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American Express -- The Helsinki branch is at Mannerheimintie (tel. 10/818-9101). It's open Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm. Whenever it's closed, you can call a 24-hour-a-day toll-free information line about lost or stolen credit cards or traveler's checks by dialing tel. 09/613-20400. That number is valid only within Finland.

Area Code -- The international country code for Finland is 358.

Business Hours -- Most banks are open Monday to Friday 9:15am to 4:15pm. You can also exchange money at the railway station in Helsinki daily from 8am to 9pm, and at the airport daily from 6:30am to 11pm. The hours for stores and shops vary. Most are open Monday to Friday 9am to 6pm and Saturday from 9am to 3pm. Nearly everything is closed on Sunday. There are R-kiosks -- which sell candy, tobacco, toiletries, cosmetics, and souvenirs -- all over Helsinki and elsewhere; they're open Monday through Saturday from 8am to 9pm and Sunday from 9 or 10am to 9pm.

Drinking Laws -- Alcohol can be bought at retail from Alko, the state liquor-monopoly shops. They're open Monday to Thursday 10am to 5pm, Friday 10am to 6pm, and Saturday 9am to 3pm; they're closed on Sunday and on May 1 and September 30. Alcoholic drinks can also be purchased at hotels, restaurants, and nightclubs. Some establishments, incidentally, are licensed only for beer (or beer and wine). Only beer can be served from 9 to 11am. In Helsinki, most licensed establishments stay open until midnight or 1am (until 11pm in some cities). You must be at least 20 years of age to buy hard liquor at the Alko shops; 18- and 19-year-olds can buy beer, wine, or other beverages that contain less than 22% alcohol.

Drug Laws -- Drug offenses are divided into two categories: normal drug offenses and aggravated drug offenses. Normal drug offenses include the possession of a small amount of marijuana (which carries a maximum penalty of 2 years in prison and a minimum penalty of a fine for Finns and possible deportation for non-Finns). Aggravated drug offenses entail the ownership, sale, or dealing of dangerous drugs, including cocaine and heroin. This offense always carries a prison term of 1 to 10 years. Penalties for smuggling drugs across the Finnish border are even more severe.

Drug Stores -- Medicines are sold at pharmacies (apteekki in Finnish). Chemists (kemikaalipauppa) sell cosmetics only. Some pharmacies are open 24 hours, and all of them display notices giving the address of the nearest one on night duty.

Electricity -- Finland operates on 220 volts AC. Plugs are usually the continental size with rounded pins. Always ask at your hotel desk before plugging in any electrical appliance. Without an appropriate transformer or adapter, you'll probably destroy the internal mechanism of your appliance or blow out one of the hotel's fuses.

Embassies & Consulates -- The embassy of the United States is at Itäinen Puistotie 14A, FIN-00140 Helsinki (tel. 09/616-250); the embassy of the United Kingdom is at Itäinen Puistotie 17, FIN-00140 Helsinki (tel. 09/228-651-00); the embassy of Canada is at Pohjoisesplanadi 25B, FIN-00100 Helsinki (tel. 09/22-85-30). The consulate of Australia is at Museokatu 25B, FIN-00100 (tel. 09/47-77-66-40), and the consulate of New Zealand is at Hietalahdenranta 13 FIN-00180 Helsinki (tel. 09/615-615 or 657-681).

If you're planning to visit Russia after Finland and need information about visas, the Russian embassy is at Tehtaankatu 1B, FIN-00140 Helsinki (tel. 09/66-18-77). However, it's better to make all your travel arrangements to Russia before you leave home.

Emergencies -- In Helsinki, dial tel. 112; for the police, call tel. 100-22.

Holidays -- The following holidays are observed in Finland: New Year's Day (Jan 1); Epiphany (Jan 6); Good Friday; Easter Monday; Labor Day (May 1); Ascension Day (mid-May); Whitmonday (late May); Midsummer Eve and Midsummer Day (Fri and Sat of weekend closest to June 24); All Saints' Day (Nov 6); Independence Day (Dec 6); and Christmas and Boxing Days (Dec 25 and 26).

Language -- The Finns speak a language that, from the perspective of grammar and linguistics, is radically different from Swedish and Danish. Finnish is as difficult to learn as Chinese, and a source of endless frustration to newcomers. More than 90% of Finns speak Finnish, and the remaining population speaks mostly Swedish. Officially, Finland is a bilingual country, as you'll quickly see from maps and street signs in Helsinki (the street names are usually given in both languages).

The use of English, however, is amazingly common throughout Finland, especially among young people. In all major hotels, restaurants, and nightclubs, English is spoken almost without exception. The best phrase book is Berlitz Finnish for Travellers, with 1,200 phrases and 2,000 useful words, as well as the corresponding pronunciations.

Laundry & Dry Cleaning -- Most hotels provide these services. There are coin-operated launderettes and dry cleaners in most Finnish cities.

Mail -- Airmail letters take about 7 to 10 days to reach North America; surface mail -- sent by boat -- takes 1 to 2 months. Parcels are weighed and registered at the post office, which may ask you to declare the value and contents of the package on a preprinted form. Stamps are sold at post offices in all towns and cities, at most hotels, sometimes at news kiosks, and often by shopkeepers who offer the service for customers' convenience. In Finland, mailboxes are bright yellow with a trumpet embossed on them. For postal information, call tel. 09/980-071-00.

Newspapers & Magazines -- English-language newspapers, including the International Herald Tribune and USA Today, are available at the larger bookstores, the railway station, and many kiosks in Helsinki and other cities.

Police -- Dial tel. 112 in Helsinki. In smaller towns, ask the operator to connect you with the nearest police station.

Safety -- Finland is one of the safest countries in Europe, although with the arrival of desperately poor immigrants from former Communist lands to the south, the situation is not as tranquil or as safe as before.

Smoking -- Smoking is banned on public transport, in cinemas, schools, sports halls, hospitals, stores, and other public places. It is also banned in restaurants, coffee shops, and nightclubs, except where a closed, special smoking room with separate ventilation is provided.

Taxes -- A 17% to 22% sales tax is added to most retail purchases in Finland. However, anyone residing outside the E.U., Norway, or Finland can shop tax-free in Finland, saving 12% to 16% on purchases costing more than 40€ ($52). Look for the TAX-FREE FOR TOURISTS sticker that indicates which shops participate in this program. These shops give you a voucher covering the tax, which you can cash when you leave the country -- even if you bought the items with a credit or charge card. The voucher and your purchases must be presented at your point of departure from the country, and you are then reimbursed for the amount of the tax. You're not permitted to use these tax-free purchases within Finland. Your refund can be collected at an airport, ferry port, or highway border point.

Telephone -- To make international calls from Finland by direct dialing, first dial the international prefix of 990, 994, or 999, then the country code, then the area code (without the general prefix 0), and finally the local number. For information on long-distance calls and tariffs, call tel. 0800/909-99.

To place calls to Finland, dial whatever code is needed in your country to reach the international lines (for example, in the United States, dial 011 for international long distance), then the country code for Finland (358), then the area code (without the Finnish long-distance prefix 0), and finally the local number.

To make long-distance calls within Finland, dial 0 to reach the long-distance lines (the choice of carrier is at random), the area code, and the local number. (Note that all area codes in this guide are given with the prefix 0.) For phone number information, dial tel. 02-02-02. Besides phone booths and hotels, calls can be made from local post and telephone offices.

You can send faxes and telex messages from your hotel (at an additional charge).

Time -- Finnish Standard Time is 2 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) and 7 hours ahead of U.S. Eastern Standard Time (when it's midnight in New York, it's 7am in Finland). While Finland is on "summer time" (Mar 28-Sept 26), it is 3 hours ahead of GMT.

Tipping -- It's standard for hotels and restaurants to add a service charge of 15% and usually no further tipping is necessary. In restaurants, it's customary to leave just small change. Taxi drivers don't expect a tip. However, it's appropriate to tip doormen at least 1€ ($1.60), and bellhops usually get 1€ ($1.60) per bag (in most Finnish provincial hotels, you normally carry your own luggage to your room). At railway stations, porters are usually tipped 1€ ($1.60) per bag. Hairdressers and barbers don't expect tips. Coat check charges are usually posted; there's no need for additional tipping.

Toilets -- Most public restrooms are in terminals (air, bus, and rail). Hotels usually have very clean toilets, as do the better restaurants and clubs. Most toilets have symbols to designate men or women. Otherwise, naisille is for women and miehille is for men.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.