RENTING & DRIVING A CAR IN FINLAND
10 Things to know before you rent & drive a car in Finland
Your decision to rent a car in Finland will be driven by three factors: 1) where you want to go, 2) how much of the country you want to see, and 3) how much time you have to spend. If you’re simply be visiting Helsinki (which I hope is not the case because Finland has so much more to offer), you definitely don’t need a car. Public transportation is plentiful and inexpensive. If you plan on visiting both Helsinki and a location like Rovaniemi or Ivalo in Lapland - especially in the winter - you still won’t need a car. You likely will fly that route and then depend on your lodging host and tour operators for transportation. But if you have the time, do consider exploring more of Finland - like the Lakeland or Coast and Archipelago regions or take in one of Finland’s 40 national parks.
KidTripster Tip: Nuuksio National Park is just a 45-minute drive from Helsinki and offers an array of outdoor activities and unique places to stay with a family. And even in the wilderness, you’ll never be far from a sauna! After all, this is Finland.
So let’s run through the ins and outs of renting a car in Finland.
1/Cost of rental
Several companies rent cars in Finland including Alamo, Avis, Budget, Enterprise, Europcar, Hertz, National, Sixt, and Finn-Rent. With the exception of some luxury models, I’ve seen the best pricing on Finn-Rent.
If you don’t drive a manual transmission car, make sure to specify “automatic” when you’re searching online. On average, you’ll pay about 25% more for an automatic rental vs. manual rental.
KidTripster Tip: While Finn-Rent typically lists the lowest price, it’s worth comparing prices with other companies where you may have a discount through your credit card company or membership club.
2/Car rental age requirements
To rent a car in Finland, you must be at least 20 years old and have had your license for at least one year. However, know that if you’re under 25, you may have to pay a young driver surcharge.
3/Seatbelts and car seats
Seatbelts are mandatory in Finland. Children under 3 must be seated in the rear with a child seat or using normal seat belts if no child seat is available. Most car rental companies will have car seats to borrow for an extra fee. Make sure to alert the rental agency of your need when you make the reservation.
Many of the car rental companies will offer navigation as an add-on. You may want to get this feature if you don’t have unlimited international cell service. Otherwise, you’ll be using a lot of data for turn-by-turn directions from your phone (though if you think ahead, you can download maps on your phone to use offline). However, I used an in-country SIM card while traveling in Finland and relied on Google Maps. Cell coverage is typically very good.
One more thing, traffic signs in Finland are in Finnish and Swedish not English. Listening to Siri pronounce some of the roads and towns while navigating was a hoot!
Check with your car insurer or credit card company in advance. My rental insurance was covered via my credit card company, so there was no need to get extra insurance at the rental car counter.
6/Rules of the road
In Finland, cars are driven on the right - same as the USA and Canada. However, unlike the USA and Canada, you’re not allowed to turn right on a red light. Cars are required to have their headlights on day and night. And know this, Finns do not break traffic laws. They do not speed. Period. Why? Because in Finland, fines are determined based on your income. So a minor traffic violation could end up costing thousands of dollars! So don’t speed in Finland; you’ll stick out like a sore thumb.
7/Parking and tolls
Most cities have metered parking areas. When there are no meters, you may need to buy a parking voucher at a gas station to display on the dashboard, so pay attention to parking signs. If you park in a parking garage, make sure you take the parking ticket with you. You’ll need it to access the garage later.
KidTripster Tip: Check in advance with your hotel or rental apartment in regards to where you can park and if there’s a charge.
Happily, there are no toll roads in Finland.
8/Traveling outside Finland
Cars rented in Finland - with the exception of some luxury categories - can be driven anywhere in western Europe including Sweden and Norway. Ferries operate from Helsinki to Sweden, Germany, and England. However, because of insurance restrictions, you can’t transport by ferry or drive a Finnish rental car to Russia, Estonia or a long list of other eastern European countries.
9/Give yourself extra time
While Finland has an excellent highway system, some routes are rather indirect due to the number of lakes, especially in southern Finland. In northern Finland, you’ll find fewer highways, towns, and people.
10/Take the weather seriously
If you’re visiting Lapland during the winter, I’d strongly advise against renting a car. The weather inside the Arctic Circle is extreme and unpredictable. Even if you’re an experienced winter driver, you take a risk being on unfamiliar roads in white-out conditions. Plus you’ll be driving in the dark most of the day. Know that speed limits drop in the wintertime because of concerns over ice and darkness.
KidTripster Tip: If you do drive in the winter, watch for snowmobiles that frequently cross the roads. Always carry an ice scraper and shovel in your car.
KidTripster Tip: Springtime driving presents its own challenge. The Finns call it “dazzle,” sun glare at a low angle that can impact the driver’s ability to see. Remember to pack your sunglasses. In the fall, you need to watch out for elk on the move in the south and reindeer in the north.
Overall, I found driving in Finland to be quite easy. It’s a great way to see more of a truly beautiful country.
Editor Shellie Bailey-Shah did get locked out of a parking garage in Helsinki. Thanks to the kind Finn who let her in!