Dealing with Immigration Authorities 2: We don't serve people like you (getting a bank account)

After successfully getting a Finnish ID and tax card, we thought we’d be out of bureaucratic hell. But we made our bets without the Finnish banking system, and what at least slightly smelled like xenophobia.


As mentioned in Part 1, without an online banking login you are not able to function in Finland. It is your key to everything from online shopping to managing your taxes or Kela (social security/healthcare) matters. So the first matter of business after getting a Finnish ID has been, or should have been, opening up a bank account.


With the winning attitude of “we bring new business, we will be treated well”, we thus went to Finnish bank OP’s nearest branch office, cheerfully telling the clerk there we’d like to open not one, but two bank accounts.


Boy, were we in for a surprise. Mrs. “fake blonde hair and outrageously fake fingernails” from OP did not like the idea of us just walking in and assuming we could become customers just like that. She told us we’d need an appointment to open a bank account. Weird enough, but if that’s how it’s done in Finland, ok, let’s make an appointment. She took down our social security numbers and then told us we only had a postal address registered, but to open an account we’d need to have a residential address on file. Well, okay, if that’s how it is, good thing we got our Migri appointment next week, right? We can just set up an appointment for afterwards, when everything is formally okay with our files? Maybe the same day as the Migri appointment so we’d only have to take one day off work?


Turns out, we could not. The clerk refused to even tell us when an appointment would be possible, let alone set one up for us, unless our files are in order. While one should never attribute to malevolence what can be explained by negligence, and this may just be OP’s general attitude towards new business, we can understand that google reviews for this branch office list several accusations of institutional racism. The treatment we received felt like they were making it clear they don’t want to deal with people who are not native Finns.


For us, this was something new: Being in the privileged situation of being “good” foreigners (light skin, high level of education, EU passports) we normally fly under the radar of the casually racist treatment that sadly defines many interactions people with darker skin, a “muslim-sounding” name, or a non-EU passport have to endure. Not a nice feeling at all.

Disappointed, we retreated home, where the bad news continued to come in: OP’s phone service helpfully pointed us to the next available appointment slot anywhere in Helsinki - four weeks away, in mid-September. Of course, if we would already be customers at another bank, and had online banking credentials, we could simply open an account online…


We must confess, companies being that disinterested in our business are a new experience for us - and so OP went off our list of companies we want to deal with. At their competitor Nordea, we had a better experience - their rep on the phone at least was alert enough to look at open appointment slots in neighboring Espoo! And thus was able to get us an appointment only two weeks away! Seeing a pattern in the absence of customer service here, we took the slots offered.


Later the same day, Philipp followed a hunch and just walked into Sokos, the local department store that is part of S-Group, a large cooperative owning supermarkets, filling stations, department stores, hotels, and also dominating a bunch of other sectors of Finnish retail. They offer banking services through their retail outlets, modeled after the British “supermarket banking” model. So, tucked away behind the large cups shelf of the lingerie department, Philipp found a S-Pankki counter, where a very helpful clerk opened a bank account for him straight away. With a limited feature set due to the missing residential address, but immediate and without hassle nevertheless. See, other banks? This is how it’s done!


But this still left the most gruesome topic untouched - actually dealing with Migri, Finland's feared immigration authority...