Relocating during a pandemic – From New York to Helsinki

How is it to relocate from New York to Helsinki during a global pandemic? Nitin and Layna tell about their experience of this exceptional situation.

Relocating during a pandemic

Nitin Sawhney and Layna Roberts relocated to Helsinki as Nitin had been offered a professorship at Aalto University. Moving abroad felt natural, since both Nitin and Layna had lived in many countries before. The main reason to choose Finland was the good and multidisciplinary university, and they also liked the city of Helsinki. It wasn’t so easy decision for Layna, as she worked in film industry in New York. However, after visiting Helsinki she was convinced that it’s a nice city and she will continue her career here.

Nitin and Layna were supposed to relocate later in the spring, but due to the situation caused by the coronavirus, they had to change their flights so that they arrived before the borders were closed. Therefore, they had to pack their lives in New York very quickly, and there were a few days of high anxiety. The pandemic also caused uncertainty regarding the new rules and processes. As everyone arriving in Finland had to remain under quarantine-like conditions for 14 days, it took some time before they could e.g. open a bank account or get a phone plan.

Image: Nitin and Layna

Useful relocation support

After all, everything went smoothly, thanks to the relocation services. “I have to say, that when my employer first told me that there will be a relocation agent to help us, I wasn’t sure if we needed any help, because we are very independent and have relocated before. But then it turned out, that in this situation it was really valuable. Even before we arrived, FRS provided us a lot of background material and guidance. So by the time we came here, we felt really comfortable that they would continue to guide us through all the different steps. In a nutshell, it was really crucial and far more useful than we had expected”, says Nitin.

According to Nitin and Layna, the most important service was the help with local registrations, tax cards and banking. “Each of them required us having to figure out things by ourselves, and it would have been quite complicated. We wouldn’t have known which step was required before another. Our relocation consultant assisted us on every step and worked very hard for us. It was really good to have this kind of personal support throughout the process, for both of us.”

First impressions of Finland

Nitin and Layna thought that the relocation would be more challenging because of the coronavirus situation, but everything has worked unexpectedly smoothly, thanks to the relocation support. They are also impressed how efficient and organized the Finnish system is, and how helpful Finnish people are. “People always tell that people in Finland are very reserved, but everyone has been very kind and friendly to us, very accommodating and understanding. They want to make us feel welcome. Finland has been fantastic for us so far.”

Even though the pandemic causes challenges everywhere, Nitin and Layna are very grateful to be in Finland now. “It’s a lot calmer and more collected here. Everyone is social distancing as much as they can, but they are handling it very calm, it’s not like a panic situation. Many places are closed and there are signs and restrictions, but the city is still functioning. In New York the government has to be harsher, but here everyone seems to be taking personal responsibility. Maybe it’s a Nordic thing”

Nitin and Layna are also happy that they arrived in the beginning of spring, when the weather is getting warmer and the days are long and sunny. They like to run and bike, and Helsinki is good for outdoor activities. They have seen that many people in Finland are using this time to spend more time outdoors, and in a way, that gives a sense of normalcy: “When you go to a park, everyone keeps distance but they don’t seem restricted.”

Image: Nitin and Layna

All in all, Nitin and Layna have adjusted well to their new life in Helsinki. They think this time will always be memorable for them. As an advice for others moving to Finland in a similar situation Nitin says: “Trust the process and the people helping you. Ultimately things will work for you. In every experience you have, people will help you find a solution if you’re patient.”


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