for available medical services and available air ambulance services on the Embassy’s Medical Assistance page.

Local medical centers, clinics, or first-aid stations are located at hospitals and will provide a full range of services to tourist and temporary visitors. For anyone who does not pay Finnish income tax, however, the public and private medical systems alike require payment at the time of service. The U.S. Department of State strongly recommends purchasing international health insurance before traveling internationally. Review the State Department’s webpage on insurance overseas.

You may bring a 90-day supply of most personal prescription drugs with a formal doctor’s note. Prescribed narcotics may only be brought into Finland for your personal use for a maximum of 14 days and must be accompanied by a medical certificate stating why you need them. Finnish customs regulations prohibit you from receiving medication shipments from abroad.  Local physicians may be reluctant to prescribe equivalent quantities or dosages. Review OSAC’s report, Traveling with Medication.

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Finland.

Review OSAC’s reports, The Healthy Way, I’m Drinking What in My Water?, Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad, Health 101: How to Prepare for Travel, and Fire Safety Abroad.

OSAC Country Council Information

There is no active Country Council in Finland. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Europe team with any questions.

U.S. Embassy Contact Information

Itäinen Puistotie 14, 00104 Helsinki

Hours of Operation: Monday-Friday, 0830 - 1700.

Switchboard: +358-9-6162-50

Website: https://fi.usembassy.gov/

Email: HelsinkiACS@state.gov

Helpful Information

Before you travel, consider the following resources:

OSAC Risk Matrix

OSAC Travelers Toolkit

State Department Traveler’s Checklist

Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)

Finland Country Information Sheet

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